Review: DOOM

Of all the possibilities swirling about inside my head, whenever id Software’s DOOM comes up mid-conversation, my gut instinct is to reminisce on the fact that its literal invention of the first-person shooter was by way of an accident. That the developers needed some means to represent and subsequently visualize the act of firing a weapon. Hence, the behind-the-action view of a shotgun; hence, more predominantly, the [unexpected] birth of one of video games’ most popular genres. It would be foolish — and to be frank, quite drab — to repeat what many have already spoken of and expressed as such in highly acclaimed terms when it comes to the influence the name alone has. That DOOM is indeed one of gaming’s most beloved, most influential and above all, most entertaining titles in history. I will say this: bringing DOOM back comes with some risks, especially when the very studio (if not the same creative minds) who created it speak of 2016’s reboot as a blend of old and new – of nostalgic glisten and new-age flair.

Fans and curious spectators have been perfectly in their right to be skeptical-come-distrustful, in almost the same way players threw cautious brows at the return of Wolfenstein. Yet while that series may have eventually found its feet, FPS’ have seen their fair share of iterations in the last decade alone to leave even the most dedicated of us feeling a little underwhelmed. So the million-dollar question is this: can DOOM, regardless of its cultural stature, squeeze its way into the materialistic fair that is the 21st century market? Least of all, when its unique selling point is that which sold through all those years ago: big guns, fast movement and a one-after-another fluidity with rare moments of respite. Well I’m pleased and rather more surprised to report that 2016’s DOOM (so far as the single-player is concerned) not only meets my expectation, it exceeds them evermore.

DOOM is a game that knows what it wants to be, when it wants to be and how it wants to accomplish it, delighting us with all barring a few occasional figurative rough edges. But even in its rare moments of mishap — when a texture doesn’t quite load to crisp-clear clarity or the in-game animations don’t quite flow in suit with everything going on around it — the confidence pouring from out the game’s pores is hardly lost and bound together as a whole, DOOM‘s single-player is one of the best there’s ever been. From the off, id’s fond attention to detail in both the industrial-come-hellish art-style of its environments to the brooding-but-immersive aesthetic, is engrossing, enticing and warrants a need to know just where this is all leading. Even playing through on consoles — using an actual controller no less; in no way difficult or challenging some will be surprised to hear — the feat is even more astonishing given its maintaining, for 99.9% of the campaign’s fifteen-or-so hour length, a persistent sixty frames-per-second and wonderful 1080p resolution. A feat only the technical wizardry behind the likes of Metal Gear Solid 5, have managed to obtain. The id Tech 6 Engine undeniably impresses. From the vicious glow of liquid metal to the versatile and atmospheric use of lighting to the bloodied dents in enemies after a face-full or two, DOOM doesn’t necessarily ask for you to admire its graphics (or even shove it in your face) but it more than earns a closer inspection.

DOOM Screenshot 2
But the game makes good on its primary objective and promise of non-stop, fast-paced, unrelenting action. Regardless if it’s your first horde-like encounter or your fiftieth, never does the satisfaction of whizzing through environments and blasting demons with a shotgun wane. Where the expectation is for the fun to quickly die by the half-way point, the truth is DOOM‘s core gameplay mechanics are so fun, so unpredictably all over the place, it’s hard not to get deeply invested and immersed in. Yet for such a simple premise as entering a subtly-disguised arena of sorts and clearing out a momentary wave of enemies, even on the campaign’s closing moments, the joy to be had shows up as even more exemplary than anything the previous dozen set-pieces. DOOM somehow feels like it constantly finds new ways to up the ante despite the irony that you’re essentially playing out the same scenario with the same set-up, accompanied by the same pulsating gradually-increasing industrial rock soundtrack. Perhaps the feeling is placebo-like but this is but one of many benefits to the gameplay’s longevity and constant need to get quicker and more efficient and more brutal and more daringly crazy than the encounter before it.

What’s more impressive is the way id manage to strike a careful balance between maintaining the series’ former standard and evolving it so that it still feels fresh enough to warrant a degree of learning-come-mastering the fine art of demon-slaying. DOOM‘s World is far more vertically-considered this time round and this is presented with environments that are allotted with varying platforms, catwalks, alcoves and the like that not only promote the need to be constantly on the move, but also invite players to counter what is an improved AI intelligence from the enemy hordes themselves. Demonic foes will rarely stand static-post. Instead they will often find a way to flank you, surround you or simply gain the advantage over you. While the game does advise in one of its loading screens that movement is paramount, it’s only when you’re truly in the thick of it do you find out how critical movement, just as much as aiming, stands.

