The original Doom is as frantic as video games come, requiring the player to weave in and out of demonic fireballs and charging enemies as they dive deeper into hell. As the first-person shooter evolved, the genre shifted towards a more realistic presentation. With this realism came a seemingly contradictory shift. As bullets started flying faster, battles became more methodical. Few modern FPS games allow the player to simply run headfirst into a group of enemies while dodging their shots. Honestly, the original Doom feels like it has less in common with Half-Life than classical shooters like Contra. The genre has largely lost the focus on simple maneuvering.
No game has quite captured the spirit of Doom like, well, Doom, which perfectly earns the shared titled. 23 years later, Doom 2016 feels like a glimpse into an alternate reality where the genre had forsaken needless realism and focused on evolving direct confrontations. While other FPS games might have more compelling set pieces, no modern FPS offers as much adrenaline-pumping fun as Doom 2016.
The key difference between these two mindsets can be broken down into two concepts: projectile versus hitscan bullets. With the now-common hitscan method, the game simply checks if the target was in line of sight and applies damage based on this check. No bullet is generated; this method is used to simulate the rapid velocity of actual gunfire. The player simply hits whatever they were looking at when they press the fire button. Projectiles, on the other hand, generate an actual object which must move through the space between gun and target, meaning the bullet could potentially be dodged. Projectile bullets can move at various speeds. A lot of modern FPS games relegate projectiles to weapons like rocket launchers.
Doom is lucky to have its setting. The game can get away with slower attacks because most demons aren’t going to charge at the player with modern human weaponry. This gives a distinct design while never feeling unnatural. With attacks which are easier to dodge, Doom makes up for it by throwing wave upon wave of enemies.
Playing through a level of Doom feels like a dangerous dance. The player must keep track of the various enemies and their attack styles, picking off those which pose the most immediate threat while dodging continual fire. An ingenious element is the implementation of glory kills. After enough damage, most enemies will become staggered. The player can perform a melee attack, resulting in a brutal animation as Doomguy tears the demon apart. The reward for making this dangerous approach is a little bit of healing. Thus, a lot of Doom 2016’s gameplay can involve staying at close enough range to benefit from this risky yet constant source of health. This results in there never being a lull during combat. Meanwhile, the game contains enough secrets to make exploration just as fun.
Traipsing into hell itself seems like the perfect recipe for horror, and the many monstrous designs would suggest as much. But there’s a very distinct atmosphere given off by the first enemy. He gives off a horrid scream, which could be taken as an attempt at intimidation. But the more you add up the pieces, the clearer it becomes that these demons literally fear the Doom Slayer. This turns Doom 2016 into the perfect power fantasy. The player gets to be the nightmare which keeps demons up at night.
The appeal of Doom is simple. Through intelligent enemy design, the game manages a unique balance between constant movement and aiming. This is a game which stands apart from its contemporaries. Many FPS games reward patience, but it’s so much more satisfying to charge a crowd of demons and blast them in the face with a shotgun. I hold many of my favorite games on their pedestal due to particularly resonant moments or sheer innovation in tandem with their quality gameplay. Doom 2016 never has a big revelatory moment where it feels like I’m seeing something no game has done before. The gameplay alone is just that thrilling for it to stand with the best of the best. Few games have ever been this fun.