Posted by Ken Barnes
Hurt me plenty
Making a game that's due to be a part of one of gaming's most cherished franchises must be an absolute nightmare for developers. Remastering something that came out a few years ago so that it has shinier graphics and tweaks but still retains the feel of the original must be difficult enough, but to take a game that's so well thought of, that introduced absolutely stacks of players to gaming and which all but defined a genre…that's a tricky proposition. Players of the original will be expecting something that makes them feel like it did back in the day, whereas players new to the series will be expecting something that stands against more current titles. It has to be a tough row to hoe.
Which is why the developers at id Software have to be given a bit of extra credit when it comes to this 2016 reboot of Doom. When the first trailers where shown off at Bethesda's E3 show last year, many were skeptical about the in-your-face action and the big, loud presentation. Those skeptics have all been proven wrong. Doom in 2016 is big. Doom in 2016 is loud. Doom in 2016 is as in-your-face as it gets, and is a fantastic experience.
It all starts with the game's campaign. Right from the outset, there are some laugh-out-loud nods to the original game that will surely be appreciated by fans. Before you're given time to feel all that comfortable with what you're doing, though, you're facing down the first basic enemies. From there, the enemies get larger, the maps become more open and sprawling, your weapons and abilities become stronger through frequent upgrades, and there's an overwhelming feeling of awesomeness at least a couple of times per level. That may not sound as professional as it could, but there's genuinely no other way to describe it. When you juke left, fire in a rocket that takes down a Mancubus, quickly switch to your shotgun to one-shot an Imp, toss in a frag grenade to take out his two friends then spin around, switch to your chainsaw, and chop that looming Revenant in half, there's nothing else on your mind other than "this is freakin' awesome!"
It's not all super-fast action, though. Doom's campaign contains both optional and forced exploration. There are times in between battles where the game introduces a surprising amount of first-person platform-like play. It can be a little bit tricky to get used to your available jumping distance – especially given that it changes a few times depending on upgrades - but the inclusion of an auto-mantle feature means that there's no penalty for falling just a little bit short on a leap. Generally, green lights placed upon an item will help to subtly guide you in the right direction, which can help you out when you're in a fix. They aren't always up to the task though. Also, by "forced exploration" we don't mean that the game has you going on hunting missions persay, more that the navigational compass atop the screen isn't really up to the job in a few places, suggesting that you're heading in the right direction but never telling you if you're on the right level of the building that you're exploring. This means that there are a few places where if you go off-course during the heat of a battle, you might find yourself disoriented for a little while. In some cases, you can be wandering around for a good few minutes, trying to find where the game wants you to go, but it happens rarely enough that it doesn't do much damage to the overall feel of the game. Plus, there's a chance that it'll never happen to you. Depending on how you play, you might never find yourself in the situation.
Even if you do breeze through without running into any navigational difficulties, Doom's campaign still provides hours of gameplay that runs well into the double digits. With that said, no matter how much you enjoy the action, the main gameplay loop is somewhat formulaic to say the least. It's the high of destroying demons until the pumping soundtrack subsides, followed by a bit of exploration, followed by that soundtrack crashing back to the fore once again for more destruction, then more exploration. That isn't a negative in any way. We just feel that the game is best enjoyed in a series of one or two-level chunks, rather than in a full marathon playthrough. Others will feel differently, of course. The same could be said of the game's "Glory Kills" which - as well as being ultra-violent and gory - are weaved nicely into the gameplay. Weakening an enemy until they flash blue puts them in position for a glory kill, where you run up and hit R3 to tear their head off, feed them their own heart, stomp their face, or any number of other things depending on how you approach them and what part of their body you're targeting. Performing glory kills provides health and ammo pickups in greater number than a gunshot would, so it's actually to your benefit to pull these coups de grâce off when you can, as opposed to them just being there for show.
Another divisive area will be in Doom's single-player difficulty level. Those starting on the second-toughest of the available four settings – "Hurt Me Plenty" – will get a nice challenge for a few levels that does suddenly ramp up seemingly out of nowhere by what could be described as a frustrating amount. That doesn't seem to be the case on any of the other three initially available options, which feature a steady difficulty curve. Fortunately, if things do become too tough, you can always drop to a level below without having to restart your campaign and even if you get down to the bottom "I'm Too Young To Die" setting, things aren't overly simplified and you'll still get a decent challenge. Finish the campaign and you'll unlock the all-but-impossible "Ultra-Nightmare" setting, which introduces permadeath into the mix. As it stands, we've only read of a handful of players completing it, so good luck with that.
