The newest iteration of Doom probably won’t be remembered like the original has been for such a long time. It’s a violent and extremely entertaining romp though, as I mentioned in the most recent podcast episode, however Doom isn’t innovative in the least. The weapon choices are varied but typical, the visuals are good but unexceptional, the story is sparse, and the combat repetitive. Bringing it to life could very well be the least challenging task ever taken on by a AAA team with hundreds of members and a gargantuan amount of resources. It doesn’t lend itself particularly well to a sterile list of expectations one might have for a game in 2016. It seems like it can’t be bothered addressing terms like “fulfilling narrative” or “groundbreaking mechanics”. These are buzz phrases that give a lot of contemporary games their day in the sun and usually for good reason, but Doom has none of these to hang its hat on.
Here’s the thing though: Doom is a blast to play in all its glorious simplicity. It addresses the need to update the old formula beyond graphics and sound with things like weapon mods and challenges, but never oversteps the boundary that within it contains the core aspects of the original Doom & Doom II. Said boundary is not a delineation of quality though. It’s a tangible line between the characteristics that are in Doom’s wheelhouse and those that clearly belong to other games. Doom doesn’t try to be anything it’s not, and from a gaming perspective we’re all better for it.Developers and publishers would be wise to take note of this. It has become far too accepted and typical for a big budget title, regardless of quality, to borrow elements heavily from others in the same genre. Gamers are all too familiar with playing a hotly anticipated sequel to something they initially fell in love with, only to find out that the franchise doesn’t feel like it belongs to them anymore. Either that or an ominous sense that the developer doesn’t seem to share the same passion for their work, even if the community still does.
Let it be known that I am conscious of the fact that nothing is technically original these days and that one third person action game will inevitably share similarities with another third person action game, or one fighting game to another, etc. My argument is not that every new pitch in this industry should be a completely out of the box venture teeming with risk for both the artists and executives involved. It’s that maintaining your own sensibility, style, and vision is as important as any new game mode, controller scheme, or combat mechanic that a developer could ever conceive. In some cases maybe it’s more important.
Resident Evil 4 was viewed by many as a welcome next step for a beloved series that was in need of some renovation. Resident Evil 5 followed this up with the same improved controls and generally smoother design. The problem was that for a series that is driven by zombies and sadistic mutant abominations stalking you by night, it often took place in a much less threatening day time setting. It also added the opportunity for co-op play. Inherently not an unwelcome idea, but the single player experience we were all accustomed to sometimes suffered for it. Resident Evil 6 contained three core campaigns all varied in their own ways. The problem was that in lieu of survival horror, Capcom was tempted by the success of more combat heavy franchises containing bombastic set pieces and the result was a paradigm shift in terms of what Resident Evil meant to general gaming population. Other specific gameplay or presentation elements can be cited, but the point is that Capcom forgot (or chose to forget) how they were afforded to make this many sequels in the first place. Once that happens everything else is just a trickle down. “Never forget where you came from” as they say.
id Software never forgot where they came from and also never forgot how rare and miraculous it is when people want to see more of a game that produced its first and only sequel over 20 years ago. When you play the latest installment of Doom you feel a warm sense of comfort, as if the nostalgia you had for the originals was translated more or less perfectly into a brand new game for your shiny new console. It’s not the same game but it’s not quite a different game either. It feels familiar in all the right ways and none of the wrong ones.
The trick Doom pulls off is inducing the thought of “It feels so good to play Doom again!”. Sounds simple right? It’s not though, because it’s far easier to be alienated from those old fuzzy feelings than it is to reconnect to them. Prince of Persia arguably performed the incredible feat of doing both. The Sands of Time was a spectacular resurgence for what was to that point, a forgotten franchise. The game even departed much further from its source material than 2016’s Doom could begin to boast, and it still captured the attention of fans old and new. Then the sequel introduced the obligatory dark, tortured protagonist of the time and a “‘tude” that was neither contextual nor necessary. After a second sequel the lazily named Prince of Persia was released in 2008, a game where the developers surmised that being essentially invincible and eliminating virtually all risk during gameplay would be attractive to their audience. It was an obvious and all too eager reach towards the stereotype that today’s gamers need to be escorted through games like an out of touch tycoon in a limousine, and nowadays the franchise is nowhere to be found.
The lesson? Innovate and evolve, but do it on your game’s own terms. Doom has proven that you can create a sequel, reboot, or even a new IP that stands on its own. All a developer has to do is learn from history instead of repeating it, and make THEIR game. Not anyone else’s. There is a game released just last Friday that proves it’s a much safer bet than we’ve been led to believe.