Disclaimer: I purchased my own copy of DOOM (2016) because I loved the shit out of DOOM (1993) and thought I would hate it so much I might enjoy my anger.
One of the oldest and most beloved franchises in gaming history has received a reboot. Or maybe it’s a sequel? Regardless of what it is, I thought it was going to suck. All of the video footage released to promote the game, except for one video in particular, had me cringing my skin off. There are still things I don’t like about it having just finished it, but you know what? After the first 30 minutes, I was smiling. I don’t mean these first 30 minutes, I mean 30 minutes of running, shooting, dodging, ripping and tearing. It has legitimately filled me with hope that First Person Shooter (FPS) campaigns can be fun again.
Other people on other websites tell the history of the FPS better than I could, but it’s safe to say that without id Software and DOOM (1993) in particular, the face of gaming wouldn’t look like it does today. Hell (no pun intended), the first chapter of DOOM (1993) had a bigger install base than Windows 95 at one point, partly in thanks to the first chapter being free. It even has a community of map and mod makers that are still active to this day even with the shiny, new reboot (sequel?) being released. You can’t buy that sort of dedication. You can buy DOOM (2016) however and have yourself a great time shooting shit to pieces.
The DOOM series sticks to a very simple premise. Give man gun. Give man things to point gun at. Give man bigger guns. Give man bigger things to point bigger guns at. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact I prefer it over the “campaigns” out of many shooters over the last 10 years. When you’ve got a simple set up like that you need to make the game itself actually interesting and engaging to play because it’s really hard to hide it under something like a story. On top of that simple set up, the classic DOOM games gave you a labyrinth to navigate in a lot of cases, a rare exception being boss levels or themed levels like Dead Simple in DOOM 2. These early levels weren’t particularly vertically inclined however. The main reason for this is probably due to the fact that in the original DOOM, you couldn’t aim up. Or Down. A limitation of the times perhaps, but there aren’t many cases where you would be presented with a ledge or level that was more than 5 metres above you and your shots would be auto aimed upwards or downwards as the case may be. The level design in the DOOM (2016), which makes great use of verticality, is probably one of its best features. It reflects the labyrinthian levels of DOOM (1993) and even improves upon them in some cases. The tower level was a clear favourite of mine, the fight at the bottom was intense and makes you wonder how ridiculous things are going to get as you near the top.
There are only 13 levels in this game but they are actually all considerably larger than a lot of the levels in the first 2 games, comparatively speaking. They could have realistically cut the level sizes down to make more levels in some cases but why bother? I needed to use the map function a fair bit in between fights to make sure I was heading in the right direction because it’s pretty easy to get lost in some of the twists and turns. It’s also worth pouring over every nook and cranny in those areas while you’re lost because that’s where they keep the good shit. Much like in DOOM (1993) you can find the better weapons a level early if you search around a bit. If you don’t, it’s still a case of simply going through the levels as they are to stumble upon the next best thing so don’t be worried about missing out. I’m not a completionist by any measure but going out and finding those goodies was totally worth it because they aren’t just idle collectables, save for maybe the bobble heads but even when you find all of them you usually get a weapon upgrade point.
While we’re on the topic, upgrades are something new to the series and I was cagey at first. I think the system is still pretty poorly implemented even after getting through all of the upgrades I thought were worth the time but the thought was pretty cool and there are some good combinations that can really enhance the fun you can get out of some scenarios. For example, the rune challenges, of which there are 12, are all squirreled away about the levels after the first and offer a neat little challenge you must clear before getting your reward. They start out easy enough but certainly progress in difficulty and have some really interesting rules that you have to stick to to complete them. The one that springs to mind is the one where you’re unable to move unless you’ve killed something in the last 3 seconds and of course your objective is to get to the other end as quickly as possible. There is no better way to accentuate the necessity behind freedom of movement than when it is taken. As the timer counts down before you stop you start to slow at a considerable rate at the end of which you are left unable to move at all. You can still aim though and providing you’ve positioned yourself right you’ve probably got some cannon fodder to blow away less than a metre from your face which will let you run free once more. I appreciate a good challenge and would have said clearing these is a reward in itself but you still get the rune afterwards too. They are probably the most interesting upgrades on offer and really impacted the way I played the game so I recommend finding all of them to try out the combinations that suit your preferred play style.
