Reviving a classic franchise, especially one two decades old like Doom, is challenging in today’s market. A game designer ideally sets a goal to channel the classic game’s vibe while also making it feel relevant in a modern world without feeling archaic. Having this design philosophy oftentimes leads in disaster, since the design of the game either leans too heavily into the modern spectrum or the retro spectrum. Thanks to the rise of indie titles making what was once old new again, AAA developers have begun to improve how they tackle reimaginings of old properties. We’ve seen quite a few failures in recent years like 2011’s Duke Nukem Forever or EA’s embarrassing mobile Dungeon Keeper revival, but Bethesda and Machine Games’ reboot of Wolfenstein in 2014 showed gamers that developers could make a classic series feel both old and new with great results. Thankfully, we can now add Doom 2016 to the list of old school revivals that absolutely nailed it.
Doom’s story is rather simple. The Doom marine, referred to as the “Doom Slayer,” has been awoken in a UAC corporate facility where experiments have been made that unleashed literal Hell on the whole complex. The Doom Slayer is the only man fit for the job and must stop the remaining staff from wanting to harness Hell’s energy for whatever purposes while clearing out the demon hordes from roaming the facility. Players will spend their time traversing through various sectors of the facility and even find themselves in actual Hell dealing with the demon plague. Even though the story is pretty basic for the most part, the game has a hilarious sense of attitude that oozes out of the Doom marine. While specific characters are communicating to him on what he should and shouldn’t be doing, the Doom Slayer cares only for his personal cause which is to kill demons and stop them from coming back. The Doom marine’s “couldn’t care less” attitude adds a lot of fun to the simple storyline.
Running on iD Software’s much improved iDtech6, Doom is a stunning looking title that scales extremely well to a variety of hardware. The game runs at an almost constant 60 frames per second on both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One while being extremely scalable on PC to achieve the same results on a plethora of different hardware setups. The texture streaming pop-in issues found in iDtech5 are thankfully absent, or at least unnoticable during gameplay. Texture quality, lighting, shadows and enemy detail are very high, making Doom one of the best looking games on console that runs at 1080p and 60 frames per second.
The controls are silky smooth and well-mapped on default settings for all three platforms which makes gunning down large amounts of demons at blazing fast speeds a cinch. I was honestly shocked how tight and responsive the analog sticks were on both console versions. Zipping around the environments while jumping, climbing and blasting baddies feels exhilarating at high speeds once you chain all of these abilities together seamlessly; thankfully, all of this is highly possible even on a Dualshock 4 or an Xbox One gamepad where in the past only a keyboard and mouse would accomplish this with ease in a first person shooter.
Doom very much plays like the original two titles in the series in that the game asks players to run through intricate maps, blast everything that comes at them, grab helpful power-ups and ammo, collect colored keycards to unlock doors and reach the end of the stage. Bosses are thrown in towards the last quarter of the game that are surprisingly challenging and complex in their designs. Each boss consists of different attack patterns that force the player to jump, duck, climb and dodge in order to take them down. Not one boss is a simple bullet sponge enemy that the player simply points their crosshair on and shoots until dead; each one has layers to them that keeps the player on their toes.
iD Software implemented some interesting features to Doom that not only modernizes the title but also allows it to stand out among other shooters in such a crowded genre. First off, a melee finisher system coined “Glory Kills” by the developer allow for some gruesome kills that are contextual and pull off a different move depending on which part of the body the player is aiming at. Once the enemy takes enough damage they will begin to flash blue when out of finishing distance and orange once the player is in distance to pull off a glory kill. By simply clicking in the right stick on the gamepad, the player will grab the enemy and kill them instantly with a brutal finishing move. If the player aims at the head when the glory kill is initiated, the demon’s head may become smashed by the Doom marine’s brute strength. Alternatively, if the player aims at the demon’s legs during a glory kill, the Doom marine may pull off their legs and beat them with their own limbs. Mowing down enemies and chaining glory kills together into some sort of gory orchestra is extremely satisfying to accomplish.
Not only are the glory kills a blast to pull off, but they aid the player greatly in surviving the onslaught of demons. Each glory kill rewards the player with extra health and ammo pickups, so the glory kill system in turn becomes a necessity in order to stay alive. Thankfully, the melee system is so fun that I was happy that accomplishing such an entertaining feat would constantly reward me. Mixed with stellar weapon physics, punchy audio from the guns, clever controller feedback and an amazing glory kill system, Doom sports the most enjoyable first person combat I have had the pleasure of playing in several years.