Even if you don't find yourself trying to get into that small group of super-talented players, there's still a heck of a lot of collectables and secrets to be found as you traipse around Doom's maps. Nods back to the 1993 game in the form of original maps, complete with the blocky original graphics, can be found, as can dumb arcade games, a stack of in-jokes and references, and collectable dolls. Each level also sets you a specific set of challenges which, if completed, provide additional weapon upgrade points to help trick out your boomsticks. These points – as well as points to allow you to upgrade your Praetor suit – are doled out relatively often without completing challenges, meaning that there's generally always something new and fun to use to take out the demon hordes. Even the weapon upgrades themselves feature challenges, tasking you with completing a specific task in order to prove your "mastery" of the weapon and unlock the top level of upgrade for permanent use. If that wasn't enough, you'll stumble across runes that can accentuate your existing abilities. Challenges are also the key to unlocks here, though when it comes to runes, you're taken out of the level that you're on and asked to complete a timed event in order to obtain the rune's power. Completists will want to dive back in to levels where they've missed a challenge or a secret and they can, further extending the playing time.
Of course, that's if they're not drawn to the game's multiplayer modes. Doom offers a decent selection of multiplayer options, complete with levelling, commendations, changeable loadouts and all the usual things that you'd expect, as well as customizable weapons and suits. If the mood takes you, you can even change how weathered or scratched your suit looks.
Outside of that, multiplayer doesn't often live up to the quality experience provided by the campaign. It should be obvious that they're two very different animals, but even though there's some fun to be had taking part in a bit of Team Deathmatch or some of the objective-based modes, you'll likely find that the more sniper-like weapons prevent players from really getting a foothold. There's a case to be made about improving your skills – the old "Git Gud!" argument that's come to the fore of late – but it's incredibly hard to gradually improve as you're being sniped for the tenth time in two minutes. There's also the issue that for some reason, the alternate fire modes and weaponry that you can unlock in the campaign isn't available for use in multiplayer. It's not that you have to unlock them again. It's that they just aren't available. So, you don't get to use your exploding shotgun shells or your triple-lock-on homing RPG and are instead limited to a relatively limited selection of weapons that while functional, don't provide the crazy over-the-top fun that you would have come to expect if you dived in and played the campaign mode first. Still, everything that's here works well enough and provides more or less what you'd expect for a multiplayer FPS in this day and age, it just doesn't ever tend to try to go beyond that, which leaves things feeling a bit flat.
If you're looking for other multiplayer options, there's always SnapMap to provide some extra value. SnapMap is Doom's built-in game creation mode, which is surprisingly expansive given how few column inches it's generated in the run up to release. A full suite of tutorials is on offer that teaches you how to create arenas and maps, set logic points, program victory and defeat scenarios and a whole host of other things, to the point that you could genuinely make fun games here. There's scope to build some pretty impressive stuff without needing to know how to code. Even if you aren't a creator, there's a stack of community-created treats to download and play, all of which feature leaderboards and a lot of which also offer multiplayer co-op options. SnapMap is something of a triumph and could well prove to be another stepping stone for someone who's been putting things together in the likes of Minecraft or the soon-to-be-defunct Project Spark.
But even with SnapMap and multiplayer on deck, it's hard to get away from Doom's campaign and how tremendously well it plays. As we alluded to in the opening salvo, getting the balance right on a reboot such as this requires a good deal of great skill and a great deal of good judgement. id Software haven't disappointed in silencing their many doubters and have knocked it out of the park.
Doom is a big, loud, visceral experience that not only impresses visually with a silky-smooth framerate and detailed texture work, but which reaches into your soul and jacks up your heartrate as it does so. Some would say that things are a little bland in terms of plot, but playing Doom for the story would be like watching baseball because you're a fan of diamonds. The multiplayer is playable, though a little less so than you'd expect, but that's more than made up for by the campaign. It's fast, fun, violent, addictive, and highly recommended.