Forget about modern inventions like aim down sights. Old-school shooters were all about firing from the hip as you ran between two enemies, took out a third ahead of you, before turning and launching a rocket at the spot where you stood just a second ago.
iD Software remembers this. In resurrecting the franchise, which codified – if not invented – the first person shooter, the studio has brought back from the dead many design staples that had all but been consigned to the charnel house of history. That’s not always to the game’s benefit but, for the most part, DOOM strikes the right balance between preserving what made the series so great and acknowledging that time marches on, introducing systems more in keeping with modern trends. To recycle a phrase that has been oft-repeated recently: this is DOOM how you remember it, but not necessarily how it actually was.
Start a single player campaign, and DOOM gets you straight into the action. You might be forgiven for expecting a lengthy cutscene and plenty of build up before you get your hands on a gun and are let loose to cause carnage. Not so. In what feels like an almost deliberate two-finger salute to other shooters, the introductory cut scene clocks in at just 10 seconds. Waking up chained to a slab, your character breaks free and promptly crushes the head of a nearby zombie in a shower of blood and gore. Then, you’re in.
That’s not to say that DOOM doesn’t make an effort to tell a story, but iD wiselys recognizes that the series’ strength has never been in the narrative. Cut scenes are kept mercifully brief and are few and far between, and most of the backstory – of which there is a surprising amount – is relegated to log entries in the menu. In an age when most modern shooters are bogged down with unnecessary attempts to tell a story with gravitas, DOOM puts the focus squarely on the slaughter – and it’s all the better for it.
Classic DOOM was also about moving really fucking fast, of course, and this is another area where iD gets things right. DOOM 2016 is blisteringly fast. Movement speed is set to sprint by default, with “sprint” being the operative word. Unlike the leisurely jog that passes for a run in other shooters, in DOOM you move around the levels almost as though your feet are on ice and rocket-propelled. Jump (and, later, double-jump) to a ledge, and you can quickly clamber up it. DOOM’s environments are designed to facilitate fast movement and almost parkour-like traversal.
That’s just as well, because if you stop moving, you’re as good as dead. At the start of the campaign, DOOM eases you in – you’ll be facing off against an easily-dispatched assortment of zombies and fireball-hurling Imps (an enemy almost as iconic as the DOOM Marine himself); but things soon ramp up, with the game introducing more and more enemy types, then mixing them up in fiendish combinations. Towards the end, you’ll be assailed on all sides by jetpack-wearing Revenants launching shoulder-mounted rockets at you, Hell Knights launching themselves through the air at your position and landing with a devastating stomp attack, and the hideously obese Mancubus, spraying the ground in poisounous green bile – all at the same time.
If those enemy names sound familiar, it’s because almost all of them are resurrected from previous games in the series. Some have had a slight redesign in both appearance and behavior – the
Imp, for instance, is now fast and sprightly and loves hanging off walls while it hurls fire at your face – but most are instantly recognizable in their shiny new 2016 forms. This holds true for the few bosses in the campaign as well. If you’re a DOOM veteran, you’ll win no prizes for guessing what you’ll come up against.
The map design is generally very good, teasing you with visible areas that you can’t access yet and hiding plenty of surprises in nooks and crannies, though it does err towards pushing you into enclosed arenas and forcing you to kill wave after wave of enemies before you can progress, something which threatens to become stale towards the end. The game loses the element of surprise once you can easily recognize that you’ve been funnelled into a killbox. There’ll be ledges everywhere, pickups littering the place, and occasionally the odd teleporter and bounce pad. If there aren’t any enemies when you enter, you can guarantee that there will be before you leave, and it’s a trick that the game pulls countless times before the credits. Arenas purpose-built for killing hordes of enemies may be in keeping with the old-school feel that DOOM aims for, but ennui soon sets in. By the time you’ve passed the halfway point, some of the adrenaline starts to wear off as fights start to feel more like wars of attrition than a panicked fight for survival.
As a single player experience, DOOM should take you around 10-15 hours to complete, depending on the difficulty setting. That’s if you simply rush through each level from beginning to end. In keeping with previous entries in the series, every level is packed full of secrets – hidden weapons, armor pickups, collectable action figures – which can significantly extend the length of your playthough. Each level also has a hidden area styled after the first two games in the series, complete with pixellated textures and lighting which, once found, unlock a classic map in the main menu for you to play (though the monsters are replaced by the modern enemy models).
Many of them are fiendishly well hidden, showing off just how talented the level designers are, so it’s a bit of a shame that their best efforts are hidden away and the combat arenas – which often feel more like they were designed for multiplayer than a single player campaign – are shoved to the forefront so readily. DOOM 3 was often criticized for being overly linear and obsessed with narrow corridors; but in so completely rejecting the design ethos that spawned it, iD has perhaps gone a little too far in the other direction.
While the original DOOM and its sequel were known for the labarynthine layouts of their levels, it’s normally clear exactly where you need to go in this latest installment. I never once got lost during my playthrough. Sure, getting lost in a game is never exactly fun, but it does feel as though the map design has been overly simplified. Classic DOOM levels were designed to feel like disorientating rabbit warrens, with death lurking around every corner. At its worst, this latest DOOM can sometimes feel like a series of Horde Mode maps stitched together by corridors and locked behind color-coded doors.
