Doom is kind of a weird series. The original one is obviously of paramount importance to video gaming as a whole. It was one of the original first person shooters, and an amazing one at that. It’s responsible for the genre developing at all. Not just that genre, but 3D gaming as a whole. Needless to say, a big deal.
Now, the more recent releases of the series have been… less successful. Doom 3 way back in 2004 sought to take the franchise into the next generation. It failed pretty miserably. It was generic and uninspired and just not that fun. Also, you had to have your flashlight equipped like a weapon. So you couldn’t see in the dark with your gun out. This is supposed to be the future, what kind of sense does that make? Why don’t we have night vision? Why can’t we at least tape the flashlight to our gun?
So when Id and Bethesda decided to release another one earlier this year I was a bit skeptical. In the modern world, where shooters are a dime a dozen and truly new ideas are like water in the desert, what could such an old title have to offer? Plus, Id’s last game, Rage, was pretty awful. It had a lot of promise, but the gameplay didn’t go nearly deep enough. It didn’t help that the game just ended at what felt like the halfway point, with no actual closure.
I decided to give Doom a shot though. It promised to be a throwback to older games, with refreshing gameplay that differed from the mainstream. Modern shooters have been stuck in a bit of a rut lately. It might be fun to do something different.
Doom throws you directly into the mix. You wake up on a slab surrounded by death and destruction. You grab a nearby pistol and shoot a couple of zombie demons before exiting the room and finding an impressive looking suit of power armor. You’re soon contacted by an AI core to have things explained to you. You’re on a base on Mars. Scientists have tampered with things that shouldn’t have been tampered with. Portals to hell have ripped open, flooding the entire facility with demons and turning the scientists into zombies.
So far, so Doom. This is all stuff we’ve seen before. So right off the bat, we’re not treading any ground here. Now, fair is fair, it’s still very well done, even if it isn’t new. Like I said, other modern shooters haven’t been breaking a lot of new ground lately. The story never really evolves. You are shepherded from one area of the facility to another, resolving problems and killing demons. Resolving problems usually consists of smashing machinery or… well killing demons.
There is a protagonist, of course. A scientist named Olivia Pierce decided being brilliant and rich wasn’t good enough. She mad a pact with some demons and helped open portals to this dimension and come kill people.
Pierce is a villain. I guess. Honestly she doesn’t have that much personality. We hear a bit more about her backstory in audio logs, but you can never bring herself to hate her. She’s just this kind of weird looking spindly lady. From the word go she’s shuffling away from you and laughing all crazy like, threatening to summon forth more hellspawn.
It’s one of the weakest aspects of the game, in my mind. I didn’t go into this expecting some outrageously engaging story. But I like to have a little bit of impetus in my game to drive me forward. Obviously if the game is really fun to play (which we’ll touch on in a second) then that’s all the impetus you really need. Story is important though. The handful of characters that exist in this game don’t feel the least bit real. Even if the game is fun, there’s only so good it can end up being if I’m not engaged.
All of that is secondary. I’ve been beating around the bush for too long. Doom isn’t a game about engaging stories. It’s a game about gameplay. Running, jumping, shooting, punching, ripping and tearing. You’re not here to make friends, you’re here to turn demons in demon puree. So does it pull it off?
For the most part, yeah. As promised, the game eschews a lot of modern devices in favor of older mechanics. And honestly, a lot of them work really well. Health and armor don’t regenerate. The player needs to pick up health orbs and armor packs to get them back safety, or else just play better. Ducking behind cover and taking a breather won’t help you. You’ve been shredded by claws or hit by fireballs. You need a bandage!
There really isn’t any cover to speak of. Yes, you can quickly run behind a pillar to keep from getting hit. But the mechanics of the game don’t lend itself to that. You’re fast, and not just fast but very fast. You can jump impossibly high, and early on you even (inexplicably) unlock a double jump.
And you’re meant to use these mechanics. Enemies hit hard and take quite a beating themselves, at least at first. You’re going to be spending a lot of health and ammo killing them. That’s not a problem, however, thanks to the trophy kill and the chainsaw. When enemies are weakened enough, they start flashing for a brief window. If you hit a button fast enough, there’s a quick animation where you rip them apart in melee. Not only is it cool, but tons of health comes out! The chainsaw is similar. Fuel for it isn’t super common, but it can one-shot most enemies and spawns buckets of ammo.
All of this ties together to make a game that tries to overwhelm you with speed, intensity, and blood. There’s a constant ebb and flow to the combat. At first you’re completely drowned in enemies. You scrape by, killing some here and there and pulling off some clutch trophy kills to keep you alive. There’s no substantial cover and nowhere the demons can’t get to you, so you can never stop moving. All too soon, ammo gets scarce. You have to switch up anyway to fight a different kind of enemy. Suddenly you’re out of ammo entirely and it’s time to pull out the chainsaw refill your weapons.
And then suddenly you realize the room is empty. Every surface is covered in blood and bits and somehow you’ve survived. It feels pretty dang good, it really does. Actually playing Doom is an incredibly rewarding experience. None of the mechanical concepts in it are new, but they’re all done well. They’re so counter to modern conventions that they feel new, even if they aren’t.
I do have some gripes to air, of course. The trophy kills stop being cool very quickly. There’re a lot of them, and they vary based on the direction of the enemy relative to you. The animations are smooth and fast, so it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game tremendously. That said, they still do interrupt the flow of the game. This is a particularly egregious sin for a game built on madly scrambling about. Plus, as cool as they look, they can only look cool for so long. You never quite grow to hate them, but they start to feel like a necessary mechanic rather than a cool and fun one.
Additionally, the game bounces back and forth between being too hard and too easy. The fights that feel like they should be difficult are often a cakewalk, including the small number of boss fights in the game. Some sections are difficult only because of how long they are. It leaves you frustrated when you die and have to replay fifteen minutes of the game.
The multiplayer follows suit, for the most part. The mechanics aren’t any different than the campaign, though there’s a balance of finding and using power weapons. The most interesting aspect is the ability for a single player to temporary turn into a large demon. It’s novel, and fun, but not terribly gripping. Wait times in lobbies were rough for me even when I played the game shortly after launch. I was never really interested in coming back to play more.
The game is gorgeous, I’ll only touch on that here for a bit. It looks and sounds absolutely amazing. The brutally gruesome executions you impart on your enemies are fun to watch, even if they do grow a little tired. The environments aren’t very diverse, but it goes by fast enough it doesn’t overly bother you.
All of this leaves us with a game that’s kind of weird, like I said. It does something remarkable and impressive, all by doing something that’s been done before. It isn’t new, and it certainly isn’t redefining any genres. It doesn’t have a lot of meat on it, and it won’t leave you thinking about it for weeks afterwards. But it is incredibly fun to play. At the end of the day that’s the point for most games. So will it be enough for you?