So few shooters thrust players into action like id Software’s Doom.* It was a shock to me like Wolfenstein: The New Order since I hadn’t grown up with either of their forebearers, but that’s just it—there are little to no games that followed in their footsteps. There are older exceptions like Shadow Warrior and Quake in addition to the more recent Bulletstorm and Titanfall 2; however, the original Doom and Wolfenstein spawned a shooter subgenre largely unto themselves that has lain dormant for over 20 years. Subsequently, their modern resurrections seemed revelatory, and while The New Order is phenomenal for flirting with no man’s land, Doom is even more so for thriving in it. It’s among the finest, purest, and most distinct shooters for that reason.**
title: Doom • developer: id Software • publisher: Bethesda Softworks • release date: May 13, 2016 • platform reviewed: PS4
Working out is a process. Whether it’s knowing how to do bodyweight or machine exercises, I’ve properly learned and intuitively guessed at a range of them. The most surprising moments come not when I learn the right way to do a specific exercise, but when I discover an entirely new means to strain the same muscle group. It’s initially awkward yet quickly intuitive, which has left me wondering why I hadn’t figured it out on my own. This is what the first mission of Doom feels like with your character’s default and only speed set to sprinting, which feels like driving around a speedster with an overly sensitive accelerator. You learn that cover is more of an obstacle than anything else, only offering brief respite swiftly broken if you stay in one place for too long. You’re also introduced to “glory kills” before you have a proper gun, which are special melee attacks visually mixed up depending on where you’re looking and positioned relative to enemies, rewarding players with gross-out animations of appendages being crushed or torn off. All of that to say you have a lot to unlearn if you’ve played shooters, but it feels so right when you adjust to Doom for what it is.
Doom is an exacting frenzy of tactical movement from enemy to enemy, whereas most shooters focus on methodical movement from cover to cover. They focus on aiming as the prime skill with inventory management as a secondary concern, but Doom switches around this design dynamic. This can be said of original Doom as well, but its modern equivalent unifies the aforementioned design philosophies even more effectively with every single tweak and addition. There’s an easy-to-access weapon wheel that slows down time, speedy hoisting and weapon switching, and a stripping down and consolidation of mechanics like aiming, reloading, and sprinting. Glory kills are not only quick and clean, but also proffer bits of health and armor to keep players’ noses to the grindstone of combat. It would’ve been compelling had different glory kills warranted special attacks like a throw that tosses a demon’s body into another or an AOE ground slam if you initiate one from above. It would’ve had profound implications for stringing together combos of movement and shooting.
king of the hill.
Most normal enemy types warrant varying, adaptive approaches since they spawn in more waves the further you play. Some need to be taken out from afar like the Mancubi and Pinkies due to their devastating close-range attacks, whereas teleporting Summoners and floating Cacodemons demand swift ends since they respectively spawn grunts and can almost always spit painful energy projectiles at you with their vantage points. This extends to boss fights as well, which are at their best when they initiate attacks that force particular types of movement like strafing and double jumping, but when that’s not happening, they’re bullet sponges you can run circles around that pose little strategical know-how to vanquish.
Even still, everything on a functional level is in service to eliminating all that is needlessly cumbersome and complex in Doom, which is why it soars—figuratively…almost feeling literal at times since it facilitates intentional movement to facilitate intentional weapon switching—all facilitated by those streamlined mechanics behind and complementing them.
that’s not to say it does so without turbulence. The transition of movement from stop to go could be more graceful; a slight flick of the analog stick shouldn’t send your character flying when you’re trying to interact with small prompts. Ledges can be deceitful and inconsistent, which can mean a total loss of combat flow or death. There’s also an anticlimactic realization with how players can run around with little to no consequence since enemies can’t really hit you as long as you’re moving. There should be some form of punishment for retreating for too long since it’s a compromise in the identity of Doom. Perhaps the AI could assume a more aggressive yet sloppy pursuit to deal small yet panic-inducing damage? This shouldn’t only apply to a handful of demons like the Hell Knights or Pinkies, who are still easy enough to avoid if always on your tail. They should all turn into a ravenous, frightening horde like in Left 4 Dead if you let up on the offense. You can’t outrun those Hunters or Tanks!
powerups are nice to have for when things get rough on the battlefield. you’ll get extra gory glory kills with Berserk, amplified sound effects for firing weapons with the self-explanatory Quad Damage, and doubled speed with Haste.
