After a twelve year hiatus, the Doom we know and love has returned, and it’s even learned some new tricks since we last saw it. Developer id Software had to overcome numerous obstacles over its troubled development, even going so far as to start from scratch back in 2011 when the team realized it “lacked a soul,” and the result is a bloody good time.
Referring to a video game’s soul seems a bit silly. I sometimes refer to it as the “core”, a central idea or mechanic that much, if not all, of the rest of the game revolves around — but when Bethesda broke the news that its pre-2011 iteration lacked a spirit, and that it “didn’t have the passion and soul of what an id game is,” the meaning is clear. It just didn’t feel like a Doom game.
The “soul” of a video game is the foundation for everything else, and for Doom, it’s about the flow of the combat. Its the fast pacing and fluid movement that transforms every battle into a bloody ballet that doesn’t stop until the last man, woman or demon is left standing atop a sea of mangled corpses and spent shells. You either run out of enemies or you’re overcome by them.
Doom doesn’t set aside any time for you to reload, take cover or find another weapon, and thanks to the addition of Glory Kills, even wounds can be mended without ever having to pause.
Glory Kills are brutal executions that double as a tremendously satisfying way of finishing a staggered foe without breaking up the purposeful flow of the combat. When an enemy takes enough damage they become temporarily incapacitated, leaving their supple demon bodies vulnerable to all sorts of terrible things, like a finishing move that effectively transforms them into a living piñata filled with health, ammunition, or even armor, when you have the required perk.
This is what separates Doom from just about every other game in the genre it created, the exception being the handful of other 90s era shooters we still occasionally hear from today, such as Wolfenstein or Unreal Tournament. There’s no pesky stamina meter you need to monitor either, so you never have to take a break from the gory fun so your character can catch his breath.
There’s more to these games than the frantic combat that makes them so addictive, but that’s a crucial part of it. It’s also one of the many areas where this reboot truly succeeds in modernizing the gameplay without sacrificing any of the many different things that form the Doom experience. This is the most impressive, and respectful series reboot I’ve played since the 2003 Resident Evil remake for the GameCube.
The world is there, in all its dusty glory. Villains assume their roles with the requisite amount of malevolence, their philosophical musings, agendas and general dialogue marinated in just enough sinister intent so as to make them easily identifiable as big ole meanies. They’re the co-narrators of this tale of renewable energy and demon genocide because they have to be. Maybe our marine will follow in the Master Chief’s footsteps and gradually learn to speak like a human being, but I doubt it. That’s not what Doom is about.
Even the Union Aerospace Corporation, which owns and operates the Mars facility on which much of the game is set, hasn’t let up on their maniacally dickish pursuits of Hellscience, nor have they found a way to contain the shit when it inevitably hits the fan. It seems as if they’re struggling to graduate from Shit Containment 101, alongside most other evil video game corporations.
The story and dialogue are mercifully thin, their sole purpose to quickly provide you with enough substance and motivation to mull over as you venture to Mars to Hell and back. Neither are ever bad, but they’re also never really all that good. That’s par for the course with this series, which has always treated both as a checkmark in a box on a list of things modern video games need to have.
So in that case: does Doom have a story and dialogue? Check.
Before it was thrown out, pre-2011 Doom was much less linear than the first two games, which weren’t completely linear themselves. The openness of their design has always been part of the appeal of this series, as it allows players to explore freely, without nagging reminders from NPCs, tooltips, beacons, blips, and the like whose job is to annoy you into quickly closing the distance between you and your objective.
Pre-2011 Doom sounded like it was more or less an open-world game, and though the game we got doesn’t go quite as far as its creators originally intended, it is considerably more open in its expansive level design than any of its predecessors.
The game basically recaps your accomplishments at the end of each chapter — total kills, upgrades procured, hidden collectibles discovered — so you’ll want to explore all of it, if only to make sure you’re properly geared up for the final showdown.
The arsenal is traditional for these games, and it does a fine job in covering all your bases. The shotgun, super shotgun (sawed-off) and chainsaw are swell at carving demons from within their personal bubbles, and the chainsaw even showers you with gore and ammo, should you find yourself in need of the latter. The heavy assault rifle, plasma rifle, and pistol are more adept at long-range combat, then there’s the chaingun, gauss cannon and rocket launcher, which you might want to save for bigger foes.
Plus, most of the weapons have two mods that equip them with secondary abilities, like the shotgun’s burst fire mode, the assault rifle’s micro-missiles, or the rocket launcher’s homing capabilities.
Self-improvement isn’t limited to your arsenal, your Praetor Suit can also be upgraded using tokens that buffer your resistance to environmental hazards, boost your agility, and enhance the efficacy of power-ups, among other improvements. There are also small glass Sauron Eyes you can break to release their unholy essence, granting you a permanent boost to your base health, armor or ammo capacity.
The Runes make up the final piece of this self-improvement puzzle, though getting them may prove to be a challenge as you’ll have to find the hidden portal that takes you to an isolated area where you must conquer a trial. Each trial comes with specific objectives that must be completed before the time runs out, with the reward being a Rune that enhances your marine’s equipment (grenades), his penchant for Glory Kills, etc. No more than three can be equipped, and if you can get it, you’ll want one of them to be the Rune that gives you one extra life. That would’ve saved me some frustration, not that I ever die.
There’s multiplayer too! You might’ve seen one of the many multiplayer-centric trailers I’ve shared here over the last few months that break down its maps, modes, power-ups, and customization features. I’ve never loved the arena-based combat, but I have played enough to say it’s decidedly Doom in flavor.
The Doom multiplayer is designed for a very specific audience to which I do not belong. I’m awful at it. I’m too slow to react to an enemy’s presence, and I’m far too easily distracted by shiny objects. I can’t be sure, but I think my armor actually attracts more bullets to my tender flesh. With that said, it’s still enormously amusing in small, bite-sized portions. If you’re a fan of the multiplayer offerings in the first two games, you’ll probably like what id has done to update it.
The verticality of the level design really stood out to me. Opponents can come from anywhere, and based on my experience, an awareness of one’s surroundings, and specifically what’s above you, is often just as important to one’s survival as anything else.
Classic Doom multiplayer with a modern twist is one-half of id Software’s strategy for fostering an active community around this game, and it’s joined by the new SnapMap modding utility. For the uninitiated, SnapMap is a level editor that allows the curious and/or the creative to come up with their own creations, similar to the Forge Bungie introduced with Halo 3, or Steam Workshop, if you’re a PC gamer.
It’s powerful and more than capable of realizing the imaginations of those who think about more than which structure(s) look the most like the head of a penis, yet it appears easy enough to use for those who do think about that sort of thing. I imagine SnapMap will be the feature that keeps Doom interesting long after the season pass has finished inflating the multiplayer, so I’m eager to see if it catches on with modders.
I’m relieved and more than a little giddy to be able to say that Doom has returned in all its gory glory. It’s made up for the solid, if somewhat bland and predictable experience that was Doom 3, and I think it’s new enough to entice newcomers while staying familiar enough to keep from upsetting Doom vets. Whichever group you belong to, I absolutely recommend you check it out.
The Final Word: id Software has successfully reinvented the classic Doom experience for a modern audience without actually having to reinvent anything. It’s not a reboot, it’s a revival. If you’ve ever wondered what Doom might look like in 2016, this is it.