DOOM: The Review. Modern Classic or Just Another Shooter?

Titles that refuse to admit they are sequels must be the “self-titled white album” trend of the gaming industry. Xbox One, Tomb Raider, and now DOOM. Bethesda and id have had a pretty good track record when it comes to keeping an older series alive. Fallout, The Elder Scrolls and Wolfenstein are both great examples of taking franchises in exciting new directions and succeeding. Fallout and TES became the most popular and celebrated first person exploration/RPG games on the market, and Wolfenstein found its niche by being a FPS that stood out from the rest with a very unique story and unique gameplay/stealth mechanics. While these games have found a foothold in the modern gaming market, they did so by changing very fundamental pieces of the games in big ways. Players of the original Interplay Fallout games or even the 90’s Elder Scrolls games often find that the newer additions to their beloved franchises aren’t at all the same games they once were, relying more on combat and severely limiting dialogue when compared to the older games. This worked out pretty well, since it turns out mainstream gamers enjoy looking at pretty landscapes and shooting bad guys a bit more than engaging in tribal politics. With DOOM though, they took one of the biggest, baddest, most violent and most fast paced games ever made, and simply made a new, even more violent and still fast paced game where the goal is basically “shoot everything until it dies”. So, with a studio that has lost most of the minds that helped create the original, a poor showing at last years e3, and abysmal reception to the multiplayer beta, expectations were low and DOOM seemed, well, doomed (I’m so sorry). However, it’s finally here so we can answer the question, “Were they able to create a game worthy of it’s own name?”.

Well, Yeah, they did it. However, this is DOOM after all, so I’ll go with “hell yeah”. As someone who enjoys single player first person shooters, I typically enjoy them for the huge set pieces in games like Call of Duty, the exploration of Far Cry, or the loot driven gameplay of Borderlands. With DOOM, though, all I can say is they really did it. They made a game where just shooting things is the only reason to play, and it’s more than enough. Fighting the same enemies, even playing the same level over and over again is a blast. As someone who was ready to crucify Bethesda for publishing a game that didn’t deserve the title DOOM, I’m extremely happy I was wrong.

Let’s start with the most important, and best part of DOOM, the single player campaign.The narrative exists, but doesn’t overstay its welcome as it hurries the player along towards more demons just waiting to be shot in the face. The best way to illustrate what kind of game DOOM really is, and how the story goes, i suggest watching the intro of the first mission. Within seconds of waking up from your stone tomb and breaking free from the chains that hold him down, the player immediately grabs a pistol and begins shooting possessed enemies. Then just as you settle in to listening to a few minutes of exposition from a voice coming through a nearby computer, the DOOM Marine grabs the screen and throws into a wall, grabs a shotgun and gets to work. Unlike most games with a sparse narrative though (Just Cause 2 for example), DOOM’s story is actually quite intriguing and is basically the only game not named Mass Effect to make me want to read everything in the codex.

The difficulties range from “I’m too young to die” all the way up to “Ultra-Nightmare”. Even on the normal “Hurt Me Plenty” difficulty, I found myself having to give a few encounters several tries to get things just right and move on to the next fight. “Ultra-Violence” and “Nightmare” feel like turning the dial to 11 and then 100 respectively. In the higher difficulties, player health goes down very quickly, and just a couple of hits can end the DOOM Marine. Lucky for us, though, the new glory-kill mechanic helps even out the balance so that health goes up and down at the pace of a heart monitor. Demons, the possessed, unwilling, or whatever other terms may be used to describe the different enemies can all be staggered. When an enemy is outlined in orange or blue, they are temporarily staggered and do not move. During these few seconds of opportunity in which they are staggered, the player can come in close to the enemy and perform a glory kill which guarantees the enemy will drop health upon death.

Glory kills remind me just why we have the ESRB guys to keep kids from playing certain games. These devastating finishing moves might as well be called fatalities with a mysterious announcer yelling “finish him!” as you pull out the heart of a Mancubus and shove it down its own throat through two rows of sharpened teeth, quickly followed of course by an explosion of gore and bones, leaving behind a spine and pile of still remaining body parts. Glory kills can be performed on any normal enemy, and are an integral part of the overall game mechanics. This single mechanic completely changes the way the game is played. Instead of constantly hiding behind cover, only to pop tactically pop out and shoot enemies, I mostly found myself running towards enemies in the hope I could stagger a weaker among them to perform a glory kill and retrieve health.

