DOOM Review -- To Hell and Back Again
PC, Xbox One
Review copy provided by the publisher
For all its emphasis on satanic rituals, bloody demons, and putting players into the role of a gun-toting super soldier, the original DOOM paved the way for shooters-to-come with its debut in 1993. Even in a genre that tends to focus on making explosions bigger, guns more badass, and creating an epic, immersive experience, it’s hard not to look back and see the classic DOOM’s influences on most modern shooters.
Jumping forward 23 years later, players are being reintroduced to the BFG, chainsaw, monstrous demons, and hellish world of… well… Hell once again with DOOM. While giving tons of nods and sly winks to what has come from the franchise before (even by including playable levels from the original games), 2016’s DOOM is more or less a complete reboot that will have you fighting your way through Hell and back again…and maybe back again for more.
Before its final release, this incarnation of DOOM notably had been in development hell (sadly, pun not intended) for the better part of the last decade. Originally, taking shape as a proper sequel to 2004’s DOOM 3, the game returned as a completely reimagined take on one of gaming’s truly classic franchises.
That of course comes with the dilemma of any reimagining or remake: change too much and fans will immediately decry how the new product has strayed away from the original vision. However, being overly reverential to the original source can restrict taking what made an original game great, while also depriving talented developers from taking their spin on it.
With over a decade between it and the series’ last big installment, 2016’s DOOM could have easily veered too far into either direction. However, (thankfully) DOOM feels like it has just the right amount of reverence in honoring one of the true classics of gaming, while adding enough polish, shine, and blazing heavy metal to truly feel like DOOM reborn in the way it was meant to be.
Putting players into the shoes (or combat-engineered suits) of super soldiers fighting through narrow corridors and the nightmarish hallways of Hell, DOOM provides fast-paced, intense action in a trio of gameplay experiences. With a single-player campaign, a suite of multiplayer modes, and its “SnapMap” level creator, DOOM offers a little bit of something for everyone — that is, so long as that “little bit of something” includes a lot of demon-killing and brutal executions.
Across the board, the most immediate and striking aspect of DOOM is not only its incredibly vivid visual style, but its dedication to recreating the fast-paced, hectic, and arena-styled combat of the past and nailing it throughout. Like the original DOOM, Quake, and Unreal Tournament, the 2016 DOOM brings back the need for players to be constantly on the move and being aggressive against hordes of Hell Knights, Revenant, and the numerous other big baddies the game increasingly throws at players throughout the campaign.
Like the equivalent of a video game throwback, DOOM faithfully returns to the era of the arena shooter and emphasizes fast-paced twitch combat, while adding plenty of flourishes and smaller touches that also help bring it into the modern era. From the infamous “Glory Kills” to upgrades for your suit and weapons, DOOM very much feels like the restoration of a vintage car with a loud, powerful new engine behind it.
In the single-player campaign, players put on the helmet of a powerful space marine, load up a shotgun, and trounce between space station hallways on Mars to battling demons through Hell and beyond. Weaved between the combat scenarios and its tense locations, the story revolves around the Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC) and its continued plans to seek new energy sources, with Hell being its next target for inter-dimensional travel and a new cache of valuable resources.
From there, things go horribly wrong as demons, nightmares, and more dangerous supernatural forces bridge the gap between the human colony on Mars and their Hellish world, relying on the player to shut the portals and eliminate hostile demon forces.
Admittedly, DOOM‘s narrative in the single-player campaign is far from deep or satisfying on its own. While the story does weave in various events, twists, and a few characters that you’ll meet along the way, the story more or less serves as the connective tissue to loosely give motivation to your actions throughout the campaign, with plenty of winks and nods along the way.
Between constant reminders on the Mars space station of “heavy demonic presences” or using chainsaws and super shotguns to rip demons in half, DOOM treads the line pretty carefully between being dead serious and incredibly self-aware, but fully embraces its roots and providing players with an incredibly tense and engaging single-player experience.
And what an experience it is. Where over a decade in first-person shooters gave players deep campaign experiences like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and BioShock, DOOM‘s campaign is one of the most purely fun single-player experiences I’ve had in quite some time. With its fast movement speed and gunplay, DOOM‘s constant barrage of enemies and challenge is elevated by its thrashing heavy metal soundtrack and incredibly smooth visual performance. While most games are about making players feel powerful, DOOM makes you feel like a true badass.
With a range of weapons like the Super Shotgun, Plasma Rifle, and plenty more found throughout the campaign, DOOM is fast and loose with death and destruction as players are shuffled between corridor hallways on Mars to far more open, arena-styled combat areas with enemies thrown left and right. DOOM gives plenty of opposition for players to fight against throughout the campaign, but likewise players also have plenty of options to fight right back at them.
