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Review

DOOM Review – Is This the Doom We’re Looking For?

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Fans of the DOOM series from id Software have been waiting for the latest entry for what seems like ages. Though DOOM 3 has had over time a somewhat mixed reception, old-school FPS purists have simply waited, and not all-together patiently, for something that more closely resembles the classic DOOM and DOOM 2: namely speed and weapons with, if we’re honest, an over-the-top amount of gore.

As someone leaning towards that purist view, I would argue that you got your wish for a modern take on traditional FPS gaming with the latest Wolfenstein sequels. They were loud, brash, ridiculously violent, yet managed to inject characters with weight and emotion and an at worst passable narrative into a series that previously had none. DOOM 3 attempted to do this, and DOOM 2016 tries even harder with varying levels of success.

The real question for most people is: will it bring funk and the noise so-to-speak of the originals? The game answers the question during the brief intro play leading up to the game title screen blaring with demons, gore, and sci-fi scenery, backed by a driving, electronic, metal soundtrack. So yes, it feels like DOOM from the start, and yes, that feels good. But does it last?

DOOM Still 3

In some ways, DOOM 3 was much more successful in creating a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere that served to mimic the often times narrow and heavily confined spaces of the classic originals. As I found myself playing deeper into this latest entry in the franchise, it felt more and more like a title from DOOM‘s close cousin, the Quake series. Eventually, I realized that nearly all encounters were distilled down to closed off arena sections of the levels, very reminiscent of Quake III.

If this sounds overly critical, I should say, for the most part, I enjoyed the game. So let’s talk about what works and what doesn’t. What makes this game DOOM begins with art design. DOOM has really only ever known two settings: futuristic space station and hellish landscape with futuristic space station accoutrements. Both of these are executed well here. My biggest issue is that this lack of diversity, along with the penchant for arena-style battle, can leave missions feeling samey. Particle effects are simple yet visually pleasing and effective. The design shines through the hellish darkness best when it comes to weapons and characters/enemies.

One of the issues that I had with DOOM 3 was that, in their attempt to create a more realistic demon, they sort of ended up muting the fantastic original game’s palette and, in doing so, strayed a bit far from the base designs. The 2016 title has no issues on this front. These creatures are faithful modernizations of the classic demons from the first several games and expansions of the series, though I think they still could have pushed their color usage further. In trying to keep the transformed soldier/gore reality intact, some enemies come across as muted. The updated Cacodemon is excellent however, with the signature green eye and mouth glowing blue/purple.

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Weapons also get the modern treatment while staying true to their roots. To bring the arsenal forward in development, most have upgrade paths, generally one favoring range/damage, while the other favors speeds/damage per second. The missile launcher can add targeting lock-on and multiple projectiles. The plasma rifle can add a heat burst area-of-effect attack which damages enemies nearby. The old venerable shotgun can add an explosive round and so on. Slow as it may be, there’s a certain satisfaction to the booming sounds of the powerful double-barrelled shotgun. The sound design is on-point.

While playing through the game, some of the outside influences seemed readily apparent to me. The first thing is the heavy encouragement of melee attacks. Whether intended or not, this mechanic and the ensuing gore it creates appears to be in direct acknowledgment of Brutal DOOM, currently the most popular original DOOM engine modification. Brutal really pushes the envelope of acceptability when it comes to game carnage. The blood and “gibbing” achieves a ridiculous level and finishing moves via melee attack is messy to say the least. DOOM use these fantastically violent finishers to dual purpose. They both serve to sate the appetites for classic, over-the-top FPS violence while also providing expanded gameplay. Melee finishers produce more health drops and ammo. Ultra-violent chainsaw dispatches produce an even larger amount of ammunition resupply, which is why gasoline is limited and upgrades are necessary to finish off more powerful enemies.

