‘DOOM’ And The Triumphant Return Of The Single Player First-Person Shooter

All hail the campaign king.

DOOM opens brilliantly: A voice addresses you in the darkness. A crack of light appears, turning into an arcane symbol. You wake up chained to a table, ripping yourself loose and bashing a demon’s skull into the side of it as you get to the floor. The instant you’re on your feet, you have a pistol. Undead soldiers shuffle at the far end of the room. You start shooting. The whole thing is done in less than a minute.

There’s comic genius in how on the nose this is. More than most games, DOOM knows exactly what it is and why you’re playing it. It doesn’t fuck around. It feeds you blood, and you gladly take it. It shows you within the first 60 seconds of its existence that it’s the very antithesis of what Doom 4 was going to be, assuredly by design.

It’s also the perfect complement to the 2014’s Wolfenstein reboot The New Order, which re-contextualized the story of a Jewish commando murdering thousands of Nazis in the clothes of a narrative adventure game (which still contained thousands of murdered Nazis). DOOM is on the other end of the spectrum; no more than a few minutes into the game, the first attempt at communication with you is met by your marine wordlessly slamming the comm screen into a wall.

Both games seem to be on to a different kind of philosophy. It’s pretty common knowledge in the industry that fewer and fewer players finish single player campaigns, particularly for shooter mainstays like Call of Duty and Battlefield. It’s probably no coincidence that these experiences have been trending shorter as a result, with lengths of as few as four hours. And when was the last time you really felt particularly invested in one of those series’ campaigns? (Spacey doesn’t count).

Regardless, from an industry standpoint, multiplayer is the bread and butter of almost all FPSes – it’s what gives them any sense of longevity, keeping players at it until the next installment is available.

This is not true of these Bethesda games. The New Order has no multiplayer at all, and DOOM’s is, well, probably not the reason you’re playing. The former took me upwards of 15-20 hours to finish on the hardest initially available difficulty – I’m nowhere near done with DOOM yet, though howlongtobeat clocks completion at about 12 and a half hours.

These aren’t short campaigns, nor are they as hilariously over-scripted as Activision and EA’s tend to be. (Kotaku has a running joke of Call of Duty playing itself, where you can essentially run through their campaigns without firing a shot).

DOOM and The New Order are old-school in the best ways, with health and armor packs and a bigger emphasis on level design and monster layouts (look at DOOM’s maps!) than explosively cinematic or Hollywood moments. From what I’ve seen, most of its “spectacle” comes from sheer violence and speed, and that in and of itself is highly satisfying.

At the same time, both of Bethesda’s games incorporate their more modern elements almost on the sly, in a way that doesn’t get in the way of the design; they’re implemented so that you don’t have to do anything expect continue to play normally. Rather than worrying about XP per kill in DOOM, you just have to find special droids to upgrade your weapon add-ons. It shares Wolfenstein’s ability unlocks, which are earned by points gained from accomplishing special tasks (e.g., finding a certain number of secrets or killing two enemies with one shotgun shell).

Can you do those? Boom, you’ve got upgrade points. If multiplayer progression is all RPG stats when you break it down, tying your abilities to actual gameplay – particularly with a classic approach to design in general – allows both games to retain that single-player feel. It’s been sorely missed in the genre. Anything that strengthens the appeal and engagement of a campaign is a good play, and one that I personally can’t get enough of.

Going the opposite direction doesn’t seem to work. Fans were up in arms (and rightly so) when Star Wars Battlefront launched in November without a campaign, and multiplayer-centric games only have a limited lifespan in general – as new titles come out, players move on and servers are eventually shut down. Both its sequel and the Titanfall’s won’t make that mistake again.

But the industry shouldn’t ignore the success of the The New Order (which I’m sure it hasn’t) and DOOM (which I doubt it will). It’s time for a genre seachange.

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