Some people would argue that they don’t make shooters like this anymore. I think those people are wrong; they never made shooters like this.
I’ll get it out of the way now: Doom 4 might be the best single-player shooter I’ve played since Doom.
Living up to the legacy of Doom is going to be an incredible task, and the 20+ years of design-evolution since it’s release would seemingly only add to the untouchability of such a legacy. Especially when modern shooters are the anti-thesis to what Doom originally established. Where modern shooters are slow, cinematic and sensible, Doom was fast-past, action-filled and extreme. Realistic two weapon load-outs hadn’t yet replaced vast arrays of uniquely devastating killing machines as the preferred method of dispatching your enemies.
But to be honest, modern games are succeeding in large part, because they’re an improvement on what went before. Regenerating health might be an annoying fact of modern shooters, but it beats successfully slaying a hundred enemies, only to have to reload anyway because you only have 1 health left.
So how do you recreate the spirit of Doom without simply going backwards in your design? After all, if you want to play and old Doom game, you can always go back and play the original (which exists on Steam in no less than 5 versions).
What’s so impressive about Doom 4 is that it does go back on the 20+ years of design evolution. Then, when it’s back at the beginning, it starts carving it’s philosophy in a different direction. One that’s both modern and true to the spirit of Doom.
If you were wondering what the spirit of Doom is, this is it.
No Regenerating Health / Deeper into the Action
Regenerating health is simply better than what we had before. It turns out that players don’t like slaying a room full of bad guys, only to have to reload anyway due to being left with 1 health. Regenerating health was an answer to that, and as someone who never really liked the concept, it was the answer we needed. On the other hand, it slows the action down, and forces the player to shy away from fighting while they collect themselves.
In Doom 4, we have glory kills. While they may seem like a gimmicky melee-execution mechanic, they actually do something more: they give the player health. So here, we have a system that addresses the same problems regenerating health addresses, but in a way that’s true to the spirit of Doom and doesn’t slow down the action. It speeds it up.
The same counts for ammo. Despite running out of ammo quite frequently in every firefight, ammo is effectively infinite. It might sound like a paradox, but it’s just a clever design pattern the game uses to naturally coax you into using nearly every single weapon it has to offer.
It might sound obvious and cheap the way I’m describing it, but it feels so good.
Doom 4 has flow
The original Doom had interesting use of height for its time, but it should be noted that you still couldn’t look up. Doom 4 properly introduces the third dimension to first person shooters in a way I don’t think we’ve ever seen before. It makes Mirror’s Edge’s environments seem flat and dull. If Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst takes some lessons from Doom 4, we’ll all be better off for it.
Levels don’t just move up and down like waves as you go through them. They have upper sections and lower sections and mid sections. This means you’ll be able to revisit areas without backtracking, and it really makes the levels open up when you’re looking for secrets. Here’s the map for the foundry level.
Most of this can be traversed vertically
As for the movement itself, all that can really be said is that it just feels good and it doesn’t break flow. It feels good to jump around a level, mount ledges, climb up and jump off. It feels as natural as running around. What’s more, it feels good to do this in a fast paced firefight, while chasing down Imps, running from Hell Knights and trying to dodge Cacodemons.
Not only is there not a single enemy who hides behind a box taking potshots at you; they’re actually more nimble than you are at traversing the vertical terrain. Imps will run away from you, sometimes climbing up a vertical shaft, leaving you to fend off a Hell Knight who’s been chasing you in turn, from behind.
I somehow doubt Doom 4 will influence the industry in any meaningful way. Without looking at it closely, it’s hard to see just what makes it work the way it does. Doubtless, it’ll be cast off as a throwback, but I really feel it’s much much more. If there’s one thing I hope developers take from it, it’s that your game shouldn’t be afraid to have balls.