Developer: id Software
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed) , Xbox One
Released: May 13, 2016
Doom had me the moment it concluded its opening sequence with a shotgun cocking to the rhythm of that classic At Doom’s Gate theme tune. The inimitable Doom Marine steps out of an elevator as the introductory music concludes and punctuates it with a “CHI-CHIK” of the firearm and control is slickly handed back to the player.
It was a deliciously silly slice of self-assured style that let me know I was in for a thoroughly good time.
This is the Doom I didn’t know I desperately needed. It’s one of the stupidest games I’ve played in a long time, and I mean that in a positive way. Doom is unapologetically nonsensical, a cavalcade of ultra violence and blood-spattered mayhem that lets up just long enough to give its audience a breather for the next incoming rush of demonic butchery.
A narrative does exist, and the Doom Marine’s place in it is masterfully presented – he literally doesn’t care. Communicated through mute animation from the player’s perspective, the nonchalance of Doom‘s destructive protagonist is made quite clear. He’s here to kill, and that’s it.
UAC overseer Samuel Hayden attempts to explain the game’s context and the Marine pushes the exposition screen away. While being told to carefully remove a delicate piece of technology, the Marine opts to smash it to pieces. The politics and backstory can be read at your leisure, but Doom never needed such things. The Marine certainly doesn’t.
What makes Doom‘s campaign so remarkable is that its narrative is surprisingly clever and ties the series’ lore together in inventive ways… all while giving the idea of plot a huge middle finger.
With such a legacy behind it, and a huge audience desperate for vintage carnage after the ponderous Doom 3, id Software had a lot to live up to and a huge amount of pressure to deliver unmistakable Doom flavors with modern expectations. In this task, id Software has performed most admirably, and I’m confident in saying Doom is perhaps as close to the series’ roots as you can get without straight up remaking the original releases.
Modern concessions have been made – there are story elements with associated downtime, there are upgrades for the Marine and his expanding arsenal of weapons, and the whole game has an unmistakable “AAA” sheen to it. At the heart of it, however, lies an unrelenting power fantasy concerned with only one thing – the constant slaughter of demons from a very literal Hell.
What becomes instantly noticeable when playing Doom is its speed. The Marine smoothly sprints through each corridor and arena at a constant 60fps while his demonic enemies rush, leap, and skitter at an alarming pace. Every battle is fast and furious, with players needing to constantly move around to avoid the incoming claws and fireballs flying their way.
Dealing enough damage to a demon staggers them and makes them susceptible to a Glory Kill – a melee attack that executes them in hilariously savage fashion, dispatching them efficiently and earning the player some bonus health. Rest assured, it’s immensely rewarding to chain these kills together, letting loose a salvo of fire before moving amongst the damned and ripping their eyes out, punching their faces off, or snapping their spines in two.
It’s difficult to describe how entertaining the game is without coming off as some sort of gleeful sadist, but I’ll merrily admit there’s a simple purity to the unfailing conga line of demonicide that keeps the whole thing riotous from beginning to end.
I feared the campaign would get old by the end, that it couldn’t keep me invested with a steady stream of Glory Kills and gunfire, but my fears were unfounded. The game’s clarity of purpose is its trump card, and it feeds new weapons, enemies, and combinations of demon waves to keep any bloodthirsty player sufficiently slaked.
Weapons are drawn from the classic series with a handful of new toys, and they all pack a beefy punch with a sense of high impact. It is triumphant to bring the Super Shotgun to bear against an incoming Hell Knight, or pump a Pinky full of plasma. The chainsaw is unlocked early in the game and acts more like a power-up than a weapon in its own right – fuel for it is extremely limited, but it can insta-kill all but a handful of boss creatures, making it a trick one should only pull off when necessary.
The same is true for another weapon found much later… but I won’t talk about that fun surprise, even if its appearance is mandatory.
Weapons can be modified to include alternate fire modes with cooldown conditions – the assault rifle can be modded to include a scope or fire missiles, while the rocket launcher can detonate its missiles mid-air or lock onto targets and fire multiple explosives. Once unlocked, mods may be switched out with a quick button press, and they’re upgraded with weapon points earned via combat to improve their usefulness.
The demons themselves are the stars of the show – varied, beautifully (if grotesquely) designed, and highly aggressive. From Imps that dart around the map like insects, to Revenants that jet from the air and fire off clusters of rockets, every monster type is uniquely threatening and carries its own distinct pattern of behavior.
Most levels consist of huge combat arenas connected via corridors, and that’s all they really need to be.
Arenas are painstakingly built to encourage mobility in combat. Rooms possess a sense of verticality and can feature all manner of stairwells, ledges, jump pads and teleporters to keep players constantly moving around. Even the Glory Kills reward constant motion, as approaching a stunned demon from any angle will showcase a new method of extermination.
