A while back, I wrote about Gears of War 4 and how it’s resisting the temptation to appeal to a wider audience. Gnashers and map control have been an integral part of the series since the original, and will remain so in 2016. But it’s only been shy of 10 years since Epic introduced Gears of War on the Xbox 360, hardly two generations in our industry, which allows the Coalition to stay faithful to the franchise. Doom, which first debuted in 1993, is a much older shooter, a much more difficult shooter to modernise, one that could have easily surrendered to the trends of regenerative health, scripted design, and two-weapon balancing. In fact, that game almost became a reality before id course-corrected and scrapped an earlier, flavourless version of what was rumoured to be “Doom 4” at the time.
2016’s Doom is an angrier, more aggressive interpretation of the classic FPS than the survival horror-esque Doom 3. Claustrophobic and poorly lit environments, along with narrow enemy encounters step aside and give room for id to create the frantic feeling of having to shoot your way through demonic aggressors toppling over one another to eat you alive. 2004’s Doom 3 might have actualised the partially intended horror of the original titles, but this appropriately titled ‘Doom’ is a complete and successful re-imagining of what it means to keep Hell at bay by staying behind the better end of your gun.
It’s difficult to play Doom without feeling the effects of its rage-inducing Kool Aid. Doom wastes no time resurrecting you from an unholy ritual, as you awake on a stone sarcophagus and forcibly punch your way out of a room of re-animated, demonised humans. The opening scene shows you, as the “Doom Slayer”, having far less patience for any man, demon or child-like robot standing in his way than the original game’s “Doom Marine”. His complete disregard for anything he interacts with is often hilarious, punching, kicking, and ripping apart objects typically handled with excruciating care. There’s a charm to his brutish interactions that unfortunately fade near the game’s ending, but the Doom Slayer is perpetually merciless against all that slip through the gates of Hell.
Combat design is something id is uniquely talented at, showing a full understanding of why pumping bullets into baddies is so damn satisfying. Even as disappointing as Rage was, the gunplay was still excellent, with shotguns turning fools into walking headless corpses, if it didn’t kick them into a backflip. Doom reaffirms id’s talents by subliminally and simultaneously reintroducing what is arguably the studio’s greatest accomplishment, an emphasis on verticality and encounter diversification we haven’t seen since Quake. And because of this, it’s a much better shooter for it.
The second Hell’s portals split open, dropping garish creatures from another dimension, Doom turns into a gymnastic display of gun-toting showmanship. The demons you’ll be Doom-slaying over the course of this 15 hour campaign are shockingly agile and admirably relentless in their pursuit to hunt you down. Doom’s earliest encounters educate you on this quickly as Imps scale walls and power up fireballs to shoot at you, all while Hell Knights leap Olympic distances to pound your face into the blood-soaked metal. Micromanaging multiple offensive behavioural patterns grows both qualitatively and quantitatively complex, as new enemies are constantly introduced, existing alongside – but never replacing – old ones.
Doom does start to drag near the end once the well that delivers new weapons and enemies runs dry, but the various combat arenas do a fine job keeping players on their toes. The level design here is sheer genius, as multiple points of elevation accommodate double jumps, and jump pads highlight infinite pathways to flee, chase, and attack from all directions. It’s a fast, frantic, yet surprisingly legible shooter to play, but one you must be able to keep up with to fully navigate and understand. Running at a rock-solid 60 frames per second, not even Call of Duty can make a better case for maintaining such a high frame rate. And with its speed and smooth performance, Doom is the first game ever for which I’ve maximized the horizontal turning speed.
Doom’s locomotion is decidedly old-school, but its combat economy is a smart augmentation of a classic formula. It’s easy to run low on ammo when there’s no reloading for your weapons, and death can come swiftly, especially with well over a dozen pissed-off demons chasing you. Health, armour, and ammo pick-ups litter the environment appropriately, but the key in keeping yourself well stocked is to never shy away from the offensive. The gore-tastic Glory Kills, where you can take a dude’s foot, and squish his skull with it, have practical applications in firefights. Once you render them down to a stagger state, these elaborate kill animations reward you with health pick-ups as well. Doom also introduces the classic Chainsaw to your arsenal that – given a sufficient amount of gas – can turn any demonic foe into an ammo piñata, thus replenishing all of your weapons in tow. All of this creates a brilliant, incentivising system that keeps you intimately engaged in combat; being a complete and unadulterated badass is constantly rewarded.
With everything said thus far, it’s important to note that Doom is a two part experience: one part demon slaying combat arena, one part environmental explorer. Doom is more than the keycard, back-tracking sim of old. In its earned downtime, it turns into a 3D platformer, with collectibles tucked away in its sprawling systems of tunnels, multi-exited rooms, and terraformed space stations. It often feels more like Metroid Prime, with a slickly designed 3D map that’s digestible enough to put other modern titles to shame. You’ll shoot your way through challenge rooms, which reward you with runes that grant active abilities such as mid-air strafing, uncover Argent Cells and Praetor Tokens, that upgrade base stats and open access to passive abilities. But most importantly, you’ll earn weapon augments that nearly double the firepower you bring into battle.
