Thanks for joining us again for a look at our favourite games. Don’t miss next week’s interesting indie game, one of the best of recent years. As always, you can keep locked to OnlySP on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week’s games came up with 3D games as a medium, both effecting and being affected by the changes of 3D over the course of nearly thirty years.
Considering the FPS genre’s ever-presence in the video game industry, gamers can often forget that this was not always the case. The genre’s rigid place in gaming’s milieu was, at one point, a distant ambition. The notion of the “first-person shooter” was once a revolutionary idea, which is difficult to envision in modern times, with the genre’s path to widespread popularity being paved with truly exemplary games. Arguably, the most important part of its foundation is 1993’s DOOM, a title so tightly designed and polished that it still enamours today.
Developed at the start of id Software’s peak, DOOM landed at the perfect time. id’s fifth effort at an FPS game instantly became a household name, often forming the basis of talking points for “games as art” to fuelling anti-gaming rhetoric to becoming a point of reference for the viability of hardware. The question “Does it run DOOM?” was said so much on release that it became somewhat of a meme-phrase, but its existence hinted at a major cultural movement: this was the point everyone wanted to play DOOM and, by extension, the point where everyone wanted to play FPS games. Why, then, did DOOM capture the imagination of not contemporary gamers, but the entire early nineties zeitgeist?
Simply put, DOOM’s level design, pacing and inch perfect shooting mechanics made the game instantly likeable, even for those who were tourists in the genre. The level design initially feels like a simple A to B shooter, but on closer inspection, it reveals its ever-surprising winding paths, secrets and shortcut-ridden blueprints. In some ways, the consequences of the game’s multi-layered approach to what was, at that point, a linear genre still ripples out today, with titles as distant as Dark Souls borrowing from id’s “show but don’t tell” approach to upgrades and branching paths. While the level’s visuals may seem drab and antiquated by today’s standards, these are easily forgotten by the way their design facilitates rewarding play.
Interwoven into these branching levels is a degree of enemy variety that is perfectly paced, surprising players without overwhelming them. DOOM only has roughly 10 enemy types, but the timing and pacing around each enemy’s introduction keeps the game fresh; players never feel like DOOM is getting repetitive because of its pacing of monsters, weapons, and resources. By having equal brilliance in both level and enemy variation, DOOM was perhaps the first in its genre to have parity between these two central aspects of game design.
These factors were consolidated in DOOM II, a quickly developed sequel that landed in 1994. While the pacing did not quite stand up to its predecessor, the game’s addition of new enemies, larger levels, and alterations to resource management made up for devolutions in pace. What stands out most vividly when comparing DOOM II to its predecessor is the different philosophies to level design, with the sequel expanding into larger, less linear maps.
Following a similar fan response to the first game, DOOM II served to entrench the series into the mid-nineties culture more. Today, DOOM II feels distinctly more modern than its predecessor, often becoming the basis of what has truly kept the DOOM community alive: the modding scene.
The first mod for DOOM came in 1994 entitled ‘Origwad’. The mod was a simple two-room level with a few enemies, but it signified a shift in DOOM’s community from consumers to creators. After the modding community evolved in the late nineties, the game’s credibility as a tool for creation as opposed to play became evident. ‘Brutal DOOM’ is perhaps the most successful DOOM mod to ever release. In 2012, the mod dropped to massive acclaim on IndieDB, receiving plaudits for adding new animations and a fully-interactable physics engine into DOOM, revolutionising how the game and its mod spin-offs were played.
Many games based off DOOM have also been released, featuring their own stories and interpretations of the game’s palette. Experiences in this community has even birthed contemporary greats such as DUSK, which are reinterpreting the series quirks for a modern audience.
For a set of games that are approaching their 26th birthday, their longevity continues to surprise. Developing a sequel to these legendary titles was no small feat, but an attempt was made in 2004 with the misunderstood, horror-influenced DOOM 3.
