Game of the Year 2016 #1: Doom

This year was a great year for video games. We saw a sequel to Arcane’s spectacular revenge story, Dishonored, and even got to return to the world of Final Fantasy in an entirely new way. Blizzard also released their own take on the hero shooter, and Overwatch has been an absolute joy to play. In 2016, though, one game has stood taller than the rest. Developed by id Software, and published by Bethesda Games, Doom breathed new life into the stagnation of the first-person shooter genre and helped revive the industry’s love for fast-paced, hard-hitting action and gore. Last week, before our break, the staff all sat down together to talk about why Shacknews loves Doom, and what the game means to us as a site.

David Craddock: I don't know about the rest of you, but I went into Doom circa 2016 with... well, not low expectations, but zero expectations. Some fans pinned their hopes and dreams on the poorly received multiplayer beta that preceded the game's launch. I ignored that. Although the original Doom pioneered deathmatch, I didn't play multiplayer; I stuck to the three (later four) single-player episodes and the game's surfeit of mods. 

For those reasons, I pinned my hopes and dreams on the Doom reboot's campaign, and I was not disappointed. id Software took a "little from Column A, some from Column B" approach: the game melded new and old mechanics and tropes so seamlessly that Doom deserves recognition as one of the most original titles of the year--somewhat ironically, I'll grant you, since it's both a reboot and a sequel of a beloved franchise.

What about the rest of you? What did you like about the campaign, and where did you land on Doom's multiplayer and Snapmap modes?

Josh Hawkins: You know, I was the same way, David. Especially after playing the multiplayer in the beta that they had just a bit before release. I was disgusted, completely turned off from the game at all. But, that didn't stop me from giving it a try. 

To be fair, though, I don't have the background with the Doom series that many of you do. Being one of the younger members of the team, I was only four when the original Quake released, so Doom was nowhere on my radar of games that I was 'allowed' to play at the time. I instantly fell in love. The music, the enemies, the giddy feeling when I performed a glory kill... It is by far one of the best FPS games I've ever played in my life.

As I said before, I hated the multiplayer, but since the game's release I've dabbled in it a little bit with friends, and have actually grown quite fond of it. Sure, it isn't the best multiplayer around, but it isn't the worst either.

Steve Watts: Yeah, from the press end, we had every reason to believe Doom was going to turn out pretty bad. I'm sure we all remember the slow dawning realization while playing that it was in fact not bad and was in fact, oh wait a minute, actually really good.

But merely being a pleasant surprise isn't what drove it toward the top of so many of our lists. Doom was really the first salvo in a larger trend this year of reimagining a genre that, let's face it, had started to grow a little stale. Call of Duty made a template for shooters that was enjoyable enough, and there have certainly been some great shooters made in that mold. Still, the language of the FPS had become familiar, and when every example of a genre is running an almost identical control scheme, it's a pretty sure sign of stagnation. 

Doom broke the mold by getting in touch with its fast-paced roots and ripping out anything that didn't belong. It also ingeniously tied the flow of combat to the risk-reward Glory Kill system, which made for a constantly shifting, unpredictable gameplay loop. Doom showed there's more than one way to make a first-person shooter, and that finding a unique hook is a stronger play than trying to out-polish Call of Duty.

David Craddock: You're absolutely right, Steve. And to be clear, I never meant to imply that Doom was (and is) great because, hey, it didn't end up being a garbage fire. All of its moving parts gel together into a cohesive whole. But one of those parts, freshness, was critical to its success.

During the 1990s, I played very little outside of platformers and fighting games on consoles, and first-person shooters on PC. Consider these titles: Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Unreal, UT, Dark Forces, Half-Life, Kingpin, GoldenEye 007, System Shock, Descent, Starsiege: Tribes, Heretic, Hexen. 

I could go on, but I'll get to my point: while some crossover existed between each of those games (namely, they all revolve around moving and shooting from a first-person perspective), most were dramatically different in tone, arsenal, look, and feel. What's more, they were considered AAA games.

Since Call of Duty 4, AAA games have been baked in its military-shooter mold. Before Doom, I turned to indie shooters to get my feel of old-school, run-and-gun, frenetic action. There's nothing wrong with that, but the AAA space is becoming increasingly marginalized. I mentioned in my review that I hoped Doom would serve as a beacon of creativity that other AAA devs could dare to follow. It's not just that Doom was fresh; it's one of the biggest names in gaming, and with it, id Software dared to break away from Call of Duty's proven model when Bethesda could very well have pushed them further in that direction.

