PC, PS4, Xbox One

It en­cour­ages you to bar­rel into the mid­dle of the fight with all the unchecked surety of Fran­cis Beg­bie

Be care­ful what you wish for. The oth­er­wise pos­i­tive re­view of the orig­i­nal Doom in is­sue seven of Edge signed off with a long­ing to do more than repet­i­tively plough bul­lets and plasma into en­e­mies, and posited a game in which you com­mu­ni­cate or even form al­liances with the op­po­si­tion. The mus­ing was put for­ward in the con­text of another time – the re­view also ex­plained the na­ture of share­ware and ap­plauded Id’s bulletin-board-trad­ing-driven mar­ket­ing coup – but look­ing at it in 2016, it doesn’t feel quite as con­trary as it once ap­peared.

In the years since the orig­i­nal Doom’s re­lease, de­vel­op­ers set about an­swer­ing the re­quest en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, jus­ti­fy­ing the fod­der you mow down by fill­ing shoot­ers with set-pieces, char­ac­ter and pathos. How­ever, for bet­ter or worse, in­creas­ingly be­liev­able in­ter­ac­tions, com­plex re­la­tion­ships and heavy-handed moral­is­ing have seen the genre grav­i­tate away from the silly, undi­luted en­ter­tain­ment of early story-driven shoot­ers. Soaked in blood, grin­ning wildly and seek­ing to up­end an en­tire genre, the new Doom emerges into a rather more po-faced land­scape.

There is a plot of sorts, and even a cou­ple of char­ac­ters, but they’ll rarely bother you. Doom Slayer, the lat­est vari­a­tion on the se­ries’ peren­nial mute Marine pro­tag­o­nist, tele­graphs his own dis­dain for any mo­men­tum-sap­ping sto­ry­line by smash­ing al­most ev­ery mis­sion-crit­i­cal ob­ject he en­coun­ters, even when im­plored not to. In­stead, the fo­cus is placed on the most sat­is­fy­ing first­per­son com­bat loop since Halo, built around a sys­tem de­signed to pull you into the thick of the ac­tion and keep you there. In­flict enough dam­age on an en­emy and they’ll flash blue to sig­nal a stag­gered state. Move in closer and the flash­ing turns to orange, mean­ing that you’re now in range to per­form a Glory Kill – grat­i­fy­ing melee dis­mem­ber­ments that see your un­for­tu­nate tar­get ex­plode in a shower of gore, ammo and health items. This jo­cund setup fa­cil­i­tates a re­ver­sal of the cover-based cau­tion we’ve grown used to and en­cour­ages you to bar­rel into the mid­dle of the fight with all the unchecked surety of Fran­cis Beg­bie. It’s a game drenched in child­ish, ex­or­bi­tant machismo, and is no less ap­peal­ing for it.

There’s nu­ance within all that ag­gres­sion, how­ever. Per­form­ing a Glory Kill closes the gap be­tween you and the en­emy in­stantly, and also makes you tem­po­rar­ily in­vul­ner­a­ble for the two sec­onds each an­i­ma­tion takes to play out. As a re­sult, you’ll quickly learn to use them as an ad­di­tional safety net, stag­ger­ing a weaker en­emy with­out killing them in or­der to use the Glory Kill to avoid a swipe from larger, more dan­ger­ous Hellspawn. En­e­mies don’t stay stag­gered for long, so you’ll quickly make these cal­cu­la­tions in the heat of the mo­ment, adding to the tooth-and-nail bru­tal­ity of each fight as you stay just a step or two ahead of death.

Id aligns Doom’s over­all pac­ing with its com­bat, too, main­tain­ing a taut and rapid gait for the most part. Even so, level de­sign re­turns to the labyrinthian, non­lin­ear con­cepts of the first two games, Id rid­dling ev­ery lo­ca­tion with se­crets and mul­ti­ple routes, set­ting out a criss-cross­ing path in which you back­track and open new ar­eas with coloured keys. If you stay on the crit­i­cal path, en­e­mies are thrown at you reg­u­larly, lock­ing down rooms un­til a com­put­erised an­nounce­ment con­firms that an area’s de­monic pres­ence is within an “ac­cept­able” thresh­old. If you choose to ex­plore more con­cert­edly, you’ll find more breath­ing room. And it’s worth tak­ing the time to poke around, since you’ll of­ten find weapons ear­lier than you would oth­er­wise, as well as the var­i­ous items you’ll need to make quicker progress through Doom Slayer’s new up­grade sys­tem. Ar­gent Cells per­ma­nently in­crease your health, ar­mour and ammo caps, while Prae­tor to­kens – col­lected from the bod­ies of fallen al­lies – let you im­prove your suit in five dif­fer­ent ar­eas: en­vi­ron­men­tal re­sis­tance, ar­eas­can­ning tech­nol­ogy, grenade and equip­ment ef­fi­cacy, power-up po­tency, and dex­ter­ity.

Fur­ther to that, you can aug­ment your ba­sic weapons (an ar­moury that in­cludes ver­sions of ev­ery favourite from the se­ries) with up to two mod­i­fi­ca­tions, each of which then have their own in­di­vid­ual up­grade paths. And all of that’s be­fore you en­counter the Rune Tri­als, which are par­ti­tioned chal­lenges – kill a cer­tain num­ber of en­e­mies only us­ing ver­ti­cal Glory Kills, for ex­am­ple, or col­lect items along a tough park­our route within an in­cred­i­bly tight time limit – that be­stow the tit­u­lar stones upon you. You can equip up to three at once, and each one fur­ther mod­i­fies the game with perks such as keep­ing en­e­mies in a stag­gered state for longer or in­creas­ing the range in which you’ll ab­sorb pick­ups. And, per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly given all of the above, you can make those ef­fects even more po­tent by com­plet­ing re­lated chal­lenges. It all proves a lit­tle con­fus­ing at first, but once you’re into the swing of things, ev­ery­thing be­gins to make sense and some­how holds to­gether.

