Whenever a long dormant franchise returns to the light, I can’t help but view their revival with trepidation. As years go by, technology evolves, developers change, and philosophies shift. Add to that the pressure of living up the quality of a previous release while also matching a distinctive play-style, and you have a recipe for disappointment.
It didn’t take long to realize my fears were unfounded. This is one hell of a game.
Doom is a first-person shooter, pitting players against a horde of demons as they invade Mars. The game has a gloomy, horror-inspired atmosphere, but is not a horror game in any true sense of the word. It’s an action game with an emphasis on aggression and brutality. Though you do spend time exploring your surroundings and finding secret areas, the soul of Doom lies in its gunplay.
The action is as frantic and fast-paced as it gets. Monsters are quick and relentless, continually spawning in all corners of the map. Battle arenas are multi-layered with lots of platforms and pillars, designed to provide cover and promote movement. There are no places to hide or hole-up, so the only way to survive is to keep moving, aim well, and maintain your awareness.
The enemy list is sizable, providing a nice ray of nostalgia for those who played the ’90s Doom games. Most of the monsters appeared first in the classic series, though their behaviors have advanced significantly. Imps leap up platforms and hang off walls, revenants fly around on jetpacks, and Barons of Hell charge you like bulls, leaping and bounding toward you while they fire off projectiles. Every enemy moves and reacts differently, which means that you have to constantly think and adapt as a player. Instead of relying on a single favorite weapon, I found myself constantly shuffling through my arsenal, picking the best tool for the job while simultaneously deciding which threats to eliminate first and which ones to save for later.
As tough as the enemies are, you’re well equipped for the challenge. You’re faster than most of the demons, and can jump fairly high and grab onto ledges. Later in the campaign, you gain a double-jump, which enables you to move around freely with great precision. There’s no need to reload any of your weapons, and your basic pistol has unlimited ammunition. As you progress, you gain mods to enhance your weapons, and chips can be collected in order to improve many of your suit’s capabilities.
Combat is enhanced by “Glory Kills,” which enable you to violently dispatch weakened enemies up close for an increased chance of health drops. Alternately, you can cut down demons with your chainsaw, resulting in big ammo drops. It all adds strategy to the otherwise frenetic action.
Artistically, the demons look great. They’re hideous, menacing, and do an excellent job of playing off of the original game’s vision. For example, the floating cacodemon looks similar to its original incarnation, but it’s uglier and thornier, and has an odd, anguished expression that makes its very existence look like a tragic mistake. The soundtrack is phenomenal, meshing the roars and groans of your enemies with pulse-pounding metal music that hearkens back to that from the 1993 release.
The environments aren’t quite as strong. They’re sometimes drab, with a lot of metal hallways and machinery existing amid a gray and brown color palette. The surface of Mars is as reddish-brown as the real surface of Mars, and there’s only so much environmental diversity within the confines of the space station. Without giving too much away, there are some amazing views and vistas among the game’s later settings, but the color palette remains limited throughout. On one hand, these design choices mesh perfectly with the developer’s foreboding vision of the world, but on the other hand, it doesn’t take long before the levels start to look a little samey. This combines with formulaic level design consisting of halls leading to battle arenas, which lead to more halls and more arenas. The feeling of repetition is balanced by the frequent introduction of new weapons and enemies, so it’s really not that monotonous, but it’s worth a mention.
The game is rounded out by a set of fairly standard multiplayer options. Player-vs.-player modes such as team-deathmatch and warzone are supplemented by exclusive multiplayer weapons and power-ups. There aren’t a ton of maps, and the implementation is pretty typical, offering an experience that’s so comparable to other games that it’s hardly even noteworthy. It’s not quite tacked on, but it’s also not as inspired as the very good single player campaign.
Finally, the game includes a map editor called SnapMap. SnapMap allows players to design levels and challenges which can be shared and uploaded to the community. While it doesn’t allow you to construct rooms wall-by-wall and piece-by-piece, it’s still robust, with lots of options for adding enemies, objects, and even lighting and sound effects. You can also customize mission parameters and set an allowance for cooperative play. Popular maps are easy to find and play, and for a game that already offers as much as Doom does, SnapMap serves as a great little bonus.
Although it’s an excellent game, one question remains: Does Doom feel like the classic ’90s games?
In truth, it’s an entirely different experience. Though it’s fast and stylized like the original Doom, the new game’s increased complexity and focus on verticality give it a different feel, as do the basic controls and the layout of the levels. Doom 2016 is not a replacement for Doom 1993, but it is a worthy successor. And for what it’s worth, it’s way better than Doom 3.
Doom is one of the best games I’ve played this year. The enemies, weapons, and mechanics come together brilliantly to create an intense, rewarding experience that’s as thrilling as any shooter ever made. The entire game is a blast, from the first moment you pop the head off a possessed soldier, to the last time you clear a room with the monstrous BFG 9000.