I have a confession to make.
I preordered Doom.
It’s not what you think. It wasn’t about those preorder bonuses. Heck, it wasn’t even about being first in line or preloading the game when it came out. It wasn’t like I got swept up in the hype, either, given that everybody was panning the game before it even got released.
No, the reasoning behind the preorder is, in retrospect, kind of stupid. I said (numerous times) that I would throw my wallet at the screen if they decided to actually make another Doom. After damaging my monitor in doing so, I decided to put my money where my mouth was.
Needless to say, I was terrified.
Between the entire internet arguing about what makes a good Doom game a good Doom game, the development hell the entry went through, the critically panned multiplayer beta, and the absolutely atrocious box art (and the fact that Bethesda decided to actually hide the perfect alternative cover inside the box rather than on it), I had a feeling this game was doomed (no pun intended, I swear!) to be bad. Fated for totally missing any of the things that made the original Doom so great even by today’s standards. Swept under the rug by a company who desperately didn’t want to sell the game they were producing. Lost in a sea of generic, linear corridor shooters with a classic name in the title. That’s when I decided to preorder it, of all things.
I must be insane for doing so. No, scratch that; I am insane. Because, somehow, I find Doom is the most fulfilling fun I’ve had with a shooter in a good, long time.
Let’s just get this out of the way before I get to the meat of it. There is a story in Doom, but it’s definitely not one anybody is going to remember. The entirety of the game focuses around two characters: Dr. Samuel Hayden and Olivia Pierce. Basically, one or both of them are evil or something and together they turned the UAC (Doomguy’s base of operations) into a cult so they can siphon energy from hell, because science. A lot of the time a game is using a story as an excuse to get you to blast your way through its campaign. Doom’s only difference in that regard is that it’s definitely not shy in admitting it.
I have mixed feelings about the story bit. One of the things that was advertised in the new Doom is that you can ignore the story if you want to, but there’s still a bunch of cutscenes to sit through. This might not have been so bad, but unlike Wolfenstein: The New Order, Doom doesn’t have anything interesting worth sitting through. None of the cutscenes really add anything to the experience, and all they seem to do is slow you down, on top of which I found the ending to completely break the sense of catharsis it had building up for the entirety of the game.
SPOILER TIME (and this next part is good stuff, so I’d rather you play the game first)
There are a few good bits and bobs in the story that I found awesome, although they don’t add anything in the grand scheme of things. One of the things that I found especially interesting is that the game is actually a direct sequel to Doom 64. For those who aren’t aware, Doom 64 ends with Doomguy deliberately locking himself in hell at the gates in order to prevent the demons from ever walking out again. Doom 2016 opens with him being pulled out of a demonic sarcophagus that was used to trap him because, try as they might, hell hath no fury sufficient enough to kill Doomguy. That’s pretty badass, and story beats throughout the game really make him come across as a guy who moved Heaven and Earth (well, hell and Mars) to shut the UAC down so that the bastards will stop trying to open the gates to the underworld. One particularly interesting tidbit I found was that Doomguy is (and I’m not making this up) a horror story that demons tell their children in order to scare them to keep them vigilant. Moments like these made me squeal with glee, even if it was probably just pandering. It really did the absurdity of the Doomguy’s fame justice.
It’s a shame, then, that the story ends with such a weak note and sequel bait directly after a satisfying conclusion; the type of ending that’s actually so disappointing that it renders the good parts and extreme catharsis of the story moot. Finishing the final boss, I would have been totally satisfied to see the credits roll. Instead, I have a cutscene play at the end which tells me I’ve accomplished nothing and the player ultimately lost at what they were trying to do. To say the least, it’s akin to saving the world, only to find that the whole sequence was a dream. That the world is still going to be destroyed anyway from the very force you were trying to, and already did, put a stop to. Endings like this are never satisfying, and when the core theme of the story is the cathartic release of your anger on all the bullshit that goes down on Mars, it leaves for an ending that feels like a swift kick in the Mancubus.
The bad news is that there’s cutscenes that you can’t skip through and the story is, on the whole, not satisfying (if anything, it does the opposite). Given that these were unskippable, I would have hoped that it was a more inspired and had something worth telling.
The good news is that the game’s cutscene to gameplay ratio, then, is HUGELY in the gameplay’s favour.
Doom’s single player plays pretty much nothing like Doom’s multiplayer, and that’s a very, very good thing.
There’s so much good stuff to say about the actual gameplay that I have no idea where to possibly begin. I suppose the best part to start is to talk about how close it harkens back to the old Doom.