While Doom’s combat offers tangible rewards on a micro level with health and ammo, on a macro level, Doom perpetually compensates the player with weapon upgrades and augments that constantly encourage you to experiment with your diverse arsenal. Take the Super Shotgun for example. Collecting enough weapon upgrade tokens will allow you to speed up the reload animation, however completing the Mastery Challenge will enable it to discharge two shots before reloading. Other weapons include the Heavy Assault Rifle that once its Micro Missiles mod is unlocked, the Mastery Challenge allows you to fire a continuous stream of rockets so long as your finger is on the trigger. These Mastery Challenges exist for all weapons, many of which have two – one for each mod. It’s enough to encourage players to play though the entire campaign again, as you are generously allowed to replay levels with all upgrades intact.
If replaying campaigns isn’t your thing, you can certainly sink your time into Doom’s multiplayer. The multiplayer beta received a nearly unanimous unfavorable reaction back in April, and with the full game now available, many of the concerns are taking a fuller shape. Developed by Certain Affinity, Doom’s multiplayer seeks to satisfy two audiences: those that have acclimated to the new trend of unlockable assets in character loadouts, and those that reminisce about the good ol’ Quake deathmatch LAN parties. Unfortunately, the multiplayer doesn’t do enough to fully satisfy either.
For starters, the campaign’s weapon customisation is stripped away completely, offering preset augments that may or may not be your preferred weapon modification. Weapon unlocks also cease at level 14, leaving only throw away rewards such as taunts and cosmetic armour pieces. Of course, you’ll continually unlock Hack Modules as well, Affinity’s take on Titanfall’s Burn Card/Halo 5’s Requisition trend that adds boosts to your character mid-match. And while having them stay active for a preset time, regardless of death, is an ingenious approach, players will find the vast majority of these Modules useless.
As for those looking for a recreation old school Quake and Doom map-control multiplayer, they’ll be left wanting because of the lack of actual “map control” required. Each of Doom’s multiplayer stages only feature one power weapon and one power-up at any given time. Demon Runes, power ups that transform players into a powerful demon, does add some spontaneity to matches, but without a Demon Tracker Hack Module (which highlights the demon through walls), they’re generally not fun to fight.
In spite of all this, I’m still thoroughly enjoying Doom’s multiplayer. The foundation of its controls and vertical map design is incredibly sound for a competitive shooter, and out of its six online modes, Domination captures the multiplayer at its absolute best light. Doom feels especially good in motion, which makes trips from one objective to the next rather thrilling. Armour and health pick-ups are often arranged in quick succession, and periodically line alternate or hidden paths to reward those who take advantage of the platforming level design. There’s an emphasis for grenade combat as well, which is appropriate for a game like Domination. Affinity has smartly ripped the grenade physics right out of Halo that give explosives an intuitive bounce and roll (not surprising considering their work on Halo in the past); this fits well with Doom’s overall weapon balancing. Sticking to Domination allowed me to forgive Doom’s odd lacking of good sound design, which makes the action feel somewhat muted when you don’t hear a punchy splat after your body explodes into giblets. Nonetheless, there’s still hope for Doom’s multiplayer, with upcoming DLC planned to add new maps, weapons, demons, and Hack Modules.
If you simply can’t gel with competitive multiplayer, then Doom’s Snap Map might hold your interest long term. Standing as the game’s unexpected user-generated content platform, Snap Map is particularly elaborate with its content-creator tools that might be a bit more demanding than other games that offer UGC features. Here, you can start with creating rudimentary Doom stages for solo or co-op gameplay, which are surprisingly challenging. Snap Map isn’t a straight forward pick-up and play tool, which is why it requires going through the long list of tutorials included in order to generate a respectable Doom stage. But the tools are surprisingly flexible as well, as some of the most creative Snap Map stages I’ve seen included a music synthesiser and one that featured a series of riddle challenge rooms. Hopefully id will give Snap Map the Super Mario Maker treatment and package UGC tools in its future DLC.
Like Wolfenstein: The New Order, Doom is not the game anyone could have expected. It’s campaign has layers upon layers of interwoven intricacies, all from exploration to combat, that as a whole, form a shooter that is a refreshing godsend grey-haired gamers and younger audiences alike. Doom serves up as a robust package, for those that can look past the multiplayer’s first impressions, and those who glean satisfaction in building things from scratch with Snap Map. On all fronts, Doom delivers, one way or another, a shooter that is easily underestimated, but leaves one Hell of a lasting impression.
Doom solidifies the demand for a shake up in the first person shooter genre, and marks a celebratory return of the veteran studio that is id Software.