Being the game that launched a thousand first person shooters, the Doom license has a lot to live up to. In the 90’s, Doom was essentially a video game version of a Metallica album; a fast, visceral thrill ride from start to finish. This was in no small part helped by its multiplayer deathmatch mode, delighting LAN parties and early Internet adopters alike with wild gunplay and glorious gore.
In this vein, Bethesda and id’s latest effort manages to take a lot of the same cues from the classic game and incorporate them here. The developers have offered us a peek at the multiplayer component with this Beta, and it’s safe to say that 2016’s Doom looks like a continuation of the same themes for all intents and purposes. The usual goat heads, pentagrams and satanic imagery line the walls of a futuristic facility, while grizzled space marines clamber around the environment picking up health packs and armour shards. So far, so typically Doom, but this feels merely like window dressing that masks a series of problems.
For starters, the pace is far too slow. Compared to the arena shooters of the 90’s that this harkens back to, your player character feels sluggish and labored. Whilst not every game has to rely on speed and reflexes as if we’re playing Quake III: Arena all over again, this new iteration of Doom contains a lot of those same hallmarks from the level design that involves jump pads and teleports, to the weaponry which includes rocket launchers, plasma rifles, and of course, shotguns. The game wants to evoke the feel of a classic arena shooter, but limits the player’s movement. Your character does have a double jump ability which will aid your mobility slightly, but jumping up to a higher platform will force your character into a climbing animation where you grab onto the ledge and pull yourself up. This is handy for gaining the higher ground, but, when under fire, slows your character down tremendously when trying to escape a firefight.
In the wake of Call Of Duty, Doom tries to have its cake and eat it by flying in the face of current shooter conventions, while also adhering to them. There is no regenerating health. In a retro fashion, health can only be recovered through finding various health packs, and damage can be reduced by picking up armour shards. However, Doom now features a series of burn cards called “hacks”, which give the player various single-use power ups à la Titanfall or Halo 5. Unlike those games however, these hacks have a time limit of effect, rather than lasting until your next respawn. This means that hacks will be in effect for, say 90 seconds, no matter how often you die during that time. This is a thoughtful addition that encourages players to use their hacks without fear of wasting them as readily. Although, in the Beta, most of the hacks had very little effect on the gameplay or your ability to shoot others, with most having passive effects. Some will show you a countdown as to when a power up will respawn, while others will boost your XP with each kill.
XP and loadouts exist in this game, which feel like an obligation to modern shooters that Doom could easily live without. In the Beta, levelling up unlocked cosmetic upgrades such as different helmets and taunts, and didn’t really offer a lot of incentive to progress. After the second level you are given the ability to customize your loadouts, which in themselves are a thorn in Doom’s side. The game offers you two main weapons which you can cycle through using R1, and frag grenades, but that’s it. Rather than starting everyone with a basic weapon and allowing players to pick up various weapons on the map, Doom starts them with a couple of weapons that they are mostly locked into using until they respawn. This is a real shame since the frenetic fun of controlling weapon spawns and fights breaking out over more powerful guns is missing; something that previous id games have excelled at.
Instead of weapon spawns, you may find people congregating over power ups instead. These include Quad Damage, the classic Quake III powerup which gives you quadruple damage and allows you to decimate your opponents into chunky kibbles. Then there’s a powerup which quite literally transforms you into a demon. The only demon available in the Beta is the Revenant; an iconic Doom enemy that is essentially a gigantic skeleton with rocket launchers on its shoulders. Being the Revenant makes you a little faster, lets you jump a little higher using a jet pack, has 300 health, and 1-shot kill rockets; but therein lies the problem. You don’t really have anything unique at your disposal if you are the Revenant, you just feel like a beefed up marine and nothing really changes from a gameplay aspect. In fact, being the Revenant makes you an instant target for the opposing team, so despite the bonuses, your lifespan is often reduced.
In terms of maps, the developers have offered up two for the Beta; Heatwave and Infernal. Heatwave is an industrial facility with satanic symbolism etched into the walls. While the map has a little verticality to it and, graphically, it looks great (as does everything in Doom), it just isn’t that interesting in terms of the level design which consists of metallic corridors and lava pools. Infernal isn’t that much different apart from a section that opens into a cavern, allowing for larger firefights.
Sticking with the number two, the Beta also contains two different game modes; Team Deathmatch and Warpath. Warpath is essentially a King Of The Hill style game where teams have to control an area of the map that constantly moves around. In order to do this, players need to stand within a circle, the act of which runs contrary to the frenetic pace that should be synonymous with Doom. While stood still capturing, the enemy team can easily pump the area full of rockets and grenades, clearing your team out before capturing it themselves. When you’re not in the circle, an arrow appears on screen showing you where the capture point is moving to. In this regard, you’ll spend more time chasing the capture point than doing anything interesting or worthwhile. Some sort of Capture The Flag mode would have worked better than Warpath; a mode where you are required to keep moving as much as possible while fighting off the enemy. Team Deathmatch is much more what this type of game was designed for, and comes across much better as a result despite its relative simplicity.
All in all, Doom’s multiplayer component looks to be something of a disappointment. The pacing may complement the single player campaign (something which I’m still excited to try out), but if you were hoping for a revival of the arena-style shooter, you’ll be left sorely wanting by this effort.