Demonizing nostalgia for a better tomorrow
It is rare for a modern First Person Shooter to focus so comprehensively on the uncomplicated shooting that was popular decades ago. Newer games usually have another element, be it stealth, vehicles, open-world conquest, prolific set-pieces or a heavy narrative with a broad cast of characters. This is not the case with the new Doom. Aside from some naturally integrated modern features, the campaign in the 2016 version of Doom revolves around pure, visceral shooting. It draws obvious comparisons to the original from 1993 and a handful of others that have dared to keep things simple.
Has science gone too far again? Yes, yes it has
The story in the new Doom is slim although its similarities to Doom 3 are obvious; UAC facility on Mars comes under attack from demonic creatures after scientists try to capture the energy from another dimension. Hell portals open across the base and most personnel are slaughtered or turned into hostile demon husks. As the Doom Marine, you arise from a sarcophagus amidst the turmoil and immediately get to work killing denizens from a nightmarish realm. Unlike Doom 3, there are no emails to read containing a back-story, and there are only a handful of monotonous voice recordings that unfortunately require the player to remain in close proximity. The collectible Data Logs merely provide bland detail on locations or monsters. With a tiny cast of characters, the story does just enough to provide context and justification for Doomguy’s kill-them-all mantra. In short, Hell portals must be closed and Demons must be eliminated. It is an old-school shooter, after all.
Missions are better connected than the original Doom, although the level structure is similar. The multi-tiered levels are fairly large with side routes and hidden areas. To help navigate, a fantastic 3D map highlights useful items and visited areas. Certain doors require colored keys, just like the old games. Thankfully, the door locations are much easier to remember, and the game redirects players well enough anyway. Most levels can be freely explored to find secret areas or extra supplies but they do not repopulate with enemies, so retracing steps to locate secrets can get dull. After completing each mission there is a summary of secrets found and challenges completed. The biggest disappointment in level design was most prevalent in the later Hell levels—previous areas became sealed to prevent backtracking. These preceding areas often revealed their secrets after lockdown, effectively forcing players to replay levels to fully expose the collectibles.
While the sprawling levels are marvellous, the action follows a formulaic but satisfying design. At regular intervals, between killing sporadic enemies down sci-fi corridors or across hellish landscapes, there will be an isolated, high-tempo action sequence that consists of continually spawning demons in a constrained area. These arenas are similar to Painkiller, although without as many foes and within smaller areas. Some of these high-intensity sequences can be started manually—such as by destroying Gore Nest portals—which allows players to explore the immediate area, identify where all the supplies are located, and use them effectively during action. Arena battles that start automatically do not always flow as well, partially because awesome power-ups might remain unseen until after all demons are dispatched; quad damage is not much use when there are no enemies left to kill. These intense action sequences rely on brevity and unpredictable spawning. Still, the campaign uses the same arena recipe for the entire 12 hours and this repetition wears thin. Aside from a few unnecessary jumping sections and weak boss fights, there are no surprises.
Destroying Gore Nests will start an arena battle
What helps the combat is a strong arsenal. No shooter would ever reach perfection without satisfying weapons, and this is especially important given how well the shooting in the original holds up to this day. Fortunately many old favorites return, including the delightfully chrome Chaingun and the sturdy Rocket Launcher. The updated weapons also have upgrades. These are typically alternative fire modes, so the reliable plasma gun can stun enemies within an area, most useful to remove the annoying shields from possessed soldiers. Even the Gauss cannon can enter a siege mode to launch a powerful beam at the cost of being immobile for a short time. Upgrades are gradually acquired but it was hard to justify some of them—the tactical scope on the Assault Rifle seemed unnecessary when there are maybe two long range encounters in the entire game. Irrespective of the chosen upgrades, there is a great variety of dependable weapons that put holes in anything that moves.
Demonic enemies fall brutally under the sheer force of the powerful weapons. Many of the original foes from the first game have been faithfully recreated. What makes these creatures so satisfying to fight are their excellent animations and corresponding gore systems. There are no animation seams when a jetpack-assisted Revenant reels back and flies off following a direct blast from the booming super shotgun. The Imp is not as imposing on screen as its Doom 3 cousin, but it smoothly, and casually, throws fireballs backwards when scampering away. Although most of the demons are well designed, they often blend into the background. Also, some of their sounds are underwhelming given their relative danger; the possessed humans sound more deadly than the tougher Barons of Hell which are practically mute. The gore produced when fighting creatures is quite satisfying, with body parts being lost from accurate shots. Unfortunately the carcasses and blood languish for mere seconds, robbing players of the chance to see the grotesque aftermath of a heavy battle.
