Sigy Says – Heretic Review

I was a big fan of Doom growing up in the 90’s, but I somehow missed out on all of the “Doom Clones.” I had a demo CD for the Mactintosh version of Star Wars: Dark Forces and I played a lot of Goldenye 007 on N64, but I never really played anything else like Doom.

One of the friends I made in middle school introduced me to Heretic and HeXen, but I couldn’t find copies for a reasonable price. Instead of borrowing or bootlegging the game, I decided to just wait until I had enough money in the future (which never seemed realistic at the time).

Flash forward to today and I’ve somehow managed to have Heretic on my Steam account for 5 years without playing it. I had forgotten about the QuakeCon pack from 2011 that included every iD title from that moment. Much to my surprise after having a Doom craze, I had some more Doom to explore.

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Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders (PC [Reviewed], Mac OS)
Developer: Raven Software
Publisher: id Software
Released: December 23, 1994 (March 31, 1996 for Shadow of the Serpent Riders expansion)
MSRP: $4.99

Calling Heretic a “Doom clone” is doing the game an injustice, but it certainly has a lot of game feel similar to Doom. Almost every weapon is a reskin from Doom 2 and most of the monsters share similar properties to enemies seen in Doom. The designs are incredibly different (and really diverse), but it’s hard to initially get out of your mind that Heretic is just Doom with a different coat of paint.

Eventually, you start to pick up on some of the changes that developer Raven Software has crammed into Heretic. For starters, this is the first FPS I can think of with an inventory system. It allows for the level of challenge to be ramped up since the player can constantly hold a source of health on them.

Not only that, but you can carry around various power-ups to use in sticky situations. Other shooters at the same time forced you to utilize anything you picked up then and there; Heretic puts more control into the players hand with the inventory system.

It is a bit annoying how you need to scroll through and additionally select an item before using it, but I’ll let that slide due to the release date (1994). That something so genre bending was even pulled off on the Doom engine is just awesome, let alone how chaotic it makes combat feel.

Each weapon has a different ammo type. It solves the mini issue Doom suffered with having the pistol and chaingun share ammo; getting the chain gun made the pistol redundant. In Heretic, every weapon feels valuable at any given time. Even the dinky starter mage staff can become awesome with the correct power-up.

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What isn’t so hot is how predictable the game becomes. At first, you’re not quite sure where to expect enemies to spawn from. Walking down corridors has walls dropping and enemies flying at you from all sides. By the time you reach the third episode, you’ve seen basically all of the tricks Heretic is ever going to throw at you.

That may have more to do with the original game only being 3 episodes, but episodes 4 and 5 really suffer from a lack of creativity. They are definitely difficult and well built (better than the rest of the game, even), but it feels dull after having played through 24 maps with similar layouts.

This is coupled with how the level design tends to have a lot of dead ends that require you to return to a centralized location. I’m guessing this was a precursor to the level design in the sequel, HeXen, where every map has a hub world. It does lend to some insanely confusing layouts, though.

The sound design is also pretty lackluster compared to Doom. On its own, the music is okay and the monsters sound like monsters, but nothing is distinct and most of the enemy sounds play at the same volume. It doesn’t feel as immersive as Doom, nor does it help the player distinguish which enemy is in an area with them.

The overuse of the first boss is also pretty lame. Maybe that is down to me playing on the second hardest difficulty, but I do wish there was more diversity in the boss encounters. Facing three of those floating giant skulls level after level becomes grating.

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With all of that said, I still found Heretic to be really enjoyable. It contains enough originality that any comparison to Doom sounds nitpicky. Sure, Doom may be an overall more polished and enjoyable game, but that doesn’t make anything done in Heretic not worth seeing. Heretic is also considerably harder, so Doom veterans will be in for a treat.

Getting the game running on modern operating systems is also a breeze. Since id Software released the Doom source code a long time ago, any modern Doom source port works with Heretic. You can boot up zDoom and get Heretic going in any manner of resolution you want. Full mouse look is enabled and keys can be rebinded to whatever your fancy is. There is even support for internet play, which is pretty damn awesome.

It also doesn’t hurt that the current price is exceptional. $5 for a game that will take around 6-8 hours to finish is just solid value. If you want to spring a bit more, you can get the rest of the series on Steam for $5 more. That includes Heretic, HeXen and HeXen II. That’s a lot of classic first-person shooter action for a small chunk of change.