I wrote an old article back about why Doom has stood the test of time, and in it I started with the health system. So, let’s start with the health system here, too.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Wolfenstein: The New Order’s take on regenerating health, I am glad to see a full, non-regenerating health system make a full comeback. It’s every bit as good as I remember, too. Health packs are scattered across the levels, as is armor, so you’re encouraged to look for them. They’re always available in major battles, but Doom comes with one interesting innovation to its formula: enemies tend to drop health and resources upon killing them, thus greatly encouraging you to get up close and personal. Other times, you might find yourself low on health against a very strong enemy, you’re encouraged to run - either to go against small fry to restock or to find health packs hidden around the many, many arenas. The result is a frantic, constant stream of action that always, always keeps you moving, whether you’re dodging rockets, looking to ressuply, or closing in for the sweet, gory Glory Kills. I want to talk about Glory Kills, but before I get there, I need to discuss the game’s movement first.
Doom is noticeably slower than the first two, although it definitely feels faster than the third one. While that may be a bit of a disappointment to longtime fans, it didn’t come without some payoff. New to Doom is a real sense of true verticality. No longer confined to a rocket powered wheelchair, Doomguy now has the ability to rapidly pull himself above ledges. Not a big deal, when you consider games like Call of Duty and Uncharted have been doing this for ages. Yet none of those games really put ledge climbing at the forefront of its combat system. Enemies rapidly fly across the map, getting to higher and lower ground in an effort to surround you and trip you up, and to get the drop on them you have to constantly shift between different heights. Climbing takes less than a fraction of a second, and later on you even get the ability to climb faster. It’s not exactly a smooth system, as sometimes ledges are placed rather awkwardly, but the emphasis on the Z axis, despite not being an original idea in the slightest, feels surprisingly fresh. I don’t recall the last time a game has all but forced me to use climbing mechanics outside of scripted events purely because it was in my best interest to do so.
Alright, now that we got those two things out of the way, let’s talk about Glory Kills.
Glory Kills have become a bit of a hot topic and a major concern for players. The concerns are pretty sound; players were worried that they’d slow down gameplay and ruin the flow. In theory, it halted the player and took away player control. In practice, it does just the opposite.
Glory Kills are basically cinematic kills that you perform on weakened enemies. Doing them grants you more resources and health than killing them outright, and you’re treated to a surprising variety of brutal finishers. These finishers don’t ever last too long. Only a handful lasted ever so slightly more than one second, and others barely hang around for a fraction of it. Transitioning into them and then out of them is fast and fluid, and they even offer a surprisingly tactical element. See, Glory Kills have a massive reach. Not so massive that you teleport across the whole map, but massive enough for the game to know that when you throw a punch, it extends further than your elbow. What this means is that you can actually use these glory kills to transition to just out of reach platforms, greatly adding to the verticality of the game and making the flow so very, very smooth. In the first part of the game, they can get almost boring because of how often you’ll use them, but later levels get so hectic that they’ll just become another tool in your arsenal, one that you’d probably be too overwhelmed to abuse in most encounters. The worst I can say about them is that, for some people, the fact that enemies glow when weakened can be annoying, but heck, the glows can even be turned off. In my opinion, Glory Kills aren’t just a welcome addition, but they honestly crank up the speed and flow of the game greatly.
The original Doom is a pretty old game, and despite what our nostalgia might say, the gunplay doesn’t particularly hold up. Sure, the principles behind it are sound: you can carry all of your weapons and each one is good for each situation. The new Doom definitely manages to satisfy in this regard, boasting all the old weapons as well as a new one or two, but it does two things better.
For one, all the guns look and feel extremely powerful. That is, except for the starter pistol (just like Doom!). Handling each and every weapon just feels right, and despite being used to it I haven’t even noticed that aiming down sights was absent from the game. In its place, there is not one, but two alternative fire options available to the player for a majority of the guns. To my surprise, I ended up using each and every weapon and alternate fire in the late game for a variety of reasons, ranging from running out of ammo on one gun to just having one particular weapon be better in large groups while one’s better in smaller ones. Not counting the BFG and the Chainsaw (both of which ammo is so sparse it functions more like a special move than as a weapon), there are only eight weapons in the game. Each one, however, feels drastically different from each other and each of them is equally useful, on top of which six of them have two alternate fire modes which can be upgraded for better effect, greatly expanding your arsenal. One mod, for example, allows you to use a scope to zoom in for longer distances and better headshot damage. Another mod on the same gun turns your bullets into actual micro rockets.
One of my favorite additions to Doom’s weapon system is, actually, a console thing of all things: The Weapon Wheel managed to be a really great and responsive way to switch between weapons without having to reach over my entire keyboard. Time slows down long enough for you to switch, but if you’re fast enough, you can get the weapon you want even before the slowdown process begins. It’s probably a console peasant thing to do so on a PC game, but if it means I get to keep my wrist attached, I’m all for it! You might notice in the screenshot that the BFG and Chainsaw are omitted, but don’t worry: they’re simply assigned to buttons, both on the keyboard and controller. On the gamepad, the “use/reload” and “swap weapon” default buttons (square and triangle on the PS4) are attributed to the chainsaw and BFG, respectively. Hilariousy, the “use” button is actually mapped to the “Glory Kill” button on the gamepad, which is fitting given that a lot of the interaction Doomguy performs on the environment is destructive, anyway. I’m a little sad that the keyboard option doesn’t have this.
