Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: id Software
Review copy provided free of charge by Imperial Games. Go check them out!
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I need to amend my article from a short while ago detail my seven favorite games of 2016 so far, because DOOM needs to be right near the top with the Witcher 3’s Blood & Wine DLC. This is a return to a simpler time of lighting fast movement and balls-to-the-wall shooting that leaves you a little bit breathless and a whole lot happy. It’s exciting, visceral and a whole bunch of other PR friendly words that you’d probably find adorning a press release. DOOM kills it throughout the entirety of its campaign. It’s only misteps are its forays into the realms of competitive multiplayer.
The premise is easy enough to understand; as the unofficially named Doomguy you awaken in a laboratory on Mars that has been overrun by demonic hordes, thanks to stupid humans playing with things they really shouldn’t be yet again. Stepping out of a stone coffin and donning the Praetor armor Doomguy strides forth once again as the one-man army that will take the fight to hell, and love every moment of it. His disdain for explanations, justifications or even objectives is displayed in the way he casually wrecks almost everything, at one point kicking machinery to pieces while being asked to dismantle it carefully and at another carrying around a corpse so that he can access a locked room. Although he never speaks Doomguy manages to display buckets of personality in the way he moves, executes demons with his fists and tries his best to stay entirely focused on the killing. He conveys in just a few short seconds more character than many protagonists manage to show in an entire game.
With that said the story really is quite simple. There’s a bad guy responsible for unleashing demonic hordes onto Mars in the name of science, because apparently some morons thought tapping Hell as an energy source was a brilliant idea. It wasn’t. There are no twists or turns, the dialogue is serviceable and outside of Doomguy himself there’s only one vaguely memorable character. Still, despite itself it’s actually kind of engaging in a schlocky way.
Perhaps the defining feature of DOOM, the one thing that tells you everything you need to know about the game, is that it doesn’t have a reload button. It isn’t concerned with such trivial details, not when there are demons to be shot in the fact and eviscerated. The closest thing to reloading is the Super Shotgun, a twin-barreled beast that Doomguy quickly jams two new shells into after every pull of the trigger. There’s no sprint button, either, and that’s because DOOM’s default movement speed is quicker than most other game’s protagonist’s at full run, letting you scoot about the environment like you’re a hyped-up 5-year old on rollerskates but with considerably less face-planting and a lot more violence. It encourages you to run, gun and strafe rather than cower in fear behind cover, bringing us back to the days of twitch shooting and enemy management. The game further fosters offense over defense by giving you health for executing the brutal close-up Glory Kills on glowing enemies that have been weakened, and showers of ammo for whipping out the chainsaw and spending some fuel to rip a demon to pieces. Sure, there is ammo and health pick-ups aplenty, but DOOM’s answer to running out of health or ammo is to go and kill more stuff.
The array of weapons you’re given don’t break the mold, at least not at first. There’s a pistol with infinite ammo in case you find yourself without fuel for the chainsaw and with no pickups around, plus a shotgun, heavy assault rifle, super-shotgun, rocket launcher, plasma rifle, gauss cannon, minigun and the classic BFG which has now been upgrading from beast status to holy fuck status. Nothing truly surprises, but frankly that doesn’t matter when they all feel so absurdly awesome to use. The shotgun explodes, drowning out the sound spectrum with its savage bark, while the heavy assault rifle sounds like it’s firing nails into concrete, each bullet launching with a hefty thud.There’s just one dud among the selection; the pistol. It feels weedy and barely seems to graze baddies, and while its infinite ammo would seemingly make it a suitable choice for certain situations you’re unlikely to ever actually deplete your entire arsenal, of which you can carry the entirety of because this is DOOM and DOOM never wants you to feel like you’re anything less than the entire military of a country packed into a space marine.
Weapons also come with two mods that you can unlock and swap between, and which can be upgraded too. The assault rifle that can be armed with a bank of micro-missiles, for example, or a tactical scope for long-range work, while the shotgun can be given explosive rounds. It’s through these that the weapons gain more interesting aspects to their personalities. The first few upgrades for each mod cost points to purchase, letting you do things like add penetrating ammo or other such bloodthirsty nonsense, but the final upgrade takes the form of a challenge, for which the reward tends to be pretty damn powerful. Want a rocket launcher than can lock onto three different demons and blow ’em up? Who doesn’t! Want a heavy assault rifle that can fire micro-missiles until it runs out of ammo? Stupid question. Everyone wants that.
