Confession hour: I have never played a Doom game. Unless you count two hours of Doom 3 a decade ago, then OK you got me. The only old-school, OG, “Daddy” (or whatever the kids are calling it these days) FPS I played from the Doom era was Wolfenstein 3D on my family’s old Dell Dimension Desktop. Much like Doom it followed the formula of action first, gore second, level design third, with an irrelevant story jostled in somewhere after that. Recalling my experiences with Wolfenstein 3D I had an idea of what to expect fromDoom and have been eagerly awaiting to see how the recipe holds up in today’s gaming world. Now that Friday the 13th has come and gone the wait is over and I can see for myself if this franchise still has what it takes to compete.
When I first launched Doom it made one thing very obvious to me: this game knows what it is and holds nothing back in steamrolling that fact into your senses. The heavy rock music coupled with the unstable red background sucked me into the world of whoop ass demon slaying as soon as I hit the main menu, something it would continue to do until the end credits rolled. Listening to those Hell medleys got me pumped for the campaign so I hurriedly clicked in and began my violent crusade across the Red Planet.
The first impression Doom left on me visually was the wonderful use of lighting. Shadows, beams, flickering electricity, it all serves a purpose and illuminates the environment in such a way as to encompass the player in a feeling of frantic destitute. Even the muzzle flashes add to the atmospheric tension by providing a complimentary sense of flickering panic to firefights. The bloom lighting was also quite nice which comes as a surprise since bloom effects are often used in excess, something that easily becomes distracting, obstructive, and overbearing (I’m looking at you Fable). id’s use however felt quite the opposite; subtle and ambient. I recall one moment while trekking across a bridge where I stopped to admire a beam of light radiating up from the grating beneath my feet. I marveled at it’s shape and the dust swirling through it watching for as long as I could while halfheartedly avoiding a demon onslaught. Take note developers, this is how bloom lighting should be used.
After completing the first level I came to the conclusion that this iteration of Doom is an achievement of graphic fidelity. id has proven that there isn’t a need to push the limitations of hardware to make a video game look good while preserving atmosphere. They were able to deliver a stellar looking game that maintains a solid, consistent frame rate and scales well across systems of varying power without sacrificing the overall intended feel. Some games lose their tone as you kill off details for computers with less oomph, but not Doom. Even on medium settings it looks impressive. After examining the game more closely I was able to determine two main reasons why it ran so well and looked so good across so many platforms. Firstly, it would appear that there isn’t much in the form of bump mapping (a technique used to give risen texture to objects) but rather a large amount of artistically crafted surface detail in its place, something games like Borderlands andThe Wolf Among Us do. This is a much more difficult way of showing texture but if done right will allow a game to look highly detailed without the negative impact on performance that bump mapping can bring. Secondly, id also used a very clever hide-and-go-seek tactic with rendering by preventing objects that are out of view from loading and only rendering what’s in the room with you, a technique Retro Studios used in the Metroid Prime series. This allows a game to look better than it should given the hardware available while simultaneously preserving a higher than expected frame rate. Each of these are risky tricks but id successfully pulled them off.
It isn’t everyday a game impresses me visually. There’s only so much shit I can give about the bump mapping on a character’s leather belt. It takes something special with a unique style to break the mold and fortunatelyDoom achieves that. I was stopping to look at nearly every detail each level had to offer. From a dead guy on the ground to puddles of human remains, demon skulls to half dissected corpses on an operating table, the intricacy in each prop created an impeccable atmosphere which truly had me feeling alone on a planet with only one option: shoot everything.
And shoot everything you will.
Anything that moves in Doom is probably something that you need to put bullets into. The game shamelessly follows a simple premise: shoot everything, grab a key/skull, open a door, shoot what’s behind that door, break something, shoot more shit, push your thumbs into something’s eyes, rinse and repeat. It may sound as though this could get repetitive but the action is broken up thanks to a great deal of exploration and path finding. The variety of demons along with the pacing of their introduction also kept my experience feeling fresh throughout the campaign. Each new creature had their own set of skills that if you are not careful to account for can leave you stuck in a corner with your dick in your hand. An unfortunate position I found myself in more than once. It wasn’t until I began to scan my surroundings more closely did I notice that I could use a great deal of the terrain to corral baddies and make them hold their dicks in their hands as I shoved my fist into their guts.
Once using the terrain became part of my demon disembowelment routine I began to appreciate the craftsmanship of the level design. I could tell the developers put a lot of work into making each stage it’s own because even though I was running through the same two environments for the entirety of the game (Hell and a space station) I never got bored. Instead of recycling assets over and over or giving us a corridor shooter that might as well be on-rails, id has given us a carefully designed game where exploration is key to the full experience. They’ve added dozens of paths that fork off the main road and in keeping with the spirit of the old-school games the series hails from there is a ridiculous amount of hidden secrets to find. From collectible action figures, to Rune power-ups, weapon enhancements, suit upgrades, even original Doom levels, there’s plenty here to keep you busy for hours and hours beyond the main campaign. Speaking nothing of the multiplayer and all the progression that offers.