However you slice it, Heretic is pretty good. There are definitely things that Raven Software could have done to distinguish it from the crowd, but for a first attempt from an unknown developer, you could do worse. For the price, you’d be hard pressed to find much worse, though.

7

Good

A solid game that definitely has an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.

Does Doom Still Matter?

No name speaks more of a quintessential first-person shooter than Doom. Doom was the catalyst for a cacophony of violent games in the 90’s that eventually led to the ESRB being founded to regulate game content. Not only that, it popularized a genre of gaming that had yet to break out into the mainstream.

While the initial sequel, Doom II, was actually better than the first game, developer iD Software has yet to make a game that follows up on the legacy set forth by Doom. Maybe it’s a mixture of nostalgia and genre evolution that keeps holding them back, but for some reason, Doom cannot be topped.

In a few months, the confusingly titled Doom reboot will be launching. Taking inspiration from a mod for the original game, Doom looks to up the violence and make the game as fast paced as it’s forefather. The big question on my mind is; Does Doom still matter?

Obviously one cannot debate the importance of the original title. It was one of the first 3D games with an arsenal of weapons and motley crue of enemies that was unparalleled for the time. It had revolutionary online play and extensive modding tools that allowed fans to make their own creations.

I have no idea what I’m looking at.

It also had some incredible graphics, a rocking soundtrack and some genuinely outstanding level design (that still holds up). Make no mistake; Doom was the real deal. My first encounter with it was in 4th grade. An old friend introduced me to it on the playground with the instruction manual.

I didn’t have a Windows PC, so I actually had my parents run out and buy a Mac compatible Windows 95 launcher just so I could try this game. While I did eventually get it running, it was missing some features and would often crash.

My fascination with the game didn’t stop until we eventually did get a true Windows computer. That was my very first computer, actually; a Packard Bell with a 3 gb hard drive. Those were much simpler times.

Regardless, Doom was almost a taboo for how it “corrupted” the innocence of gaming. Parents were sickened at the depiction of “violence” the game had and it’s demonic villains. I guess killing hellspawn is evil, even if it saves the Earth.

News outlets were shocked at how you could mangle police officers (I still, to this day, want to know what game they played). Activist groups wanted the game removed from store shelves. The world was coming to an end and it was all because of this little game.

This is just the second level of the game.

Needless to say, the controversy was overblown and gaming continued to evolve. We now have more grotesque displays of violence in games and sexuality is even becoming a common occurrence. Gaming is a pop-culture staple that is slowly becoming less niche by the day.

So what can a new Doom game in 2016 bring to the table? Does Doom need to be more than a simple throwback? Are fans ever going to be impressed with what gets released? I’m not sure I can answer all of those questions.

The easiest to tackle would be the intention of a new Doom. Not every piece of media needs to have a deeper message or mean something more to it’s medium. On occasion, a good, mindless, violent trip through excess and escapism is precisely what a person needs.

A rough day at work can be capped off with a good, meaty rocket launcher explosion of your best friend (in game form, of course…). The cathartic quality that Doom always exhibits can’t be understated; to this day, I still fire explosives in games and expect splash damage.

The original Doom wasn’t made with the purpose of reinventing the wheel. The developers saw a thing they liked, a new way to do it and set off to make it the best product possible. The main reason Doom succeeded so much was because of it’s business model; a freeware version of the first episode was available for free through mail order and the internet (if one was lucky enough to own a modem in 1994).

That gaming had not seen anything like Doom was merely a coincidence. Most game makers, artists and musicians don’t set out to specifically enhance their art form; they tend to fall on an idea they all love and furnish it into something unique.

How could you not be in love with this?

Will fans accept a new Doom? Well, initial reaction says yes. Fans reportedly cheered at the unveiling during Quakecon 2014. No one but those attendees got to see the footage of the game and everyone was claiming it was going “back to basics”. I guess they were on board.

Then a year went by without much information leaking. No one was talking about the game and people hadn’t seen what the gameplay was going to be like. Eventually at E3, a trailer was released that showcased footage to the general public. Now fans were skeptical.

The “official” box art actually typifies everything wrong with the industry in 2016. The colors are muted, limited and saturated. The main character is faceless, staring at the ground and “gruff”. The font takes up more space than anything else and shows nothing of what the game is.

It just reeks of a cash grab. That is completely disregarding the actual quality of the game, but it seems that Bethesda only commissioned a reboot of Doom because reboots are the new, hot thing. Movie franchises are increasingly doing reboots and even Tomb Raider, another gaming institution, had a successful reimagining.

