Within the first thirty seconds of starting the game, you can learn all you need to learn about this title. A voice tells you the enemy to come is brutal and without mercy. But you must be worse. You awaken, alone and chained to something, with the withered and deformed victims of a demonic invasion closing in on every side. Your character frantically trying to break his bonds and at the last minute manages to escape and slaughter the nearest enemy. You pick up a pistol and fire wildly until nothing is left standing, and then you realize… you never reloaded.
Bullets and death were just there when you needed to dispense them. With nowhere left to go but forward, you’re treated to a vision of the past: your stone tomb surrounded by bowing figures and a lone, lithe form looking on, commenting on the need to keep you contained.
Then the room’s main door flies open and you see it. Similarly imprisoned in stone, surrounded by candles and mysticism, you see the armor — YOUR armor. As you reach out to claim it, you are assaulted by nightmarish visions of the bloody work to come. Undaunted, you don your helmet, and plunge yourself into bullets and hellfire. This is DOOM.
Rip and tear, until it is done
DOOM is fast. Lightning fast. The DOOM Marine travels at a standard pace rivaling some other shooters’ "sprint" functions. And you’re going to need every ounce of that speed if you hope to survive. Perhaps the greatest testament to the game’s preoccupation with quickness is the new "Glory Kill" mode.
Enemies will require a good investment of ammunition to bring them down, but watch for the blue flash. Get closer, and the blue turns to a quick pulse of menacing orange — then, press the melee button for a hell of a show. With unrelenting ferocity and strength, the DOOM Marine dispatches these staggered foes with bloody flourishes in incredibly inventive ways.
Interestingly, in counter to the cries of repetition many bemoan, the Glory Kill system rewards positioning, angle of attack, and location, as each body part can be individually targeted. This treats you to unique animations as well as causes attacks from behind or above to change the method of execution entirely.
In this way, weaker foes can be cleared in instants by chaining from one kill to another with Glory Kills. Outmaneuvering and staying one step ahead of Imps and their fire bolts is a snap when you run like you have rockets strapped to your feet. Now, what to do with all this speed and ferocity?
The combat system relies heavily on what the game calls "Arenas." These are tense affairs and are well designed to both suck you in and then drive you to seek out the next. Littered with ammo, health, and the occasional power-up, these intentionally isolated moments of violence serve as the focal point for the game’s run-and-gun combat design.
The demons themselves are an interesting mix of wild or tactical, melee or ranged, forcing you to rely on positioning and effective weapon choice to overcome them. The game’s own loading tips advocate an aggressively reckless playstyle, advising you to throw yourself into a Glory Kill when low on health due to the health drops that spawn when you do.
Eventually, as you begin to run into the more fully fledged demons, it can seem to boil down to just filling them full of lead from range to avoid their devastating attacks. Then your weapons run dry. Switch after switch and all you have left is the pistol. This emphasis on fast paced non stop lethality is sure to please die-hard fans. Outside the arenas, combat is sporadic and quick when it does present itself, with sudden arrivals of demons marking areas you haven’t yet explored or standing in defense of the game’s many secret areas.
The game rewards these long periods of exploration, in some cases granting access to weapons found later on to give you that extra edge over the horde. Additionally, as you progress through the story and run into some of the bigger baddies, you’ll thank yourself for taking the time to seek them out.
Exploration also goes hand in hand with character progression — a quick and optional affair but, in some cases, woven seamlessly into gameplay. For example, you automatically gain weapon upgrade tokens just by reaching a slaughter quota against the denizens of hell. Upgrades to your armored suit only come from optional and hidden pickups found throughout the levels. Most of these upgrades strike me as lackluster, doing things like allowing you to avoid damage from exploding barrels (which is an infrequent issue) or switch weapons faster (which, since the game is made of cocaine, is already plenty fast).
Throughout a story that is told briefly but well, the DOOM Marine is characterized as brutal, efficient, and single minded. I always got a sense that the he knew something I didn’t. Actions like utterly demolishing things that just needed to be turned off or later accounts of his previous deeds show him to be righteous and empowered to stop the demonic menace at all costs.
The brief few interactions with the other characters of the game were also efficient in their presentation. I found myself invested in my hate for the spindly Olivia and constantly distrustful of the too-informative Samuel. As of this writing, I haven’t yet reached the game’s climax to see how it plays out, but I can firmly say that I can’t wait to enact retribution for the sins of digital fake people.
