2004’s Doom 3 was a shooter that focused on survival, pitting the player against hordes of monsters in a progressive environment where opening fire isn’t always the best path to success. It’s a great game, but it’s not a Doom game. Classic Doom is about run-and-gun action, where one brutally clears a map of foes and triumphantly moves to the next area to repeat the process – armed now with cooler weapons and faced with demonic enemies that are harder to put down than the ones that came before. It’s simple fun, providing a constant adrenaline rush and non-stop carnage.
It’s this type of gameplay that has given the shooters from developer iD Software their identity, but recent releases seemed to signal the end of the formula. That is, until now.
In 2016, iD Software has given Doom fans the game they’ve longed for – a throwback to the shooter-heavy gameplay of the ’90s, updated with slick visuals, brutal new melee kills, and clever combat mechanics that encourage constant demon slaying, effectively eradicating pesky moments of violence-free plodding. To put it another way, this semi-reboot of the Doom franchise is the Doom-iest Doom we’ve seen in a long time, and if you’re a fan of the classic games, there’s very little chance you won’t feel giddy as you shotgun blast your way through horde after horde of demons, desperately searching for a keycard that will unlock a path to the next horde of vile baddies.
The concept is honestly that simple. You’re a faceless badass working for the Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC), a Martian power company that opened a portal to Hell in order to solve the world’s energy crisis. Shockingly, the portal-to-Hell strategy was met with a few setbacks, and it’s your job to pull the plug on the whole operation. Apparently the most effective way to do that is by literally ripping out the hearts of as many demons as you possibly can.
What little story exists isn’t very interesting and, as such, the occasional moments where the game pauses the action to provide exposition made me feel as if I had been taken hostage. Advancing the story offers no reward; instead, I was driven to continue by a need to see what thrills were hiding in the next room. I perpetually longed for the feeling of accomplishment that came from surviving a hellish onslaught.
Doom is a game about living in the moment. If you want to survive, you won’t be checking your Facebook feed or answering text messages while you play. Doom demands your undivided attention by constantly forcing you to react to new threats. Survival depends on enemy engagement, as opposed to hiding behind a pillar and waiting for your health to recover.
Bucking modern shooter trends, Doom brings back permanent damage accumulation and the age-old health bar. But there’s an interesting catch: More often than not, damage can be healed only by executing demons and absorbing the fountain of health orbs that spontaneously appear from their corpses. The bigger the enemy, the more you’re rewarded with the precious life you need to continue your massacre.
The executions are performed with a simple click of the thumb stick, but you’ll have to time your strike perfectly if you don’t want your foe to recover. For example, once you’ve put enough holes into a Baron of Hell, his body will blink to alert you it’s time to trigger a melee attack. Respond in time and you’ll rip the beast’s horns off and shove them through his ugly skull. Fail, and he may just use your arm as a club. Each monster is executed in a unique, hilariously grotesque fashion, and the kill animations will change depending on how you approach your victim. Trying to watch them all is a huge part of the fun – there’s something glorious about tearing a Satanic being limb-from-limb and absorbing its lifeforce. Somehow, that never gets old.
As you progress through the 15-hour campaign, the scarcity of ammunition and health becomes increasingly dire. With every door that locks, the forces of Hell become stronger, and upgrading your gear doesn’t always balance the odds. Intelligently, Doom includes light RPG elements that boost maximum stats. Weapons can also be fitted with scopes or explosive rounds, allowing you to customize your arsenal based on your own preferences.
The catch is that upgrades don’t come easy. Unless you’re exploring the environment for your fallen UAC comrades in order to upgrade your suit, or tracking down elusive robots that unlock weapon upgrades, the points you accumulate through monster kills aren’t all that valuable. In fact, after my first playthrough, I still had several weapons I didn’t have a chance to unlock any upgrades for, and my life total, ammo capacity, and armor never reached their maximum potentials.
There are multiple difficulty modes to choose from, which adds a significant level of replayability to the single player game. And while you play through the campaign missions again, you can look for all the cool super-secret stuff you probably missed. Each map is loaded with secrets that range from rooms featuring classic polygonal Doom graphics, to Rune Challenges – a series of extremely difficult mini-games that hand out passive upgrades as a reward for their completion. If that isn’t enough to satisfy you, there are collectibles to find and dozens of loot-filled doors to unlock.
