“Hell is empty, and all of the devils are here.” – William Shakespeare
Doom is a pure shooter. It’s an amazing throwback to a time that has long since passed, but with a fresh coat of paint for its nostalgic approach. It brings an unrelentingly violent singleplayer campaign I didn’t expect. It integrates a map engine called Snap Map that evokes feelings of “sneaker-netting” your levels to your friends on floppy discs, but it updates the process into something seamless. It has arena-style multiplayer that almost nobody is making today, but in that way it delivers something unique. Doom is trying to be all things to all people, and while I don’t think it succeeds entirely at that goal, it manages to somehow be better than the sum of its parts.
There is a massive singleplayer campaign, with intricate and sprawling levels, filled with secrets and surprises alike, but at the end of the day the objectives might as well say “Kill everything that moves.” In that way, it hearkens back to a day when you didn’t particularly care about why your mute Marine was lobbing rockets and lead at Cacodemons and Barons of Hell. Bad creatures were doing bad things, and a spectacle of bullets was the cure.
Doom’s dozen-or-so hours of campaign knows what it is, and it embraces it wholeheartedly. It doesn’t apologize for being linear and straightforward. It doesn’t shy away from spawning monsters behind you, or the occasional cheap scare. It doesn’t provide a rich backstory on why you are getting a particular weapon. The chainsaw is sitting there, now pick it the hell up and grind up some demons already! While the approach isn’t a big surprise, how wildly successful Bethesda and id Software have been in executing that vision is.
The storyline of Doom revolves around a group of scientists that, for some fool reason, decided that opening a gateway to Hell on Mars to harness the power of the damned might be a good way to solve the energy crisis on Earth. Obviously, things go a little sideways and the demons have some fun painting the walls with their guts. You play a “Doom Marine” (you weren’t expecting a name, were you?) released from some sort of prison/cold storage where you were kept in case of contingencies such as this. Good jobs are hard to come by on Mars, apparently.
As you murder your way through scores of demons, an actual story begins to emerge involving a bizarre cult that wants to simply let the demons run rampant. Naturally, you are stuck in the middle, with only a handful of weapons and a trusty chainsaw to set things right. However, from the moment your character breaks free of his stasis, one thing is clear — these poor demon bastards don’t stand a chance.
Doom is what I describe as a “lean-in” shooter. Much like a high-speed racing game where leaning in a bit towards your TV provides the split-second difference between success and failure, Doom’s action is fast enough where you’ll need to pay a great deal of attention. High DPI mice with incredible refresh rates were purpose-built for games like this. The days of jumping through the air, only to spin around and nail an approaching Cyberdemon in the face with a rocket have returned. Frequently your character is beset from all sides, and only fast reactions and faster fingers will keep you un-gibbed. Those who frequently hide behind cover will be severely punished.
Unlike previous id Shooters, Doom now provides a bit of progression for your arsenal beyond transitioning to the next gun that has ammo left. Each weapon has a total of eight upgrades, split across two main mod types per gun, granting more utility to the weapon. The four upgrade for each requires you complete a challenge instead of just spending points. A shotgun that can launch a grenade, or a reduced charge time on your pistol, or homing rockets are some examples of the mods you can acquire, and these can change the way you approach a firefight, and the choice breaks monotony. Similarly, your Space Marine can upgrade his health, armor, and ammo, as well as five enhancements by finding a story-connected power source called Argent energy and Praetor tokens. These powers grant longer power use (quad damage, berserk, etc.), lessen environmental damage, or decrease the cooldown for equipment, as examples.
Hidden away in the depths of the intricate and complex levels of Doom are Runes. Runes warp you to an old-school challenge level that asks you to perform a task under a time crunch, rewarding the success with powers like increasing how long demons stay staggered, or increasing the ammunition dropped by downed foes, as examples.
Also tucked away are little collectible action figures of the classic “Doom guy.” Finding these characters unlocks 3D models of the various demons and weapons in the game as an added bonus peek behind the scenes, as well as more lore on the object or creature. Your character also likes playing with them, so there’s that.
When you think classic Doom, you likely think of spinning weapons, health boxes, and ammo crates. In this version, pickups aren’t your only source of health or ammunition. When you’ve done enough damage to an enemy, they’ll begin to glow. This sets them up for what id is calling “Glory kills” — an instant (and brutal) melee kill that forces the enemy to drop a bit of health. This comes in incredibly handy on higher difficulty levels, so you may find yourself charging headlong into the fray to reclaim a little life. On the other hand, chainsaw kills (you have enough gas for three swings, until upgraded) are instant for almost all foes, raining a cascade of ammunition at your feet. It pushes the player to stay engaged at closer range, instead of trying to camp and use cover.
The default difficulty level for Doom is tuned to let the player enjoy the story, but for those who enjoy pain, there are Hard, Nightmare, and Ultra Nightmare difficulty levels to punish you appropriately. The twist is that Ultra Nightmare has permadeath. Nightmare difficulty is just as difficult as Ultra Nightmare, acting as a training ground for the real thing, but when you die in Ultra, the only thing you’ll leave behind is a red colored smear and your helmet to mark your failure. For frame of reference, nobody at id Software has managed to beat Ultra Nightmare, so consider the gauntlet thrown.
With any game from id Software, you know you are going to get an absolutely gorgeous game, and Doom is no exception. My Origin PC EON15-X laptop is able to run Doom at Ultra settings with all options enabled and maintain a framerate above 90fps at 1080p. It should give you a good reference point for your rig, but suffice it to say that this new id Tech 6 engine is highly optimized for DirectX 11.
For a franchise so heavily invested in its multiplayer roots, it is surprising that multiplayer is the weakest of Doom’s three aspects. Multiplayer is an arena-shooter setup, offering up the usual suspects of Team Deathmatch, Clan Arena (capture the flag), Warpath (hold the moving control point), Freeze Tag, Soul Harvest (ticket drive to cap), and Domination (capture and hold). There are equipable consumable boosts, you’ll level up and customize your character with the 57 armor sets, color schemes, 150 taunts, and you unlock medals and commendations. It’s as if Halo went skipping down the street holding hands with Battlefield and Call of Duty and decided to make some sort of violent demon baby.
There is a redeeming twist in that (after unlocking them, naturally) you can find a powerup during multiplayer that transforms you into a demon. The Baron, Revenant, Mancubus, and Prowler can be unleashed on your foes, with the downside being that you are immediately shown on the enemy hud. It’s fun to eviscerate your enemies using demon powers, but beyond a few multiplayer-only weapons, everything else is fairly standard fare.
If all of this feels a little disconnected from the praise for the single player, that’s because the multiplayer was primarily handled by multiplayer outsourcing house Certain Affinity. It lacks some of the punch you might expect from an id multiplayer experience, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s just alright.
Second only to the singleplayer experience is Snap Map. While it’s not quite as powerful as the wad creators of olde, the appropriately named Snap Map is an incredibly easy to use LEGO-style map construction engine. I’m not the guy who creates new maps to play, but without even looking at the solid tutorials beforehand, I was able to construct a rudimentary arena, complete with monsters, classic spinning weapons, and enough atmosphere to make it look like I knew what I was doing. You can pop the maps together from a top down view, or you can move into a first person view and adjust everything as your audience might see it.
Best of all, Snap Map takes things a step further by allowing you to create singleplayer as well as multiplayer content. Based on the last week, there’s the usual low-effort things, but already some incredible work has risen to the top. It wasn’t something I expected, but Escalation Studios has created something that should enable the next John Romero to cobble together their Daikatana sequel.