Can nostalgia make an entertainment product succeed? More precisely, can the memories of a cherished past sell a video game? Considering the release of id Software’s 2016 DOOM, published by Bethesda, I wonder if the success of this latest installment of an infamous series rests too much on the power of nostalgia to sell video game copies and upkeep a solid multiplayer population.
Earlier this week, Bethesda and id Software released both the multiplayer maps that will release on launch day, as well as DOOM’s multiplayer modes. While watching the teaser videos time and time again, I couldn’t help but wonder if the way in which DOOM’s multiplayer has been built relies too much on the power of nostalgia, and less on the current state of shooter video games. What does the multiplayer reveal show us? Well, it depicts a style of multiplayer shooter that, even though revitalized by features of the modern shooter, embraces a lot of its 90s successor and doesn’t really add anything new to the table. Can DOOM succeed based on a formula that, even though nostalgically powerful, offers little more than what gamers already get from other modern shooters?
One quick look at the latest generation of shooters tells much on how these games are being built and what gamers are playing. For the sake of a proper comparison, I will limit this analysis to shooter games with competitive multiplayer modes built around a “deathmatch” (death count) and/or “objective” (CTF, King of the Hills, Territories) system—no Borderlands, The Division, or adventure-based shooters.
The Modern Shooter
Blacks Ops 3, Destiny, Titanfall, and Halo 5 (yes, a shooter) reveal one side of the modern shooter world: quick-paced, quick-reflex, arena shooters with great emphasis on squad-based combat to overwhelm the enemy or conquer an objective. One refreshing element that was highlighted with the release of Halo 5 was the focus shift to vertical arena maps, the addition of speed-based melee abilities, access to higher mobility, and a continuing emphasis on skill-based shooting mechanics. Say what you want to say of 343 Industries, Halo 5’s was a successful response and check to the new multiplayer expectations that came about with the rise of Call of Duty. Destiny, for all that it critics have to offer, also embraces a complex and dynamic style of combat through its Crucible modes.
On the other side of the shooter spectrum we can find games such as Rainbow Six Siege and Gears of War. This is a subgenre of shooters focused on cover-based combat and a greater emphasis on tactics. Gears of War may loosely fit into this subgenre; however, it better relates to this game style.
A quick glance at the multiplayer reveal trailer tells us that the approach id Software and Bethesda have taken toward DOOM is one that embraces elements of the modern shooter–jumping and clambering–yet does little beyond such additions. In its return to the world of modern first-person shooters, DOOM has chosen not to revolutionize the modern shooter, but to trust in the nostalgia of its predecessors.
Nevertheless, can this approach succeed? Come May 16th, will nostalgia for an obsolete style of gameplay triumph over modern shooter? Can DOOM take gamers from Halo’s Slayer, CoD’s death matches, Destiny’s Crucible, and The Division’s DZ and bring them all back home? In addition, can DOOM succeed in winning over a new generation of gamers to whom DOOM is but something that old gamers talk about?
In the world of modern shooters, DOOM will make a big landing and it will definitely sell a lot of copies; however, absent a refreshing style of shooter gameplay that honors the capacity of the modern console/PC and the intelligence of its owners, DOOM will fade as quickly as the thunder which with it arrived. There is much to respect in DOOM’s embracing of its roots, but part of honoring a game’s legacy is knowing when it’s time to move forward. Maybe a modern DOOM that not only embraced but also revolutionized the shooter spectrum wouldn’t succeed either way—maybe it belongs in the memories of a cherished past.
There is no doubt that replaying DOOM matches will be fun and exciting, but it won’t survive, and my opinions here don’t mean that I won’t pick up a copy and enjoy reliving the good old days–there is much to appreciate and enjoy. However, at the end of the day, gamers on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation will return to the CoDs, Destiny, Halo, and modern shooters. The past was glorious, but the present demands respect and innovation.