Look how many shits she gives.

Fans never seem to be pleased with anything. Gunning for that crowd will usually end in disaster. Still, whom else are you going to market a reboot of Doom to in 2016? Falling back on the legacy of your series will do nothing for newer gamers.

Which brings us to the final question; What can a new Doom bring to the table in 2016? As I mentioned above, the main source of inspiration seems to be a mod for the original Doom called Brutal Doom.

One of the creators of the original game, John Romero, was quoted as saying, “The only thing I think about now is.. what if… when we released Doom, we actually released Brutal Doom?” (laughs). We would have destroyed the gaming industry, I think. Brutal Doom is hilarious.”

I’m guessing that was all Bethesda needed to hear to fast track progress on a Doom reboot. A lot of the animations for weapons look like they were taken from the mod. The gore factor seems to have been clearly inspired by the mod. Sadly, the mod seems to be faster paced.

Without taking that into account, though, what else could Doom do? Shooters have become a stagnant genre in recent years. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare seemed to be the last big shakeup to the genre in terms of evolution. It’s online, RPG-lite system of unlocks caused a plethora of copycats that still haven’t gone away in nearly 10 years.

Level design has also remained the same…

Call of Duty is also responsible for popularizing the down sight aiming that basically every shooter uses today. Along with Resident Evil 4 redefining third person combat, action gaming hasn’t truly changed since 2005. The industry is falling back on old ideas and past successes to keep their inflated budgets and massive paychecks going.

While Doom may not have started out with the intent of reinventing gaming, it’s launch was special. It was a fundamental shift from being marketed as a toy for children into becoming a hobby that anyone could enjoy. It expanded the horizons of what software could do.

Doom in 2016 just looks like the same boring stuff we’ve seen for decades. I’ve never taken Doom as a serious, scary, horrific trek through a nightmare. Doom has always been a goofy, colorful, fun filled time for me. How can you look at the original graphics and not feel happy?

Even the defining features of this reboot, it’s gore filled executions, was done in Gears of War. You would be forgiven for mistaking Doom as a first-person sequel to that series; the art style is practically the same.

So, does Doom still matter? For cultural reverence, I’d say yes. As far as being an exciting, landmark event; hell no. There is nothing that Doom can do to become interesting again, apart from a complete shift in tone and setting (which would then defeat the purpose).

What film producers, game developers and artists need to realize is that certain things take off because of their time frame. Doom was a massive hit because nothing else was like it in 1994. In 2016, we’ve seen so many things emulate Doom that gamers just don’t care.

And no one cares about this.

Naming your game Doom and expecting it to sell is just naive. You would be better set creating a new IP and shifting focus away from the nostalgia laden masses. It’s fine to claim the game is a spiritual successor to Doom, but to drag the actual legacy into the dirt is shameful.

Then again, come May, I may be eating these words. The game could be good. Whose to say?

I Need a Bigger Gun

As we progress into the future, games become more and more limitless. When hardware or storage capacity used to hinder developers, new formats and emerging cloud gaming have basically done away with old constraints.

Have you ever noticed how most newer games lack unique or memorable arsenals? With all the power at their fingertips, developers still rely on the tried and true Doom arsenal to pepper their games with variety. Nothing against Doom or iD Software, but that was 1994.

We are in the year 2015. The fact that I couldn’t recall any weapons from the latest Call of Duty is a tremendous problem. Even if the first game relied on period accurate weaponry, the series was known more for how it changed the way we utilize the guns more then the guns themselves.

Yes! That gun I’ve used in every game for the past 4 years!

Even with that, Call of Duty is eternally boring with it’s selection of firearms. You have the general ”Weapon” category and then everything to broken into sub-catregories. Rifles, Machine Guns, SMGs, Snipers; you name a real life gun, Call of Duty has it.

While this may make sense for a Tom Clancy game with it’s focus on realism, Call of Duty should be pushing the boundaries of the genre. The games are the most popular thing in the medium and collect ridiculous amounts of money every year. You’d think Activision would want to spice things up a bit.

To lay off that franchise, what about any other games? Grand Theft Auto is guilty of phoning in the weapons. I remember the stupid glee I had when I first obtained the chainsaw in GTA: Vice City. About the coolest weapon I found in Grand Theft Auto V was a golf club.