Glory kills and hoisting are also strategically debilitating after the first couple hours but regain viability with runes and Praetor tokens. The former are gained with simple yet welcome arena challenges strewn throughout levels, whereas the latter are obtained from fallen soldiers that upgrade your suit’s capabilities. These collectively range from mitigating splash damage from your own weapons to gaining armor (not just health) from glory kills. Some upgrades are superfluous, but most foster the most important elements of gameplay: speed and grace. It helps that id Software’s id Tech 6 is a profoundly well-suited engine for consoles. There’s not a moment of frame rate dipping or dropping in its smooth 60fps performance even with the base PS4 (the resolution is bumped up for Pro users). It’s essential for Doom’s punchy, lively animation that not only keeps up with the game’s pace, but also expertly gets across characters’ (even demons’) personalities in their motions and expressions.
In between combat, you can search for other stuff like collectibles that consist of Codex entries (snippets of lore) and Doomguy figurines (which unlock character models) that are deviously teased behind seemingly inaccessible areas or tucked away in areas out of sight. There are hints with the compass pinging and the minimap’s visual markers, but unlike most open-world games, I don’t mind knowing where things are because discovering how to get to them is still a challenge. They’re a small testament to the finely detailed and crafted levels of each mission, which amount to dozens upon dozens of arenas evolving in verticality and shape. The later inclusion of portals doubly enhances the game’s superb sense of flow, speaking for how you’ll never meet a dead end or be unduly punished for veering from your intended path; Doom rarely makes you panic about where you’re going so your attention isn’t diverted from the slaughter of demons, and that’s more impressive and important on the level designers’ part than most may realize.
One thing they could’ve done is add more environmental hazards and obstacles as long as they hadn’t hindered the flow of battle in arenas. For example, crouching could have given way to sliding through holes and under arches around the edges of maps, acting as brief paths of escape littered with enticing ammo and health to boot. A similar criticism applies to environmental objects that can be used against enemies. There are barrels to shoot (like always), but what about unique elements like a Thwomp-like pillar that can smash demons in the Titan’s Realm mission? How about traps you can set or activate? Combat is intense, but traversal and environmental interaction are lacking.
in between the blood sports, collectibles warrant stuff you might not care about like character models and lore stuff, but you’ll get upgrade points for doing so, which is really useful to beef up weapons.
Weapons don’t have this issue in the slightest. Application is distinct with them being somewhat interchangeable in categories of two to three with short-, mid-, and long-range options. Where they most excel in variety is with their handling and attachments over time. For example, the Plasma Rifle and Heavy Assault Rifle may be swapped for any mid-range engagements, but the former demands tighter precision and quickly exhausts ammo with its high fire rate, whereas the latter is more forgiving in accuracy with a lower fire rate. Its unlockable attachments foster long-range engagements with a scope and stopping power with mini-rockets, whereas the Plasma Rifle excels in close-range crowd control with the Stun Bomb (which briefly staggers enemies like a flash grenade) and Heat Blast (a high-damage wave that can knock back nearby foes).
Despite the diverse utility of weapons, Doom might deal them out too fast. I’ll concede it’s out of necessity to give players ample time to use them, and there are late game treats like the BFG 9000. If anything, Doom should’ve introduced its demons over a longer course of missions. You’ll have met all of them halfway through the campaign, so there’s only so much that can be done to avoid encounters feeling like clockwork after that point, but it’s a darn, good repetition that remains entertaining due to the core loop being refined and naturally engaging. Weapons’ nuanced roles with attachments are to be thanked for this, too, and even they have unlockable traits that require points gained by finding secrets, completing rune challenges, etc. It goes to show that your time spent exploring never goes unrewarded.
