One of my pet hates in videogames is how quickly we tend to rush around to stress how important, how revolutionary, how unlike the other things a game we enjoyed is.
I’ve been reading a lot around the recent Doom rejig where a lot of the conversation seems to revolve around me having to accept that we stopped exploring what the FPS could be, or rather – stopped exploring the ideal route of what the FPS could be according to someone or something like that (I don’t know exactly who? The Nostalgia Police, maybe?). And well, here comes Doom to fix all that.
It culminated in this piece on PCGamer a day or so back where I spent most of my time from the headline downwards not so much just disagreeing with the piece but not even being able to buy into the central premise it puts forward. Paragraph to paragraph finding myself going “but it isn’t really” until being asked to accept that Doom (the original) was about facing your fears and I near popped an eyeball out, my eyes widened so much.
Sometimes you really are just killing demons in an arcade style runaround. Sometimes, that’s all it is.
So, Doom 2016 – I haven’t quite finished it yet but at ten hours in I’ve seen the bulk of what it has to offer and honestly, after you get the first four hours out the way, it’s a tremendously good arcade style runaround where you kill demons a lot. When you’re dropped into one of its many arenas, double jumping about the place, scooting through teleporters to keep on moving, switching between a ruck of guns, it’s pretty fabulous stuff. I like that a lot.
It’s a game that cribs bits from a lot of other games and smooshes them all together to make a sometimes unholy mess of things and sometimes, thankfully in the second two thirds of the game, to make for a super nifty and compulsive shoot them in the face game.
As the beautifully bearded Ben Barrett is right to point out, it’s worth it for the Berserk power up alone because that thing is stupid as all get out. And when Doom knows it’s being stupid as all get out, like EDF and plenty of other game series before it, it works a treat.
Because sometimes I just want a really stupid shooting game and that’s OK. (Also, as someone who ploughs the stupid shooting game field in a different corner of games, I know a good one takes a lot of effort to make it work well and I’m fully appreciative of that)
Just y’know, Doom is just a stupid videogame for the most part. It’s also not this laser focused confident thing. Sometimes, it’s a mess of stuff it’s cribbed indiscriminately. The Foundry is genuinely one of the worst stages in a videogame I’ve played in years. Its one pissy hue colour scheme, platforms all over the shop, awful waypointing brings to mind some of the worst sins, the worst solved problems, in FPS design that we’d put behind us. Not one of The Foundry’s problems hasn’t already been sorted elsewhere. Then the game follows it up with one of those levels where there’s a central column channeling some sort of videogame bullshit energy and you have to make your way around a tubular stage filled with moving platforms to get to the top and fucks sake, I got fed up of those at the turn of the century. Not again, please.
Which is another reason why I’m eyeballing up any piece that claims Doom 2016 is asking important questions about game design. It’s throwing a lot of stuff at the wall, sometimes good and sometimes tedious bullshit we stopped doing years ago with good reason and making the best fist of it that it can. And you know what? This is an OK thing to be doing. There’s a part of me that kinda wishes that it was more focused, better at working out the bits in the game that really shine but hey, I’ll take scrappy round the edges. Scrappy is fine. Well, fine until you start asking me to jump around the place to get where I’m going because I thought we all agreed after Xen in Half Life that this shit needs to stop.
I’m sort of digressing here though because this isn’t just about Doom 2016. This is about videogames. It’s about how we keep doing this, we keep reaching for games and elevating them as doing something Capital I Important just because they’re just pretty good (or in the case of Bioshock Infinite, in the vain hope there’s something, anything of substance to it because surely there has to be, you can’t seriously expend this much effort on something that turned out so vacuous, surely?)
It has to be ignorant too. In order for this to work, we have to pretend that other games, other developers aren’t out there exploring what is what in games. Sometimes that means ignoring anything that isn’t shipped out to stores with an excessive marketing budget and sometimes, like in that Doom piece I linked to, just ignoring anything else ever made, like ever.
I’m bouncing off this PCGamer piece so please excuse the focus on it, it’s kind of just a handy Most Recent Example that I’ve got to hand but when it says that Doom has returned to ask important questions of what an FPS can be, it asks me to buy into the idea that there is (in its own words, not mine) a ‘cookie cutter’ design that’s come up that we just repeat over and over. I’d struggle to buy that idea a few years back, now it sounds absurd.
In a world where Halo, S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Destiny, Superhot, Team Fortress 2, Half Life 2, Doom 3, Overwatch, Escape From Tarkov, Planetside, Tribes, Dishonored, Sir You Are Being Hunted, Titanfall exist, how can we even think there’s no-one really thinking through all the things an FPS could be? At a point where there’s people deconstructing specific elements and building from there – your Heavy Bullets, your Tower Of Guns, Fancy Skulls, Bunker Punks and on – how can we do this? When there’s people knocking down the very foundations and presenting us with Proteus, Dear Esther and whatever other meander-around things popping up, I’m lost here. When there’s stuff coming up like Tangiers and all that, yeah?
There is such a rich seam of exploration going on now and to be fair, whilst we may have focused away from the singleplayer arcade experience an awful lot, I’d struggle to pin the tail on the history donkey of when we weren’t off feeling our way round important questions of what the genre can be. I’d struggle to find a point where we just had a cookie cutter formula, even the oft fingered for its sins of CoD keeps quietly changing itself up through the campaigns. Sometimes for the worst, sometimes for the better. No matter, it’s still change.
But we keep doing this, we keep pretending stuff isn’t happening, we keep championing stuff as Capital I Important every few years before we’ve even had the time to work out whether it really is or if it’s just an embarrassing footnote or just a thing that happened and it was OK. Whether it comes in the shape of hounding an old man cinema critic into just playing Bioshock so he would know then that truly games are art, whether it comes from sincerely believing that Journey is the One Thing That Says Games Are For Everyone whilst completely ignoring a lot of the people who we’re trying to make see the beauty of games are pressing flashing things on their phone or from Big Fish or something but not those kind of games, they don’t count.
And fucking hell, let’s not talk about the ridiculous thing around the ‘DVD collection made game’ that is GTA V where so many folks just buy into ‘it’s satire, it satirizes everything’ and so rushed to defend it at its most egregious and tone deaf. Some dipwit wrote an article saying the torture scene satirizes torture. Because it has to be doing something that matters. It can’t just be shit. It has to be meaningful. It has to have power. How do you even satirize torture? We just don’t know but if anything can do it, GTA can.
Like that awful history rewriting defense of the Battlefield 1 trailer RPS ran recently, we sometimes so rush into defending videogames as doing something important that we lose sight of the fact they don’t exist in a vacuum, we just say ‘sod it’ to their place in culture and the world at large as we try and jam them into the hole we want them to fit into, even if that means underplaying the deaths of millions as we do so.
Like, maybe this is the real videogame power fantasy here. It’s not the one where you get to play the hero saving the world, it’s the one where you believe that a game has to be powerful, important, ready to become an instant classic just because you enjoyed playing it. It isn’t enough to appreciate it, it isn’t enough to enjoy it, it isn’t enough for it to just be. It has to be something, maaan. It has to be an art, it has to be doing something no-one else is even when they are, it has to be the one to bring in more folk to the congregation of the church of videogames so they too can see the power and the glory, my kingdom come.
And maybe sometimes it’s just a really fucking good videogame, right? And that’s just fine.