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?
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.
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.
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