DOOM 3 is considered to be the weakest title in the series but what can be said is the game doubled down on the horror and story giving making it a great stepping stone towards the incredible fourth game in 2016, simply titled DOOM. The third instalment kept the weapons and enemy types from the originals that gave players the agency on how they take down the brutal demons of hell,
DOOM 3 was not about the Doom Marine going through Earth and Hell to devastate the demons but an average person who is trying to fight back the invasion. With this change, the levels became more linear and more story was given to the player. While this was a significant difference from the original titles, DOOM 3 still held some of the Metroidvania style level design that had players dealing with traversal puzzles and finding keys while backtracking to get through an area that was previously inaccessible. What also made DOOM 3 special was the darker atmosphere; in previous entries, players would run through halls killing hell spawns, but this time the hunter became the hunted as the evil creatures pop out of the dark. The action and atmosphere came to create a new experience that made players feel powerful yet small in a world that far better explained the lore of the older games.
Many would say that the best kind of game design flows like a rollercoaster, with lows and highs, and DOOM 3 was able to capitalize on this method. The moments of wandering through the dark corridors was a tense low that would quickly ramp up to a scary high as enemies pop out of the dark or are just around a corner. DOOM 3 would keep the flow as the story delivered and then battles would ensue shortly after.
The latest entry in the series, 2016’s DOOM, is the next step up, combining the action and level design of the original with the storytelling and atmosphere of the third game to make one of the best entries. New modern systems were brought into DOOM that helped enforce exploration of each mission in the form of small open world levels with linear sections. In addition, combat has a great execution system that reinforces the rollercoaster flow to combat. When enemies become highlighted, the player can perform an execution called a Glory Kill that gives the gamer more health, but most importantly it gives people a break from the onslaught and continuous action. Some games falter because they keep players in intense situations for too long, either making the experience boring or exhausting. DOOM not only gives players a break but rewards them for earning it.
The level design of DOOM keeps the player moving forward at all times, with the few exceptions of interacting with something in the world that alters what the player has already experienced. This design makes backtracking in the game more pleasurable as new encounters will happen along with opening new places to explore. DOOM takes the best approach to level design as backtracking is never boring, and exploration is rewarded with upgrades and collectibles.
Another way that DOOM is modernized is with the upgrades to the weapons and the character’s Praetor Suit that open up more ways to play. From new gun attacks to having more jump capabilities or protection, the unlockables help make the player feel much stronger.
The story of DOOM focuses on the Doom Marine being awoken from a state of stasis that the demons kept him in and fighting off the demons that are coming to Mars once again. The story later delves into how the demons perceived the Doom Marine as an unstoppable killing machine and also discusses the original knights that fought off the hell spawns.
DOOM is one of the pinnacles of arcade shorters, from weapon design, enemies, and level layout. The game’s ability to give the player freedom in how they play and fight is something that many games can look at for inspiration. Just around the corner is the sequel, DOOM Eternal, which continues the story and is working to give gamers even more ways to kill demons. Whether someone likes story or just gameplay mechanics, the series has something to offer for all.
Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. The game this week is another Telltale series (The Walking Dead is at #19) that continued to push the envelope for adventure games.
In 2012, a video game adaptation of the popular comic book and television Show The Walking Dead catapulted Telltale Games from niche studio obscurity into the limelight. The company’s model of securing the rights to popular IPs and moulding them to its adventure game format resulted in other acclaimed titles like Guardians of the Galaxy and Batman that sought to twist the common formula and offer something different in those massive franchises.
In amidst the rising tide of their reputation, the company took a chance on something that was not quite as big or as popular, opting to give the Telltale treatment to Bill Willingham’s long-running comic book series Fables. What ensued was a wonderful twist on the tale that quite possibly makes The Wolf Among Us Telltale’s greatest achievement amidst a plethora of other very creative work.
The game is set in a world where fairytales are real, but not in the way one might expect. Instead of a magical far off land, the game is set in Manhattan (though maybe that is Manhattan for some), in a specially created enclave called Fabletown. This small settlement is where a plethora of characters from famous fairy tales and myths have been living after having fled the Homelands, which is now ruled by a mysterious, dark Adversary whose draconian regime became too difficult to bear.