Brittany Vincent: I didn't go into Doom with any pre-conceived notions. Reviews don't really concern me, nor does a lack of code, but moreover I simply knew it would be more of what I always tend to search for within my first-person shooters: gore, and lots of it. I could list all of the shooters I played in my youth that inspired that kind of bloodlust, but they're all the same. Countless nights spent with the original game and spinoffs of its ilk inspired a lifelong love of entrails and blood splattered across pixelated walls, and I knew that's what I would get with this reboot.

I don't care at all to play multiplayer since the thrill of the deathmatch has long since subsided and I just don't have the patience or desire to play online with others anymore. But the single-player is more than suitable for satisfying my thirst for destruction, and the Glory Kills are great for that, too.

David Craddock: I'm glad you brought up glory kills, Brittany. What I loved about them is that they so seamlessly combined form and function: breaking off an Imp's jaw was viscerally satisfying, and so was the uptick in health or ammo that it yielded like a broken pinata.

That ties into Steve's point. The first time I saw a glory kill in one of id's previews, I didn't think it showed very well. They struck me as fatalities from Mortal Kombat: all style, no substance. The fact that they are not only functional but an integral link in the chain of gameplay had me looking to kill enemies specifically to set them up for glory kills so I could get a shot of health without having to break off from the fight and comb corridors for health packs.

Josh Hawkins: I agree completely, David. Glory Kills didn't look very good in the videos that id showed off, but in practice... there's no other way to take down all those demons standing in your way.

I think part of what made Doom so special to me, was that it is a connecting piece to the history of FPS games. I mean, Doom is an old name in the FPS genre, and to see something so great come out of the reboot is reassuring, and leaves me hoping that we'll continue to see expertly crafted reboots of some of our favorite old school games.

Asif Khan: Doom awoke a sleeping beast from within my soul. I, much like Brittany, like to go into games with no prejudice, but I had played the multiplayer alpha and betas before I got to sink my teeth into the consumer version of Doom. I recall being slightly unimpressed by multiplayer but I saw some things in the game even then that had perked my interests. Quad Damage in Doom? Very cool. Being able to play as the Revenant in the multiplayer beta also gave me a glimpse into how goofy and fun the game could be. I mentioned last year on a Chattycast episode that we should not sleep on Doom as it had the potential to be dark horse candidate for game of the year.

Doom doesn't take itself too seriously. It frequently winks at the player from the beginning of the game when you throw away the tutorial tablet, to the flashing "DEMONIC INVASION IN PROGRESS" signs, all the way to posters asking for people to sign up for the Mancubus program. The game wants you to have fun. I had fallen out of love with first person shooters in the last 5 years or so, but Doom merged new gameplay mechanics with the trademark heavy metal style of the good old id Software in a way that captured my attention unlike any FPS in years. 

I love the music in Doom. Mick Gordon reimagined a 21st-century soundtrack that is actually a slower tempo than the original games. It gives the player a type of swagger. To paraphrase Mick, he viewed the Doom Marine as the enemy of the demons and he wanted the player to feel that sense of bad ass power every time they went into battle. The implementation of the soundtrack is right up there with classics like Banjo-Kazooie. Mick successfully set a tone for the development team to bring home with furiously fast gameplay.

No reload button? No problem. Need some ammo? Rip an Imp's head off with a delightfully fun Glory Kill. When all else fails, pull out the Chainsaw or BFG for maximum carnage. The game encourages the player to push forward in combat and take risks. It is a mashup of calculated moves with the fun of an arena-style multiplayer game. There were countless times during my playthrough that I was down to 10 health but the game pushed me to keep fighting instead of running away to find a health pack or regenerate your health like so many modern shooters. It is that sense of constant urgency that creates a deep engagement which made me fall in love with first person shooters again. Doom wants you to have fun the entire time you play the game and it succeeds in that goal between an ideal balance of gameplay, spectacular music, amazing graphics and a story that pokes fun at itself while not disrespecting the player or the franchise's rich history.

Doom's reintroduction of greatness to the first person shooter genre has earned it the most glorious title of our Game of the Year 2016.

Looking to see what other games made our Game of the Year list? Here's our full lineup.

2016 Game of the Year Countdown: 

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