This is an article that I’ve been meaning to write for a while. Various drafts have been sitting around for ages, so I thought I’d knuckle down and make something of them.
The original DOOM was scary – I’d never seen anything like it before. Running around a realistic, solid three-dimensional world faced with all manner of demons and monsters. It changed gaming forever. The gameplay wasn’t all that complicated – it basically came down to: find the key, open the door, repeat until level complete. But this was 1993 and that was fine.
id Software further refined the formula with DOOM II. It was basically more of the same but with a few new monsters and weapons. It was still great fun though, and with the wow factor that caused even non-gamers to stop and admire what was going on.
While DOOM II was in development, id’s code-meister John Carmack was hard at work on the next-generation engine. This would eventually power Quake – another revolution in gaming. Now we had a full 3D world where we could look up and down and have rooms on tops of rooms. Granted, the game design was a bit confused, but the game itself was great fun. The multiplayer mode popularised deathmatch gaming and helped to kickstart the world of pro-gaming.
A couple of sequels followed. Actually, that’s glossing over a few points. Before that, a 3D-accelerated version of Quake was released, and also a version with better netplay. These versions (GLQuake and QuakeWorld) contained innovations that were rolled into the sequel – Quake II (1997).
Quake III (1999) was a programming tour-de-force, combining curved surfaces, shaders and fast-paced gameplay into a perfect package. The fact that it was multiplayer-only made it a huge success in the online community. Indeed, it still lives on today in the browser-only version known as Quake Live (2010).
Return to DOOM
Following Quake III, id announced that they were making a sequel to the classic DOOM games. It would be another five years before DOOM III (1994) saw the light of day. By this time, the world of 3D first person shooters had changed. The Unreal Engine had come to dominate the licencing market and the massive success of the Call of Duty franchise was just around the corner.
The game was (as always for id) a technological marvel, but the gameplay was heavily criticised for being repetitive and boring. Valve’s Half Life (1998) had raised people’s expectations of what a shooter should offer and DOOM III was seen as old-school. However much you dressed it up, the gameplay still came down to: find the key, open the door, continue.
It was a big enough success though, and after the obligatory mission pack, id retreated to work on their new franchise, RAGE.
RAGE (2011) was released seven – yes, SEVEN – years after DOOM III. By the time it came out, the gaming landscape had moved on again. Consoles were king and the PC was only used by hardcore gamers. Granted, RAGE’s technology was impressive, and the shooting mechanics were solid and satisfying, but it wasn’t enough.
The MegaTexture technology had been much-hyped, and it did indeed work (apart from some appalling driver issues that hurt the PC launch badly), but was it enough?
The game was touted as including RPG elements, but these really boiled down to buying and selling ammo and equipment. It was almost impossible to run out of ammo, so much of this was pointless to begin with.
RAGE just didn’t innovate as a game. I remember reading a review that suggested it should have been called “Fetch”. After playing the first few levels I could see why. It went a bit like this:
Want a gun? Go and do a job for me first? Now do another one and I’ll give you something else? Got that? Go and see my friend for another job.
The story felt tired and basic. Furthermore, the post-apocalyptic setting (although breathtakingly beautiful) was hollow. It was obvious now that, while id knew how to design cutting-edge technology, they didn’t have much in the way of innovation to give.
The huge wastelands, which were supposed to be part of RAGE’s personality and an integral part of the game, were nothing more than nice scenery to drive through. The environment wasn’t interactive. There was no point in stopping the buggy to have a look around because, apart from a few plants to harvest, nothing could be done.
Furthermore, the levels themselves – while gorgeous – had no consistency. It felt like id had designed twenty or so levels, each with different enemies, and then just plugged them into the wasteland, plonking doors here and there. Of course, you couldn’t just enter any old door at any time – only when the game allowed you to.
For me, this emptiness reached its peak in the final hub area, known as Subway Town. The place was dripping with atmosphere. Authority drones loomed ominously overhead and menacing characters lurked on every corner. But there wasn’t any menace apparent in the gameplay. Everything just ticked along as normal, and the “menace” turned out to be graphical only.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed RAGE enormously, and I played it through twice. But it didn’t set the bar for others to follow, as id’s games had done in the past. And while it may have had the best engine, other engines were by now so good that it probably didn’t matter that much.
Basically, RAGE didn’t scare me. DOOM managed that, almost twenty years earlier and with much more basic technology. The characters and monsters in RAGE, on the other hand, felt like cartoons.
Who knows what’s next for id Software. DOOM 4 was rumoured to have been restarted after it failed to live up to standards. As for RAGE 2 – who knows?
It’s good news for the latest engine though. Wolfenstein The New Order and The Evil Within have both been announced as using idTech 5 (the RAGE engine), so it will be interesting to see what different studios do with the technology.