The newly-added “Glory Kills” in particular are one of the key ways that DOOM not only encourages players to be aggressive with enemies, but with the added benefit of providing health and ammo after each successful kill. After enemies reach a certain level of damage, a blue glow around them will signify that players can melee them for a Glory Kill that, more often than not, often gives Mortal Kombat a run for its money in the gore department.
However, aside from the purely visceral experience of landing them, Glory Kills also provide players with health and ammo drops, making them a valuable asset in particularly big arena fights with tons of enemies to dispose. Each enemy has about 3-4 different animations depending on how you approach them (front, back, side, in the air, etc.), and though after a while they do tend to get a little old, their fast animation speeds don’t make them quite as much of a bother and worth the extra dose of brutality.
And, in the end, it’s at least a nice compromise between the modern trend of regenerating health and the health bars of old-school shooters; so long as you can keep chaining together Glory Kills, you’ll pretty much always be in supply of health to keep your Doomguy going.
Visually, DOOM is just flat-out impressive, and even coming on the heels of powerhouse games like Quantum Break and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, might just be one of the best-looking shooters out yet. DOOM is a barrage of hell, mayhem, and gore. Yet, it not only looks, but plays fantastically.
If the heavy metal soundtrack weren’t enough to get your blood pumping, the smaller touches (like the game slowing down time when switching between weapons) or its excellent explosion and fire effects make you feel like you’re in Hell, or behind the stock when you shoot off a powerful blast from the BFG.
DOOM’s campaign is a pure exercise in fun and fast-paced gameplay, faithfully calling back to the era that it started in while adding enough new additions to truly make it stand alongside modern shooters like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and the big names of today. Though the story is a bit lacking and the campaign gets a bit repetitive in structure, it’s easily the highlight of the 2016 DOOM package and one of the best single-player shooter experiences out there.
Plus, with plenty of goodies and secrets, it’s one you’ll want to play through again to find every nook and cranny with a potential collectible or secret level to find, not to mention it also being a pretty lengthy experience (my estimate is around 10-12 hours through my first run).
The multiplayer pillar of DOOM still provides the same rush of adrenaline offered by the single-player campaign with a bevy of modes and game types to play in, but comes off a bit disappointing compared to the excellent campaign. Features-wise, DOOM’s multiplayer includes a full suite of game modes ranging from Team Deathmatch to objective modes. That isn’t even including the less traditional, fun modes like a “freeze tag”-esque mode, or the “power-ups” one that allows players to temporarily take the form of a powerful demon.
Like more contemporary shooters, DOOM also offers plenty of unlocks in the way of new weapons, cosmetics, skins, taunts, and more to reward players in the long-run with the game. However, DOOM’s multiplayer more often than not feels very generic and straightforward, coming off as a slight disappointment after a campaign that’s by all means thrilling and explosive.
While DOOM’s campaign strikes a nice balance between old and new, the fast-paced gameplay of DOOM is undermined a bit by modern additions like a loadout system. While fine on its own for a few rounds, the multiplayer portion of DOOM is not particularly memorable and, aside from being a fine diversion after the single-player campaign, is not what I’d imagine I’ll come back to DOOM for down the line.
The final component of DOOM comes through the “SnapMap” mode, which is more or less a level creator but with accessibility and quick, easy setup in mind: think Super Mario Maker for a modern shooter and you’re on the right track. Boosted by excellent tutorials and a clean, intuitive design structure, SnapMap allows players to create multiplayer, single-player, and cooperative maps with pretty relative ease.
However, the long-term benefits and support for SnapMap will remain to be seen. It’s an extremely promising portion of DOOM (and just a bit more satisfying than the multiplayer modes), but in its current state the mode is limited to mostly pre-made assets and templates and what players’ imaginations down the line will run with it. While not a particularly deep experience, creating or running through other players’ levels is still a nice diversion if you need a break from the single-player campaign or between multiplayer sessions, and hopefully id Software and Bethesda continue to support what could evolve into an excellent level creation kit.
While the multiplayer lacks some of the spark that may make it stand out in a particularly busy month for multiplayer-centric games, and SnapMap instead shows more promise than anything else, DOOM nonetheless succeeds with a stellar single-player campaign — in a way making the sum of its parts greater than the whole.
Developer id Software is able to hit players hard and fast with gameplay that calls back to an era that many may think was left in the past. However, DOOM instead brings the past roaring back to life, and for once makes the phrase “go to Hell” seem like an invitation more than anything else.