Staggered enemies will glow, ready for a Glory kill
Glory kills are a natural evolution of the gore and something that is probably inspired by Brutal Doom and other shooters with intimate melee attacks. Once each demon takes enough damage, it will stagger briefly and can be killed by hand. This is nearly essential because targets will drop health and ammo. It is designed to push the player into action by providing them with supplements and quick kills. The chainsaw operates like a glory kill, except all regular demons can be killed on full health with enough gasoline.
So the campaign is a series of good action sequences complemented by some fantastic music themes. But id software plays it too safe, by taking a working recipe and repeating it from start to finish. Consequently, the prospect of replaying the game is somewhat unappealing. Finding more secrets and completing weapon challenges may encourage replay, but the campaign is probably best put on ice once conquered.
Unlike the campaign, multiplayer is based on a much newer gameplay model. It could be likened to a hybrid of Quake 3 Arena and recent Call of Duty games. Like other modern shooters, players can only equip two weapons and one grenade type, but there are many visual customisations including armor sets, weapon logos and humorous dance taunts. Hack Modules can be applied when respawning and they provide supportive perks such as tracking enemies through walls or granting a small armor bonus. The nine maps function well as deathmatch arenas. They all have awesome weapon pickups (including the BFG and Chainsaw) and other temporary power-ups to reward map knowledge. Demon runes—the most iconic temporary buff—transform players into a hellish creature. Grabbing puny humans as a Baron of Hell proves quite satisfying. Fortunately, a time limit prevents the demons from dominating too much and they can be tentatively avoided or killed with a focused effort.
Never get this close to a Baron of Hell in mulitplayer
The flow of multiplayer engagements is not fast, but it suits the map sizes and weapon speeds. Natural ledge grabs and double jumps have their uses in all maps, with many suicides from falls into lava or dark pits trying to get health boosts. Team Deathmatch seems to be the most popular mode and the 6v6 battles are certainly hectic and entertaining. Soul Harvest is a solid version of Kill Confirmed and it always has an active Demon player to escalate the action. Applying the Doom theme to a mixture of old and new was a smart decision—it covers all bases. And while the multiplayer is well made, it might be overshadowed by the campaign.
Should the multiplayer or single player resonate on a deeper level, then SnapMap will allow you to unleash some creative potential with a simple map and logic editor. Straight away it is obvious how quick and easy it is to build something. Grab some hallways, snap them to large rooms and then add props, enemies, lighting, FX or sounds with just a few button presses. Maps can be made for solo play or up to four players in co-operative or competitive situations. Outdoor levels are not possible; even room sections have no exterior windows and this is unexpectedly claustrophobic. One early limitation is a maximum of 12 active enemies, so placed demons may not spawn if others are still alive. Thus, enemy spawners are practically required although working out the logic can be a little messy given the lack of appropriate tutorials.
You can place many enemies in a SnapMap, but only 12 can be active
There are already many SnapMap creations, and some of them are good. The official ones are mixed quality, with the remake of E1M2 looking so dissimilar from the original that it is hard to tell if it was a serious effort. Many of the popular maps are small creations that give you excessive power against respawning enemies just to earn more SnapMap points—used mainly for weapon customisation. One popular user map is two rooms stitched together so the player can earn an achievement. You will see the same large module pieces across many different creations, and this has the adverse effect of blending all the different levels together. If only creators could change floor and wall textures, instead of merely applying exaggerated color grading and decals. SnapMap could be alright with more module pieces, but right now it encourages low-effort creations and is not living up to its potential.
Doom is a great looking shooter with a few nagging technical issues. Compared to RAGE, it is pleasing to see more attention given to lighting, shadows and atmosphere in general. Some of the small objects are still stuck to the world, and the environment interaction is still minimal. Textures rarely had streaming problems and the level detail is high with nice screen-space reflections. One regular issue occurred when loading a new campaign mission or checkpoint—the game stopped loading and needed to be manually closed. Luckily it saves before it seizes up. SnapMap and Multiplayer also had the tendency to just crash out with no error, although this was fairly infrequent. There were no troubles with performance, with everything running smoothly on high settings; although the visual difference between medium and ultra is negligible given the performance impact.
Revenant rockets readily ravage, rousing rage
Doom is a good shooter comprised of three separate parts. The campaign is an enjoyable trip down memory lane as it replicates the basic formula that was prevalent two decades ago. With good level design, potent weaponry and smoothly-animated demons, its individual action pieces are stellar. Unfortunately the arena encounter formula persists right until the end, becoming too repetitive. Multiplayer is a competent mix of old and new that brings the hell-themed action close to that of other modern shooters. Finally, SnapMap gives players a fairly powerful set of tools to make simple creations in minutes. Doom’s relentless emulation of its predecessors creates the fire that complements its modern-day brimstone.