DOOM Remake Proves Nostalgia Isn’t Enough

Posted on May 15, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Xbox One with 0 Comments

DOOM Remake Proves Nostalgia Isn't Enough

I’m still only a few levels into the DOOM single-player campaign, but I’ve seen enough: Though this remake offers great visuals and frenetic game play, it just doesn’t recapture the magic of the original games.

And it’s not Id Software’s fault. Or Bethesda. Or whichever faceless corporate entity is really behind DOOM these days. It’s just that shooters have evolved, a lot, since the 1990s. And they’ve done so gradually, over time, bringing fans of various game series along with them as they went. With DOOM, we get decade-long waits between games, and then … this.

Being polite, you could describe DOOM’s game play as old school. Demons appear and hurl fireballs at you—just like in the original DOOM!—and you can simply sashay left and right to avoid them … yes, just like in the original DOOM! Except that that’s not really fun anymore, it’s just dumb. And DOOM’s inability to move beyond the past, aside from the graphics, is what sort of makes this game … not fun.

Nods to the past are always welcome. But DOOM throttles you with them. It’s a checkpoint-based game where you cannot save your place arbitrarily, and if you get killed, you go back much further than you’d like, every single time. There are red, blue and yellow cards,just like in the original DOOM! There are, for some reason, ammo packs, health and armor bits, and exploding barrels placed liberally around the play environment … just like in the original DOOM! (Health also pops out of dead demons like chiclets, for some reason. Ah boy.)

Worst of all, however, the new DOOM cheats in exactly the same way the original did over 20 years ago: You wipe out an area full of demons, there’s flash, and then more just appear. So the way DOOM gets harder on the upper skill levels is to just throw more at you. Dumb. Not fun. And most certainly not sophisticated.

When Id set out to remake DOOM in 2004 with the wrongly-titled 2004, they did so in typical John Carmack fashion by creating a new (for the day) game engine and using the game as a real-time advertisement for that technology. DOOM 3 fell flat for a number of reasons—the multiplayer experience was terrible, a rare lapse for Id—but where it won big was on the immersive nature of its environments. DOOM 3 was legitimately scary, and there was even a story and plot.

The new DOOM tries to cut down the middle. On the on hand, the single player experience is all about speed and action. But there are also plot elements that are teased out slowly as the game progresses, using blue hologram-like entities that were lifted straight out of the movie “Prometheus.” So it’s a combination of fast but dumb gameplay and a plot of that tries to seriously explain why demons are invading Mars. Which is of course a ludicrous set up for a game, when you think about it.

How ludicrous? When enter new areas, an in-game announcement intones “demonic presence at unsafe levels.” What? Are there safe levels of demonic presence in this world?

I spend a lot of time looking for something that can outdo Call of Duty from a first person shooter (FPS)/multiplayer perspective. And while fans of Battlefield, or Halo, or whatever game may disagree with me on what constitutes the perfect modern shooters, what all of these games have in common is that they’re better than DOOM. Each has evolved over the years and has become in turn more complex—which does make it harder for new gamers to jump in, I think—but also more enjoyable.

DOOM, meanwhile, has not evolved that much at all. (Again, beyond the graphics.) So the only market here is nostalgia, where you move from level to level—levels that, by the way, share the same E1M1 naming style of the original, of course—just to see how they refreshed some game element from the past. It gets tired really quick. As does wandering around trying to find the one door that will get you to the next part.

(This was annoying back in the days of Castle Wolfenstein 3D and the original DOOM, too. I’d spend days running around empty areas clicking SPACE repeatedly looking for secret areas, for example. In the new DOOM, you do this just looking for an actual, visible door.)

Multiplayer is as terrible as it was in the private and open betas, though of course we at least get more maps now. Supposedly. Just getting into multiplayer matches is difficult, with lots of interminable “waiting for players” screens. Hello? Anyone home? (At least you can use the SnapMap map editor to make your own environments while you wait for people to play against.)

If you’re considering spending time and money on this game, be sure to read what others are saying: Some people seem pretty happy with it. But I suspect that’s mostly out of a misplaced loyalty to Id. Truth, I suffer from that too. But I also have certain expectations when it comes to shooters, and DOOM simply isn’t meeting them.

Regardless of my expectations, know this: DOOM doesn’t raise the bar on what’s possible in a shooter in any way, and that’s true no matter how you feel about this game. What it really does is trade heavily on nostalgia while offering a fast-moving shooter that is pretty to look at … and not much else. In my opinion.

Speaking of nostalgia, maybe a coming Quake remake—come on, you know that’s next—will improve matters over in what’s called Id Software these days. But I doubt it.

I’ll keep playing as long as I can stand it, but I find myself drifting back to the latest Call of Duty title—Black Ops 3, which is excellent—for more sophisticated and fun (multiplayer) game play.

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