Game Review: DOOM
TL;DR: A fun, fast-paced game that gets repetitive quick and leans a little too heavily into multiplayer for my tastes.
FRIENDS, 2016 is a great year for stuff I liked when I was a teenager. (Everything else, not so much.) Two of my favorite bands from the 90s, Weezer and Radiohead, both released new albums that are pretty good, and now id Software, who created some of the best games of my young adulthood (shoutout to Commander Keen), has released a new DOOM game, fresh off the heels of their pretty amazing Wolfenstein: The New Order. DOOM is not a perfect game, but it is a damn fun game, once you realize that it’s not really trying to reinvent the wheel so much as see how fast it can spin.
The game is simple: you pick up a gun and shoot it, primarily at things that are trying to kill you. Much like Wolfenstein: The New Order, nobody makes a big deal about how many guns or ammo you can carry, though while TNO skirts realism through the use of a historical fiction narrative, DOOM throws realism out the window in absolute deference to gameplay. The DOOM Marine (as everyone knows him — more on that later) slides through terrain like an ice skating meth addict, he can carry over a dozen weapons, including an enormous chaingun and BFG no sweat, he swaps these weapons quickly, and there is no real reloading of said weapons, you just run out of bullets. And that’s awesome. DOOM knows exactly what kind of game it is, and it thrives on the speed and thrill of dealing with multiple enemies trying to kill you. It also thrives on the fact that this speed and thrill helps players potentially overlook some of its weak spots.
DOOM has a “storyline” in the sense that someone was hired to write things to flesh out the story of the DOOM Marine and the world he inhabits. He has reached demigod status in a way, feared by the demons of Hell and searched for by the humans on Mars. It’s flimsy and unnecessary; in the opening scene we see the Marine crawl out of a stone sarcophagus he seems to have been sleeping in for a while. He gets his bearings, finds a pistol, and starts wailing on enemies. Yes, we’re left to wonder, “How did he get in that sarcophagus?”, and the bits of information you get throughout the game answer this, but I think you don’t need them, and that the game itself answers the question fairly easily. The demons kept him there because he’s a threat. That’s it. Once you see how much carnage the Marine dishes out, your question gets answered — if you even had a question to begin with. But like I said, the story is doled out in text bits that you collect but never needs to be read. (I read it, and it’s fine, but it’s like inventing a world that didn’t need to be invented. Again, we’re spinning the wheel faster, not trying to make it a better wheel.)
The best thing about the DOOM storyline is that the Marine doesn’t give a shit about it. In a vaguely meta nod to the concept of the game itself, the Marine doesn’t give a shit about most things, opting to smash and break certain obstacles instead of manipulating or preserving them, as you might in a “fancier” type FPS. I appreciate this fresh take on what has essentially become a morality play within FPS games. Oftentimes when playing an FPS you’ll come across a choice where you can essentially do a Seemingly Good thing, or a Seemingly Bad thing. Either choice means nothing in terms of driving the story, ultimately, but it gives a sense of decision making that tries to keep you invested in the game. But DOOM. DOOM don’t care about that shit. At one point in the game (no spoilers) a character offers the Marine the option to use a computer to power down a thing rather than break it, blah blah blah, the Marine just breaks it. There’s no option, he just does it. I like that touch, because it solidifies the fact that id Software knows exactly what type of game DOOM is. So in this case, storyline is a weak spot, but the game knows it and pokes fun at it.
So what’s the drawback? Well, my biggest issue with the single player aspect of the game stems from the gameplay structure itself, which is essentially large arenas with spawning enemies, connected by hallways with few-to-no enemies. You don’t tend to notice it so much at the beginning, but the further along you get, especially when you start fighting the big bad guys, it really shows. My issue isn’t so much that this is bad — you kind of need this big open areas in this game, especially with the kind of moves you can do, and the types of enemies you face — my issue is that it’s incredibly repetitive, and never makes me feel like I’m immersed in the game. I see the puppet strings, so to speak, and it ruins the illusion. See, DOOM ’93 had enemies peppered throughout the level, and while yes, it was slow-paced compared to its 21st century counterpart, it also felt like these enemies had been there for a while, hunting, wandering, destroying, rather than just appearing, as they do very very often in DOOM ‘16. So the game becomes a “run and gun” type situation, rather than an “explore to find enemies” type situation.
I’ll use SOMA as a counterexample. If you strip out the psychological aspects of the game, SOMA works as a pretty good successor to DOOM ’93 in terms of atmosphere. It’s spooky, it’s dark, and there are enemies hidden around almost every corner. Yeah it takes place underwater but it could very well be on a station on Mars too — it’s basically the same in terms of stakes. In DOOM ‘16, it’s dark-ish, it’s not very spooky at all, and enemies pop out of thin air, often in droves. DOOM ’16 is more focused on what I would consider a multiplayer aspect of gameplay than a single player aspect. And that’s okay. I haven’t even touched on it yet, but the multiplayer section of DOOM is pretty dang fun. And it’s designed to be fun, designed to have you race, jump, outrun, and outgun your opponents. My issue is that the single player feels like multiplayer too. Once I realized that, I began playing the game differently — before, I was hiding behind cover and taking out enemies one by one. I even put points into the scope on the assault rifle because I tend to enjoy sniping from a distance. But, very quickly it becomes obvious that staying put is not a good option for this game. DOOM wants you to go all in, and so I did just that, running, jumping, and generally going apeshit amid tons and tons of demons that respawned ad infintum. And it was fun as hell. Some of my favorite memories of the game now are in the later sections, when I would fly around and shoot missiles at revenants and cacodemons, all willy-nilly, without regard to cover or iron sighting, or any of those tricks I’ve been learning since the first Call of Duty.
In a way it was very cathartic, not having to worry about advanced game aspects that have been growing like ivy around core FPS structure for the past 20 years. But it also made the single player feel like multiplayer, and I didn’t like that as much.
In the end, DOOM is a very solid game, once you learn to let go and just roll with it. Yes there are secrets like the old games and they are fun to search out, and more importantly, many secrets contain vital health and armor or powerups that you might need as you progress through Hell and Mars. But I do think id Software could have provided a more diverse type of single player gameplay, more than just hallways connecting large arenas.
I’d say, buy DOOM when it’s first on sale, so you don’t miss the initial throng of people playing multiplayer. I give it 3/5 cacodemons.
[Also, I didn’t review the “Snapmap” aspect of the game — the part where you can build your own levels. I’ve heard it’s really cool and I’d love to tinker around with it to try and build the type of game I’d like to play.]