I reacquainted myself with Doom back in high school after I discovered the wonders of the zDoom platform. I remember, at the time, telling a friend of mine that I’d rather play Doom than a modern shooter like Halo, which was relatively new at the time. He scoffed, either chalking it up to hyperbole or nostalgia.
Years later, and I stand by that statement. I am full to bursting with love for the Doom series. I still fire up Doom and Doom II on occasion, and the last time I replayed Doom 3, I loved that too. Yet, the shooter genre has departed greatly from the formula that made the early Doom titles great. Expansive levels, keyhunting, and over-the-top weaponry; even Doom 3 abandoned a lot of this in favour of a more Half-Life style linear progression system. There have been mixed attempts in the past decade or so to recreate the design facets of early first-person shooters, but there’s always been something missing. I’d long resigned myself that I’d never find the same magic that I found in Doom.
Then Bethesda and id Software relaunched Doom in 2016, and you can be absolutely sure that I’m on board for this.
The original Doom games were pretty light in narrative; doing all its storytelling within the confines of text crawls between missions. Being released in 2016, Doom does a better job. You wake up chained to a slab, and your first matter of business is dawning your armor and blasting demons. The United Aerospace Corporation has been siphoning cheap energy from the depths of Hell itself using a crack in the surface of Mars, and after a labour dispute, this has caused the facility to become overrun by demons, with almost all of its staff having been transformed into mindless zombies. Your goal is to just blast demons. That’s it.
The player character is an unstoppable force; a single-minded being with only demon killing on their mind. Throughout the game you uncover cryptic bits and pieces of their history, but that’s all background flavouring, and while it’s entertaining, it also stays out of the way. There’s lore if you want it, which is an acceptable compromise.
In the background, Samuel Hayden attempts to direct Doomguy (I refuse to call him Doom Slayer, as he’s named in the game) through various tasks in an attempt to close off Hell’s access to the Mars facility. Samuel Hayden is an interesting character in his own right; pragmatic and calculating, with a tinge of humanity behind his hard exterior. Having transferred his mind from his own dying body into the hard, armored shell of a 3-meter tall walking robot, he could probably hold his own against the demons of Hell, but knows better than that. Instead, he’s aware that Doomguy is the only real hope for defeating the forces of Hell, and tries to guide him as best as he can, expressing restrained frustration when Doomguy refuses to listen to his instructions. In a way, he holds Doomguy’s leash, but knows to stay out of his way. His motivations are also deeply ambiguous, and that’s tantalizing.
KNEE-DEEP IN THE DEAD
While Doom does have deceptively interesting plot, it’s really not the primary focus of the game. No, the primary focus is of course on killing demon’s, as it should be.
Doom takes liberally from its predecessors. Many of the classic demons, from the Baron of Hell to the Pinkie Demons are represented here in all their gory glory. Likewise, all the weapons from Doom 1 and 2 make an appearance, from your lowly pistol to the legendary BFG-9000. The gameplay itself has a similar flow to the ray-casted classics, featuring a breakneck movement speed and a focus on dodging projectiles while keeping on the offensive. Some enemies take a lot of damage to fell, but rather than just being damage sponges, they tend to pop at just the right time to remain satisfying.
It’s not entirely like in the 90’s, though. There’s a heavy emphasis on “glory kills,” which are executed by doing enough damage to stagger an enemy, then moving in and finishing them with a more hands on approach. Some of these kills are pretty gruesome, and they’re typically pretty quick, but one of the minor complaints that I hold against the game is that it sometimes gets bogged down and repetitive when you’re moving between enemies, glory killing them every five steps. On the other hand, glory killing demons causes them to drop health, which allows you to avoid scouring the environment for pickups, so it’s a bit of a trade-off.
You can also jump, which is pretty entertaining, and there’s the obligatory grenade and melee buttons that I often forget are even there. Even with a few setbacks, it’s an excellent mix of old sensibilities and modern conveniences.
RIP AND TEAR
The level design is a similar mix. It’s largely linear, taking you from battle areas, though corridors, and into other battle areas, similar to the monster closets of Doom 3, but occasionally it mixes in some key hunting. There’s also decent attention to exploration, with a variety of hidden areas for you to plumb. There are Doomguy figures to pick up, upgrades to find, and if you look in the right spot, you might throw a switch that takes you into a chunk of a classic Doom level.
It isn’t the same sense of discovery that you’d find in the 90’s Doom games, but, again, it’s a reasonable trade-off that attempts to preserve what made the older games so replayable, while stitching in the more focused mentality of today’s shooters.
In terms of visual appeal, I’m pretty sick of Mars. Doom does a decent job in making the area seem like a cohesive place, and each segment does have its own visual differences and unique design, but these are aesthetics that we’ve seen before: metallic corridors, barren cliffsides, industrial areas that seem plucked from the film Aliens. Somebody desperately needs to throw down a rug. Even hell doesn’t seem as unique and hellish as it did in Doom 3.
That’s not necessarily a big deal. The game still looks good and the id Tech 6 engine that it’s built upon is a marvel. It runs extremely well, and looks really great. You probably won’t even notice the environments, when you’ve busy tearing through demons.
Even if you’ve got lukewarm or negative feelings towards Doom 3, or have never played a game in the Doom series, it’s worth it to give the 2016 release a try. It’s a joy to play, being simultaneously faithful to the games of olde, while bringing a new dash of personality with it.
I didn’t expect to love Doom as much as I do, I had believed that the facets that kept me enamoured with the ray-casted shooters of yesteryear had all since died off. But while this isn’t the same Doom that I remember from my youth it’s still a worthy successor. It’s a well-designed murder sprint that trades out circle-strafing for glory kills. It has interesting characters and a worthwhile plot that I have a great deal of admiration for, even if it isn’t the game’s primary focus. It’s essentially everything I want from a modern Doom title, and I love it.
This review was conducted on a digital version of the game purchased through Steam by the author.