Upgrading goes beyond the weapon systems I mentioned earlier. Those upgrades are achieve with weapons points gained after finishing off batches of enemies, and every weapon should be close to full power by the end of a standard difficulty game. Suit/Armor upgrades are achieved through Praetor Suit points, pulled from the armor of deceased marines hidden throughout the levels. The armor upgrades do a variety of things. In addition to damage reduction, they can also help with item discovery and other useful utility. The final upgrade discoveries are Argent energy cells. Upon discovery, players can choose to expand either health, armor or maximum ammo capacities.

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Argent is also the key to DOOM‘s loose narrative, which seems to borrow from another space-demon sci-fi franchise, Dead Space. They very roughly carry forward the concept of the “doomed” Space Marine. Yet here, the marines are champions of humanity, fighting against hell and its demons, known as DOOM-slayers. It’s a mostly silly backstory, but again, most players aren’t looking for a deep narrative in a DOOM game. The UAC, or United Aerospace Corporation, explores the reaches of space, settling on Mars due to the discovery of artifacts and gateways that lead to Hell. Down on earth, energy is in short supply, and the UAC finds a way to take the energy of hell and transfer it a clean power source, Argent.

Much like Dead Space, things go awry when the artifacts and their origins begin to control the minds of UAC workers who then unleash Hell and demon transformations throughout Mars. Apparently, the doomed marine is one of these artifacts, hidden away in a space sarcophagus, but now ready to take up some sort of prophesied battle against the forces of Hell. Again, it’s silly, but the voice-acting is well done, and they seem to be taking it seriously, which helps to sell their ideas here.

DOOM 2016, whether you call it an expansion of existing lore or a rebooting of the story for a modern audience, is a good game. It’s not great though, as the run-and-gun pace and gore can only sustain gameplay for so long in a limited setting. It makes up for some of the repetitiveness, however, by providing fast and often tense battles that, even on the PS4, maintain a mostly high framerate. The arena-style feel, as mentioned, pushes the gameplay style into a more Quake-like feel. For my money, Wolfenstein the New Order is the superior reboot/expansion, but I recognize that id had a fine line to walk here between satisfying long-term fans and creating a framework to move their series into a modern fps setting. They’ve stunted themselves somewhat by limited modification to simple level design tools which, although they work well, don’t provide the level of expansion and transformation that fans, especially on the PC side, expect. All-in-all it’s a good title, and creates a good base for future sequels.

DOOM was reviewed on PS4 with a copy provided by Bethesda.

Publisher: Bethesda | Developer: id Software | Genre: FPS | Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One | PEGI/ESRB: M  | Release Date: April 13, 2016 | Controls: Controller / Mouse, Keyboard

Freelance writer and used-to-be artist based out of the Pacific Northwest. I studied Game Art & Design in college. I have been writing web content for the last 6 years, including for my own website dedicated to entertainment, gaming & photography. I have been playing games dating back to the NES era. My other interests are film, books and music. I sometimes pretend to be great at photography. You can find me on Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, 500px, DeviantArt and elsewhere under my nick: JamesInDigital.

Review

RAGE 2 Review – Glorious Guns but a Shoddy Structure

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RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 5

A Conflicted Beginning

The opening moments of RAGE 2 are reminiscent of little so much as Killzone. A gravelly voice gives a stirring speech about superiority and the need to quash the rampant spread of lesser humans. The speaker is General Cross, a bald, deformed head—Scolar Visari transplanted across the years and franchises—atop a robotic body. Furthermore, like Killzone, such charisma and character are reserved for the enemy faction, here known as The Authority.

Players quickly get the choice of either a male or female Walker before being tossed into a high-octane battlefield overrun by cyborgs and mutants alike. Armed with only a few basic weapons, Walker is an effective killing machine in this first conflict, and the gameplay experience is as satisfying as they come. The guns are responsive and feel powerful, while the level design invites the kind of non-stop strafing and perpetual motion popularised by classics such as Quake and DOOM.