As for the multiplayer, much has remained the same as it was in the beta with very minimal change. Of course there are more maps and loads of game types like Soul Harvest, TDM, Domination, and Freeze Tag among a few others, all of which are loads of fun. I do like how they included a variety pack playlist that randomly cycles through a handful of choice game modes, it spices things up. Despite this option I’ll be interested to see if any of the playlists become ghost towns like many of the unique modes did in Titanfall and if so whether or not id will keep the game fresh by cycling in new ones much like 343 does with Halo 5. If you’d like to read a more in-depth opinion on the multiplayer check out my beta impressions article here.
Not everything was roses in Doom-land however. Well, nothing is I suppose but I digress. There were a handful of technical issues I encountered while playing on both my desktop and my laptop. Even though the game performs admirably on lesser hardware, that didn’t prevent it from crashing randomly on both of my systems. For some reason unbeknownst to me it crashed to desktop a concerning number of times without warning or an error message during my campaign playthrough. This mostly occurred when I clicked the “Load Last Checkpoint” button after a death (I am an Intel/nVidia user and was unable to test for this issue on an AMD machine). Moving on from the curious instability, I found myself clipping through the stage now and again. This would lead to either my falling to an untimely death or getting stuck someplace I couldn’t get out of and being left to watch as I was gunned down by a group of hellspawn teabagging my space marine dome. Random floating objects were a thing as well, I sometimes noticed rocks and pieces of bridges that hung in the air attached to nothing and lacked collision boundaries. One disjointed platform even disappeared as I looked at it from a certain angle. This didn’t happen often but it’s something I noticed nonetheless.
Besides my technical gripes I also have a few qualms about the game itself. Control-wise it’s very tight and accurate, but for some reason my character liked to ramp over small inclines such as rocks or a box lying on the ground. I blame this on the acceleration/deceleration of the character’s movement. Although how it’s set is preferable in most cases, if I was next to any sort of small bump in the ground it would sometimes cause me to launch off cliffs and bridges like a little RC car. Another frustrating design choice that id seems to have included intentionally as a massive troll to players was a number of trapped dead ends. As much as the game encouraged me to explore it would also punish me for doing so by leading me down a path with nothing more than an ammo crate and an ambush of demons waiting for me. I get it, this game is supposed to be unforgiving. I mean you’re in Hell, right? But moments like these made me feel as if I was actually suffering Satan’s wrath when my priority was the preservation of ammo or armor and I’d walk away from one of these encounters with half as much of each as I had walking in. Alas, it’s better than designing a boss as a bullet sponge I suppose *cough*Destiny*cough*.
While Destiny’s bosses are kind of… shit, the mega baddies in Doom are glorious. They’re big, hellish looking behemoths with weapons grafted onto them. What more could you ask for? “A challenge!” you say? Well you’ll get one. I can’t tell you how happy I was to have these creatures beat my ass during the first encounter and then realize I had to put forth an effort to defeat them. They seem to be designed almost Zelda-style; as if they were a puzzle to solve (puzzles in this case being their attack patterns). Figuring them out is only half the battle however as you will then put through a trial of digit dexterity where you scramble to avoid their endless assaults and desperately seek an opportunity for counterattack. Sadly there were only three of these bosses throughout the game but each one had me wigging out the entire time and feeling as though I had barely any control, as if I could die at any moment… because I could. I walked away from each monster impressed and with a rewarding sense of satisfaction after the kill.
Thankfully this trend of satisfaction continued through into Doom’s deep, complex, award winning story. Just kidding. There isn’t much of one at all. I’ll sum it up for you: A demon portal opens because of a corrupt researcher and you have to close it. That’s about it. But this is Doom so who cares? That isn’t what this game is about. What I did find curious in spite of the triviality of the narrative was the quality of the voice work. For a series that isn’t much for lore the storytelling was phenomenal. Darin De Paul voices Samuel Hayden (the main robotic antagonist) and this is some of his best work hands down. The same goes for Vega, the Mars installation’s artificial intelligence (the announcer you hear in multiplayer) voiced by Kevin Schon. It’s interesting to note that his resume is filled with titles such as Stuart Little, Lion King, and Teacher’s Pet so this role seems out of the ordinary for him. Nonetheless he was a great choice and did a bang up job. Maybe it’s because there’s a lack of complexity to the story that these actors could perform so well – not having to deal with character progression and all – but whatever the case may be it’s grade-A stuff that I hope becomes a series staple.
After completing the game and having a good deal of fun with the multiplayer I was confident that id knew what they wanted to do with Doom and they made it happen. Everything about it screams triple-A. The stellar voice work, the intricate level design, the attention to detail, addicting multiplayer, and amazing software trickery that allows it to look good on a wide array of systems add up to make Doom a masterpiece of modernization. If I had to sum it up in one word it’d have to be, “badass”. Not only because of how powerful the game made me feel while I tore out the assholes of every demon I ran into but also because of how impressive it is that id modernized a 23 year old franchise to a degree of perfection and preservation that few companies can claim to have done. If you’re a fan of old-school shooters or if you’re looking for an adrenaline pumping experience that will keep you plowing through level after level without getting bored, Doom is for you. If you’re a Sunday School teacher or under the age of 16, Doom is not for you. Might I recommendStardew Valley? Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go make some more Doomguy slushies out of people online.