In Doom 3, it takes close to fifteen minutes before you fire your first shot. The lead up to the action is a Half-Life rehash as the Doom Marine is dropped off at a United Aeronautics Corporation facility on Mars. This quiet before the storm is an opportunity to get your bearings with the game’s controls and develop a rapport with the game’s interactive minutiae and, of course, the infamous flashlight. Only after you’ve taken a brief trip to the Martian surface and trudged through the darkened bowels of a science lab does the Hell invasion take over and wreak havoc. That’s a lot of build up for a franchise known for being a mindless, run and gun shooter.
The introduction for DOOM wastes no time in distancing itself. Press Start, sit through a loading screen, and within the first minute, you’re bashing in the head of an Unwilling, one of Hell’s lowest minions. Right from the start, Doom Marine clearly doesn’t give a fat fuck about anything (the game’s late title card sequence is a magnificent example) as he embarks on a self-referential, tongue-in-cheek quest of extreme violence. Everything about DOOM is a massive departure fromthe divisive Doom 3 and as such, it feels more in line with the goofy spirit of the original games. The art of killing Hell’s horde in the most gruesome fashion is treated with as much joy as an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon.
I’ll say it right up front: this is an amazing game that needs to be played. DOOM does a great job of building itself around retro game design that is comfortably integrated with a modern weapon and armor upgrade system. In an era where first person shooters are the genre du jour and hard to differentiate, DOOM ends up feeling more unique than it should. It brings back gameplay that focuses heavily on movement and arena-based combat scenarios. Everything that gets in the way of that action - like cover, reloading, and regenerating health - have been stripped away. Keeping an eye on ammo and health levels and knowing when to break off a fight to make a frantic scrounge for health and armor pick ups creates a tension that modern FPS games don’t quite replicate. The risk/reward system of DOOM also extends to the new ability to stun enemies. When a demon has suffered enough damage, their body will glow blue. Close the distance and their bodies turn orange, indicating the OK to perform a Glory Kill. These are canned pieces of animation (in any other game, it’d be a quick time event) that brutalize demons by tearing off their limbs and beating them to death with it, snapping necks, ripping out hearts, and prying apart open jaws. Apart from the visceral thrill, Glory Kills spawn health pick ups. This system lends itself to developing a strategy for every encounter. It’s never a bad idea to keep weaker enemies around when fighting tougher enemies. Between the speed of combat, enemy behavior, and Glory Kill system, encounters in DOOM are an engrossing and addictive challenge. The odds often feel insurmountable and despite a few tough sections, the action is truly sublime.
The surprise of DOOM isn’t limited to its superb gameplay. It also extends to the game’s single player campaign. In fact, this is one of those rare examples (Uncharted 2 is another that comes to mind) where the inclusion of multiplayer doesn’t hinder the quality of the core game. I’d say it’s almost the reverse: the multiplayer, which I’ll go into further detail later, is a little generic, whereas the campaign builds fiction around the Doom Marine that is actually interesting. Yes, indeed folks. DOOM has a story and it’s not bad at all! The opening moments of the campaign are rich with intrigue: the player character is woken from some sort of slumber in a sarcophagus covered in demonic seals. After dispatching a demon, the Marine’s armor - the Praetorian suit - is housed within a revered shrine. It’s a nifty cold opening and as you play through the campaign, you’ll uncover the mystery of your origins and the UAC’s recent mess.
I am in love with how the UAC is represented here. They share the same Evil Co. face that was established in Doom 3 but with a more absurdist and comical slant. To be an employee for the UAC must be the most terrible job in the world. Their research into Hell has created a new energy source that taps into the power of the infernal realm resulting in a new age of technological prosperity for Earth and Mars. The UAC employs a business demeanor that is based entirely on religious fanaticism to the point where you’re not so much as “hired” as you are “indoctrinated.” One of the more brilliant pieces of passive storytelling and world building comes from your first major engagement with demons. The facility’s AI overseer declares a lockdown with the phrase, “Demonic presence at unsafe levels.” It’s a phrase that does so little to convey so much. As you explore the UAC facility, codex entries reveal humorous insights on what it was like for people to work for a company treats demonic invasions as a part of doing business. There’s one entry worth seeking out as it provides the reader with instructions on how to behave when a monster is encountered.
Exploration and combat go hand in hand. Killing enemies and finding secrets in every nook and cranny go towards points used to upgrade weapons, gear, and the Praetorian suit. Upgrade points can be acquired by surviving enemy encounters, seeking out fallen Elite Knights, collecting a series of Doom Guy dolls, and accomplishing level-based challenges. Weapons can be upgraded through drones that can add modifications for every weapon. All weapons have two unique modifications that add to a healthy repertoire of options for every engagement. Spending points towards these upgrades can decrease the time it takes for these secondary attacks to charge and also increases their effectiveness. For the Praetorian suit, Argent energy orbs can increase health, armor, and ammo. Finally, there are runes to collect by completing special timed challenges set within special, cordoned off areas. These runes offer fun passive effects like speeding up Glory Kills, increasing the time a demon is stunned, and offer more maneuverability for double jumps.
There is so much to find in every level of DOOM and while hunting for secret passages (especially those that unlock playable classic DOOM maps) and difficult to reach air vents detracts from the action, these moments of calm are rewards for getting through particularly nasty encounters. It’s also a chance to admire the game’s great visuals. The legions of Hell have never looked so good and their designs are fantastic 3D reproductions of what were once 2D sprites. Their viscera is thrown about with reckless abandon as guns mutilate and obliterate the legions of hell. Glory Kills and the one-hit kill Chainsaw offer up close views of bodily destruction that briefly dirties up the screen. The violence is cheered on by a metal soundtrack that hits the right notes with grungy, dirty thumps, beats, and electric guitar riffs though I wish the music had a bit more character. With as much as the game references its ancestor, it would have been cool to hear a remixed version of the soundtrack. Then again, maybe it’s there and I’m too focused on the game to notice.
Everything that makes the campaign so special and fun more or less is present in multiplayer. I missed out on its free open beta but having played a few rounds, I can see why the response was so tepid. Where the campaign is a return to form, so should have the online portion. What a great opportunity to go the bold direction of having a slimmed down, almost Unreal Tournament-style structure of Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and some form of domination mode. Instead, multiplayer feels an awful lot like Halo in a DOOM skin. There is absolutely nothing here anyone, even with a minimal amount of online experience, has seen before. A progression system manages a system of unlocks, most of which are cosmetic. SnapMap is the most interesting element of the online package because it’s a level editor that lets people design their own content, though it is hamstringed by using the same systems and tools that govern multiplayer - players can only use two weapons at a time and the assets are mostly based on the multiplayer aesthetic. That hasn’t stopped people from using it to recreate classic DOOM levels, though!
DOOM has been the biggest surprises of the year. I didn’t care much for the survival horror, Dead Space tone of Doom 3, so the brutal, nihilistic and metal tone of this game is better suited and more familiar to the source material. I’ve never had so much fun! And there’s nothing wholly bad I can say about the game. It would have been nice perhaps if the load times were a little shorter but that didn’t stop me from having a great time. The single player campaign is robust and just so damn fun, it was all I could ever think about when I was away from the console. DOOM is a fun departure from the norms of modern FPS conventions. By taking a step back, the game jumps forward because it makes firing a virtual gun fun again by stripping away all of the unnecessary “realism” of shooting a gun. Give me a shotgun that can fire fifty shells without reloading over a chainsaw machine gun with active reload any day.
Fresh and fun, DOOM belongs on your list of must play games for 2016.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.