Despite the fact that the overall game is pretty static (there are no setpieces like in Call of Duty to change up the first person shooter gameplay) switching between alternate fires in the heat of battle and then busting out my BFG or Chainsaw when the going just got too tough made what’s supposed to be monotone and repetitive a constantly exciting and varied experience, added to by the large variety of enemy types with their own behaviours. The marriage of demon and gun variety and the way each of them complement one another makes Doom’s gunplay some of the best around, hands down. It’s a testament to the fact that when a game just has strong gameplay, it doesn’t need temporary or scripted gimmicks to keep the player’s attention as an “it gets better, I promise” gesture, and the quality of the combat persists between playthrough and difficulty.
There are thirteen levels in the game, and many of them are huge. While the game is decidedly linear, there are secrets and labyrinth style exploration abound. Doom comes with a map feature, which I ended up tabbing in and out of pretty much every minute I wasn’t in combat. Some of the levels have a spectacular design that just encourage you to deliberately stray from the path to see where that other door goes, and the campaign manages to jump back and forth between Hell and Mars, making sure that neither setting gets too old, too fast.
To top it off, each level contains a hidden “classic Doom” level, which first appears as an easter egg but then appears as a fully playable level when you go back to the campaign menu. The cool part here is that, while it uses environment assets from the old Doom, you still play as and against modern Doom entities, complete with the weapons (assuming they have an old Doom counterpart) and the Glory Kills. It’s a smart decision to modernize, because if I wanted to just play the old Doom exactly as intended, I’d be better off just doing that instead. I’m reminded that even the original Doom had secret levels that branch away from the main campaign, and while I would have loved those, these are a fantastic way to add new content and let you take a break from the storyline.
If there is one qualm to be had, it’s that there are too many “survive the encounter” type areas which lock you into an arena and prevent you from proceeding further into the level. Having a lockdown every now and then is great, but Doom does it literally every five to ten minutes. Thankfully, most of the time you’re too caught up in the action to notice, but the overreliance on them really is a detriment to the game and its flow, especially since it boasts some extremely solid level design. The arenas are great, but the lockdowns are really unnecessary. It really does the game a disservice, as it makes it come across like Doom doesn’t trust its monsters to prevent the player from progressing on their lonesome. The gameplay makes it painfully clear that that is truly not the case.
I’m not going to get too into this, but to put it bluntly, it’s awful. Multiplayer does have some cool things going for it, such as exclusive guns and the ability to turn into a demon, but on the whole it’s unpolished DLC fodder. The whole mode focuses on loadouts (with two weapons per inventory maximum) and lacks balance, with higher level players having access to objectively better weapons like the Combat Shotgun and the Railgun.
There’s also a lot of issues with the Chaingun. Some argue that the Chaingun is overpowered, and in my experience I found that it depleted my entire health and armour bar in three hits. Oddly, when I use it myself, I found that it only does six damage - which obviously takes far more than three hits. To this day, after hours of play, I’ve only ever killed one person with the Chaingun. Meanwhile, I was utterly slaughtered by everybody else who picked it up (and that’s not to say my aim was terrible, as I was getting killing sprees with the long-charging Railgun that still takes more than one hit to kill).
All in all, this is a mode you’re definitely not going to want to spend money on. There’s fun to be had, if you can figure out the mode’s own broken rules, but there’s better alternatives out there. Heck, Unreal Tournament 4 is free, even.
I’m actually really disappointed with the SnapMap feature. On the whole, it works pretty great, and people have already come up with some interesting maps beyond basic “get to the end of the level” stuff. Some created a fully functional Nazi Zombies gamemode with Doom assets. Others have actually made Harvest Moon (called Harvest Doom). SnapMap has a lot of potential, but what it also has is severe limitations. For one, only UAC corridors are available, so no Hell or Mars maps can be constructed, and even still most of the environents are pre-built, with the only control given to the player deciding how they’re connected. Not to mention it also has a two-weapon limit like the multiplayer mode.* Players are finding ways to creatively get around the restrictions that Bethesda promised won’t be there, but it’s only a matter of time before the well dries up.
Hopefully someone manages to make the game truly moddable in the future and allow for more complex map designs.
Doom really managed to surprise me. The campaign managed to fully realize the joys of playing Classic Doom, albeit with a few missteps along the way. It offered some extremely satisfying gunplay and plenty of variety even if it was doing the same thing over and over. It’s a lot different than I remember, but the core of what made the game so great to me is still there in the Campaign’s entirety. All in all, I believe Doom definitely deserves the title.
To sum it up, it’s a damn good game.
*Also, if you’re interested in SnapMap creation but want to carry more than two weapons, check out my script at KBA2XGVF (PC), or search #WpnWheel.