As I finished DOOM last night, fired off the BFG one last time and watched the credits roll I couldn’t help feeling a sense of loss as well as triumph. I kept trying to categorize that loss and put it into words for some friends that knew I was playing it…especially those that tried it on my recommendation and for whatever reason, just didn’t jive with it.
Because of those reactions of those close to me I kept qualifying my statements: The best First-Person-Shooter I played in years or The best solo campaign since Modern Warfare 1.
But that’s bullshit.
It’s the best game I’ve played in years. Maybe forever. That isn’t to say it’s the best narrative experience (although I really like the purposely dumb narrative and think it’s executed beautifully, but complimenting feels like pausing a porn mid-thrust to talk about how well crafted the characters are). That isn’t to say it’s the best visual masterpiece like a Naughty Dog title (although I think the visuals are extremely well done and the gore is absurdly artistic).
But games used to be pretty simple before all of that pomp and circumstance. You will probably find writing by me somewhere on the internet in years past championing narrative as the number one thing I look for in a game, and I’ve sort of had a come to Jesus moment where gameplay is concerned. What happened was I got everything I always wanted, so what I wanted had to change.
Life is Strange from last year is one of the best narrative games I’ve ever or probably will ever play. It exists to tell a story. It’s built from the ground up to do that, and it does it amazingly well. Other titles from 2015 such as Firewatch and Until Dawn I had a blast playing through with a group like we would watch a TV show together. Telltale games from Walking Dead to Tales From the Borderlands were also great times. I’m overserved in the narrative department, and served damn well.
But something happened along the way during the 360 generation. Like the infamous Dre, we forgot about gameplay. Games got bigger, more expansive. Guess how many question marks this one has on the map? Will finding all these question marks be fun? Who cares? Look how many there are!
Stories in games started requiring powerhouse visuals, voice acting, full orchestrated music. This is all great, but it also meant that it was all incredibly expensive. As a result I suspect, games started making games something everyone could beat. This probably wasn’t the only reason, obviously, but I can imagine it’s hard to justify paying large swaths of cash on an ending most players won’t be good enough to see.
As I said, I recommend DOOM to a lot of people, and a few just didn’t get it. I hate that phrase “didn’t get it.” It make me feels like the elitist asshole I was in high school. Older Jeff is more grounded and knows that different people have different tastes. What’s it matter if they don’t like it?
But, that’s kind of bullshit too. Well intentioned bullshit, but the well motivated kind always smells the worst.
DOOM is objectively a great game. You are presented “the challenge” of that game early on: kill all the demons, beat the level, and don’t run out of health. Each level adds a wrinkle on this original challenge. There’s no hiding in cover, but every projectile is dodgeable if you’re good enough. There’s no reloading, but resources are scarce, and there is so much care put into the gameplay choice of when you use which ammo, when you choose to spend chainsaw fuel to force ammo drops.
Each level has hidden secrets, and finding them results in the sweetest dopamine rush. The rune trials are well crafted, forcing you to learn how to use the diverse weapon selection in new ways, and finishing them gives you huge advantages in the actual game. The ultimate mode of each weapon modifier isn’t unlocked through collectibles like the first few abilities, but rather through the sort of gameplay challenge that would have been a silly Xbox Achievement in the early days of the 360. I found myself going back to old levels where I thought getting X demons in one shot gun blast might be easier to accomplish.
The enemies are diverse, attacking you in varied ways and requiring different weapons to take them out the most efficiently. In the ending levels, there are so many enemies to deal with that I had to mentally prepare for each battle, my heart thumping as I watched my health or ammo tick down. I’d see a health pack and have to make the split second decision, “Should I pick it up now, or leave it for later?” And it is a split second, because standing still is death. Ten minutes later you are sprinting back, dodging projectiles with only 24 health, trying to find that healthpack you left for later.
It’s an amazing game.
I’ve noticed some correlations with those that “didn’t get” DOOM. First, they had the XBOX 360 as their first primary console. This meant that they learned to game in the “You made it to the question mark, here’s a cookie” generation. Second, they also “don’t get” Dark Souls. They don’t understand why those games are popular, and are a little annoyed when people say they are good.
Honestly, I’m not really sure what the mature response is here. A big part of me suspects that these individuals aren’t giving these games enough of a chance. That they’ve been so coddled for so long that they perceive failure as the opposite of fun, and not a step in learning towards the ultimate fun of that difficult thing finally achieved.
The old-man-yelling-on-his-porch part of me wants to extrapolate this into a larger narrative about a generation that was given participation trophies. That sees success as an right as opposed to an earned privilege.
But then most of me says that’s overly elitist and pedantic for chatter about video games The world is hard enough without me saying that you’re too timid or lazy to enjoy good games. And who am I to talk, I ignore multiplayer almost entirely (or did until the brilliant Overwatch came into my life) because I “don’t get” online multiplayer gaming. I also “don’t get” MMOs. I also “don’t get” MOBAs.
But, on the same hand, I’d never say more about them then “They aren’t for me.” And if someone told me that Dota 2 was the best game in 2014 I’d tell them that I didn’t play it enough to really have an opinion.
If there’s a mark against DOOM (besides the unnecessary multiplayer) it’s that unlike Dark Souls, it has difficulty selection. I watched one of these DOOM naysayers try the game out at my house. He picked easy, negating the strategy and resource management. He ignored all the rune trials. He ignored all the secrets. He played a few levels and went, “Meh, I’m not really that into it.”
My response, “You didn’t really play it.”
Maybe I’m becoming an old man. Maybe I’m just being the elitist asshole I was in high school once again, but if you don’t like DOOM, you’re wrong. It’s a beautiful game.
And frankly, this generation doesn’t deserve it.