Making the player take on most enemies is where DOOM absolutely shines. Many games try, but very few have ever succeeded in making the player feel like a badass more than DOOM. When in doubt, run towards enemies and shoot them in the face. Low on health? Snap a demons neck so they drop health. Low on Ammo? Start up the chainsaw and rip out the innards of a the closest moving thing to guarantee that ammo pours out alongside the blood. Even in just the first few missions, standing still is a death sentence. Like the original DOOM games, the large majority of enemy projectiles move slow enough and the player moves fast enough to strafe out of harms way. So when a dozen enemies surround you, there’s no way in hell (heh, heh) that you could take out all of the enemies before they get you without running around the map dodging enemy fire and charging demons.

There are no real RPG elements in DOOM other than very occasional opportunities to raise max health, armor, or ammo and add new abilities to weapons. This means the player really gets the feeling they are improving in actual skill rather than simply leveling up their character or making their weapons do more damage. Speaking of weapons, DOOM has always been known for incredible and ridiculous guns and that certainly isn’t changing this time around. All of the favorites including the double barrel shotgun, BFG, and chainsaw make appearances alongside seven other demon killing machines. While most players will have favorites among them, I found myself using every single weapon on a regular basis. Ammo is just scarce enough that the player will quickly run out of ammo if they use a single weapon non-stop, but not so scarce that I was ever really forced to use the infinite ammo pistol because all of the more powerful weapons were empty. In fact, most players will likely find themselves switching weapons several times during each encounter to use the right tool for the right enemy (Sure using a freaking lock-on rocket launcher on a tiny imp is fun, but it is a little overkill).

DOOM’s campaign is an absolute blast for just about any player. An affinity for shooters is not at all necessary, and neither is a fondness for the original DOOM games. However, if like me you loved playing DOOM or DOOM 2 in the past then you’ll find a lot to remind you that this is definitely a DOOM game. Secrets are all over each level, with some teased just on the other side of a closed gate or on an unreachable platform much like the original games. Seeing enemies from the original games brought into HD and blasting them away with guns that feel just as good as they did the day DOOM was released is extremely satisfying. In fact,  there are actually classic DOOM maps in the game. These levels are all hidden inside of campaign levels that must be discovered but can be played individually afterwards from the main menu.

When selecting anything other than “campaign” from the main menu is where DOOM begins to stumble. Multiplayer is fine but tries to be a modern multiplayer shooter way more than it should. It’s a decent distraction but I couldn’t find any reason to invest a significant amount of time or effort in it and I doubt the community will be lively for long. The typical game modes of a modern military shooter are all there, and I don’t consider that a good thing. It is important to note that much of the work on multiplayer was outsourced to a different studio and it’s noticeable in the final product.

The third mode, SnapMap, is basically a community level editor in the vein of Super Mario Maker or Little Big Planet, with just a bit more involuntary amputations and a few more gallons of blood, but who could really tell the difference right? SnapMap focuses on around four player co-op or deathmatch games. The level creator is fairly intuitive, but I wouldn’t call making levels “fun” in any respect. Currently there aren’t a lot of interesting maps to play on, and neither are there many players spending their time playing on them. I do hope that this changes as SnapMap seems like it could really outshine the normal multiplayer mode if enough players adopted it. As for now, I don’t plan on pretending “campaign” is the only option on the main menu every time I start the game.

Visually, DOOM is everything it should be. Bloody, dark, with just the tiniest hint of whimsy while explosions of gore happen all around. On PC, the game is absolutely gorgeous. On console, it gets the job done. I played on PS4 and found the game quite pretty all while running with very high and stable frames per second. There was the occasional texture pop-in, most notable when switching in-between weapons on the fly. It’s not going to win any “best graphics” awards, but overall, I really didn’t care and found the visuals to be everything they should be.

DOOM’s soundtrack transplanted into any other game would be a complete nightmare. Generic sounding metal accompanies every fight, but for this particular game I found it to be a great fit. Loud music while unloading a shotgun into a group of imps worked perfectly for me. In fact, this just might be my new favorite game to play with headphones turned up when I don’t feel like dealing with reality.

Wrap-up:

Never has shooting things in face been more fun than with DOOM. Anyone who enjoys the occasional fast paced action game should definitely consider picking it up. The single player campaign succeeds in everything it does, and can easily induce some late nights sitting on the couch staring at the TV as you keep telling yourself, “just one more room and I’ll go to sleep”. While the multiplayer modes aren’t up to the challenge, the game could have easily shipped without them and I wouldn’t have any complaints. I fully expect to see DOOM picking up multiple Game of the Year awards this December

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