DOOM (2016) Review

After gamers offered a decidedly tepid response to DOOM’s multiplayer beta, developer id Software truly needed to impress with the most important element of its seminal shooter’s resurrection — the campaign. Thankfully, DOOM hits the (nine inch) nail squarely on the head. While it may not be your granddaddy’s DOOM, id Software’s newest offering oozes with style, and integrates fast-paced shooting with just enough mod cons to keep you knee-deep in the dead for a long time to come.

The easiest thing to notice about DOOM is how drop-dead gorgeous it looks. Gone are the blurry, popping MegaTextures that held back the visuals of RAGE. Instead, players are treated to astonishing displays of dynamically lit environments that swirl with industrial smog, ash, and hellacious embers which work to add stunning depth to every scene. Visual variety is surprisingly strong here, with the campaign taking “Doom Guy” from the monolithic UAC Mars Base to otherworldly hellscapes and back again. So many scenes would feel right at home on the front of some metal band’s album cover — the skeletal remains of gargantuan demons litter the hellish wastelands, while towering spires of igneous rock claw their way upwards, piercing the blood-red skies of DOOM’s most alien locations. It’s truly a treat for the eyes.

As you might expect, DOOM’s story is largely for flavour. Yet, what little exposition DOOM offers is handled with style and striking confidence. The game’s introduction has to be one of the best in recent memory, wasting no time in equipping players with a weapon while still managing to infuse the opening sequence with moments that establish a fantastic tone that the game unerringly sustains. This isn’t the self-serious universe that was fleetingly evoked in DOOM 3. The newest DOOM understands exactly that it is lurid, pulpy fare. Embracing this identity, the game exudes charisma. id Software have obviously had fun with DOOM’s purposefully excessive heavy metal vibes: Announcements echo throughout the corridors of the UAC, encouraging employees to fill out their dismemberment waiver forms; Doom Guy punches innocent floating robots in the face to acquire the weapon upgrades they are already willing to offer him; melodies from the original DOOM’s soundtrack haunt a heaving, new metal score that brilliantly underpins the kitschy aesthetic of this newer, bolder DOOM. Because the game owns its cheesy, over-the-top styling so completely, it’s impossible not to simply let go and enjoy the ride.

The DOOM franchise lives and dies on the strength of its level design. Needless to say, this new installation had some huge boots to fill. Incredibly, DOOM’s levels seem to take direct inspiration from the John Romero school of design. Sprawling, multi-layered, and laden with secrets, DOOM offers a fantastic selection of environments that feel at once cohesive and labyrinthine. Though linear in nature, the game offers players some freedom while approaching any level’s given objectives. The result is a fitting blend between old and new, adding replayability while keeping true to the feel of the franchise.

DOOM’s shooting is some of the best the medium has to offer. Every weapon in Doom Guy’s arsenal feels beefy and satisfying. More commendably, every weapon has a clear tactical use-case. Even the starting pistol feels like more than a mere fall-back to use when you run out of ammunition. Though controversial leading up to the game’s launch, DOOM’s melee-based “glory kills” are a a truly fantastic addition, adding a visceral cadence to combat that simply feels awesome. More than looking brilliant, these gruesome attacks add real strategy to DOOM’s moment-to-moment gameplay. Successfully stringing together kills to clear rooms quickly is often the difference between life and death, particularly on harder difficulty modes where the ammo and health pickups generated by performing a glory kill are all the more necessary for survival. Playing on Ultra Violence, I found myself treating DOOM’s slower, shambling zombies as mobile health containers. Stopping to assess my approach to every fight, I began using more vulnerable enemies as stepping stones between foes. The pacing this play style lends itself to is something that has felt missing from shooters for a long time. Flying around levels, you’ll rip and tear droves of demons apart as you cycle through your arsenal of devastating ordinance. To stand still for a moment is to perish in this joyous cacophony of unrelentingly fun combat.

DOOM’s game engine plays no small part in making the action feel amazing. On my gaming PC, the game effortlessly maintained an unwavering 60 frames per second, making the eye-watering action all the more enjoyable.

The multiplayer offerings in DOOM’s retail release largely resemble what the beta period had to offer. Developed externally by Certain Affinity, who contributed to the multiplayer experiences of The Master Chief Collection, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Halo 4, DOOM’s online arena shooting won’t impress anyone who wasn’t already taken with the beta. Not as fast-paced as its single-player portion, DOOM’s multiplayer is nonetheless functional and fun — though perhaps lacking the content it will need to offer any real longevity. It bears reiterating that the single player campaign is truly the star of the show here.

DOOM and player-created content go hand in hand. Were it not for the modification tools provided with the original DOOM, so many developers and franchises would not have found their start. It’s great to see, then, that an effort has been made to foster community-made content with the new SnapMap system. Allowing players to string together prefabricated level “tiles” together, SnapMap seems fairly limited, but does offer some flexibility by permitting players to design objectives, and implement new game logic. A respectable number of levels are already available to play through — including the obligatory recreations of original DOOM missions. If SnapMap is supported by id Software well enough to become the “Forge” or “Mario Maker” of DOOM levels, then the game could offer endless amounts of entertainment whenever you feel like sitting down and shooting some demons. The core gameplay mechanics are so tightly tuned and enjoyable that the prospect of a never-ending stream of custom content — which can be played cooperatively thanks to lobbies and matchmaking — is especially appealing.

It shouldn’t surprise that a 2016 re-imagining of the game that gave the shooter genre its start isn’t a hotbed of innovation. DOOM certainly isn’t re-inventing the wheel with its campaign or multiplayer offerings. What is genuinely surprising, however, is just how exceedingly polished the whole experience is. Faithful to its origins, utterly incredible to look at, and absolutely thrilling to play, DOOM is nothing short of a triumph. It’s the absolute best you could hope for when trying to envision how id Software’s seminal shooter would look in modern trappings.

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