When it comes to official id Software-created Doom, the bar is set at Doom 2. Doom was great, Doom 2 blew the doors off the series, and it’s probably best to pretend Doom 3 was part of a different series entirely, maybe MarsDark HellCorridor. The third game in the series simply took the mythology and made a brand-new FPS that was to Doom as a veggie burger is to ground beef. A veggie burger might be good food but it would be better if it wasn’t trying to pretend it’s something else entirely. Needless to say, for fans wanting a modern update of the classic game, it didn’t quite work out as hoped.
The first teaser trailer for DOOM (you can tell it’s the new one because it’s all-caps) came out last month and looked far closer to the original games than the third one, but with only a single short second of gameplay it was hard to tell. Now the new trailer is out and there’s even unedited gameplay footage to show off how things flow, and it’s looking pretty good. The action packs serious punch, the weapons look beefy, there’s a good variety of monsters to turn into monster giblets, and Hell has never looked sharper. It’s still not the 1990s games brought into the modern day, though.
A 1990s shooter was defined by several features that have fallen to the wayside. The simplicity of the first-person whack-a-mole gameplay is gone, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the on-screen enemy count is a fraction of its former glory and level design has become drastically simplified. As an example, let’s take a look at Doom II’s level 13, Downtown.
Downtown is a relatively complicated area, with several buildings arranged in an open-world layout. Some buildings need a keycard to enter, others don’t, and if you’ve cheated your way in (like I did a few minutes ago) it takes a bit of trial and error to find a route to some more useful weapons than the starting pistol. A giant arrow in the street points towards the building with the shotgun, while another one that’s a little harder to get to has the chaingun inside. A couple of homing-rocket-armed Revenants can see you trying to get to the chaingun building, though, and it’s also guarded by a couple imps in the windows of the tower across the street, but a little careful maneuvering should see you inside. A few dead imps later and you’ve got a chaingun and a map of the level, unless you fall into the pit hidden in the shadows.
Alternately you could go after the shotgun, set in a room filled with crates and imps. A little exploring turns up a hidden switch beside an obvious one, each giving a different opportunity. The obvious switch takes you to a small courtyard with some health and ammo, while the hidden one opens up a teleporter leading to a ledge that lets you jump into the building with a pair of plasma spiders. Alternately you could avoid the teleporter and drop into a pit leading to an elevator into another building, with multiple other paths to choose from out of it.
These two buildings are only a portion of the level, and while the actual area it covers is small it feels like every inch is designed to be interesting. When there’s a corridor doing little more than linking one encounter to another it makes for a welcome break rather than waste space. I just spent a good hour playing it, restarting on death, and was honestly surprised at how tightly packed the level details are. There’s no question that the base gameplay is simplistic, but even though the level is small by modern standards the number of secrets and extras tucked away mean that you can’t just write Doom II off as a monster-rush. There are dozens of them swarming everywhere, sure, but ignoring the exploration is to miss half the game.
The “Welcome to Hell” gameplay trailer for DOOM looked like a lot of fun, but it’s still short on both enemies and exploration. It’s a new game with a more modern focus, sure, but maybe that’s not necessarily what Doom should be. The scenery is impressive, the monsters imposing, and the action is brutal, but what’s been displayed is still rushing down very pretty corridors to the next encounter. There are a couple areas I wish the player had looked at on the way by, and the arena where the bulk of the combat takes place looks nicely detailed, but it seems to be designed for action instead of exploration. Maybe there’s secrets in there, tucked away behind the rocks and cliffs. Maybe there’s hidden pathways to mantle up to, or possible even double-jump towards (seriously, he double-jumps at 1:53) but the gameplay demo was all about the combat. I’m hoping for an open-world level where you can explore to your heart’s content while being mobbed by a few dozen imps, cacodemons, and flaming skulls, or massive complexes of interconnected areas where picking up the wrong health power-up opens a monster closet filled with pain and regret, but it’s not looking particularly likely. It’s not that I mind settling for a badass action game of pure violent awesomeness, it’s just that Doom was more than that. Not much more, but that little extra bit of design makes all the difference.