Most of this hidden content can be found by engaging in platforming. The more valuable the secret, the harder it will be to reach as you traverse vertical structures and moving obstacles via well-timed jumping. It’s fun to explore the game locations, but platforming in first-person is never an easy feat. More often than not, you’ll trip, fall, and end up back where you started, only to start your climb all over again. To make matters worse, some areas of the campaign require repeated moments of vertical platforming in order to advance. That’s a questionable choice that puts the brakes on the action instead of adding welcome variety.
Luckily, the forced platforming doesn’t detract much from the overall game. I still found myself leaping around voluntarily, exploring unseen areas in hopes of finding a prize. Even when I didn’t locate anything of value, I found exploration to have its own rewards, thanks to the thoughtful art design and gorgeous graphics.
The game takes place in two central locations: the UAC facility on Mars, and the very bowels of Hell. The UAC facilities intermix barren Mars landscapes with ominous corporate structures riddled with cyberpunk props that hint at world creation. Around every corridor you’ll find some holographic image exemplifying your service to the corporation, while encouraging conformity and increased productivity.
You’ll find a different type of creepiness in Hell. The world of demons is decorated with gothic architecture and haunting vistas of fire. Little touches, like sacrificial altars used to open doors, effectively create the feeling of actually being trapped in Hell – though it’s hard to feel afraid when you’re the most dangerous creature to walk among the damned.
The art design and graphics deserve to be commended for their overall quality and attention to detail, but unfortunately Doom’s score doesn’t do them justice. Most of the time, all you can hear are the exhilarating sounds of gunfire and demonic cries. But whenever you’re locked in a room with a horde of demons to fight, the game triggers generic metal music that sounds as if it’s been partially filtered through an early-internet-era MIDI file. I get what they’re going for: the electronic hybrid of sounds feels very similar to the synthesized Doom music of old. But the looped repetition made me long for more variety. Still, this is a minor complaint compared to the overall quality of the game’s presentation.
All things considered, the single player campaign is the reason to play Doom. However, there are two other game modes that will appeal to some players, based on their interests. The first is traditional multiplayer – and I do mean traditional. As shooters go, Doom multiplayer is run-of-the-mill, featuring common perk-like upgrades, customizable weapon loadouts, and powerups that do everything from rendering the player invisible to boosting rate of fire. All the traditional multiplayer modes are present, from team deathmatch to territory control. Those hoping for a classic Quake-style arena shooter won’t find one here. Instead, Doom’s multiplayer feels content with borrowing from Call of Duty and Halo, as opposed to having its own identity.
The only twist on the stale formula are the Demon Runes that allow one lucky player to transform into a hellish monster capable of laying waste to enemy players with ease. Regrettably, because the demons feel so unbalanced, each match felt like a race to be the first to grab the rune, at which point the enemy team can realistically only run and hide. Instead of adding fresh elements to multiplayer, the Demon Rune angle feels like little more than a gimmick.
That brings us to Doom’s most unusual mode: Snap Map. This unexpectedly deep content creator allows amateur game designers to make their own Doom levels, altering map layout and adding demonic enemies as they see fit. These player-created stages are then uploaded online where the community can play them solo or with friends, and then vote for the maps they liked best.
When I first started playing Snap Map, I was convinced it could be used only to make cooperative survival modes, but I soon discovered that those limitations were placed there by my own lack of creativity. Creations I experienced ranged from traditional gauntlet modes to full-fledged Doom dungeon crawlers – and even one or two music makers, which stand as bizarre testaments to how Snap Map’s limitations can be expanded by the imagination.
Doom is the story of three distinct games, but even if the creation mode and sub-par multiplayer aren’t your thing, the single-player campaign alone is worth the investment. Doom is the most fun I’ve had with a shooter in years, and it very well could be the best FPS of the generation. Very few games have made me feel immersion based on the gameplay alone. There’s no story to back Doom’s endless slaying of demons, but there doesn’t have to be. With each demon I gutted, the visceral action became more addicting, leaving me wanting a bigger challenge to create some carnage. And to that end, Doom is about as satisfying as a video game can get.
Doom is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, and Strong Language. This game can also be found on: Xbox One and Windows PC.