A Peek at QuakeCon's New, Bloody Fun Games

courtesy Bethesda
The Doom Slayer blows some very large holes in a Pain Elemental with his high-caliber sniper rifle in DOOM Eternal, one of the many games fans got a glimpse of last weekend at the annual video game convention QuakeCon.
If Nintendo is the family-friendly wing of the video game industry, then id Software and Bethesda Softworks are the cool, older sibling who rides a motorcycle, wears a leather jacket regardless of the weather and blasts speed metal at high volume in his poster-covered bedroom.

The hardcore, PC-playing fans of game franchises like Quake, Wolfenstein and The Elder Scrolls have gathered somewhere in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for the last 23 years for QuakeCon, the official fan convention for games published by the ZeniMax Media group of game studios, including id and Bethesda.

QuakeCon's most recent gathering at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine offered a number of hands-on demos and first looks of the newest titles and game expansions for some of their most popular franchises. Here's a roundup of previews of some of the new games and add-ons for franchises like DOOM, Prey, Rage and Wolfenstein.

click to enlarge The Doom Slayer unsheaths a massive energy sword for a boss fight in the upcoming first-person shooter DOOM Eternal. - COURTESY BETHESDA
The Doom Slayer unsheaths a massive energy sword for a boss fight in the upcoming first-person shooter DOOM Eternal.
courtesy Bethesda

DOOM Eternal

The most popular game in id's arsenal of first-person shooters (FPS) is still going strong. Not even that horrible Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson movie loosely based on the game can stop it. Id relaunched the franchise in 2016 with the simply named, long-awaited DOOM. It offered a modern FPS with some old and new massive weapons, hellish worlds to explore and fiendishly fun ways to turn demonic enemies into piles of bloody parts. DOOM Eternal continues to build on the bold and violent franchise's story and gameplay with new features and a heavier arsenal for its silent, faceless protagonist known as The Doom Slayer.

DOOM Eternal offers a bit more of a throwback to the original DOOM games than the previous game by bringing back some favorite enemies that look more like their pixelated ancestors, like the Zombieman, the Pain Elemental and the fireball flinging Imp. DOOM Eternal, however, is still a direct sequel to 2016's DOOM, in which the single-minded hero is revived from a sarcophagus by the Union Aerospace Corp. on a Mars facility during an archaeological expedition into hell. The Doom Slayer must shoot, slice and smash his way through hordes of demons to disrupt the plans of a UAC scientist who helped the forces of hell cross over to our world to bring about galactic Armageddon.

"DOOM 1 and 2 was our big inspiration, and we're just getting better at doing that," says Hugo Martin, the game's creative director. "We’re working together and have an amazing group of developers and we all get along extremely well, and we’re just getting better at making that type of game, which is more DOOM. I feel like this is our Evil Dead II."

"I feel like this is our Evil Dead II." – DOOM Eternal creative director Hugo Martin

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The last DOOM game added a fun, new way to murder Satan's soldiers called glory kills in which the Doom Slayer can punch faces, pull off body parts and smack enemies with them or rip a demon in two with his bare hands. The Doom Slayer must also traverse through hell, Mars and an Earth overthrown by the forces of hell that looks like the planet was infected by an Iron Maiden album cover. He battles demons, zombies and other baddies with a retractable blade on his left arm and a helmet-mounted flamethrower that can enhance melee attacks and glory kills to make sure enemies stay down by burning them alive, spearing their skull or gouging out their eyeball and making them eat it. New weapons and power-ups include a ballista that fires explosive bolts that stick into enemies' bodies, the meathook that lets the Doom Slayer zipline to higher and lower levels by grappling onto enemies, power-ups like the blood punch that strengthens melee attacks with each progressive glory kill and a massive energy sword that served as the demo's literal showstopper.

The new multiplayer add-on dubbed "Invasion" does more than just stick players into a virtual slaughterhouse. It bleeds into the single-player campaign. Gamers who jump into the new multiplayer mode are charged with hunting other players in real time as their new enemy attempts to complete the single-player campaign through highly detailed and sinister looking levels.