DOOM Screenshot
Level design plays a slightly-less critical but still interesting role when it comes to the [optional] hunt for upgrades and the game’s 3D map feels almost Metroid Prime-influenced in not only its simple geometric presentation, but also — to further the careful balance previously mentioned — the way it outlines the presence of a secret, but never flat-out details how to actually access it. It’s up to the player to figure out the correct route in/out yet in the midst of all the action, it’s very easy to miss these less conspicuous openings cleverly hidden throughout. The presence of the dreaded “can’t go back” entryways/exits that permanently lock you out of preceding areas do annoy, but admittedly, this is one of the few single-player modes in a shooter I’ve jumped straight back into after completing first-time through. And regardless of how brutal it gets on harder difficulties and how it’s easy to go from full armor to near-depleted health in a heartbeat, there’s always that enticement to return to what is an addictive style and delivery of gunplay. The double-barrelled shotgun never, and I mean never, fails to satisfy.

But while this year’s outing takes a more plot-driven and lore-explorative leaning, it’s pleasing (if a little deflating to speak of this as if it’s somehow innovative) to see id have left the game’s simplified narrative up to the player to invest in. It’s there if you want it and comfortably nestled in the backdrop if you don’t and not for a second does DOOM take itself seriously or indeed try and evoke some faux-emotive situation that breaks away from the constant flurry abound. It’s this that stands as the most striking revelation behind DOOM: how perfect id have managed to borrow from modern industry tropes — both upgrading and the new being notable inclusions — yet have avoided souring the experience or saturating it with unnecessary padding or forcing it too far affront. It’s there to use for those interested in steadily building up health or making their weapons a percentage more effective, but the important thing is that none of this, in the long-term, feels mandatory or even crucial to the way the more sporadic of moments play out.

So despite the occasional snatching-away of control and locking you in a particular room or position mid-cutscene — of which you’ll be forced into simply letting narrative play out, which admittedly is frustrating in how it so easily kills the pacing — rare moments like these are quickly over, forgotten and almost discarded by the gameplay taking rightful centre stage. Where I made sure to upgrade my health and ammo capacity for example at every opportunity, I almost completely forgot about weapon mods (of which there are two to switch between for most weapons) or the need to upgrade them. Because DOOM does so well at providing and not pushing its options on the player, this emphasis on choice feels wholly uplifting amidst this XP-building, item-crafting, check-list of tepid in-game elements the AAA sector of video games has slowly degraded into.

What DOOM does not so well on, sadly, is the multiplayer and those wishing to the most satanic of Lords that the game’s competitive online offering would somehow improve (let alone triumph) over what the Beta showed, will be left disappointed. Worst of all — worse than the uninspiring map designs, the superficially pointless Hack Modules that work as the game’s alternative to Perks, the persistently baffling hit-markers of weapons and the Master Chief-impersonating blow-up dolls masquerading as customizable player-avatars — DOOM‘s multiplayer inherits so little individuality, it dampens what moderate doses of enjoyment there is to be had. So while the invasive advertisement for the game’s Season Pass on start-up or presence of emotes may do little to warrant a likability and connectivity more-so to the single-player, the multiplayer’s most pressing matter is that it comes off like a Frankenstein’s monster of different first-person offerings with none of the creativity and innovation such games originally brought forth. Thus, it tries its best to stitch elements of Call of Duty, Destiny and the like to the beating heart that is its fast-paced combat, but ultimately feels lost in its own desperate plea to feel (for whatever reason) relevant.

The community-led SnapMap mode is somewhat better and while it won’t appease as wide a demographic as the single-player will, the ample amount of possibilities are an admirable feat nonetheless. So far I’ve already uncovered content ranging from room-for-room recreations of levels from the 1993 original and parkour challenges, to the more left-field in whack-a-mole styled arcade games and even a drum sequencer that’s admittedly far more addictive than what it should be on paper. What’s more, the all-round simplified layout and visual-based tutorials are well presented and offer a much-needed accessibility to a mode that may scare off even the most creatively-anxious of us like myself.

Closing Comments:

Despite its shortcomings in the multiplayer — easily forgotten and waved off as an unnecessary add-on — and the rare instances of a mechanically loose screw, DOOM is undeniably one of the best looking and sounding shooters there has been for some time. id Software have done themselves proud with not so much providing such an exhilaratingly endless amount of gameplay goodness — because they were the ones that came up with it in the first place — but more pressingly, ensuring DOOM stands just as tall in today’s era as it did all the way back in the early ’90s without taking their eye off what made their beloved classic so resonant in the first place. Be it the impressive visuals, the immediately addictive yet simple gameplay or the fluent transition of every one of its components, this is a game that is easy to get lost in and ultimately harder to put down. Bethesda have done good on bringing Wolfenstein’s manic, often colorful, gunplay to contemporary audiences, but they’ve outdone themselves this time with a title that will stand, in due course, as one of their best. It might be hell, but DOOM can be summed up, quite simply, as FPS heaven.