Hello all! Last week, I wrote about a game I picked up on the cheap, and I’m pretty glad I did. It’s one of those “it’s just good” kind of games.
This week, with the new DOOM having released, I figured I’d check out an early “clone” of the original. It’s got me thinking about the nature of “rip-off” vs. “inspired by.” Anyways, here we go.
Hexen is the Raven Software developed, id Software published sequel to Heretic. Both games use the same engine as the original DOOM. Hexen uses it to a little more, um, effect than Heretic does; Hexen features a variety of player classes—three, but that’s more than the usual FPS formula, which is, uh, one class. Hexen takes place in a dark fantasy setting, separating it from DOOM’s sci-fi/Hell aesthetic. It takes a bit to notice, since at first glance the game looks exactly like DOOM due to 90's FPS graphics, but Hexen takes place in a world all its own.
The fantasy aesthetic combined with the player choice of Fighter, Cleric, or Mage, helps lend a role-playing game feel to Hexen, but the game is a pure DOOM-like throughout, with familiar weapons replaced with more fantastical objects like staves and swords. There’s a melee focus to the game—not much, but considerably more than this game’s contemporaries. You’re forced to get up close and personal with the pixelated denizens of Cronos.
Old-school FPS’s lived and died by their weapons, enemies, and level design, and Hexen succeeds in all three. Levels in particular are large for the time; not necessarily long, but there’s a lot more openness to them, along with more verticality (there’s a lot of stairs, and they’re hard to see when going down). The levels have more personality than previous games; they still feel more like game levels than real places, but there’s a lot more flavor to them.
Right about now, you’re probably realzing I’ve compared Hexen to DOOM quite a bit. They use the same engine, after all, and Hexen can feel like a DOOM mod at times (Heretic feels a lot like a DOOM reskin, but it’s still good). Yet, Hexen overall still has its own identity and feel; one wouldn’t mistake it for DOOM. That’s because of how all the parts add up; Hexen’s level design, music, weapon selection, enemy design, aesthetic, etc. all add up to make Hexen a different game than Heretic, DOOM, or Wolfenstein, even though the tools to make the game itself are identical. It’s the same engine as DOOM, the same exact foundation, and yet the two are very different when you sit down and play them.
A video game is more than its engine; it’s more than the tools one uses to make it. Case in point: Wikipedia’s list of games that use the Unreal Engine is far too long to read in one sitting; there’s hundreds of games there. BUT! Even a cursory glance will show a variety of games—and more importantly, game genres—that all use the same engine. Life is Strange is most definitely not the same game as Gears of War, despite using the same tool. Neither of those games is at all similar to Guilty Gear Xrd. Hell, Gears of War and Bulletstorm aren’t even very similar, despite both being shooters and sharing the same developer. The point is, same engines don’t mean same game. Not at all.
Hexen might use DOOM as a base, but from that point, the developers made a unique title. “Inspired by” DOOM, perhaps, but far from a clone, or a “rip-off.” It’s not even about doing something new, really. I mean, if nobody else made a game because “it’s too much like X,” than we’d have one FPS, one JRPG, etc. There would be maybe 25 games in the whole world. On the other hand, when a game doesn’t try to be anything more than a game that came before it, then there’s a problem. Then you have a clone, a rip-off. Compare the excellent mobile title Threes to the lifeless clone, 2048, or the terrible Bubsy series with literally any other platformer ever. You don’t have to be 100% unique and new (that’s probably not possible), but you do need some kind of personality; something that says “hey, play this; it’s not the same as X.” Hexen has that, and it had that in an era where everything had to be like DOOM (can you really blame developers? DOOM was huge and made all the money). Sure, maybe it’s like DOOM, but it’s also not at all like it. It’s got plenty of DOOM tropes, but it’s all about how those tropes are used to create a new idea.
All in all, it’s fair to call games similar to each other, but one isn’t a rip off of another unless it’s the same, or rather, if it takes the DNA of one game without adding or differentiating in any significant way (looking at you, Lords of the Fallen aka Not Dark Souls But Totally Is). Even if a game is 90% similar to something else, perhaps the 10% difference is significant enough to warrant a play. Besides, why wouldn’t you want to play more games that are like that one you like? Hexen, after all (despite this article) is essentially DOOM with magic...but where is the problem there? That sounds awesome, and indeed it is. Play Hexen, and lament the lack of a current gen sequel.
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Next week, we check out the true successor to GoldenEye and Perfect Dark. No, it’s not Halo or Perfect Dark Zero, because ugh. I wrote about Halo here, anyway.