This May, the highly anticipated Doom was released by id Software to rave reviews. Scoring an 85% on Metacritic, the game landed with outstanding appreciation from both critics and fans alike. It introduced new mechanics to the series, but retained features of the old titles; favoured a sense of gameplay over a detailed narrative; and showed what modern FPS titles could be if they’d let themselves have some fun once in a while.
Cast your minds back 5 years, though, and a similar title released to a starkly different reception: the now infamous Duke Nukem Forever, which sits at a 51% on Metacritic. In production for 15 years between 1996 and 2011, the game was constantly hit with delays and threats of falling into obscurity. Eventually, in June of 2011, we were presented with a clearly dragged-out title that should have been laid to rest long before its prolonged release date. But, for those not aware, Doom was also delayed: the title originally came to public attention back in May of 2008 – 8 years before it released as the game we know today. So I suppose the question is: Why did DoomGuy succeed, where the Duke failed?
The first indication that Duke Nukem Forever was going to hit with a forgettable thud was that it had been passed amongst several studios on its long journey to release. Beginning at 3D Realms, the game was later given to Triptych Games, Piranha Games, and eventually Gearbox Software in 2009. Conversely, Doom had always been under the creative control of id Software. Now, this might seem insignificant, but it matters a lot; a game passed between several developers means that it is reworked again and again to adhere to an ever-changing set of parameters. Duke Nukem Forever went through several iterations that each looked drastically different from one another. Doom, on the other hand, was never revealed publicly until July 2014, when testers were allowed to discuss their experience with the game first-hand. The game revealed at this time wasn’t dissimilar from the one released in May of 2016 – unlike Duke Nukem Forever, which changed its appearance every few years.
If you’ve been following the development of the latest Doom closely, you’d know that a trailer surfaced for what the previously-titled “Doom 4” could have looked like. Leaked back in 2011, the teaser depicted a drastically different title from the one we received, and looked much more akin to a grey, drab shooter that lacked any sense of personality of individuality. Where this differs from Duke Nukem Forever, however, is that id Software never released this footage as proof of concept to the public. In fact, back in 2011 – the year the teaser was leaked – Doom 4 was announced to be “indefinitely postponed”. This was suspected to be due to the critical reception of id Software’s latest title at the time, Rage.
The title soldiered on, though, and underwent numerous changes in-house at id Software before its official announcement in 2014. Clearly, this scenario shows that it’s always a bold move to announce a title years before its release – a move that doesn’t always pay off like it was intended to.
But where else did Doom succeed when Duke did not? Well, even if we forget the ridiculously high expectations that came along with Duke Nukem Forever, the game – as it stands – just isn’t very good. It tries to retain the childish, misogynistic nature of the original titles, but still includes modern FPS mechanics like a 2-gun limit, regenerating health, driving segments, and compulsory turret fights. It’s a game that doesn’t have any clue what it wants to be, and it’s evident that it tries to squeeze in all of the popular game mechanics that floated around during its 15-year development cycle.
Doom, on the other hand, seems to get everything right. Unlike Duke Nukem Forever, Doom very much so feels a product of its time; it’s all about constant, bloody combat, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. Narrative is tossed aside (quite literally, at the game’s opening) in favour of all-out gunplay, and the game isn’t plagued by an outdated protagonist who grates at every turn. There’s a definite chance that the game looked and played drastically different when it was originally envisioned back in 2008, but it wasn’t shown to the public, and so expectations could be managed.
So when it comes down to it, Doom succeeded because it wasn’t shown publicly before it was ready. It’s not 3D Realms’ fault that they wanted to show Duke Nukem Forever way back in 1997, because it’s what was popular at the time. They had no idea that 12 years later, the game still wouldn’t be released, and their company would fall apart. However, if any lesson can be learned from id Software’s latest title, it’s this: don’t reveal your hand too early. Wait until everything is in place, and hype is justified. We only need to look to Bethesda’s management of the Fallout 4 announcement and subsequent, swift release to see how successful this method can be.
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