QuakeCon is one of the most beloved video game conventions in the business, but the last six years must have carried an air of longing among its many, many attendees.
Way back in 2008, id Software promised its fans that it was working on a new Doom game. Each QuakeCon came and went with practically nothing to show for it. The various studios under QuakeCon's umbrella premiered and released some great games, but none of them had a chainsaw wielding spaceman slicing up greasy abominations from the depths of hell. Every year, the fans consumed an entire Thanksgiving meal without barely a whiff of the turkey.
This year, id knew it had to make up for six years of heartbreak and longing. The company is closer to a fourth Doom game than any point in the last six years and knew it'd have to deliver more than just a couple of sketched designs and a teaser trailer that they threw to the piranha schools attending E3 who would gobble down anything.
They would have to deliver a demo.
So last night at the Hilton Anatole, id Software kicked off the 19th annual QuakeCon with the first live demo of the next Doom game, and it was pure heaven that looked like total hell.
The Hilton Anatole's massive ballroom couldn't contain every fan who wanted to see the new game. The crowd filled the sunken floor leading up to the doors and stretched out to a line that formed on the other end of the atrium. Volunteers in UAC shirts and one dressed as a Pyro from Team Fortress 2, who had to explain over and over that he wasn't a fire retardant Ghostbuster, kept the anxious line flowing. The Doom demo wasn't a big secret, but the ballroom's capacity meant some of those in line would have to go home and face another year of disappointment.
The place was packed and loud by the time studio director Tim Willits took to the stage to kick off the preshow. He laid out all of the company structures and convention highlights followed by Bethesda Softworks' marketing vice president, Pete Hines, who had to give the hardest speech of the entire weekend.
"I love being the guy coming up here who's not talking about Doom," Hines said.
Eventually, Willits bid goodbye to the people watching at home on a Twitch stream and the lights dimmed to an almost purple glaze. He asked the question everyone's been waiting to hear for six years.
"Now that we're alone," Willits said, "do you guys want to see something cool?"
We were treated to the teaser trailer that every hardcore fan has watched and studied endlessly to drain every last goody gumdrop from it. The game's executive producer, Marty Stratton, strutted out and took us through some of the game's designs and features and announced for the first time that the new Doom game isn't called Doom 4. It's called Doom.
"It's not Doom 4 and it's not Enemy Territory: Doom Wars," he said. "It's got blood, gore and gibs, and it's dripping with atmosphere and style."
The game will once again take place on Mars just as the gates of hell are opening for business. A first draft of the game had the doomed space marine fighting beasts on Earth but id brought it back to the Red Planet because "that's where we feel it belongs," Stratton said.
It's also been refocused to play with the same mechanics that made the first game so great: running and gunning down everything that moves. The only noticeable addition is a new melee mechanic that lets you do things to your opponents with your bare hands that will let them know how you really feel about them.
"Talking about it really doesn't do it justice," Stratton said just as another id staff member walked to the stage to play the game for the public for the first time.
Of course, we were all instructed not to have any cameras or phones out during the demo, so I'll just have to keep talking about it.
First and foremost, the demo was just as bloody as you always hoped it would be. Bodies explode at close range like ripe melons with tiny M-80s inside of them. The melee moves got the biggest laughs and cheers as the doomed space marine stepped on heads of stunned victims, ripped out handfuls of guts and even stuffed a vital organ into the mouth of a boss demon. The biggest shocker was watching the player's hands literally rip an enemy's head into two like a strongman tearing apart a slightly melted bowling ball in one juicy tear.
The weapons seemed more like those from the armory of the first game but with a twist. Shotguns are loud and look like the kind of slick, wood-stock boomsticks that Ashley Williams would carry if someone made another Evil Dead movie or a decent Evil Dead game. The plasma gun has a more futuristic coat of paint and seems to fire more like a machine gun than a sprayer of streaming, concentrated heat, but it still offers the same meaty pop that the 1.0 version did in the '90s. The chainsaw is always a crowd pleaser and the punishment it delivers looks absolutely brutal. It's like watching the gyro guy carve down the center of that big, rotating meat roll -- if the meat had a face on it.
The more impressive accomplishment was the mood. The combat moments were deafening, but moving through the claustrophobic corridors and darkened passageways was downright creepy, as if something could just jump out at any moment from any corner of the environment. Scares aren't what Doom games are about, but the trapped vibe it put off was palpable even in the massive space of a hotel ballroom.
Two levels later and the lobby buzzed with noisy discussions and grisly glee over the murdering spree that will one day be on our PCs and consoles. Adam Sessler, the former game commentator of Tech TV, Revision 3 and G4's X-Play who now runs a media consultancy firm called TheoryHead, sat in the crowd with the rest of the drooling masses to witness the demo. He said he appreciated how the developers took the game back to its true roots.
"It's a really nice reminder that you can still be juvenile and have fun playing video games," Sessler said. "It's also a reminder of the heritage of games ... that it's about going somewhere that you've never been and looking at a bunch of monsters."
The fans were equally impressed. Someone named Vince whose name tag listed his name as (I swear) "Butthorn" didn't mince words about the virtual meat grinder he saw on the screen.
"It was pretty bad-ass," Butthorn said. "It kept the esoteric look of Doom 3, moved that forward and now it has a more classic feel to it."
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A gamer who only identified himself as "Krim" said he liked how the developers moved the game away from darkened corridors and hiding spaces filled with pouncing monsters that took players away from what they really want to do in a Doom game.
"I'm looking forward to this more than I did Doom 3," he said. "Doom 3 was good but it was more focused on just scaring."
David "Koronna" Pareja said he appreciated the deep graphics within the game play that produces all the meat and moody ambiance that have made us pay attention to Doom for more than 20 years.
"I'm a huge graphics person, and here they really took the time to put in some detail," Pareja said. "This is what started all this and I can't wait to see it come back."