Ode to a Doom map: why navigating through hell is an utter joy
There are plenty of reviews and articles about what makes Doom so good. Some rave about the brutality of boss battles or the speed of play, while others focus on how id has helped bring a sense of joy to a faceless, silent protagonist. But nobody is talking about what really makes Doom superb, compared with its rivals.
For me, the real joy of
For me, the real joy ofDoom doesn’t come from bludgeoning enemies in the face or firing off big guns – although that is good fun – it comes from uncovering the maze-like maps that unfold as you explore a demon-ridden Mars.
There’s a reason why Halo, Call of Duty, Battlefield and other shooters don’t bother with map overviews. Instead of trying to let you run free, they are linear tales where the focus is on trudging forward through a ceaseless wave of enemies. Doom, on the other hand, revels in letting you explore its environments. It may still be a linear adventure, but here the very act of moving forward (which is something that happens extremely quickly in Doom) is rewarded with an extra chunk of map being laid before you in your level overview.
The fact that id included a fully 3D, zoomable, Google Earth-style map speaks volumes about its importance. It could have been nothing more than a static flat floorplan you unlocked as you cleared the fog of war or picked up map data. Instead, map data terminals are seen as a reward to seek out. These puzzle-like spaces tempt you down dead ends and through locked doors and provide glimpses of secret rooms.
Walking through every inch of a level is just as important as clearing out every whiff of demon. You might be able to shoot your way through a swarm of Imps or swathes of Revenants, but without using your map to eke out every last iota of space you won’t find weapon or Praetor upgrade tokens, or even the tantalisingly brilliant classic Doom levels hidden away in each stage.
“The vast expanse of nothingness that is a fresh map screen becomes an invitation to explore the unknown”
Doom’s biggest secrets hinge on making the most of its map viewer. As you clear out a section of the map, you may spot another little bit hidden away, prompting your mind to kick into gear and work out how to best get to it. It’s a game within a game and, when you unlock the ability to see secrets on the map as you approach them, the vast expanse of nothingness that is a fresh map screen becomes an invitation to explore the unknown.
One advantage of Doom’s level-based progression, over that of an open world, is that you know every area that is seemingly off-limits can actually be reached. Open-world and metroidvania-style games have you running back and forth using upgraded abilities or tools to help you gain access to hidden areas or secrets; Doom does not. In Doom, with a little bit of patience and some good map-reading, you’ll be able to find your way into the hidden spaces.
Because of this, Doom manages to drive you to search harder into the depths of each level. While this doesn’t turn Doom into a walking simulator, it does stop id’s game from being just about shooting monsters. Thanks to the addition of a map, Doom is just as much – if not more – about exploring the abandoned and destroyed Mars facility as it is about shutting down the demon invasion.
One beautiful aspect of Doom’s map viewer is that it’s almost a secret unto itself. Unless you know to check it regularly and pay attention to your surroundings for hidden secrets, you can quite easily overlook how crucial it is to uncovering the true beast that is Doom’s campaign. Without it, you would never spot that hidden room, disguised ledge or classic-stage opening.
“Without Doom’s map viewer, you aren’t really experiencing Doom“
Without Doom’s map viewer, you aren’t really experiencing Doom. You’re just running through corridors shooting hellbeasts, resisting all the cues that id gives you to drive you deeper into its systems and mechanics. It’s almost like playing Metroid without ever bothering to check where you need to go back to.
To say Doom is anything like a metroidvania title is wrong – it doesn’t have the size, scale or scope to be one – but it’s clear that id’s work on Rage and a more open-world environment has trickled down into Doom. While Doom isn’t redefining the genre it helped define in 1993, it’s great to see id bringing ideas to a genre that has gone stale over time. I hope that Doom’s success sees a resurgence of exploration in shooters and encourages more developers to challenge the norm.
So, here’s to you, Doom, for not only making me fall back in love with shooting monsters in the face, but also rekindling the idea that shooters can surprise.