I still remember the hushed voices and scanning eyes. We were glued to the ancient, bulking monitors before us but tried to keep a careful watch for signs of approach. No one could know what we were doing. “We’re going to get in so much trouble!” someone would whisper. Our concerns would seem ridiculous made today, but playing the original DOOM games as kids more than two decades ago was a serious crime our fun-hating adults would have no doubt skinned us for. For as much danger as I put myself in, playing that series and those it inspired became a large part of my gaming history. DOOM, Quake, Wolfenstein, Duke Nukem and others gave me hours of entertainment I’ve yet to forget. But times changed and games evolved, and with them so tried the series that started a genre. id Software’s attempts weren’t entirely successful. DOOM 3’s methodical, claustrophobic reimaging wasn’t met with wholesome enthusiasm. But DOOM is finally back, and with it the single-player experience we have been waiting for.
2016’s DOOM (henceforth just DOOM) wastes no time in acquainting players with the innards of the demonic horde. In fact, its frenetic pace is a large part the game’s nostalgia-fueled greatness. Within thirty seconds of hitting play, you’re handed a pistol and tasked to use it. A minute later and you’re leaping through the air blasting imps with a shotgun while a heavy metal soundtrack rocks your veins. The action only escalates from there and rarely lets up, culminating in a near flawless campaign that had me giddy with excitement as if I was back in the 90s playing classic DOOM for the first time.
There is a story that serves as the impetus for your actions, but it is not at all the larger focus. There are next to no cutscenes, villainous monologues, or much of a cast to interact with. Most dialog is delivered over radio as the head of the United Aerospace Corporation’s Mars facility directs you in closing a portal to Hell. The aforementioned sparsity is nowhere near a complaint, however. By ignoring the now traditional heavy narrative, DOOM’s concentration is instead on the satisfaction of its shooting. It’s a ratio many fans have been asking for, one that we remember most about the original titles, and it’s been delivered here with extreme confidence. This campaign knows exactly what it is without taking itself too seriously – the opening lines even reference the gloriously ridiculous comic from 1996 – and that’s exactly what DOOM needed.
All would be for naught if the shooting, exploding, and ripping and tearing demons apart were not as confident. But as previously implied, DOOM’s gameplay is a visceral joyride. It often left me shouting victorious expletives and some combination of “Yes!” and “Suck it!” The reason for that is two-fold: speed and physicality. DOOM doesn’t just hit the ground running; it practically requires it when engaging Hell’s minions. Enemy AI is relentless is closing any distance between the player and them – this is no cover shooter – and many encounters are placed in closed arenas that must be cleared before moving on. That forced me to always be on the go, jumping to and from platforms, strafing around pillars, and searching for pick-ups to stay alive. Standing still was thus a recipe for death. And keeping that momentum going not only was exciting, but it became almost artful when successfully executed.
The second half of what makes DOOM’s campaign such an adrenaline rush relates to the feel of combat itself. Nearly all of the game’s ten weapons have a powerful weight to them. One of the chaingun’s secondary firing modes, for example, transforms it into a three-barreled behemoth of fast-firing destruction. Demons melt before its onslaught. And the enjoyment of melting those demons is aided by their reaction to said bullets (or pellets, rockets, plasma discharges, grenades, etc.). Enemy’s respond properly to where they’re hit, and that visual feedback makes a huge difference to whether battles in a game feel floaty and insubstantial or physical and engaging. DOOM inspires the latter sensations as enemies flinch and falter to the blows that strike them. Additionally, locational damage brings engagements to a gory close. The gauss cannon in particular turns demons into Swiss cheese.
Another mechanic instrumental in maintaining the forward flow of combat are melee executions dubbed Glory Kills. Deal enough damage to an enemy and it will briefly start to flash blue (you can disable the indicator and many others if they’re not to your liking), prompting you to finish it in a variety of brutal fashions with the press of a key. There’s a reason for performing Glory Kills beyond seeing a Pinky demon killed with its own rear end, of course: they’re a guaranteed source of health drops. Initially I was worried that the animations would become too repetitive or reduce the overall challenge, but neither concern ultimately proved accurate. It’s a bit of a risk and reward system and you have to get close to pull them off, a situation that’s not always ideal when heavily surrounded, and you’re never rewarded with enough health to completely top you off. But it can keep you fighting longer when you’d otherwise be struck with a loading screen.
The final capstone to the journey to Hell is a progression system that gives players a growing sense of power. Don’t worry, there are no numbers flying out of bodies or levels earned from kills, but you do gain points and modifications to further your destructive capability. These are doled out through several methods and forms that work as terrific motivators to fully explore the intricacies of the UAC facility’s varied landscapes.
Some take the shape of collectibles hidden throughout each map. Modification drones let you purchase alternate firing modes for your guns. There are two available for nearly every weapon and points gained passively through battle, optional challenges such as pulling off certain kills, and finding secrets can be spent on further improving their characteristics. Thankfully, you’re never forced to choose just one modification or upgrade. By journey’s end you can have them all.
The base attributes of your character can be upgraded, too. Praetor armor points are looted off specific corpses and are spent on passive boosting traits. One set of skills improves your secret-finding ability while another increases your resistances to explosions. Other collectibles increase your base health, armor, and ammunition capacity while runes, won through nail-biting trials, are slotted items that provide more gameplay altering bonuses. My own rune preference made Glory Kills easier to pull off and more rewarding. And like the weapon modifications, you’ll eventually max everything out.
