Reviewed with a mouse and keyboard at Ultra-Violence (hard) difficulty
Id Software’s 2016 reboot of the classic DOOM series is defined almost entirely by one word: badass. In fact, the dictionary definition for badass should probably be amended to reference this game.
Within the first 5 minutes of DOOM’s campaign, you’re already ripping and tearing like it’s 1993 again. Initially shackled to his own sarcophagus, the player-character amusingly known as the DOOM Marine breaks free in a rage, immediately slaughtering the nearby demons unlucky enough to be tasked with guard duty. From here on out, Id holds little back on the beginner, and your only real tutorial (besides a couple of text popups) is the sheer necessity of learning the game as it mercilessly tosses demon after demon your way. Fortunately, DOOM also tosses gun after gun your way to deal with the ever-expanding hordes you encounter.
This is not a game for sustained exposition or pussyfooting around action, though the writers have done a surprisingly good job with a hilariously over-the-top premise, a corporately sanctioned demonic invasion of Mars. Essentially, it’s a game about shooting big demons with big guns, outrageous levels of gore, and an intense heavy metal soundtrack to make it all go. This is at heart a simple experience that appeals to our inner teenage boy, but it also tickles our tactical intellect and recognizes the needs of today’s gamer. That DOOM is a consummate first person shooter is no surprise given Id Software’s pedigree: this studio, better than any other, intimately understands the soul of the genre it pioneered.
Mechanically, DOOM is a fairly straightforward FPS, but everything it does, it does beautifully (and with a smooth frame rate). In fact, the entire gameplay experience here can be summed up as “simple mechanics, executed perfectly.” Movement, for example, is fluid and easy to execute, and it’s actually crucial to surviving combat on the higher difficulties. Standing still in this game is a death sentence, and the demons won’t hesitate to capitalize on a moment of weakness. Certain beasts will kill you in one hit if you’re caught with your pants down in melee range, and others will aim devastating fireballs at you from afar. To efficiently clear a room of demons, you must use the environment to your advantage, hoisting yourself over ledges to avoid getting pinned against the wall, double jumping from platform to platform searching for health packs, and strafing to dodge projectiles. The level design incorporates quite a bit of verticality to encourage such a mobile play style, though having the high ground doesn’t give you a free pass to camp, as the demons will relentlessly track you wherever you go.
With the exception of the starting pistol, the guns all feel great to shoot, with satisfying sound effects and sensible damage-to-accuracy ratios. You don’t have to reload, either, so nothing is ever stopping you from shooting. When you run out of ammo for your chosen weapon, the Marine simply draws the next one from its holster and you’re back at it. This results in fast-paced gunplay that doesn’t let up until everything in the room is splattered across the floor.
The various components of the combat system feed into one another, creating cohesive gameplay that’s flat out fun. For example, you might be running on low ammo and finding it hard to battle effectively with your dinky ammo-free pistol. Fear not, for you obviously have a gas-powered chainsaw that causes enemies to drop piles of ammunition when you slice them in half. Worried that your health is low and no health packs are in sight? Worry no more, for every dilemma in DOOM can be solved with barbaric demon slaying. Enter the glory kill system, whereby you can perform a melee finishing move on an opponent whose health has been whittled down enough. Glory kills are comparable to a Mortal Kombat brutality in terms of sadism and creativity. You haven’t lived until you’ve torn out a demon’s heart and fed it to him. If you play your cards right, you can tear through an entire group of demons after weakening them all first, though most enemies will only be staggered for a short time, after which they will slap you down for a late execution attempt.
Combat is further enhanced by weapon upgrades, which allow you to customize each weapon you find based on your individual playstyle and what your current setup is lacking. As you defeat large groups of enemies and find secrets, you accumulate weapon upgrade points. I customized my shotgun to shoot calamitous explosive rounds, my rocket launcher to lock on for three-round bursts, and my minigun to rip opponents to shreds with a high rate-of-fire mode. Most weapons have two different upgrade trees with three individual components each. After spending a progressively larger number of points on a single tree, your fourth and final upgrade will be unlocked by completing a challenge, such as getting a certain number of multikills with rounds from your double barreled shotgun. Each mission contains a small robot that will allow you to switch your current upgrade tree for a single weapon, and though your points are retained in case you switch back later, you have to spend more to fully upgrade the new tree.
You can also upgrade your suit, providing protection against environmental damage or showing nearby secrets on your map. Unfortunately, these upgrades aren’t nearly as exciting as the ones for the weapons, but it’s hard to make boots as intimidating as a Gauss Cannon. The weapons are really intimidating too, especially the lovingly christened BFG 9000. I bet you can guess what that acronym stands for (hint: it starts with big and ends with gun). One charge from this whale of a weapon’s barrel can turn an entire room into a sticky red mess. As if your other guns weren’t good enough at that already.
The visuals complement this style of gameplay perfectly, ranging from infernal hell landscapes of brown and red to Martian landscapes of… also brown and red. This is a much brighter and more colorful game than what I’ve seen of the original DOOM, though, and the graphics are extremely detailed, allowing the fantastic art direction to shine. Every once in a while, you’ll get a glimpse out into the barren Martian world, and it’s gorgeously done, with stunning lighting and texturing even seen through a dusty window. Other times, in the bowels of a research facility, you’ll come across recently completed human sacrifices and eerie demonic chapels characterized by fluorescent red and green hues. The modelling and animations are well done, too, resulting in some wicked looking demons (especially the bosses), lethal looking guns, and sinister looking arenas to kill the demons with the guns.
