|Platforms||PC, PS4 (reviewed), XBO|
|Release Date||May 13, 2016|
Doom is Doom. There’s probably no other way to really describe it. It’s a soft reboot of the venerable first-person shooter franchise that. Smartly moving away from the slower paced, survival horror gameplay of the previous outing, 2016’s Doom is a return to the series’ roots – it’s just you, a whole bunch of guns, and an army from hell to slaughter. There’s some story stuff about a nutjob opening the portal to hell that you have to stop, but really it’s all about punching demons in the face so hard that their face comes off.
So yeah, Doom is back, basically. I didn’t really mind Doom 3, for all its attempts to take the series in a more story-driven horror direction. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t brilliant or anything, with plenty of faults. But it was fine for what it was. What it wasn’t, though, was Doom. Not really. Doom is a return to form, and a game I didn’t realise I needed in my life until I had experienced the games introduction, which takes place over the course of about five minutes. It’s one of the most self-assured openings I’ve seen in a game for quite a while – perfectly setting the tone of the game and letting its players what kind of ride they’re in for.
You wake up in a lab of some sort, with no context for who you are or how you got there. All you can tell is that there are demons coming for you. After brutally murdering them, getting a weapon, murdering some more and finding some power armour, you end up in an elevator. As another character chats over the comms, trying to explain the plot, the protagonist punches the screen, shutting him up, as the metal kicks in and the title appears on screen. You’re then given control back, but not before the protagonist cocks his shotgun in time to the last notes of the classic At Doom’s Gate theme tune. It was at this moment I was sold on the entire experience.
For all the story trappings in Doom, the game knows you’re here for only one thing. To murder an army of demons in a satisfyingly brutal manner as possible. The story, such as it is, takes a back seat to the gameplay in Doom. What’s funny about this approach, other than how brilliantly portrayed it is, with characters talking to an uncaring protagonist, is that the story that exists in Doom is actually pretty great if you choose to go looking for it. It offers a narrative that ties together the series’ lore in surprisingly clever ways – all while Doom’s main character runs about not giving two shits.
But Doom’s not really about that. What Doom is about is slaughtering an army of demons on Mars, a fact the game knows all too well. Within seconds you’re fighting demons. Before you’ve even had time to get comfortable you’re thrust head first into some of the slickest first-person combat this side of Wolfenstein: The New Order. It’s the first thing you’ll notice when playing Doom – its speed. Much like the plot, the protagonist of Doom doesn’t have time to wait around.
His default speed is sprinting. The demons you’re up against move at lightning fast speed. All of the combat in Doom is both fast and furious. You’re not really given much of a chance to pause and take stock of the situations you find yourself in. Instead you have guns, fists and a chainsaw, and you have to kill the hordes of demons out to ruin your day (all at a beautiful 60 frames per second). You can’t even stand still in Doom, not if you want to live anyway. You’ll be constantly dashing around arenas, assaulted from all sides by the various creatures of Hell, ripping a bloody path to whatever your next objective is.
There’s so much in Doom that has been expertly well done it’s hard to know where to start – but I think it’s best to start with the impeccable level design. It was the first thing I noticed after all (aside from the heavy metal attitude and speed), because I’m a nerd who reviews these games on the Internet. Every arena you set foot in has obviously been lovingly and painstakingly crafted for maximum carnage and enjoyment. I can’t stress enough how well designed each and every one of Doom’s many combat areas are – enabling some thrilling, oftentimes breathtaking first person action.
After being weaned for so long on a long diet of first-person shooters that convince you to take your time, keep your head down and play it safe, Doom is a fantastic breath of fresh air. Doom is the opposite style of experience, drawing on its arcade shooter lineage, but pulling the same trick as Wolfenstein: The New Order and updating itself just enough to feel relevant. It’s a gameplay style that took me by surprise when I first started playing, despite being a fan of the franchise from its earliest days, but something I quickly got into. Doom doesn’t just encourage you to play hard, play fast and take risks – it demands it.
Doom is an exceptionally empowering game, without ever giving you the feeling of being overpowered (its “normal” difficulty is called Hurt Me Plenty for a reason). It’s essentially a heavy metal power fantasy. Every part of it has been designed to ensure its players are having fun and kicking arse at every turn, whilst respecting that the forces of Hell aren’t to be taken lightly. All the way down to the animations and the exceptional soundtrack, Doom is a cathartic bundle of pure fun.
Nowhere does the game empower you more than in its substantial arsenal of weapons. A mixture of old favourites and new toys, there’s a gun for every occasion in Doom’s collection of armaments, and each one feels fantastic. Whether you’re blasting enemies with the Super Shotgun, shredding them with the minigun, melting them with the Gauss Cannon or doing any other synonym for “destroying” them with the rest, each feels punchy and brilliant to wield. There’s even a neat weapon upgrade system in play that allows you to augment several of the weapons, making them even more powerful and expanding your already impressive amount of options.
Shooting demons is only half the equation this time out. Doom brings a new mechanic with it called Glory Kills – once you’ve shot a demon enough you’re able to launch a melee attack on them. The protagonist launches forwards and savagely annihilates them with his fists. There are different animations for different demons (my favourite being the act of ripping the horn of a Baron of Hell and shoving it through its eye), and you even get different kills for attacking different body parts and from different directions.
Pretty quickly you won’t just be shooting your enemies – you’ll be ripping their limbs off, tearing their eyes out, snapping them in half, punching their heads off and much more. I know I’m running the risk of being labelled sadistic and being put on some secretive law enforcement watchlist, but these Glory Kills are never not gloriously cathartic, especially chaining them together. Glory Kills also serve a practical application – killing a demon this way makes them drop extra health. This changes the whole dynamic of the gameplay, as you start hopping from demon to demon like they’re some kind of life-giving islands – if you stop then you’ll most likely die.
It’s when you pick up a Chainsaw that Doom does something interesting. The chainsaw is a mainstay weapon of the Doom series, and won’t be found in your weapon wheel. In fact it’s separated from your arsenal altogether. Chainsaws can now one-shot any enemy that isn’t a boss, sending you into a glorious animation that shows you the visceral act of carving up your foe like the Christmas turkey. Doing this makes enemies drop a plethora of ammo for you. Here the chainsaw isn’t a weapon so much as it is both a power-up and a last-ditch tool of survival – only to be deployed when you need it most (as fuel is scarce). There’s another weapon that gets the same treatment, one which you find later on. I won’t spoil its inclusion, but I’m sure you can guess what I’m on about.
There’s multiplayer in the game – of which all I can say is that it’s a thing that exists. It doesn’t really add anything to the game. SnapMap, a feature heavily featured in the pre-game build-up, is a fun little throwaway extra that might keep you busy for a little while. It’s a neat, easy to use map editor, and there are some pretty great user created maps available, but it’s not something many will sink more than a short burst of curiosity into. There are some small annoyances – boss battles are pretty naff, eschewing the intricately designed levels that add so much to the games flow for flat, circular arenas. And the loading times lean towards annoying excessive. None of that really matters, though, when the single-player campaign is this good.
Doom is basically one long shot of adrenaline-fueled carnage. It expertly straddles the line between nostalgia and modern gameplay, managing to feel old and new again all at the same time. It’s a brilliant update for the franchise that feels fantastic to play. The combat is fast, furious and incredibly addictive – giving you just enough time to catch a breath between bouts of brutality before launching you in for another go. Doom manages to reboot the series in a meaningful way, while still honouring and even tying together the first two games, with an excellent narrative that lets its players ignore it in favour of punching demons heads of if they so choose. Basically, it’s brilliant.
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