Earlier this week, news dropped that the upcoming shooter, Wolfenstein: The New Order, will have a special surprise for those who pre-ordered it. Those who jump into The New Order early will get access to a beta for the upcoming project in the legendary Doom series, the now-revamped Doom 4. Hearing of a new installment in such a venerable series is certainly a moment with a trace of surrealism. Doom remains one of the most iconic series in gaming, despite having such a small number of main releases since the franchise’s beginning in 1993. But in this world of vast seas of shooter subgenres and genre revitalizations, how can a series like Doom exist? What would a next-gen Doom game be like?
It goes without saying how influential a game Doom was. As id Software’s follow-up to the equally influential Wolfenstein 3D, Doom solidified the first-person shooter genre’s place in gaming in 1993. The game pioneered an expansive arsenal of goofy, but badass weaponry (like the now-iconic BFG), embracing an over-the-top horror atmosphere ripped right from a Slayer album cover. It was violent to its innermost essence and combined with its hellish imagery, the series became an easy target for disgruntled politicians around the world. But in defining the idea of a first-person shooter, Doom channeled all of the violent edginess seen in 80’s action movies and spiced it up with an interface that encouraged twitch-based shooting. It remains a classic even today and one of the most important games to ever hit the market. Doom II took Doom’s framework and expanded it further with an improved multiplayer suite, stronger level design, and more frantic firefights. While it wasn’t the brilliant revelation that its predecessor was, Doom II remains a classic, earning as much praise and fandom as the original Doom did.
Doom 3, however, is much more curious case. Released on the PC in 2004 and Xbox in 2005, Doom 3 was the first numerically serial Doom game since Doom II in 1995. Though Final Doom on PC and Doom 64 on Nintendo 64 were released within that time, Doom 3 marked the first completely overhauled installment of the Doom series in nearly a decade. The game’s development period was riddled with delays, mostly due to the use of technology that was unheard of prior to the game’s release. As technical juggernauts in the video game development field, id Software touted unprecedented technical fidelity for Doom 3. The game became a prime example of a “PC pusher” (a game that was notoriously taxing on PC specs upon its launch, similar to Half-Life 2 and Crysis). Despite the delays, however, Doom 3 became a big landmark for id, marking the most financially successful game ever released by the company.
But Doom 3 wasn’t received with open arms. It was hyped beyond belief, and quite frankly, it delivers a good FPS experience, no doubt. Its design, however, is certainly one that must be noted. Doom 3 was built to be a “reboot” of the franchise, a way of bringing the classic FPS nature of the game into the modern age. The most notable feature of the game, however, is how it plays. As a reboot, Doom 3 shares many design elements with the original Doom: generally linear levels with enemies appearing from corridors to shoot. This isn’t necessarily a bad design choice, as many games continue to use this “funhouse scare” idea for shooters, but considering when Doom 3 was released is worth noting. During the period of time between Doom II and Doom 3, many other first-person shooter franchises were born. Valve’s Half-Life became an enormous success, pioneering a sci-fi narrative with a much deeper environment to interact with, while Bungie’s Halo: Combat Evolved brought a much stronger narrative, varied gameplay and much more organic use of AI in levels. In comparison to these new franchises, Doom 3’s “classic” appeal of monsters appearing from chambers and attacking you ferociously didn’t possess much progression. The AI wasn’t as intricate and the linear levels didn’t offer too many reasons to switch things up when moving from Point A to Point B. To some, Doom 3 simply felt dated.
The Doom 4 project is one that looks to be even more troublesome. The overarching issue surrounding it is that the first-person shooter is one of the most malleable of all of the popular genres. Though it has its share of fundamentals, the shooter is one of frequent change. Half-Life and Halo: Combat Evolved didn’t use Doom’s corridor-based funhouse enemy placement, instead focusing on immersive, exploration-based worlds and more advanced firefights with stronger AI in enemies. They were huge steps up from Doom’s template. Since Doom 3, more and more advancements to the first-person shooter have appeared. Irrational Games’ Bioshock blended shooting with RPG elements and thick atmospheric tension, while Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty used new competitive multiplayer elements and contemporary settings. Other new series like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and Far Cry introduced more open-ended design as opposed to linear progression. These newer games have made remarkable changes to the structure of a first-person shooter, and with Doom 3 already suffering from a sense of dated design, Doom 4 is bound to seem even more archaic if it continues down a path with even stronger ties to that retro template.
On the other hand, forcing modernization upon a classic property isn’t necessarily an instant recipe for success. Duke Nukem Forever remains the poster-child not just of development hell horror stories, but a game whose cross-generational development ended up making a game that was simply scatterbrained. Duke Nukem Forever tried to use its classic shooter fundamentals in tandem with newer shooter tropes like regenerating health and two-weapon-at-a-time arsenals, ripped straight from Halo. This mix didn’t bring about a very compatible result, causing the classic shooter ideals to clash with design elements from modern shooters. If Doom 4 were to force these more modern ideas onto its classic-style framework, the result isn’t likely to seem retro or contemporary. It’ll just appear conflicted with itself.
Doom’s legacy as one of the forefathers of the first-person shooter cannot be denied, but making something so classically designed in its gameplay palatable to modern gamers isn’t an easy task. The shooter genre’s frequent shifts in focus make keeping old properties fresh a much harder endeavor than it would to something like an RPG, platformer or even a racing game, genres where fundamental gameplay elements are very rare to change. Since their humble inceptions of bullets and badassery, the shooter has changed in so many ways, making so many detours off its own grid that subgenres to the field are popping up as we speak. Doom remains a classic, but it’s going to take more than a legacy to make Doom 4 more than what Doom 3 was. id Software’s challenge isn’t going to be making Doom 4 great, but making it great without compromising why the series was such a watershed of ideas for the first-person shooter genre.