Those who escaped have managed to assimilate in to America without much trouble due to cloaking magic, while any non-human ‘fables’ must use an enchantment known as a ‘glamour’ to maintain a human appearance and not arouse suspicion, or be taken off site to The Farm, a refuge that those who cannot change their appearance go to.
Bigby Wolf (formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf) is the Sheriff of Fabletown in the year 1986. He is charged with maintaining order, but Fabletown is not too eventful of a place. Soon, however, trouble is brewing and a simple trip out to help someone get home starts to unravel to reveal something dark and insidious in this last refuge of the great Fables.
This is a game that nails its tone. As soon the opening titles appear, Jared Emerson-Johnson’s brilliant score, and the moody, purple lettering of the title make clear that the game was going to be drenched in noirish atmosphere. The art style welcomes this theme: it is vivid and evocative, but never overstated, providing a rich setting for the characters and embodying both the darkness of their situation and their new gritty reality.
The player takes control of Bigby and is tasked with figuring out why things are getting increasingly out of hand when no one can afford them to, meaning lots of detective work. Bigby himself is fascinating. He is the gruff, sardonic, chain-smoking main character one might expect from a game like this, but he has nuance under that exterior. He is moulded by the decisions the player makes. The extent of the choices available mean that the way Bigby interacts with those around him dictates what the most important aspects of his personality will be, whether that is compassion, dedication, or a thirst for blood. Adam Harrington is brilliant in the role, and was well deserving of his BAFTA nomination, his main triumph being the subtlety in his line delivery and the way he makes each version of Bigby feel a bit different.
As everything unravels, Bigby slowly finds himself having more and more dots to put together as each environment contains clues and answers that are pivotal to figuring out how to stop those at the heart of the problem. This example demonstrates how immaculately written the game is that each of these moments feels gripping, from the very beginning of the first episodethrough to the end. The way the mystery is built up, with all the twists and turns along the way, makes for a thrill-ride worthy of any famous detective.
But not just the mechanics of the plot make the game Telltale’s greatest output. The characterisation of each and every one of the prominent characters is fantastic. Each citizen of Fabletown feels unique, with their own issues and opinions and sometimes even skeletons in the closet that Bigby has to deal with, and those character moments indelibly affect the way the game plays out and what sort of person Bigby wants to be. Notably characters like Snow White, who here is pragmatic and adamant that the rules in place keep the Fables safe, do end up having an impact on Bigby and his decision making, while others, like Colin the Pig, can help to show a different side to him, presenting him with many dilemmas along the way.
In this way, The Wolf Among Us becomes more than just a simple detective story. The game becomes a rich, intricate world full of complex interpersonal relationships that is barely managing to hold together and is straining even more while the mystery is solved and the threat is increased. These relationships become central to the game’s moral dilemmas, and in true Telltale style these are difficult decisions to make because the characters feel important, their perspectives understandable, their circumstances challenging. Bigby’s journey through these problems shapes him and those around him, ultimately deciding the future fate of Fabletown and potentially bringing him eerily close to the villain of the piece.
In a certain way, one can easily guess the kind of experience Telltale will provide for them in gameplay terms. The gameplay is fairly standard, and quick-time events make up a large part of the gameplay in moments of action or urgency, while exploration and discovery are encouraged in the detective work. The gameplay can at times be frustrating, but it is ultimately a mechanism to further the story and allow the player to shape Bigby in their image, according to how they would try to solve the problem.
Despite some frustration with the aforementioned quick time events, The Wolf Among Us is the adventure genre at its best. The perfect mix of characterisation, intense action, and world building works well in tandem with Telltale’s tried and tested gameplay and art style, the latter of which here is perfect. Emerson-Johnson’s score is always evocative and adds more texture to that innate feeling of immersion that the game provides. That the game will now no longer be getting a sequel due to the studio’s closure is a giant shame, but at least this example of video game storytelling at its best was made to show how it is done.
Do you have a favourite adventure game that did great work in story, but perhaps never had a fair shake? Maybe you could recommend the game for other players—why not join in the discussion below? Next week’s game also did great work with game narratives, though it is very much not an adventure game. In the meantime, you can follow OnlySP on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.