How a game is received is often dependent on expectation. Well, id Software must have been bricking it, because our expectation of the new DOOM was higher than the clouds of Heaven and our love for this veteran title deeper than the bloody gore-filled depths of Hell. We wanted big guns and non-stop uninterrupted gameplay. We wanted to rip apart demons with our bare hands and leave a trail of demons guts in our unstoppable wake. We wanted it up against a wall, hard and fast, no messing about. So did we get all that? Was the long and tense wait worth it? Hell yes.
DOOM always was king of the First Person Shooters. It set a standard that ensured all future developers would have to work hard and achieve near-perfection just to get mentioned on the same page. Now it’s over twenty years later, DOOM has achieved legendary status and any re-make, reboot or re-release needed to be as solid as a teeth-cracking stick of Brighton rock. That’s a scary amount of pressure, but we should have known from the release of Wolfenstein a couple of years ago that there was absolutely nothing to worry about.
In any FPS, movement is key, and here it is fast and fluid. There’s nothing awkward or clunky, no getting stuck in corners and jumps feel accurate, smooth and nicely floaty. There’s no stopping for breath in this game and no hiding places. Even a slow blink will land you in a heap of trouble. You have to keep moving or you’ll die. Lining up a slow careful shot just isn’t going to happen when you’re circling, firing as you leap through the air and backing up to put some distance between you and the twenty demons standing in your way. Don’t expect them to actually stand still either. They will charge at you, spit things at you and try to herd you into a corner and further towards death. You can’t turn your back on them and there’s no let up until the last demon has spawned and you’ve dispatched it with frantic gunfire or a jolly good punch on the nose.
When there are plenty of high powered weapons on offer, I can’t say I usually bother with melee combat, but DOOM actively encourages regular beatings. If you can stagger an enemy by lowering their health they will flash orange and blue. Quickly get up close and press R3 to grasp him and perform a glory kill. Not only will you see a wonderful display of skull-crushing, neck-breaking, limb-ripping slaughter, but you’ll also gain some health back and, if you’re lucky, a little ammunition. Glory kills are quick and satisfying and absolutely vital to your tactics and survival.
In addition to getting blood and guts under your nails, or rather in the cracks of your Praetor armour, you have a fine selection of guns to choose from. Not only is the selection nicely varied, with everything from shotguns to rifles to a rocket launcher and more futuristic offerings, but most weapons can be upgraded with various gut-splatting modifications. These mods are hard-earned. Upgrades are locked can only be upgraded via field drones that have to be tracked down. Once unlocked the mod can be upgraded further with weapon points that will be earned as you go about your bloody business. Likewise, your Praetor suit can also be upgraded via a separate system that will have you searching nooks and suspicious ledges. These upgrades are a driving force. Who wouldn’t want a rocket launcher that will lock-on and fire three rockets with Perfect precision? You’re going to need all the help you can claw at if you’re going to survive the later chapters and bosses.
It’s common to favour one gun type over another in most games, but DOOM forces you to use everything you’ve got. While ammo only occasionally runs completely dry, there is enough of a shortage to make switching weapons commonplace in most fights. It’s highly probable that you will frequently have to use everything in your arsenal, and that’s when tactics come in. You never quite know what’s going to spawn so saving your best weapons for the big boys is a good idea. Saving your bullets and glory killing smaller minions for the health boost is also a good idea. Chainsawing Hell Knights is an even better idea if you want to save your rocket launcher for that Baron of Hell. The way in which you utilise your arsenal and tackle the different demons is the difference between life and death, and saving your BFG ammunition for the bosses is the most life-saving idea of them all. The BFG is the gun of all guns, the champion, the purple Quality Street and the juiciest melon on the fruit stall. Use wisely and enjoy.
Once an area has been cleared of demon fodder and any last minute surprise Barons, you will generally trigger a checkpoint. This means that the area is relatively safe and a new area is now open nearby. Checkpoints signal progress. In some ways this formulises gameplay into a rather repetitive rinse and repeat experience and telegraphs the safer moments in the game. Fight, clear, trigger, fight, clear trigger. After a while you know when you can stop to slurp your stone cold tea. At the same time, however, those checkpoints are like angel kisses. They are blessed relief and when you see that little red icon blinking you can let out the breath you’ve been holding and return to your nice pink colour rather than the rather mottled shade of blue you’ve been sporting for the last twenty minutes. DOOM is a mentally and physically exhausting game. It does need these stopping points. The intense action coupled with smooth movement and spot on gun mechanics mean that a non-stop half hour fight for your life will actually pass quite quickly, but after several hours it can leave you feeling utterly drained.