DOOM’s soundtrack is nothing short of brutal, and it fits the game like a glove. As the art and atmosphere become increasingly blood-soaked and satanic, the music follows suit. While the DOOM Marine walks the chrome corridors of the UAC’s Martian base, he is accompanied by futuristic and experimental sounds reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails. When the player progresses through hell portals, however, the game’s true fire and fury are let loose, and so too are the double bass pedals. With severe, chugging guitar riffs straight out of a Meshuggah album accompanied by layered operatic choirs that would make Devin Townsend blush, this soundtrack is heavy. And it’s perfect, too, because when you’re painting the walls with demonic entrails, do you want to hear anything but metal recorded by unhinged robots? Of course, when the action settles down, the music becomes less intense and more ominously ambient, letting your ears rest, but reminding you of what lies ahead.
Between each boss or large arena of demons lies a connecting area designed to break up the action. Whether you are traversing environmental puzzles, hunting secrets, or doing short combat challenges to unlock runes (which augment your abilities), you’re still having fun, just not getting slammed in the face with hordes of monsters. Id understands the importance of pacing, and if you’re in a rush to return to the bloodbath you’re welcome to speed through the platforming without going off the beaten path. Alternatively, if you’re getting a little war-weary, searching for collectibles is a worthy distraction. Personally, I was so engaged by the combat that I could barely wait to get back in the fight, so many collectibles will sit untouched until a subsequent play through.
And for me at least, there will almost certainly be subsequent play throughs. I want to play through the nightmare difficulties, to use the upgrades I passed over before, to find all the collectibles, but most of all I just want to play more DOOM. Everything from the guns to the soundtrack is just so compelling as a package that I know for a fact I won’t be able to keep away long. Since the original DOOM came out the year I was born, I wasn’t quite in a position to play it yet (this series, unlike Wu Tang, is not for the children), so I can’t say how faithful it is to the original’s gameplay and atmosphere. I can say, however, that this is the best shooter I’ve played in the past 5 or so years, even better than Id’s other reboot, Wolfenstein. If you like pointing guns at monsters and blowing them to bits, this isn’t a release you can pass up in good conscience. The campaign alone, which for my play through clocked in at around 13 hours, is worth the full $60 price tag.
Sadly, what’s not quite as compelling is the multiplayer, the outsourcing of which should tell you exactly how much Id cares about it. As far as I’m concerned, this is a separate game from the campaign and bears at best a passing resemblance to Id’s glorious work. If you want an old-school arena shooter a la Quake, this isn’t it. If you want a multiplayer experience that involves more than running at the other guy until one of you dies, this isn’t it. It incorporates a few of the strengths of the single player mode, like vertical level design and pretty graphics, but for the most part it pales in comparison to the main game.
Certain Affinity, the studio which developed DOOM’s multiplayer, has done the bulk of its work in the Halo and Call of Duty franchises, and it shows. With loadouts, sniper rifles and a fairly slow pace compared to the campaign, it plays less like an arena shooter and more like, well… Halo or CoD. There’s the occasional weapon pickup and a few weak attempts at innovation like the ability to turn into a demon, but these features serve imbalance the multiplayer more than make it fun. This mode is safe, mediocre, and on the whole forgettable, which is too bad considering how strong the rest of the game is. It only took me a couple matches to get bored, and anyone who plays FPS games has seen everything on offer here before.
DOOM’s proprietary map maker, cutely dubbed Snapmap, fares better than the actual multiplayer when it comes to providing a classic experience. Like any arcade or custom game mode, the mileage you get out of it is proportional to the efforts of the map makers. It’s too early to say whether any real community will develop here, especially since full mod tools aren’t included, and likely never will be according to Id. The current popular maps range from throwbacks to earlier DOOM games to weird team music making games. One possible concern for this mode is that it may suffer the same fate as Starcraft 2’s arcade, where the top voted maps perennially occupy the front page. This makes it harder for newer maps to find an audience, eventually causing custom game makers to give up and move on to a different engine. Certainly, the top games in Snapmap have changed very little in the time I’ve played, though this could be due to the short age of the game. Perhaps given a bit more time a dedicated community will grow.
DOOM isn’t about multiplayer or Snapmap though, and these are just added bonuses to a legendary campaign. Buy this game because you want to turn demons into a thick red paste, not to get sick sniper headshots online, because there are better games for that. One last recommendation to the potential consumer: if you have a choice between PC and console, get this game on PC. I briefly tried playing with a controller and it was a frustrating experience compared to mouse and keyboard. This isn’t a problem with how the developers implemented controller support, it’s just that DOOM, as a true successor to the classic PC franchise, is naturally more suited to a mouse. Quick and precise aiming becomes an absolute requirement as the demons get stronger and more numerous, and turn speed is crucial to smoothly traversing the terrain. That being said, if you only have a console to play this game with, I still recommend it, and I’m sure if I played more FPS games with a controller I would have had an easier time.
Whichever way you go about playing it, DOOM is a must-buy for the first person shooter crowd, and frankly even for those who usually don’t enjoy the genre. It strikes a perfect balance between old and new styles of game play, boasts clever writing that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and both looks and sounds great. The only hitch is the multiplayer, but that’s no reason to deny yourself a fantastic solo experience. I can’t wait to play the sequel.
Image credits: Polygon.com (title), Certainaffinity.com (multiplayer)