I recently bought Black Mesa, the Half Life 1 remaster started by fans.
Which led me into this train of thought. Why does a remaster of a 20+ year old game remind me of Doom Eternal?
The history of environmental storytelling in FPS
1993 – Doom 1:
The grandfather of all FPSs. While mostly fun and gory, Doom also told a simple story without too much consideration into environmental storytelling, a block of text appeared in the episode select screen, the sci fi and demonic elements were strewn around the level without concrete reasons. However, this game was so important that for awhile all FPS's were called "Doom-clones"
1998 Half Life 1:
Arguably one of the most important games in PC gaming history. Voiced NPCs and a strong focus on building a realistic settings where office space and labs were broken down into levels, the story developed through the player seeing events as they happened, grotesque headcrabs taking over the bodies of their colleagues, the military killing innocents and selfish people causing their own demise. While still 'video gamey', it set the tone for single player FPS campaigns for decades.
2004 Half Life 2:
While Half Life 1 was innovative, it did not age well, as each successive game from other studios took the formula and improved upon it. Half Life 2 however, is still amazing today, implementing a physics system that would again be copied again and again by the industry, realistic facial expressions and believable situations that helped the story.
Most of all the environmental storytelling was brought to the next level, you learned about the world together with Gordon and the levels took place in buildings that seemed that people could live in, not just levels filled with ammo and guns that made a game.
2016 Doom Reboot:
Doom 2016 was critically acclaimed and brought back the arcadey run and gun visceral action that people expected from Doom. While staying true to its roots, the gameplay was different from it's origins and a big change was the introduction of environmental storytelling.
You could now pick up keycards as physical objects from corpses, the character interacted with machines and buttons that had purposes in the world outside of the events of the game. It became 'realistic' while still having arcade like elements, rooms that were arenas or full of platforms that kinda made sense, but were obviously designed for a videogame.
An old new game and a new old game
2019 Doom Eternal:
While a good shooter, many complaints about DE was the lack of environmental storytelling in the game. Buildings retained their general shapes, but otherwise the routes through the levels were nonsensical, following the 'rule of cool' rather than any. Rooms were obviously arenas instead of anything realistic with buttons that opened parts of the level instead of doors that made sense.
Keycards and Lore floated as bright shiny icons instead of being accessed from a computer or found on a body. 1up icons could be found which gave the Doomslayer an extra life and platforming found it's way into the game.
Cinematics also took over instead of scripted sequences as exposition is vomited on to you. Doom Eternal was touted as a sequel to Doom2016, but seems like a split branch of the reboot instead.
2019 Black Mesa:
While playing through Black Mesa as the 27 year old Phd from MIT, I found myself plugging in random cables into switches on an alien planet as the natives fiddled with their consoles. "Wow, this guy is either really smart or really dumb" I thought, my headcanon deduced that the act of randomly trying things would be called 'chaotic sciencing' something Gordon majored in.
While not the fault of the developers, there were too many times when you found the 'key' before the 'lock' or kept pressing random buttons, crawling through random ducts to proceed through the game. A straight up remaster exposes the level design flaws of the original as you just travel from point A to Z following the green lights through rivers and literal conveyor belts.
First person platforming, a failed experiment now that was a staple back in the days, also featured heavily in the remaster, with obvious frustrations felt by modern gamers, as you miss a jump and fall into the abyss.
Ironically, Black Mesa featured much more environmental storytelling than DE. Which is surprising as Doom 2016 was more like Half Life 2. In Black Mesa, ammo was found on bodies, guns in armory, teleporting enemies were explained.
Doom Eternal just went backwards heavily compared to its prequel in terms of environment storytelling, focusing on just the 'shooter' aspect of the gameplay, which made the whole platforming portion confusing as well.
While not expected of a reboot, I just wished it followed in the footsteps of it's prequel or was spun off into a different title.
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