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.