Even Assassin’s Creed has basically stopped innovating in terms of arsenals. Since Ezio introduced the dual hidden blade, every subsequent game has contained it. Ubisoft then started throwing in items that took away from the idea of stealth (who the hell wanted bombs?).

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate looks to remedy this problem, but I don’t know if one game series is enough. As popular as those games may be, shooters still reign supreme and have been stagnant for a long time. I don’t want to always rely on an M4 or ACR in my games.

I used to love old-school shooters with their insane, unrealistic and creative weapons. I loved how, when Half-Life took a turn for a more realistic style, the weapons remained unconventional. I truly love how Unreal introduced two firing modes.

Even their “real” guns had different modes.

Painkiller, a game which was seen as a bit vapid back in the day, has probably the best arsenal of any shooter around. There are only 6 weapons, but each gun has an alternate mode that is basically a new gun. It doubles the arsenal without bombarding the player with different models or information.

To that effect, Halo has always been fairly inventive with it’s guns. While some are basically analogues for genre staples, the Needler and the Plasma pistol are wholly unique. The pistol is also god damned incredible with how well it balances the multi-player (as far as the first game is concerned).

Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena never had issues with balance as their arsenals were diverse and different. Obviously a rocket launcher was in both, but each game had a different feel and different fire rate. The rail-gun was a much faster sniper, while UT’s plasma rifle and ripper have never been replicated.

You can dig through iD Software’s past and find plenty of different guns. Quake had the lightning gun, Heretic had a damned staff and Doom introduced the world to the BFG 9000 (later upgraded to the BFG 10k for Quake 3).

And all was right with the world.

Then I go to my PS4, boot up Killzone: Shadow Fall and see weapons that can be replaced with any real world equivalent. It really makes newer games feel completely dated. What about when future warfare becomes a reality? Now these weapons will be old-school and worthless.

With the likes of old-school shooters, most of those weapons will never exist. Even if you could produce a facsimile, the game’s weapon would remain an entity unto itself. The fun wouldn’t be lost or feel lazy.

I would just like to see shooters try harder. The genre used to be a trailblazer for graphical technologies and creativity. Now, we pretty much have a paint by numbers system for creating first-person games. I don’t want that to be the standard.

I’m Part of the Problem

Every now and then, a treasured developer will produce a game so dissimilar to their previous work that fans will begin to rage. They’ll lament the good old days and chat about how said developer has lost their way. What happened to the tight level design? Where are the classic monsters? Why does this game feel so different?

Id Software’s “Rage” is such a title. Playing almost nothing like their previous games, “Rage” feels very awkward to a longtime Id fan. Why would you even bother with this title, outside of the developer’s legacy? After playing through the game, I can’t answer that question.

Still, I can’t help but think I’m a part of the game industry’s biggest problem; creative stagnation. Id Software tried their damnedest to create a brand new IP and I hate the game. Hell, even when they took “Doom 3” in a different direction than the classic games, I was first in line to bitch and moan.

“Rage” definitely isn’t a shining example of game design, but it’s not poorly made. When the characters finally shut-up and you’re thrown into a dungeon, it plays like a better version of “Fallout 3.” The guns have great weight and the graphics completely sell the putrid creatures and their agility. It can be really tense.

In the same instance, though, nothing about the game is original and most of the ideas are half-baked. The upgrade system shouldn’t even exist with how few options are available, the car combat side missions feel like half of a game (or early PS1 era cash grabs) and the weapon crafting is entirely pointless when you can just buy everything.

“Rage” is mind blowing if you haven’t played a single game this generation. If you have, you’ll just keep thinking about “Borderlands,” “Fallout 3” and “Call of Duty.” It’s sad when even in a brand new game, I can’t escape thoughts of everything else.

I can’t even tell which Call of Duty this is…..

At the same time, because I made those previous games successful, I’m partly responsible for “Rage” being an amalgamation of features from other shooters. I can’t imagine playing a classic style game in the modern era, even though I’d probably enjoy it to some degree.

Still, when new IPs are released, I’m the one responsible for sequels never happening. I’m the guy that craps all over “new” ideas and stops developers from taking chances. I dictate to them that Call of Duty and Battlefield are the only way shooters should be, so why even try something new?

To that degree, I also disliked “Sonic 4.” I’m not one of those people who abhor the physics, though. I was more in the camp that the level design wasn’t adequate and that the boss encounters lacked originality. Since I love classic Sonic, though, what else was Sega supposed to make? How do they make me happy?