DOOM hands out these weapon upgrade points for doing a variety of things. A combat tracker on the top right of the screen dolls them out based on how many demons you kill and how well you do it, while three challengers per level grant points for doing stuff like performing a variety of Glory Kills, finding enough collectibles, killing enemies with certain weapons and more. Finally, there’s two more points up for grabs per level for finding enough of the hidden secrets, of which there are a lot sprinkled around DOOM’s multi-tiered and reasonably sprawling environments. On top of weapon upgrades there is Praetor Armor upgrade tokens to be found as well that let you improve things like weapon swapping speed and the effectiveness of grenades, and there’s Argent Energy which is traded in for higher health, more armor or a bigger ammo capacity.
Combat might involve shooting a lot of stuff in the face until it falls apart in a mess of blood and guts, but it revolves around savage Glory Kills. Do enough damage to a demon and they’ll be staggered, putting them into a state where you can aim press F to perform a glory kill, which involves doing such pleasant things as ripping out horns and jamming it into a skull, feeding bits of the demon to itself, snapping necks, breaking legs and much, much more. Every enemy has a large variety of Glory Kills that can be done based on exactly where you’re aiming when the key is pressed and the angle of attack. So, what makes these so important, aside from the absurdly satisfying animations? Firstly, Glory Kills let you move almost instantly across a small distance, and provide a few seconds of welcome invincibility to get your breath back. But Glory Kills also result in a small flurry of health and ammo, like we talked about before. They quickly become an integral part of your arsenal as demons become a farmable resource, so it’s in your best interests not to kill absolutely all of them outright.
These Glory Kills give the combat a cadence similar to the game as a whole; fast, frantic sequences interspersed with quieter moments that let you breathe, even just for a second or two. Doom’s gunplay is simply chaos on a screen, and frankly flawless in my eyes, so these little moments of tranquility while you stomp a demons knee into tiny pieces and then snap its neck need to be appreciated.
It all equals combat that simply feels sublime. The guns feel wonderful, almost all of them conveying power and death with every pull of the trigger. The varied enemies are a blast to blast, each of them bringing their unique traits to the table, from the imps long-range attacks and frustrating mobility to the charging pig-demons and the teleporting summoner. It’s an impressive collection of foes to kill, and they’re a pleasure to fight. The movement is fast and the controls are incredibly precise, mixing with the arena-style environments that offer multiple levels filled with ledges to create a ballet of death. The double-jump, quick mantle and speed of movement mean you can bounce around the extremely well designed levels with the grace of a dancer, smoothly leaping, spinning and firing, always knowing that stopping means death and movement means life. If I read like I’m gushing then it’s because I am. I haven’t enjoyed the combat in an FPS this much in years.
Despite the almost insane way I found myself lusting after the thrills of combat DOOM wisely contains quite a bit of down-time, or to be more precise it tries to encourage you to have a lot of down time by filling its sprawling maps with oodles of secrets to discover. A lot of them are just things like a mega-health pickup which supes up your health or a tiny Doomguy figuring decked out in colors which reference another game. Some, though, are bigger, like Runes. These mystic thingies send you off on short time-trials where you have to do things like decimate X amount of demons using explosive barrels or perform a number of Glory Kills, all before time runs out. Succeed and you’ll be rewarded with an equippable Rune that modifies your abilities. My personal favorite increases the distance from which a Glory Kill can be done drastically. These Runes add a neat layer of customisation to the game. If you’re getting your ass kicked you can also bring out different guns, different mods and swap Runes for good measure.
To be perfectly honest I can’t find much to complain about in the singleplayer campaign at all. It’s a well-paced journey of expertly crafted combat and even enjoyable platforming, something I never thought I’d say about an FPS. Outside of the campaign, however, we do seek weaknesses beginning to appear. While the singleplayer campaign melds old-school run and gun action with some modern systems such as weapon and suit upgrades the multiplayer attempts to do the same, but with considerably less success. It’s an understandable change, I suppose; the singleplayer is all about fast movement and incessant violence that makes the player feel like Rambo in space, decimating demons faster than Buffy the Vampire Slayer could manage even on her best day and with her pointiest stake. The multiplayer, though, can’t have a bunch of people running around with that level of power, and so instead everybody gets stripped down to standard space marine territory. The end result is fun, but also feels bland and lacking in personality.
For starters players are forced into a class system, losing the ability to carry around an entire armory in favor of just two guns. Later you’ll be able to create your own class for a bit more flexibility, but it’s still a step down, and one that’s made even larger by the loss of most of the secondary fire modes seen in the campaign. It’s largely just vanilla weapons here, which really reduces the space for players to pull off cool stuff. I can only assume this call was made for balancing reasons since having a rocket launcher capable of locking on to a target and firing off three missiles was probably deemed hugely unfair, but it’s still a shame to see every weapon go from having two possible mods to none. To help tackle this some new multiplayer exclusive weapons are tossed into the mix, but they’re about as exciting as baked beans. There’s also an increase in scoped weaponry, with even the heavy assault rifle getting its tactical scope mod from the singleplayer bolted on.
