More than anything, Doom is about the (re)creation of a feeling. Its crowning achievement is that it feels both thoroughly modern, and completely orthodox to what made the original two games so iconic. A long time coming and a kind of make up for Doom 3, Doom is a brutal homage to the past, but an homage which looks forward just as much as it looks backwards.
Publisher Bethesda and developer id Software have once again proven that old I.P.’s (such as Wolfenstein: The New Order) are fertile grounds for revisiting. Although personally I have not had a history with the storied franchise, and I’m coming in fresh, there is a palpable sense of history in the game, particularly in the single player. More a reboot than a Doom 4, the game is at once a domineering achievement in contemporary gameplay creation and a throwback to 90’s shooters.
Speaking of, the latest Doom contains three tent-pole features of the Single Player, Multiplayer and user-generated content in SnapMap (akin to Halo’s Forge modes). And they really are three separate modes. To get to one while in the other the game literally has to restart and load up a new instance.
But why are you shooting demons at all? Well there’s no real story. You’re just an angry man with a gun doing what you do best. While I wasn’t expecting the height of narrative exposition from a Doom game, the fall-back to stereotypes and repeated tropes was a bit of a disappointment. The upside is that from nearly the very beginning the game focuses on what it does best.
The disregard for any character development or serious story arc lets the developers Focus on the gameplay itself. In a large sense it’s freeing, and gives the game scope and room to breathe.
For example, not having a serious story means that replaying levels to get a better score, or to find the remaining hidden secrets isn’t hindered by repeated dialogue or other such things. It also means that theredoesn’t have to be justification for any particular thing, something is there simply because it was designed to be there not because of any lore concerns.
What is this all adds up to is ridiculousness on a grand and hugely entertaining gameplay on a perfectly crafted arena scale. No online instances, no concern about lag or anything but the moment-to-moment experience. In its historical approach it manages to feel fresh.
Even on console hardware the game runs at a silky smooth 60FPS – occasionally interrupted when something drastic is going on, but I don’t feel that it impacted my playstyle. Doom uses a variable resolution a laHalo 5 apparently but it wasn’t noticeable to me during my time with the game. The game looks fantastic, if a bit too orange, and there is an obvious care taken with putting each level together.
id Software have included a FOV slider in the PS4 version too, which I greatly appreciated. Considering how many smallish rooms there are in Doom, being able to see more around me at once was a distinct advantage.
Weapons mods make what could be standard weapons fun and interesting. Of course it can be difficult to remember what mods you have equipped to which gun during each fight, but I soon grew to appreciate some favourites and stuck with them throughout my time with the game.
And you are encouraged to use them all, constantly switching back and forth in your arsenal depending on what is required. You have to make split second decisions about what guns suits each situation the best. It is a constant high wire act of juggling weapons and bouncing towards enemies who can provide much needed relief with a shower of health from a glory kill. You are encouraged to get in close and if you play too cautiously enemies aren’t afraid to seek you out. This keeps the tempo up and the adrenaline flowing.
But it’s not the same as being hunted down in say a Bioshock game. Doom gives you a sense of empowerment that has been deliberately downplayed or absent from shooters for many years. id Software understand perfectly the hierarchy of important in perfecting compelling, smart and engaging gameplay.
That said, I could have used a bit more variety in the way that you encounter enemies. I quickly grew tired of being locked in a combat arena. You rarely encounter enemies “in the wild” as you are travelling below. This means levels are a bit stop and start. Run along corridors, be locked in a room, shoot enemies. Rinse and repeat. Levels are long – perhaps a bit too long although almost constant checkpointing helps relieve that somewhat. Long levels also serve to hide sometimes amusing secrets on every level, such as dolls and even old Doom Levels.
The audio deserves special mention. id software has done an amazing job in creating great sound design. The soundtrack reminds me of the old school Descent II soundtrack and perfectly fits the game.
I did have some small issues. The on screen text is too small, even on a 50” television screen. For example, it is almost impossible to see whether it says L3 or R3, leading to mashing of buttons. This made understanding the relatively complex upgrade systems even more difficult than they needed to be as well, as it is hard to read what each one does. The game was obviously designed for the PC and moved to consoles without too much consideration of the viewing environment.
I could have done without the unfortunately prevalent first person platforming sections. My only hint here is that you can jump much further than you would think, and so falling to your death is thankfully rare.
There are also long loading times (PS4), which break up the flow of moving onto the next Level.
But what about the multiplayer? Unfortunately, the multiplayer is relatively forgettable.
Some of the speed present in the campaign is negated in the multiplayer as everyone is going that fast. Working in teams with complementary skills is also essential, but for some reason teammates rarely stuck together when I was online.
A great annoyance was the restriction to two weapons. Much of the fun of Doom’s combat is in selecting exactly the right weapon for the job, and having only two weapons at a time was a great source of frustration.
It’s not without its moments however. Demon Runes allow someone to become a monster for a minute or two which is always fun to see. There’s a huge variety of customisation – no two marines need look alike. But that’s par for the course these days.
Bethesda wants you to believe that SnapMap, the third tentpole of Doom 2016 is the equal to both the multiplayer and the campaign. Try as they might, at the moment it is not. SnapMap is a way for users to create their own levels and content for the game, which is a fantastic addition. But I think overall that this game will be remembered for its single player, not anything else.
Relying so heavily on user-generated content is nevertheless risky – see Project Spark for example – and only time will tell whether players take up SnapMap as a popular tool, or whether it languishes in obscurity. To be sure, Bethesda will need to continue updating the creation tools beyond what is available at launch. I am excited about the possibilities of what may be created however.
Doom does not try to be anything than what it is, to its very great benefit. I wish many more games would look to Doom and take heed of its focus and ability to double down on what makes it great and deprioritise everything else.
For those looking for a recreation of the multiplayer experiences and world of the 1990s, then Doom may be a disappointment. But in my opinion the campaign is strong enough to make up for the weaknesses of the other two parts of the game. And at about 12-15 hours long it will keep you entranced for a good amount of time.
Doom is an unexpected but very welcome success. In a crowded marketplace it stands out for all the right reasons and is more than worthy of your time.
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Developer: id Software