As veteran gamers might expect from past experiences, the battle goes badly. The heroes are killed, and Walker’s hometown is razed. In using this premise RAGE 2 attempts tired pity-me story beats to invest the player (at this point, unsuccessfully). The hometown hero (and Walker’s mother figure) is slain in the battle, which begins a quest that combines personal vengeance with the global desire to do what is best for the world: stop the monsters.

Before that, players must first expand their skill set, and so the sublime first-person shooter gameplay is joined with RPG mechanics that promise immense depth to the gunplay out in the Wasteland, though the first of these so-termed superpowers is underwhelming, providing the ability to dash out of harm’s way.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 1

With the story set up, the game shifts gears, putting players into an armoured vehicle, and the grippy handling feels as good as the gunplay. The vehicle physics are decidedly arcade-infused, caring little for such nuances as terrain. Instead, all that matters is putting the pedal to the metal and tearing off towards the first objective (and trying to not get too sidetracked in the process).

Despite all of this—the satisfying gunplay, the competent (if so far unspectacular) story, the pleasurable vehicle controls—something feels missing in RAGE 2, a certain spark that will make everything just click.

Gunplay To Die For

Shaking the dust of the ruined Vineland from Walker’s boots for the first time is a bit like bungee jumping. Although the player’s time in the village has been short, they have become acclimatised to a certain po-faced tone and blazingly fast gameplay. Suddenly, though, the security of familiarity drops away as Walker freefalls into the wasteland.

Three story-focused questlines are provided as immediate options, but every path is peppered with distractions and side missions that beg to be roughhoused. After only an hour’s random exploration, the overworld map is littered with icons denoting all sorts of miscellaneous activities.

The Arks, in particular, call for attention. In the fiction, they are similar to Fallout’s Vaults in their stated purpose of repopulating the world post-apocalypse, but they serve primarily as a means of increasing Walker’s abilities. As enticing and—importantly—useful as the Arks are, they highlight a problem about the open world that manifests quite quickly: almost every Ark is blocked by a cohort of enemies, with another set arriving once Walker has acquired her newest skill.

Indeed, most of the activities scattered about the world amount to combat challenges against ever more dangerous foes. Occasionally, random NPCs will offer races, but these are not frequent enough to offset the sheer number of bullets that players will fire both on foot and in their vehicles. Thankfully, many of the enemy outposts, bandit dens, and bounty hideouts feature bespoke, open designs, meaning that players are never at liberty to settle into a single pattern of clearing these challenges.

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Further adding diversity (though not nearly enough) are the different combat proclivities of each faction. The Goons and The Shrouded will be the most familiar to gamers, each showcasing a combination of pop-n-shoot gunplay, explosives, and close-range attackers. The mutants are more animalistic, preferring melee. Meanwhile, The Authority uses brute force and high firepower to wipe out any opposition. Although players need to be aware of the unique tactics and skills of each faction, none force the player to change their strategy; the best approach is always to move fast and keep pulling the trigger and, eventually, every enemy breaks down into scattered giblets.

The ever-expanding suite of options, compelling gunplay, varied level design, and satisfying difficulty all ensure that these encounters are never boring, but these traits are not enough to prevent a growing sense of tedium. In many ways, venturing unstructured through the wasteland feels as though the developers had a hammer of a gameplay loop, so every problem had to be a nail.

The bungee jumping analogy, then, comes full circle. After the thrill of freefall, the cord snaps back and the jumper, before too long, arrives back on terra firma. RAGE 2 follows this pattern, as the freedom of tearing across a vast environment always reins itself in to fighting.

However, novelty is not that not-quite-identifiable thing that lurks just beyond reach. Even moving from vehicle to foot changes things up, and the ridiculous amount of options in combat keeps things perpetually fresh.

A Story Lost Amidst the Bombast

The claims about story being a focal point of RAGE 2’s development ring hollow. A forgiving estimate of total narrative-led play time would clock about six hours—a realistic estimate, four. The disappointment spans more than just the brevity, however.