The other upgrades available are weapon, armour and Argent. The Argent upgrades replace the armour and health mechanics of the originals where you could pick up the smaller units to increase your health and armour above 100 as well as replacing the ammo backpack that would allow you to carry more rounds. I’m not sure what made them remove that mechanic but the game isn’t any worse for this having this new system. It’s also worth mentioning that if you are low on health, armour or ammo when you find an Argent upgrade, you can upgrade the resource that’s low and get it filled up to the new maximum. Doomguy’s suit also has a suite of upgrades but they are probably the most useless. It’s possible to ignore most of these other than the dexterity and power up upgrades in my opinion. I thought the branch that helps you find secrets would be useful but they’re not hidden well enough to warrant the points. Especially not when you have the choice of doubling your power up time or climbing up ledges faster which really helps in the middle of combat. Once you find the automap station, which maps out the level in its entirety, you can figure out where the good stuff is most of the time anyway.
Weapon points are accrued by finding the bobble heads mentioned earlier, finding the other secrets in the levels and being really fucking good at killing demons. There is a combat rating system which goes to 5 on each level for each point up the ranks you go you are awarded an upgrade point. You can’t actually spend those points unless you’ve found one of the cute little drones that hold the actual weapon upgrades themselves, however. These are scattered about the place but some of them just aren’t worth finding. I ignored any upgrades that offered a zoom function. I do not need iron sights, I need shootier guns.
Thankfully there are 2 upgrade paths for most weapons so if you don’t like the sound of one branch, just don’t waste points on it. The best example of this is the assault rifle upgrade options. Scope and higher damage or FUCKING RAPID FIRE MINI-ROCKETS. I’d say “you decide” but I fear that some of you may choose the wrong thing. Just get the mini-rockets. They’re awesome and when you’ve upgraded that branch you can fire them until your ammo runs out instead of in salvos of 6 as it is when they’re first unlocked. Did I mention there’s a rune that gives you unlimited ammo under the right circumstances?
To actually finish a branch of the weapon upgrades you need to complete a challenge which typically boils down to, you guessed it, killing demons. You’ll need to kill 5 in a short span of time or hit three with one explosion et cetera, et cetera, but the last step of each upgrade path is usually the best so it’s worth taking them into consideration even mid combat as they really open up the weapons capabilities in most cases. The pistol stays terrible so don’t upgrade that.
The above picture is of the BFG’s containment area. It’s not a spoiler, don’t be stupid. The BFG is very different in this game. You’ve only got 3 shots available if you have full ammo. This is in contrast to DOOM (1993) where you could have 600 rounds. The classic version used 40 rounds per shot so you still only had 15 shots if you had an ammo backpack. Sure, 5 times more sounds like a lot but the damage this new version outputs is actually considerably higher and will travel quite a distance sending out beams from the initial projectile that kill pretty much everything up to and including the Barons. It’s interesting to note that this version of the BFG is actually closer to that of early Quake games. While the original BFG had some weird mechanics where it staggered damage delivery it wasn’t guaranteed to kill everything but you had more ammo so it was possible to still clear a room a lot of the time.
The chainsaw is a massive let down for me, as well as the lack of a fist based melee option outside of the berserk powerup. There is still the melee attack that you can throw out with any weapon in your hands, but it carries no weight whatsoever and is really only useful as the glory kill initiator. The Chainsaw is also just that, a glory kill button that you can initiate at any point instead of just when the demons are at low health. The upside is that when you get a kill with the chainsaw you get a massive drop of ammo from the corpse. How killing something with a chainsaw causes the demon to transform into an ammo piñata is a complete mystery and I found it rarely useful. Even playing on the Ultra Violence difficulty from the start I never felt like I was in dire need of ammo so the chainsaw kill ammo bonus was a moot point. In the classic games there was a good case for using the chainsaw on the weaker demons to conserve ammo, this time around it just give you more in the place of using the right weapons for the right beasties. The chainsaw is useful for a one-hit KO on the bigger demons if you feel the need to dispatch them quickly however.