Levels are also packed with secrets, and hunting for them can constitute a game in and of itself. There are fluffy unlockables such as action figures and lore entries, as well as character and armor upgrades, weapon mod bots, and timed challenges that can be completed to earn runes. Equipped runes offer passive bonuses such as increased ammo count or lengthier demon stun times, and are worth checking out – even if the challenges can be a bit bollocks.
The campaign alone is worth the price of admission. It sets a consistent pace and packs so much satiating savagery into its runtime that I feel I’ve gotten my money’s worth just from the single-player portion. Everything on top of that is gravy, and it’s worth noting there’s enough gravy here to constitute two whole thirds of the package.
Competitive multiplayer is basic but fun enough, nowhere near as refined or involving as many modern offerings, but a decent clash of rockets and rifles across a variety of straightforward game types. I’m not normally a fan of old school multiplayer shooters, preferring the quicker engagements found in more modern releases, but I’ve nonetheless wasted a good deal of time with Doom‘s back-to-basics approach.
There are enough obligatory unlocks to keep players going, with cosmetic armor pieces randomly earned at the end of battles and a number of loadout options to tinker with. Hacks can be equipped for temporary bonuses, such as the power to see enemies through walls or earn XP for other players’ kills, while most of the guns from the campaign find their way into loadout selections.
The real draw to multiplayer is demonic possession. At certain intervals during a match, a demonic symbol will spawn which, when touched, turns the contacting player into a monster. Players start out as Revenants, but as they accrue XP they can unlock Barons of Hell, Mancubi, and Prowlers, each one bringing its own set of malevolent skills. The team with the demon on its side gains a huge temporary advantage, but the possession can be “stolen” should an enemy player slay it.
While I can’t see myself being married to Doom‘s multiplayer for very long, it’s a good distraction and a nice bit of brainless blasting to cleanse the palate.
The final third of Doom‘s production is SnapMap, best thought of as LittleBigPlanet with Hell demons. Using a relatively simple interface, users can craft their own Doom levels using pre-made rooms and corridors as puzzle pieces, joining them together to make unique maps. Once built, the level can be populated with roaming demons, ambush spawn points, secrets, pickups, puzzles, and more.
There’s a lot of potential with SnapMap, and it allows for up to four player co-op in a variety of gameplay modes. Even soon after launch there are some clever little maps to play, including tributes to the original games, wave-based survival modes, and a whack-a-mole funfair game in which Lost Souls pop out of a contraption for the player to shoot down.
Loading times – a bane of the game overall – and some ill-thought out cooperative matchmaking hold Snapmap back. While crafting levels is easy and can be fun, none of the user-generated maps encountered thus far contain any of the polish or pace found in the campaign. They best serve as brief distractions, and have thus far failed to keep me coming back for more.
SnapMap’s inclusion as a forgettable extra is inoffensive when one considers just how great the campaign is. What really puzzles me, however, is the whole game needing to be restarted in order to move between each of Doom‘s three offerings. The campaign, multiplayer, and Snapmap features are all gated from one another and require the main menu to be reloaded each time they’re selected.
It’s unnecessary and makes switching modes a hassle. Loading screens are already Doom‘s biggest problem, and adding more of them arbitrarily doesn’t help matters.
These delays between the player and the game are annoying, but manage to be a small bugbear in comparison to just how grossly satisfying Doom manages to be. At the very least, a little extra waiting is well worth it.
It’s a damn pretty game too, even if such prettiness is fairly sickly given the gore-laden subject matter. Environments are daubed in garish reds with flashes of green and yellow, while the demons themselves are vibrant and gorgeously animated. The whole game has a pulpy comic book aesthetic which lends it a singular and energetic visual flare. This is a game that doesn’t care if its demons are bright pink – it’s not taking itself seriously, and doesn’t expect anybody else to.
The soundtrack is fantastic, bringing the classic metal sound of the original games and adding some modern musical styles to keep things fresh. While the tunes are nowhere near as memorable as they were in the DOS days, Doom fans should be quite pleasantly amused by the music – especially the audio callbacks that crop up from time to time.
Callbacks in general litter the entire experience, with Doom knowing just how to appeal to its long-lived fanbase. This is a game that knows exactly where it came from and pays due homage to those roots, hitting all the expected notes without coming off as cloying in doing so. While Doom 3, in many ways, tried to distance itself from its past, 2016’s fresh take actively revels in it.
It’s great that games can be deep, philosophical, and complex, but so many try and fail to hit such evocative notes when they might have been better off sticking to the basics. Doom is the kind of game we need more of. It’s not bogged down in gimmicks nor desperate to be taken seriously with dour stories and emotional depth.
id Software knows what it’s best at, and it works on honing that talent to a razor’s edge.
With Doom, id has delivered a highly polished, utterly shameless Hellbound hecatomb that confidently swaggers into the world with gaudy fervor. It’s huge, it’s preposterous, and it’s absolutely bloody majestic.
Just a shame about the Cyberdemon. For all his hype, he goes down like a chump.