Finally, DOOM looks and runs beautifully. Gone are the dreary hallways of DOOM 3. This next-generation of Mars and Hell are bright and colorful by comparison. There are some ominous labs, of course, but you never have to fear the battery of a flashlight. The demons of this DOOM don’t hide in the dark. And despite being on modest hardware, my AMD R9 290 was more than capable of running the game at 80 frames per second on High with a 2560×1080 resolution. There were a few dips here and there, but for the most part DOOM is as optimized as it is attractive.
If my assessment seems overly glowing, it’s because there’s honestly little to complain about. Minus the lack of manual saves, I adored every minute I spent in the 10 to 12-hour long campaign. In fact, I’m savoring the opportunity to dive back into it to slay demons, find missing collectibles, and complete my arsenal.
DOOM’s single-player campaign is a wonderful callback to the past, giving longtime fans what we’ve been craving while updating the formula with interesting new mechanics. The multiplayer component, unfortunately, didn’t leave me with the same passion. It tries to straddle the line between the old and the new, with influences taken from Call of Duty to Halo. It’s by no means bad, and it can be quite fun, but it’s blend of eras may not wholly please either persuasion.
Let’s start with the good. Multiplayer is still a rapid, twitch-based competitive experience. Well-timed dodges and fine accuracy are crucial to getting kills. There are few things more satisfying than landing a direct hit with rocket to gib your opponent. Furthermore, the power-ups and special weapons sprinkled about the map make finding and using them delightfully vicious discoveries.
Customization finds its way into multiplayer, as well, and the unlocks given are a welcome surprise. Regardless of whether you win or lose a match, you’re rewarded with a random set of items. These come in the form of new visual pieces of equipment (torsos, heads, armors, and so on), colors and patterns to adorn armor and weapons, hack modules that act like the limited-use cards in Titanfall, and even emotes to taunt your defeated rivals at the winner’s circle ala Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. It’s actually rather neat to view how other players have customized their marines, though it’s worth noting everyone wears the colors of their team while matches are being played.
There are six competitive modes to play in. Team Deathmatch is self-explanatory by this point. Soul Harvest has you collecting the “souls” of your enemies after you’ve killed them, not dissimilar to Call of Duty’s Kill Confirmed. Domination is all about capturing and holding points on the map. Warpath is my personal favorite mode that’s focused on controlling a single, moving point. In Freeze Tag, death is instead cold immobilization until your allies can rescue you. If your entire team is iced, you lose the round. Finally, Clan Arena is TDM with elimination rules. You’re given one life per round, which frequently leads to tense encounters as numbers dwindle.
You’ll notice a particularly damning omission, but the lack of Deathmatch (all the modes are team-based) isn’t the only notable change that has rankled some feathers, mine included. Loadouts have replaced the traditional system of finding standard weapon spawns – some powerful armaments hidden around the maps – and you can only carry two weapons at a time. I’m not entirely against the limit, but it does little to diversify confrontations. It’s made worse by the fact several weapons are practically ineffectual thanks to their long time to kill. If you’re not using a rocket launcher and/or a shotgun, you may as well be shooting marshmallows.
The largest meta change, however, has to concern the demon spawns. A special power-up emerges in every match that, for a limited time, transforms the player who grabs it into one of four demons. The demon is virtually unstoppable without a concerted team effort or the luck of a quad-damage power-up to counter it. It can help a losing team catch up, of course, and I won’t deny it’s fun to use, but being on the receiving end is like throwing yourself at a wall. Sure, you’re chipping away it piece by piece, but you’re still guaranteed a concussion in the process. And from a genre of competitive shooters that emphasized player skill above all, the demon ends up feeling like a bullet-sponge bag of bullshit.
The last major component of DOOM is SnapMap, a creation platform that allows user to build, share, and play their own levels and modes. It’s easy to use, utilizing prefabricated parts and simple tools to construct everything from linear missions to tower defense mini-games. I even came across a keyboard and drum synthesizer. Authors can also set their content to support one or multiple players in either co-operative or competitive formats.
Browsing and loading content is a simple affair, too. Everything is accessed from within SnapMap itself. I was able to quickly see what the top maps currently were or to search by specific game type, invite friends, and then load into a map all under a flat minute.
SnapMap is a nice way to extend the lifespan of the game, but there are some caveats. The prefabricated components seem to place a limit on user creativity. After touring a dozen different custom maps, they were already starting to blend together in terms of visuals and objectives. It’s only been a few days since DOOM has come out, so I’m sure we’ll come to see more complicated offerings; but I would much rather see the release of more complicated modding tools.
DOOM is almost everything I could have asked for. Its campaign has left my heart literally racing in my chest from sheer excitement. It’s fast, impactful, and a damn good lot of fun. Multiplayer and SnapMap may be disappointing by comparison, but the perfection of its better half is greatly elevating and I cannot recommend DOOM enough. This is a first-person shooter you don’t want to miss.
DOOM is developed by id Software and published by Bethesda Softworks and is available for $59.99 on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. We reviewed the game on the PC with code provided by the publisher.