Related to the chainsaw is the glory kill system itself. I avoided performing them as much as I could. The canned animations do get old and at the start of the game they actually take too long for my taste. Thankfully there is a rune that decreases the time they take and you better believe I equipped it as soon as I could. That’s not to say they aren’t without their benefits and the game certainly feels like it’s balanced around them being available. I found it more fun and challenging to avoid using them because there is a health bonus dropped from every enemy that is killed with this method and the amount of health dropped increases greatly as your health lowers even in the Ultra Violence difficulty which makes it too easy to recover health. In most of the areas you find yourself there are enough health packs to keep you alive when you’ve done some decent dodging and of course kept moving to stay away from the melee focused demons. I did find myself using them a lot more towards the end of the game when I unlocked the rune that caused the enemies to drop armour along with health as there was another rune that allowed you to have unlimited ammo when above a certain armour threshold and this obviously incentivised using them more than just a little health boost. That’s one of the better examples of synergies found with the new systems that really changed how I played.
The visuals of the game are really good for the most part. As you might imagine there are a lot of hellish themes that leak into even the industrial areas at the start of the game but as strong as it is in a lot of parts there are still some flaws which could have been avoided. In the earlier parts of the Hell levels there seems to be this yellowy filter that’s applied to everything and the weakest enemy designs are probably the pinkies, mainly because they look like they’re made of wet playdough. These are the only two examples that spring to mind and not deal breakers by any stretch. It’s nice that the game is optimised well enough that even my 3 or 4 year old PC can still run it at around 50 to 60 frames per second. Even with all the particle effects and gory pieces of demon flying around I was rarely chugging at less than 40 but still dropped below 50 pretty regularly if there was enough on screen.
The story is totally ignorable but is definitely there if you want it. I actually enjoyed what was offered more than I thought I would. They draw some connections between this game and DOOM (1993) in the notes and voice clips you can find but again, you can just ignore them if you want. There is only a couple of instances where you need to stop and listen to someone prattle on about anything and often times Doomguy himself will just carry on while someone is trying to talk to him or instruct him. This allows you to get back into the meat of the game without being bogged down by exposition which really isn’t necessary. You’re the good guy, the demons are the bad guys. Go get ‘em.
The fun continues all the way through as things get more and more intense. Boss fights have been improved to be slightly more complicated than “shoot it until it dies.” They have phases and behaviours that change as their life starts to deplete but one thing I did do to keep a more pure experience was remove the health bar that shows up at the top of your screen during those battles. I actually turned off a lot of the other user interface options as well like the flash that comes up over an enemy when they’re stunned and ready to be glory killed and all of the mission info. It made the experience a little more pure, aesthetically pleasing and challenging in the case of the demon stun flash as you had to pay more attention to the enemies instead of being given a massive indicator that they were ripe for the tearing.
The demons themselves have been given an overhaul, not just in looks but how they behave. Their behaviour is a lot more varied than I anticipated and all but the lowest of zombies will have something up their sleeves to catch you off guard. The Imps will chase you absolutely everywhere. They can climb just about everything you can until you get the ability to double jump but even then you’ve got the bigger demons like the Hell Knights who, by virtue of their longer legs, will do their best to chase you down. The Mancubus is something of an odd ball in that while it moves extremely slowly on level ground it still shouldn’t be messed with from a height. One of them got the jump on me quite literally. I was pinging it with rockets from a high cliff and as it drew closer under the cliff’s edge I heard it stop and thought “Oh it probably gave up.” Nope. It jumped up 3 stories and slammed down in front of me and proceeded to annihilate my face, but you know what? It earned it. It’s at this point that I would put in a screenshot of the enemies in action but even with the Steam hotkey available I found it really hard to get a shot mid combat because they just don’t let up.
Overall I can safely say that the single player is worth the price of entry alone, especially if you feel like you’re burnt out on shooters. I can’t say much about the multiplayer as it’s not something I’m even interested in considering the restrictions placed on it and the fact that it was developed by a totally different team. I’m sure it was outsourced to allow id Software to focus on the campaign and if that is the case, well played. I’ve yet to play the most recent Castle Wolfenstein games but the quality in this title makes me think I’ve missed out and even convinces me to look forward to the new installment of Quake that was announced at E3.