Walker is exactly the kind of faceless, figureless protagonist that has plagued the shooter genre for years. Her bland, no-nonsense demeanour is a dampening lens through which to view this madcap apocalypse, and it undercuts the otherwise energetic tone. Whether interacting with the dour John Marshall or the despicable Doctor Kvasir, Walker remains unflappable, the consummate professional, and that is to the detriment of the whole game. Indeed, her personality—or, rather, the lack thereof—is a clear demonstration of that missing something that has proven so elusive. More on that later, though.

With the story being so short, the lack of impact should come as little surprise. The invasion of Vineland in the opening moments is, by far, the most interesting plot point of the entire game. Such narrative necessities as momentum, surprise, and emotion are jettisoned in favour of a straightforward quest for revenge. Unfortunately, the story is so comprehensively forgettable that nothing else is worth saying about it.

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To return now to that something; Walker may want for a personality, but the game does not, and this juxtaposition highlights a central shortcoming: a lack of cohesion. RAGE 2 feels like a Frankenstein’s monster of conflicting visions. The remarkably tight combat and hand-crafted locations are designed for the most frenetic of shooters. However, the wider world makes the gunplay feel like just one part of a design that incorporates meaningless RPG progression and purchase mechanics and a considerable amount of driving from one location to another, with regular pit stops to clear enemy hubs (until that process becomes more tiresome than it has any right to be).

Even the world feels disparate, the map stitched together out of box-ticking biomes. To be fair, the deserts, jungles, waterfalls, and canyons all bear the same breathtaking beauty, but they all blend together into a meaningless mish-mash, with the gameplay locations instead being primarily industrial warehouses. The natural environment is wasted, which makes the open world seem like nothing more than padding—another area where mismatched design principles lead to a game that wants to be everything and suffers because of that ambition.

A Slipshod Structure

Bethesda has already laid out a roadmap of post-launch support for RAGE 2, and that has raised fears among the community that the game adheres to a service model. Such concerns can safely be laid to rest. Although the storyline leaves much to be desired, RAGE 2 is plump with content, as evidenced by the dozens—maybe even hundreds—of markers sprinkled across the map.

Unfortunately, the game suffers too much from its freeform design. Players are immediately free to hunt down the Arks that unlock new abilities. As such, every skill and weapon can be unlocked within a handful of hours, which is disastrous for pacing. Even more troublesome, the RPG mechanics serve no real purpose. Players need never purchase a single upgrade to succeed, and the sheer number of different currencies make doing so a chore anyway.

Because of this lack of structure, a game that could still be interesting 30 hours in can also feel worn our within a dozen, and that suggests the post-launch support will likely only appeal to a dedicated fanbase. The challenges, vehicles, and events scheduled to arrive in the coming months will likely not change up the core gameplay structure all that much. Instead, judging by the little information already available, they may simply give dedicated fans more of what they desire.

RAGE 2 gameplay screenshot 8

On a completely different note, but equally as concerning as the game structure is the enemy design. Beginning with General Cross and extending across the Goons, mutants, and other factions, RAGE 2 seems to take a perverse pleasure in vilifying the Other, the outsider, the disabled, the religious. Even Doctor Kvasir, as a former Authority scientist with questionable morals, is a deformed being. By contrast, the undisputed heroes are all healthy and whole. While problematic in some respects, this subtle and most likely unintentional subtext is easily overlooked and unlikely to affect the enjoyment of most gamers.

Simply put, RAGE 2 is a strange beast. Perhaps that was inevitable as the follow-up to a middling first effort developed across two very different studios. Perhaps that shared production is also the reason for the lack of unity. Whatever the reason, RAGE 2 is clearly best suited to a particular kind of player. The game offers an often-beautiful environment combined with easy, enjoyable traversal mechanics. Comprising the bulk of the experience is some of the finest and most diverse gunplay combat to be found gaming today. However, these charms are let down somewhat by the lacking story and structure and a general feeling of a tonal mismatch between the bland protagonist and the madcap world.

OnlySP Review Score 3 Credit

Reviewed on Xbox One X.

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