I like first person shooters. They get a bad rep these days due to over-exposure, and the fact that most modern ones take on this grey, gritty and overly serious military theme. And because said shooters tend to have underwhelming campaigns with way too many quick time events. And because playing these games online has become infamous for all the unpleasant types of people you might encounter.
This happens to almost every genre though, it's all trend to have video games that are super serial all the time, ones that are a bit too simplified for some people, and ones that don't offer as much choice as we might wish. It's not a fault of the FPS at all, it's a great genre, and I will defend it with my life!
That said, in spite of having played a lot of FPS games (very different kinds) that I really enjoy (Such as Half-Life, Battlefield Vietnam, SWAT 4, Bioshock Infinite, Stranger's Wrath and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon), only one appears on my list of favourites, and it's one of the earliest ones ever made. Why is it that Doom is the only shooter that clicks this well with me? Suppose it's time to find out.
Although it's probably just because I've never played Painkiller...
Doom was made in 1993 (so was I) by John Romero and his team of sci-fi obsessed metalheads at id Software. As we all know, these were the days before Mr. Romero made every single person on Earth his bitch, which resulted in him dominating the world. See, back then he wasn't the all-powerful dictator that he is today, but a humble game designer, who simply wanted to make shooting a possible thing to do in first person. I'd imagine it was pretty hard to aim before those days.
In Doom, you find yourself in the middle of an invasion of demons (from HELLLLL). The space marine that you play as has no distinct personality in the actual game, but who is perfectly characterized in the Doom comic
as an escaped mental patient who has absolutely no awareness of his surroundings, yet seems to deeply care for the environment
In all honesty, while people might not like the comic adaption, aside from the weirdly placed environmental message, it fits the gameplay perfectly. The gameplay Doom is famous for being fast-paced, wild and chaotic. Your time with Doom is spent running like crazy around different environments, checking every corner for weapons, keycards and supplies, fighting different types of demons with your arsenal of death! It's a ton of over-the-top fun, and very easy to pick up and play at any time.
What's interesting here is that the actual objective of the game has nothing to do with shooting (aside from the boss battles), and everything to do with getting to the end of the level, which is where the keycards come in, as you need to find these in order to open different doors. Why bother fighting the demons, then? Because they make up a significant threat, that's why! This alone is one big reason to love this game. The best kind of game design is the kind that makes you want
to do something, rather than forcing you.
There are more reasons to want to fight these demons, however, as the weapons themselves are insanely satisfying to use, with some amazing audio feedback. The shotgun especially is fucking sweet when it comes to this! Good sound design is important in any game, but especially when it comes to making a gun sound powerful in a first person shooters. Unfortunately, a few games don't manage to do this well (Doom 3 is a good example), and that's the kind of flaw that sticks through the entire game. The original Doom has an excellent sound design all around, and it makes every killshot all the more satisfying.
I think the key to why Doom has aged so well is that it never tried to do too much. It's a very basic game with simple controls, with most of this simplicity being due to technical limitations. But the simplicity is also the very reason why it has been able to stand the test of time. Even though aiming and jumping have both become a standard of first person shooters today, they aren't missing in this game, because it plays almost nothing like today's shooters. It's much more like an old top-down shooter, only seen from a different perspective, and that is exactly the reason it's held up. The ones to suffer in its place have instead been the games from the awkward transition between Doom-type shooters and modern shooters, as old technology only starts to show its age whenever you use it to make something too complex.
By the way, have I ever mentioned that I love secret areas? I mentioned in the Ape Escape blog that I love being teased by a game, but aside from that, secret areas are my jam! Exploration is fun, and having a game reward me for it always excites me, because it's pretty much like being rewarded for having a great nap, or eating a slice of delicious blueberry pie! It's awesome! It helps that the rewards often include weapons, and the weapons in this game are very much worth finding. The legendary BFG 9000 is one such weapons, so you clearly have a strong incentive to explore the levels as much as possible. Because BFG!
Oh, and the soundtrack rocks too, but you knew that, everyone knows that.
When it comes down to the question of why Doom is the only FPS on my list of favourites, I'd say the answer is that it combines simple controls with clever, open ended level design, and then adds a ton of non-stop chaos by adding a variety of different monsters that pose a genuine threat, while making the act of killing these monsters as satisfying as possible. This is pretty much my ideal formula for a traditional FPS, but it's a rare formula, which even some of the best shooters out there stray from in some way, including those that I mentioned above. Hopefully Doom 4 will return to this, and stray as far as possible from Doom 3's awkward attempt at atmospheric horror. Some evolution would probably be required though: it would be nice being able to aim and jump.
That's it, really. It's very difficult to talk about Doom and actually add something that hasn't already been said a number of times, and I might even have failed to do so. Hardly matters though, this series is only here to explain why these games are my favourites, and this gets the job done, so there.
If you missed my previous two blogs about Ape Escape
and Arkham City + Beyond Good & Evil
(seriously), those are still up!
The next one is going to tackle the first two Oddworld games, Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus. Fun times are coming!