All this death and gore takes place either on Mars on in Hell. These environments are crisp with detail and layouts are designed with pure gameplay in mind. There are no awkward corners, near-impossible to reach platforms or ridiculously complicated mazes to spin your head. Every beautiful layout is impeccably presented in a style that is suited to arena battles. As DOOM requires you to keep moving at all times and stopping can result in a cataclysmic death, a fluid and flawless layout is a must, and the developers have absolutely delivered. Scattered around these layouts you’ll find ammo, secrets, collectables and power-ups. Not that you need any more motivation but there’s plenty to keep you scampering around.
Progression will also require you to locate terminals and doorways. If you’re on the Mars facility you’ll need yellow and blue keycards to open the way forward, and if you’re in Hell you’ll have to hunt down yellow and blue skulls. There’s a handy marker at the top of the screen that will give you a general direction and distance to your next objective, but there’s still lots of scope for exploring and puzzling out how to move forward.
One of the things we didn’t want to see was too much story dragging down the gameplay. Again, the developers have got it just right. There is a story, it is engaging, but it at no point does it interfere with the frantic pacing the gameplay sets. Aside from only a few diversions, the story is mainly told through voices over the comms system and via holograms that you can watch while you’re picking up a stash of ammo and getting your bearings. There’s just enough to propel the game forward although some may complain it’s lacking. But DOOM has never been that sort of franchise. DOOM has never been about story (as the motion picture some years back proved). This is a game about shooting things until they die, and there’s just the right amount of story to support that with fitting context.
If you’d rather not have any story at all and want to spend your time blasting other players in the face, the multiplayer component is just the ticket. There are a variety of modes to choose from including Team Deathmatch, Domination, Freeze Tag, Clan Arena and Warpath, which is a kind of mobile Domination. Clearly, DOOM’s multiplayer was never going to be a slow affair. The same smooth and easy movement ensures the multiplayer runs at a cracking pace. You need quick reflexes to survive for any length of time. As is unfortunately the case with matches that involve running around in circles shooting enemy players, things do often dissolve into total chaos. Team work can be hard to come by when playing with randoms. The only modes that really encourage co-operative play are Freeze Tag and Clan Arena. In Freeze Tag if you get shot you get frozen in place where you will remain until a teammate thaws you out. If your whole team gets frozen, you lose. Sticking together and actively hunting out teammates to help them is in your own self-interest if you want to score a win. These matches and the Clan Arena where once you’re dead you’re dead both inspire gameplay that is more disposed to teamwork.
Matchmaking is fairly quick but very mixed. You’ll frequently end up playing both with and against higher level players. It’s a reasonable assumption that someone on level 49 is going to be far more adept and familiar with the maps than a level 3 newb. I would have liked to see options for different levels of experience, but really it’s just a matter of pushing through and levelling up. As you climb the ranks you’ll unlock various upgrades, both functional and aesthetic, and then one day you’ll be that level 49 sod who knows all the best ambush spots. The multiplayer, overall, is absolutely worth playing. Yes, you’ll get your head blown off a lot, but that’s all part of the fun.
Adding even more to the DOOM experience is the Snapmap mode. Here you can create your own single player and multiplayer maps. There are tutorials to give you a start but even if you want to dive straight in, it’s easy to getting snapping. Build corridors, elevator shafts, staircases, arenas and anything else that can be found in the game. Then fill it with whatever hellish creatures you choose, add ammo caches, pick-ups, terminals, keycards, fires, exploding barrels and, again, just about anything you normally find in the game. When you’re done you can publish and the whole world can play your map. Similarly, you can play any map published by others players. It’s an almost unending supply of new maps to play and die on and there’s plenty to keep you busy for the foreseeable future. Snapmap is easy to pick up, but creating a full level and filling it with just the right demons, items and pickups will take some practice. It’s an awesome time-sink that will have you tinkering into the early hours.
DOOM is an unstoppable, frantic, exhausting and brilliant force of nature. With flawless gun mechanics, environments that are conducive to fast and fluid movement, and a wide and variable collection of vicious blood-thirsty demons, DOOM has ensured that it remains the classic it has always been. If you’re looking for pure unadulterated gameplay, you’ve picked the right Hell dimension. Pure class.
S J Hollis Rating – 9/10