Sound and visuals
With a pounding soundtrack that kicks in when demons appear and subsides along with the crackle of roasting flesh as the corpses of the damned burn away, the sound design strikes me as well thought out and perfect for the theme of the game. Those long moments of exploration are kept tense and urgent with efficiently creepy sound design that makes you feel like like you need to constantly check that you aren’t about to be rushed from behind.
I did notice on occasion a slight break in the “at rest” background soundtrack as it relooped to begin again, but even those tunes seemed to enforce a sense of urgency and drive that you don’t typically get from looping background music.
Along with the game’s speed (which forces you to be constantly alert and aware), the game is just easy to look at; it’s not convoluted and detailed to the point of being choking. In particular, I enjoyed the lighting of certain areas and effects. Things like glowing pentagrams on floors in completely dark rooms always looked wicked, and the dissonant whispers that grew louder as you approached definitely enhanced the creep factor whenever they appeared.
I’m having a hard time deciding if the “repetition” decried by others is necessarily a bad thing. Indoor levels are samey, metallic hallways with blinks and bloops, but that is what a corporate science facility on Mars would probably look like. The hellscape terrain is an odd duck. While it undoubtedly features otherworldly design decisions like floating spires and enough skulls and horns to rival a Day of the Dead celebration, it’s just another a dry, dead landscape reminiscent of your time on the surface of Mars. It did strike me as odd that after having been through hell, I thought it was the earlier Martian section of the Foundry that seemed more hellish and forbidding.
In addition, some of the visual effects chosen were well thought out but plenty frustrating. For example, there is an excellent combat section that plays out on the Martian surface during a dust storm. The screen seems to be entirely overcome by Martian sand which makes the fight a tense game of hide and seek with some of the faster enemies and caused more than a few wasted shots. It was obstructive to gameplay and difficult to deal with in some cases, but isn’t that what Mars would actually be like?
Paradoxically, I found that if I tempered this gory shoot-em-up with a dash of logic, the game was actually more fun.
Matched with Death, Online Multiplayer
I didn’t enter too much into the multiplayer due in part to a driving need to finish the single player coupled with an earlier, brief playthrough of the multiplayer game’s beta when it was available. The multiplayer mode I experienced was fast paced and brutally fun, but a bit short on the features and options that most are used to in modern multiplayer gaming.
You are initially presented with the game modes you would expect such as Team Deathmatch and “capture the zone” modes, but there are a few more interesting modes like the Freeze Tag and Warpath options. Each game plays out on maps chock full of pickups and power-ups, boost platforms that shoot you up to higher levels, and the platforming/mantling gameplay you’re used to from the single player.
Through the loading screens, it seems as though the multiplayer “story” is that the mode is a simulation run by the company from the game to train its people to survive hell. This explains things like the modes Hack Modules — akin to Perks from other online shooters — and the super-weapon drops that are hidden in certain map areas.
Progression is designed in a fairly straightforward multiplayer style. Kills and challenges earn XP, which levels you up and starts the unlock process. Unlocks range from gameplay enhancing — like loadout slots, weapons, and equipment — to the purely cosmetic — new armor pieces, colors/patterns, and taunts. Seemingly, this system of unlocks and leveling is optional, like the single-player version. Any player can easily create death and mayhem with the starting loadouts or, if you want, you can customize down to the lights that are on your sim marine.
Because of this, you won’t find the same depth of leveling and progression typical of modern multiplayer shooters here, but, again, I’m not convinced that that’s a bad thing. DOOM is a simple game, after all, and what is more simple that shotgunning strangers in the face over the internet?
While it may not be enough to save the multiplayer, the Possession system deserves mention. Basically serving as the game’s nuclear option, the Possession power-up found on the maps allows one player to be overcome by demonic energy and transformed into one of four iconic demons. Each demon has its own playstyle in line with its inherent abilities. And, again, while it may not save the multiplayer, it is a damn fun diversion from the typical run-and-gun gameplay. Flying around launching rockets down on players’ heads and then slamming down to earth and ripping players in half as the rocket-powered Revenant has the type of charm that doesn’t grow old quickly.
To sum up
If you’re anything like me, when you think of DOOM, you think of speed, guns, and action. This new version of DOOM does not skimp on any of those things and offers a bloody, vicious good time from start to finish. If you can free your mind from the little bits and pieces of the game that are odd and out of place, you will experience a damn fine shooter that takes enough from the good old days and modernizes it into a unique experience you’re sure to enjoy.