There are some things tossed in to try and retain some of the singleplayer flavor. Pickups are still a thing, so to regain health you need to scout the map, and enemies can be executed with a Glory Kill if glowing, although for some reason the controls have been slightly altered for multiplayer. Power weapons can also be grabbed from around the map, such as the Gauss Cannon. And finally special runes will spawn which let a singleplayer take the form of a Demon for a while which can slice through the enemy team with ease. They tend to upset the pace of a match, though, since the enemy team tends to drop everything to focus on the Demon, and the friendly team does the same because they known the opposing team will be drawn in likes flies to honey.
It’s all a bit Halo, to be honest, albeit with well designed maps that are a lot smaller and tighter than some of the Halo series bigger battlegrounds. Even the crappy customization options screams Halo Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising, though, Since id outsourced the multiplayer to Certain Affinity who have ex-Halo workers on their payroll. Interestingly id have reclaimed control of the multiplayer now that Certain Affinity’s contract has ended, and intend on implementing a lot of missing features such as the lack of private matches, custom game modes and no server browser for PC. Still, I don’t think that’s enough to save an already dwindling playerbase. The multiplayer is fun, but forgettable.
Ditching the competitive world of multiplayer for a moment we come to SnapMap, Doom’s very own map creation suite that’s designed to be easy to use while still letting you toss together some pretty sweet levels that can be tackled solo, with friends or competitively. Like its name suggests SnapMap works by letting you snap pre-designed modules together to create levels, before then going in and setting spawn locations for enemies and players, adding weapons and pickups and tossing in triggers to make certain events happen. The interface makes the whole process of snapping a level together and adding in logic chains pretty easy, giving just about everyone the chance to try their hand at making a level for DOOM. The singular flaw in DOOM’s otherwise lovely graphics are how the industrial grey, metal rooms and corridors grow repetitive, but for the sake of mashing modules together it works, because you can basically snap anything together and it’ll look decent.
The community have already been hard at work crafting some great singleplayer levels that even tell short stories through basic cutscenes and text dialogue, plus there’s some fun multiplayer offerings to be had as well. And yet…I do wonder how long it will last for. SnapMaps undeniable genius is that it takes level creation and makes it easy. It hands every player the ability to put together something fun in a short amount of time, while still having enough flexibility for inventive and determined people to come up with some outlandish creations or just great, new DOOM campaign levels. On the other hand its accessibility does come at the cost of depth; there’s only so much you can do with it. No matter how much you try, you’ll never create entirely unique layouts because of the module system, and even in my own basic, bumbling way I was bumping into some surprising limitations. For the life of me I couldn’t find a way to have the prison module contain locked-up demons who would be unleashed upon the player disabling the security, for example. Only will tell if I’m right or now because it’s going to take quite a while of poking and prodding to find out where SnapMaps limitations are.
But hey, changing topics I briefly mentioned that DOOM looks rather lovely, which is a bit of an injustice. It simply looks gorgeous, packing in oodles of detailed textures and some stunning vistas courtesy of both Mars and an admittedly generic representation of Hell. Sure, the interiors of Mars do tend to become a bit samey thanks to the metallic greyness, but thankfully the break-neck pace of the game means you don’t have much time to take note of it. Special mention has to be given to just how wonderfully optimised the game is, too. It says something about the industry that these days we have to make a big deal about a game working as it should, but in the case of DOOM it really is beautifully put together, maintaining a buttery smooth framerate at all times. Benchmarks from across a variety of tech sites show that thew game scales incredibly well, and will maintain at least 60fps at fairly high settings on modest hardware, despite the fact that it looks great. I should mention the music, too, which is bloody awesome. Once combat gets going the audio kicks in with some seriously fitting industrial metal that puts you into the mood for some demon slaying.
With all said and done and chunks of demon stuck in areas where no chunks of demon should ever be found DOOM is easily one of the greatest FPS campaigns of recent memory. It pushes the side the story in a knowing wink to the player and instead focuses all of its efforts on crafting fun, engaging and visceral combat that was never one anything less than exhilarating, It’s supported by a fairly forgettable but still fun multiplayer suite and a map editor that should at least double the time you spend with the game, or more depending on how obsessed you become with making co-op levels or pushing the systems to their limits. Having previously brought Wolfenstein back with a bang, id have successfully done the same for another of their once legendary franchises. DOOM is is one of those games you owe it to yourself to play.
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