Glory kills aren’t the only melee tool to your disposal that aids in the demon slaughter. The iconic chainsaw makes a return in Doom that happens to be utilized in an interesting fashion. Once obtained, the chainsaw has a fuel meter broken into three quadrants. Using the chainsaw will instantly kill any demon that it makes contact with, but the bigger the demon the more gas is needed in order to actually kill it. Choosing when and who to use the chainsaw on and whether or not the player should save a full tank for a tougher foe is part of the strategy in clearing out rooms of demons. The BFG makes its triumphant return as a devastating weapon that clears enemies from the screen with ease, but ammo isn’t very common and cannot be replenished from killing enemies.
A surprising amount of customization has been added to Doom in the form of runes, weapon upgrades and a level-up system. Runes are objects you obtain by playing small challenge maps that are hidden throughout the game. Completing these rune challenges rewards the player with perks they can equip to give them an edge in battle. The rune challenges are pretty easy at first but ramp up in difficulty considerably the further you progress through the game. Little weapon bots are also scattered throughout the stages that allow the player to unlock alternate fire modes for each weapon by spending in-game currency given by successfully clearing out rooms full of demons. These alternative firing options allow the player to customize the weapons into a preferred playstyle like allowing the machine gun to zoom in or adding grenades to the shotgun. Health, armor and ammo drop rates can also be upgraded by finding hidden Praetor tokens attached to dead bodies and spending them to enhance the Doom marine’s equipment.
Each level in Doom includes a large complex map similar to the classic entries in the series, which is refreshing in a genre that mostly consists of corridors and set pieces. An interactive map can be pulled up at any moment to help aid the player in collecting the many secrets and collectibles stuff in each of the 13 missions. Speaking of collectibles, picking up a little hidden Doom marine action figure for the first time while listening to the classic Doom tune emit out of it put a huge smile on my face. Each mission will take about an hour to complete and uncovering all of its secrets will add even more time to each one.
Here’s the part where Doom may turn some players off. The levels are sprawling with a lot of verticality to them. Exploration is thrown in from time to time but for the most part Doom contains little to no puzzle solving aside from figuring out where to go and trying not to get lost in the level design. Demons may stagger about within the levels that are placed in to roam the environments, but most enemy encounters come in the form of massive spawning waves set in an arena-like designed room that makes the game feel like a solo version of Horde Mode from a multiplayer shooter. Hitting arena after arena of spawning enemies may sound undesirable, but the gameplay is so much fun that I welcomed each and every encounter with open arms. Mixed with the intricate level design and well-placed power-ups that boost damage, speed and health, each “monster arena” is a complete joy to run through.
As much as I enjoyed the single player campaign, the multiplayer suite doesn’t bode quite as well. While I find the actual competitive gameplay enjoyable, the use of loadouts similar to a Call of Duty game hurts the experience. No longer do players seek out powerful weapon spawns throughout the maps and battle to obtain the most devastating weapon available to them in order to turn the tide of the match. Now the weapons assigned to players are given via loadouts and a leveling system that rewards the players who put the most time into the game. Players who are ranked higher will have a larger advantage, which will turned off a player such as myself who only dabbles in multiplayer shooters and likes everything to be on a level playing field. Sadly, the multiplayer was mostly ignored by me due to these reasons.
Classic Doom games were well known for their custom WADs and map designs using tools provided by the developer. These tools were not easy to use though and required some decent computing skills in order to design something nice. iD Software decided to revive the map making community by creating a Snap-Map tool that makes designing custom maps and gametypes a breeze. Since I’m not much of a content creator myself, I didn’t spend too much time with the Snap-Map feature but I do believe it is an easy to use tool that more creative players will enjoy.
Doom 2016 is quite an accomplishment from developer iD Software. The game uses an amazing new engine that looks and performs great on all modern hardware. The mix of old and new are perfect, which crafts an amazingly enjoyable and nostalgic romp through Mars and Hell. The attitude this game sports is infectious and fun and the gameplay is some of the best I have experienced this year. I’ll be shocked if Doom fails to find a spot on my game of the year list come December and I highly recommend shooter fans add it to their collection.