"I think it makes the game really dynamic, because you can't predict what a demon-controlled human is going to do," Martin says. "We feel like it will make all of the game dynamics really awesome."

click to enlarge A group of survivors overlooks a massive post-apocalyptic landscape in Fallout 76, the upcoming online, role-playing prequel to the popular Fallout series. - COURTESY BETHESDA
A group of survivors overlooks a massive post-apocalyptic landscape in Fallout 76, the upcoming online, role-playing prequel to the popular Fallout series.
courtesy Bethesda

Fallout 76

This addition to the long-running post-apocalyptic series is the end in a long line of what happens when a role-playing game and a first-person shooter decided to hook up and pump out a series of babies. It's also the most controversial unreleased game in Bethesda's most recent QuakeCon lineup and for once, that has nothing to do with violence or things that make the mouths of the Parents Television Council overflow with foam.

Bethesda announced the Fallout prequel at the most recent E3 convention in Los Angeles would run online instead of offline as a single-player campaign. This move changes the franchise's traditional interface of gritty stories about survivors of a nuclear war struggling to endure against mutated monsters and warring factions in the barren wasteland. In previous games, that story was revealed through non-player characters (NPCs) and tongue-in-cheek animations of a blond, Caucasian corporate mascot called Vault Boy. Hardcore fans were a little befuddled with the slightly decreased RPG scheme of the previous Fallout 4 game but still bought millions of copies to interact with its base-building features and weapon, character and armor enhancements. Adding an online component to the mix seems like Bethesda is trying to jump on the buzzing Fortnite bandwagon, Epic Games' free-to-play, multiplayer combat game that recently passed the $1 billion revenue mark, according to Forbes.

"There are so many things in our game, and some people like the exploration, the character building, the story, the combat, crafting, and it has all of those things," game director Todd Howard said on stage during a live Q&A. "Obviously what it doesn't have are NPCs that are specific characters that tell you a story that we've written. We love those things. We understand a lot of our fans love those things. This one replaced that with the players. They are the interesting NPCs and in a lot of ways, more interesting than what we create on our own."

The footage that appeared in the short trailer at E3 showed some of the combat and crafting gameplay that have become staples of the Fallout series along with some of the weapons that look like they were MacGyvered during the Cold War. The QuakeCon gameplay reveal showed some of the new ways players can enhance their character, from their abilities to their looks.

Players start the game as their character prepares to step out of the vault for the first time on "Reclamation Day" and can begin crafting their avatars by picking their gender, hair color and style, whether they want dimples in their chin and countless other tweaks and features. Designers first added this feature in Fallout 4, but it's even more detailed in Fallout 76, and players can change their look at any time during the game so they don't have to feel stuck with an ugly puss right out of the starting gate.

The RPG element that lets players enhance their characters' strength, charisma, intelligence and luck goes even deeper with something called "Perk Packs." These are special collectible cards that players receive as they level up through the game. The perks enhance physical abilities like jumping and aiming, scrounging abilities for parts, food and power-ups and even how they interact with friends and enemies.

"I think 80 percent of it is the Fallout everyone is used to and the other 20 is really different," Howard said at the Q&A session. "At times, it's a little hard to explain. This is the flow and how it feels because at one point, it's comfortable and on the other, it's all new."

More than 10 years have passed since id unleashed its desert-based racing and combat game, but they are bringing it back for another test run by setting it in a massive, explorable open world that's more colorful and vibrant than you'd expect from a place called The Wasteland.

Players take over the first-person view and control of Walker, a Ranger who finds himself stranded in the middle of The Wasteland after he's been robbed and abandoned by an iron-fisted faction known as The Authority, the same faction that also destroyed Walker's childhood homeland. So he does what any heavily armed character would do in the same situation: go on a vengeful, fuel-injected killing spree.

The demo shows the combat players what they can expect with the usual arsenal of futuristic machine guns and shotguns mixed in with throwable explosives like a Wingstick, a four-pronged boomerang with sharpened ends that can lock on and slice through enemies even around corners. Walker also can add special "nanotrite powers" to his combat options like "Dash" that does just what it sounds like, "Shatter" that can fling enemies into walls and "Overdrive" that can make weapons more powerful. The combat controls and character movements were fluid and fun as I raced Walker up a burned-out building to complete his objective. The powers add a new form of strategy and offensive tactics similar to games like Dishonored and come in handy when ammo runs low.