Not everything is of practical use—mainly the Codex entries. They flesh out the characters, environments, and history of a universe that seems impossible to take seriously based on its premise alone: A space marine shooting demons on Mars in science facilities (collectively known as the UAC) and Hell itself. Oh, but id Software has writers who know that premises don’t solely make a story’s tone. What matters is how characters react to and live in their own reality, much like in Hideo Kojima’s work where he plays around, but he doesn’t play around. In Doom There’s obvious humor to the morbidly dark yet cheery UAC propaganda, and yet there’s extensive, plausible, and reasoned gravitas to the innerworkings and design history of weapons and characters’ backstories. What may have been for the hell of it in original Doom is now reframed and contextualized under hellish scrutiny with the same devotion to storytelling you’d expect from the novellas in Elder Scrolls or the environmental storytelling in Overwatch.
capitalized nouns for stuff you don’t know about that still sounds cool and ancient with backstories? the best.
Granted, Doom doesn’t care so much for active storytelling with long cutscenes, character arcs, or deep themes, but it shouldn’t. It reserves its narrative to passive worldbuilding and lore for players to invest in outside of gameplay. Visually, the game has enough to show for that’s satisfying in itself, but investing in those logs unveils the profound thought that went into the game’s universe, which makes my sci-fi, high fantasy, and religious genre-loving heart flutter seeing them blended together here. The story is like Darksiders but edgier and, somehow, even more mature in achieving the writer’s nirvana of—what I like to call—tongue-in-cheek self-seriousness.
Again, there’s not much of a dramatic story to follow or invest in with what’s actually happening in front of you. Your character doesn’t care about the drama, and you don’t need to either to have fun. Motivations and reasons to fetch this and destroy that make enough sense, but a superficial, thematic takeaway is fun to mention. The Doom Marine’s moral imperative to kill all demons is actively contrasted with those of your frenemy Samuel Hayden and antagonist Olivia Pierce, who respectively want to use Hell for utilitarian altruism and pure power. Both believe they will not fall prey to the wiles of Hell with countless rationalizations, and you see Olivia’s descent into madness from a detached yet clear angle. Samuel’s hubris, well…I think his is coming in due time. The Doom Marine understands that evil cannot be bargained with or controlled. He is the Occam’s razor amid a bunch of intelligent idiots, and it’s fitting that their waxing morality is made out to be silly like the game’s premise.
The Doom Slayer and Night Sentinels ’bout to drop their new single.
While you’re reading lore or moving between areas, you can really appreciate the attention to environments’ unnervingly quiet ambience when they’re supplemented by Mick Gordon’s groundbreaking score, but that appreciation explodes during combat upon hearing the blending of the series’ iconic heavy metal with staples of techno and dubstep. Tracks run through distortions of all kinds will beep, screech, and stutter to the beat alongside guitars playing riveting riffs and booming bass. It’s fitting for the industrial UAC facilities, but Gordon also incorporates a choir within tracks blaring throughout the depths of Hell. When you kill the last demon, you’ll hear voices break out in a short, triumphant measure that ease into a melodic yet discordant ambience; when I’d lurch my head back and then forward with a glory kill that amounts to a visceral curb stomp, parts of the score would adaptively cease in a moment of suspense or be augmented by a warped bass that briefly resounded over the score. These are moments where I knew the music is Doom. I can’t imagine the game without its constant presence. Or Darin de Paul’s voice for Samuel Hayden. It’s my ASMR.
Power fantasies are appealing in what you can do, but equally so for the one thing you can’t do: die. Kratos ascends from Hades not once, but twice in the God of War series. The Dark Souls and Middle-earth games make respawning a natural part of their universes with their characters’ wills keeping death at bay. The thing about the Doom Slayer is that death for him isn’t canonical. His existence must be so long as demons are, and there are poetic verses orated by a big-time demon who knows your character’s judgment must be fulfilled in its entirety. “They knew he would come, as he always had, as he always will, to feast on the blood of the wicked. For he alone could draw strength from his fallen foes, and ever his power grew—swift and unrelenting.” This is Doom.
With the exception of repetition toward the end, quibbles with movement, and missed opportunities with various aspects of design, there are rare few games in existence that so expertly bridge the gap between their vision and designed reality. Doom is the first-person shooter genre distilled to an essence that’s mixed with and boiled in testosterone and adrenaline, concocting a true power fantasy that’s neither stupid nor childish, but one that invokes a cathartic chaos by assailing the senses. For as unholy as it all is, Doom is righteous in every sense of the word.
*Hereinafter, this will refer to the 2016 version of Doom. The 1993 version of Doom will be referred to as “original Doom.”
**I will be assessing the campaign, not the arcade, multiplayer, or SnapMap modes.