I’m also the same person that is lambasting Square-Enix for “Final Fantasy XIII.” I can’t stand the auto-battle system or how streamlined combat is. The linear level paths for an RPG do nothing for me and the absurd story just brings my piss to a boil. How else is Square-Enix supposed to innovate, though?

If I could embrace “Rage” as an actual beacon of creativity, then maybe we’d be a better and more realized sequel. Maybe Id Software could expend more time in designing new mechanics or fleshing out the groundwork laid down with the first title.

If I treated “Final Fantasy XIII” with more respect, maybe Square-Enix would finally give us that “Final Fantasy VII” remake or another title in the classic, 16-bit style (excluding the FFIV pseudo-sequel).

Since I don’t allow developers to try anything new, I fear that the next generation of consoles will just keep producing the same garbage over and over. I keep buying awful sequels in hopes that some of the original joy will be contained; I almost never leave happy.

Even this looks like Call of Duty….

So my only conclusion is that I am a part of the problem. I’ll do my best to embrace the indie game scene, but I don’t see how I’ll be helping triple A title’s become more diverse in the future.

Indie DLC = Old School DLC

I’m not sure if I’m too old school, but all of this recent DLC is starting to wear me thin. Every time I see a new game come out, I immediately think, “Might as well wait for the GOTY/Ultimate edition!” A few of my friends have been playing Forza 4, but I refuse to buy it and see that “complete” version a week later.

This past week, though, I recently bought two packs of DLC. Two of my favorite games from last year, “The Binding of Isaac” and “Frozen Synapse,” released full scale expansions. Both include gameplay that is roughly half the length of their main campaigns and feature other cool, optional extras. How the hell could I pass that up?

This is the kind of stuff I gladly paid for back in the late-90’s, early 2000’s. Every time a game I loved had an expansion, I was all over it. The Quake series has some great examples of long campaigns with expansions that increased the length two-fold.

Even “Battlefield 1942” gave us discs that were more than simply map-packs (even if Road to Rome was a glorified one). I miss those days were my extra content wasn’t some gimped experience with a $10 price tag.

You can make the counter-argument that most of the expansions from the past were $30 where as DLC is significantly cheaper, but then I’ll ask you to show me an example of DLC that wasn’t free in the past. “Call of Duty’s” DLC is some of the worst, but it’s actually not that the value of the maps are in question.

No, what makes it suck is how Epic Games has never charged for a single “Bonus Pack” in the “Unreal Tournament” series and each pack included about 8-9 maps. Think about that. “Call of Duty” expects an extra $60 for a total of 20 maps when Epic gave away nearly double that for free on each game.


Entirely free and it was on PS3! What gives?!

I also take particular offense on “Free-To-Play” games that charge you a dollar for weapons and skins. I do understand that they need some kind of money, but I’m really struggling to figure out why there are count-down timers and cool-down periods for things you buy with actual cash. I remember the days where extra skins were unlockable and even fan made!

Not every modern developer is milking DLC for all it’s worth, though. Rockstar Games did wonderful things with the expansions to “Grand Theft Auto IV.” While the two episodes weren’t as full length as Vice City or San Andreas, neither one was a slouch in replay value or story content.

I know this will lead into the debate about how length of content shouldn’t be the deciding factor, but I’m getting sick of paying what is now a premium DLC price for content that shouldn’t even have a price tag. Developers are losing a lot of faith with their userbases and I think changing DLC policies to something more old school would be the way to fix things.

I know Activision will never listen to reason, but why not give away some maps from time to time. If you want people to play your stupid and shoehorned multiplayer modes, give them a reason that isn’t attached to their wallets.

If you want people to experience more single-player content, make it justifiable for them to drop money. Provide either another complete campaign, or give us short experiences loaded with extra content and easter eggs to discover.

It’s just strangely telling how I refuse to purchase DLC for big budget titles, yet I immediately (and without question) bought the expansions to two indie games. Maybe if EA or Ubisoft didn’t make such awful add-ons, I wouldn’t have problems like this.

I know DLC is here to stay and that my voice probably isn’t going to do anything, but I just lament the passing of the old days. Games may not have been better values back then and I fondly remember spending upwards of $70 for N64 cartridges, but DLC is just getting out of control.

Until I get something akin to “The Binding of Isaac” and “Frozen Synapse’s” expansions in the future, I’m just not going to be buying much in the way of DLC.