The demo didn't offer any test drives of the vehicles players will use to peruse this massive open world created through id's partnership with Avalanche Studios, the game company that created open world games like the Just Cause series and Mad Max.

RAGE 2's game director Magnus Medfors says the driving component will challenge players to races through the game's objectives, but they can also strike against enemy factions.

"It's the marriage of id Software's style of intense gunplay that's high-paced in an open-world game," Medfors says. "It's hard to make use of the word 'unique' that so many games use that are not purely unique, but using the id style combined with our style makes it super fun to play."

click to enlarge Players take control of a four-legged robot equipped with a flamethrower to toast Nazis in the new VR game Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot. - COURTESY BETHESDA
Players take control of a four-legged robot equipped with a flamethrower to toast Nazis in the new VR game Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot.
courtesy Bethesda

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot
The first-person, historical fiction shooter franchise that launched id's popularity among PC gamers was destined for a virtual reality experience. Now that VR consoles like the Oculus and HTC Vive have brought high-caliber graphics and immersive controls into homes for addictive gameplay, id and Bethesda decided to bring this Nazi-killing classic into the VR age.

This time, players are put in the cockpit of a giant, bipedal killing machine that's dropped behind enemy lines to, in the words of Lt. Aldo Raine from Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, do one thing and one thing only: kill Nazis.

Being in a transport vehicle controlled in a VR environment can create a bit of an upset stomach if you're not used to the experience. Once you get over it, shooting bullets at and throwing fire on members of Hitler's steampunk regime, which won the big war and took control of most of the civilized world, is damn good fun. The only people who won't enjoy it who don't have weak constitutions must be Nazis.

Being in an immersive cockpot of a giant, four-legged robot also has its own unique advantages. Unlike other VR shooters, you can walk from place to place with the directional pad and moving your head in the direction you wish to go. The craft also offers a dash and punch power that lets you quickly zip right into an enemy's face and pummel them into a fine, bloody mist or fling large objects out of your path or on top of a Nazi's cranium.

Wolfenstein: Cyberpilot lets you attack Nazis and their advanced robotic weaponry with your own hands and the full movements of your arms and neck with a fluid and responsive control scheme. If that doesn't sound like fun, then check your allegiance to the Allied Powers.

Prey: Typhon Hunter
Bethesda and Arkane Studios' partnership created a dark, scary and engrossing survivor horror/sci-fi game that stepped in just in time to rescue horror fans who felt abandoned by the increasingly dull Resident Evil titles. The VR version requires a bit more brains than the game that launched the horror shooter franchise, but it can test your nerves as well as your intelligence.

The first Prey game produced scares from an alien race called Mimics who can hide in plain sight by mimicking  objects placed in the protagonist's path. These creatures can jump out of anything they encounter, adding an extra level of tension to a dark and puzzling thriller.

The main game in the VR version called Prey: Typhon Hunter is more of an escape room experience themed to the Prey universe that developers promise contains scares as players move through the game's levels. The demo puts players in the POV of scientist Morgan Yu, who faces a series of puzzling tasks that can only be discovered and achieved by exploring the room and keeping an eye out for clues. Thankfully, you don't have to be familiar with the game's universe or terminology to understand what's going on or how to complete each puzzle, but it probably helps.

The demo came with a 15-minute time limit; I couldn't get anywhere near the finish line in that time, but once I learned the basic foundation of the puzzle, it was easy to pick up some steam and start piecing things together.

“I took my older kids to work one day to try it out and they each had 15 minutes to do it," says Arkane Studios' Ricardo Bare, the creative director for the Prey add-on Mooncrash and the lead designer on Prey's VR version. "They barely finished it with six of them having a 15-minute session.”

The VR game also offers an immersive multiplayer mode not included with the demo that sounds a bit scarier if you're into that sort of thing. Bare says each multiplayer game holds six players, five of whom are Mimics and one who takes on the role of Morgan Yu. The protagonist player must destroy the Mimics in the allotted time. The Mimics can jump out and scare the protagonist player to catch him off-guard and even kill him to buy them more time while his character respawns. The protagonist is armed with his trusty wrench to kill the Mimics, but guns and other weapons are scattered throughout each arena.

"One of the more significant elements from the base game is the Mimics so players are constantly getting jump scared left and right," Bare says. "When a player is controlling the Mimic, they can jump out and it’s even more fun and scary,”