Ir­re­spec­tive of whether you take the time to weed out ev­ery se­cret, and thereby max­imise Doom Slayer’s po­ten­tial, dur­ing your first playthrough, or save it for a sec­ond one, the game quickly in­tro­duces its full cast of en­e­mies. Up­dated clas­sics are joined by a hand­ful of new hor­rors, in­clud­ing the tough Hell Razer – which fires a glow­ing red en­ergy beam across long dis­tances – and the tele­port­ing Sum­moner, which per­forms much the same func­tion as the Arch-vile did in pre­vi­ous games. Now ab­sent, the Arch-vile is a keenly felt loss given that it was one of the se­ries’ most ter­ri­fy­ing pres­ences – its re­place­ment can oc­ca­sion­ally be more of an ir­ri­ta­tion than a chal­lenge – but over­all the bes­tiary

Doom of­fers is for­mi­da­ble and di­verse. That di­ver­sity forces you to use the full spread of the weapons avail­able to you, and play­ing ef­fi­ciently re­quires you to con­tin­u­ally swap tools us­ing Doom’s anachro­nis­tic weapon selec­tion wheel – hold down the rel­e­vant but­ton or key and the bat­tle slows to a trea­cly pace as you make your choice, or sim­ply tap it and flick the ana­logue stick or mouse in the rel­e­vant di­rec­tion once you’ve mem­o­rised their po­si­tions.

En­emy AI isn’t par­tic­u­larly smart, but there are enough dif­fer­ing be­hav­iours to make bat­tles feel un­pre­dictable. Imps will dash be­hind you or over to your flank while climb­ing up walls, Pink Demons will charge di­rectly for you, and Revenants will leap into the air to un­leash vol­leys of rock­ets. This mix­ture of pat­terns cre­ates a com­plex ta­pes­try from within which you’re able to chain Glory Kills and weapon ex­e­cu­tions. If you find your­self kit­ing, you’ve missed the point of the game en­tirely.

The ex­cep­tional, cleans­ing na­ture of this thrilling rhythm makes it all the more dis­ap­point­ing when Id aban­dons the ad-hoc beauty of its free-flow­ing com­bat sys­tem for Doom’s boss en­coun­ters. Rather than im­pro­vise, here you sim­ply mem­o­rise rigid at­tack pat­terns, jump over or duck be­neath walls of fire and en­ergy, and slowly chip away at colos­sal health bars in the pro­vided win­dows of op­por­tu­nity. In these en­coun­ters Id shifts fo­cus to pro­jec­tile avoid­ance over gun­play and, de­spite the un­de­ni­able spec­ta­cle, they feel drab as a re­sult – a crash­ing mis­step in the case of the re­turn­ing clas­sic bosses.

Sim­i­larly, mul­ti­player feels rather flat in com­par­i­son to the bulk of the cam­paign. There are, how­ever, some Some of the vis­tas you en­counter are re­mark­able, and see­ing the clouds and dust roll past this clifftop perch was enough to make us stop in or­der to soak it in. They’re of­ten views of ar­eas you’ll even­tu­ally visit, too smart ideas here. In Soul Har­vest, for in­stance, op­pos­ing teams must take and hold the souls of the en­e­mies they slay, al­low­ing play­ers to steal them back again if they can kill the col­lec­tor quickly enough. In Freeze Tag you’ll spend as much time thaw­ing out al­lies as you do putting op­po­nents on ice. And in Warpath you’re asked to de­fend a mov­ing cap­ture point, mean­ing that you must con­tin­u­ally ad­just your strat­egy in ac­cor­dance with the ever-chang­ing de­fen­sive op­por­tu­ni­ties and weak points.

In most mul­ti­player modes you can sum­mon one of a selec­tion of Doom’s larger demons, too, lay­ing waste to op­po­nents for a time in the most ter­ri­fy­ing man­ner pos­si­ble. Even so, weapons feel less pow­er­ful against hu­man op­po­nents, and the whole thing moves along at such a click that it’s of­ten dif­fi­cult to read, much less ap­pre­ci­ate, any given sit­u­a­tion. And while it draws as much from Quake as it does the early Dooms, this sec­tion of the game lacks the stand­out per­son­al­ity of its sin­gle­player coun­ter­part – a prob­lem shared by the game’s SnapMap edi­tor, which is hob­bled by its re­liance on pre-fab­ri­cated parts (see ‘Kit WAD’).

But in the midst of a mul­ti­player mode that feels old-fash­ioned and out­paced by mod­ern con­tem­po­raries, and a level-edit­ing suite that pan­ders a lit­tle too much to mod­ern tastes, Id has cre­ated the most thrilling shooter cam­paign in more than a decade. The stu­dio has man­aged to seam­lessly marry hefty doses of nos­tal­gia and in­no­va­tion, and Doom’s shim­mer­ing, bom­bas­tic com­bat is as ab­sorb­ing as it is rev­e­la­tory. In short, the time for talk is over.

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