But what gorgeous maps they are. iD has always prided itself on producing quality visuals, and DOOM is no exception. You might think that iD would have had to make some concessions to the graphics due to a simultaneous release on console – memories of RAGE‘s subpar console performance stick in the mind. But if they have, they’re not apparent – lighting is sublime throughout, sparks fizz and rebound off surfaces, smoke billows and swirls, and the draw distance (in the more open levels) is impressive. The only criticism I can make is of some minor texture pop in upon loading a new area. The art design is solid too, though it sometimes feels a little too dark – closer to DOOM 3 than the original in tone and palette – and there isn’t an awful lot of variety on offer. One room or sand dune looks much like another, and much of the game is painted in orange hues.
Closer in atmosphere to Trent Reznor’s excellent Quake soundtrack than the original DOOM, the soundtrack pumps out downtuned guitar riffs and an onslaught of drums. It’s well composed and produced, though certain tracks are recycled repeatedly. Sound effects and voicing acting, unfortunately, are something of a disappointment. Enemy types sound too similar to each other, not helped by the fact that their vocal range consists of little more than screams and roars. And while most weapons sound suitably meaty – the super shotgun gives a satisfying boom when fired, and the chainsaw sounds as rusted as it looks – some, such as the Plasma Rifle and Rocket Launcher, feel a little weedy.
With only a small handful of characters and little dialogue, the voice actors don’t have a huge amount to work with. Their performances are solid, but unremarkable. The two major players lack gravitas. Olivia Pierce, the main villain of the game, should come across as menacing and twisted; instead, she sounds more like an elderly receptionist bitter about being stuck in a dead-end office job and unable to retire. It’s a minor point given the story-lite nature of the game, but deserves a mention.
While DOOM takes great pains to ensure that it remains faithful to the overall feel of the series, iD has made a few concessions to modernity. Collectables allow you to equip weapon mods for your guns, and upgrade your resistance to damage, your speed, and your health pool. Damage an enemy enough and they will be highlighted, enabling you to take them down with a one-hit melee kill
(complete with a suitably gory animation) for additional health and ammo.
On paper, these sound terrible – a dilution of the series’ purity. In practice, however, they work brilliantly. The armor upgrades are pretty standard – carry more ammo, increase your health, reduce splash damage; but the alt-fire mods for weapons all have a situational use, and often a gun you never bother with will be shunted to the forefront of your arsenal. They can be switched on the fly, too, cutting down on needless menu fiddling.
It’s a slight shame that more imagination wasn’t put into the weapons – as with the enemies, they’re almost all lifted from previous entries in the series – but the mods can completely change the look and feel of a weapon. And yes, the BFG 9000 and chainsaw return. Here, they’re set apart from your regular arsenal and given dedicated buttons. Essentially, they’re DOOM‘s way of giving you a way out of a desperate situation – the chainsaw will kill any monster in one hit, while the BFG can clear an entire room. As such, ammunition for these superweapons is in short supply – but this only makes breaking them out all the more sweet.
Single player is only one third of the package, of course. There’s also Multiplayer and Snapmap. Multiplayer is fun and frantic, though lacking in imagination. Matches feel more like Quake 3: Arena or Halo than classic DOOM multiplayer. Multiple modes exist to be chosen from, but for the most part they’re standard fare that can be found in any other shooter. Each map also spawns a Demon Rune from time to time, which transforms you into one of the bigger monsters from the single player campaign for a limited period. My main complaint with multiplayer is that it feels a little basic – none of the modes feel particularly innovative, and some of the maps are rather ho-hum. iD outsourced the multiplayer portion to Certain Affinity, and it shows. There’s still plenty of fun to be had, but it’s hard to see it challenging the popularity of Call of Duty or Halo anytime soon.
Snapmap, meanwhile, is DOOM‘s custom level editor. Surprisingly versatile and powerful, you can use Snapmap to create any kind of map you want – single player, co-op, deathmatch and more; they’re all waiting to be created. The suite of tools on offer allow you to set up connections between switches and doors, place scenery, and connect rooms. The editor stops short of allowing you to completely carve out a room from scratch – you need to choose from a wide variety of templates – but it’s a powerful tool nontheless, and a comprehensive array of tutorials and puzzle challenges help you become acquainted with its use.
Snapmap is available on all platforms, and the level browser is shared between them. While you can’t play with someone on a different platform, you can download and play the levels they’ve created and uploaded. There are already a number of great maps available, running the gamut from enclosed deathmatch arenas to sprawling single player mazes. And, of course, no small number of maps remaking classic levels. If the default multiplayer maps disappoint you, you should be able to find a community creation much more to your liking. Hopefully it takes off, because the standard multiplayer modes on their own may not be enough to sustain a vibrant player community in the long term.
Overall, then, DOOM has been well worth the wait. Silencing worries borne from its lengthy and troubled development, iD has brought the venerable series bang up to date while preserving why it was so beloved in the first place. There are a few missteps along the way, and there isn’t a huge amount of imagination on display when it comes to both level and art design; but in every way that counts, DOOM fires two barrels of adrenaline-fuelled, gore-soaked fun at the competition and emerges as one of the most enjoyable shooters in recent memory.