How long has it been since Doom 3? Just short of 12 years. In between that, iD Software, the founders of the First Person Shooter have released three titles; the first was RAGE, a decent enough FPS with RPG and driving elements but it hardly set the world on fire (let’s not talk about the ending…ugh). The second game, an old classic revived, Quake 3 Arena, and the third, a very consolised, toned down and kiddified version of Doom 3, dubbed “Doom 3: BFG Edition”. Less said about that, the better. Jump through a Hellgate to now, 2016, the daddy is back and he wants blood. Lots of blood.
Doom was the victim of a troubled development; with lots of internal changes at iD, the company was acquired by Zenimax, a parent to Bethesda. Key employees such as John Carmack moved onto pastures new and the development of the game was all hush and dark for a long time. Leaked footage of a 2011 build suggests that Doom 4 received a complete overhaul, that particular build of the game was seen as “not Doom enough, and needed to be thrown out and started over” – another, now famous quote even likened the game to a certain, annually released shooter that rhymes with “Tall of Fruity” – that was actually dubbed “Call of Doom” – change is indeed good. We’re glad they did.
At its core, the new Doom is a fast paced gore lavished bloodbath. The single player part anyway, more on the multiplayer later. From the opening cinematic, of which there are only around 6 occasions where control is taken away from the player, to the rather splendid end of game boss; I enjoyed every minute. The game made me feel like DoomGuy; shooting, ripping, tearing, shredding, slashing, smashing and bashing my way through 13 chapters chock full of demon scum. This is the Doom I’ve been waiting for.
The beating heart of Doom is iDTech 6. This is a more refined, fat free version of RAGE’s iDTech 5 engine minus the horrid compression and the addition of full dynamic lighting, new decal system and physically based rendering brings things to life, there’s also an upcoming Vulkan API update which looks to give a performance gain. This game is beautiful. The moody-drenched labs to the outdoors of the surface of Mars, the levels are a mix of small, medium and large, it feels great. The need to explore and soak up the atmosphere is there as soon as you touch the mouse and keyboard.
There’s also the animations. The weapons, enemies, glory kills and various level props are superbly drawn. Worthy of note is when you, the DoomGuy finds a new weapon, it’s a momentous occasion as he brings the newly found tool of destruction close the the screen and tilts it, he’s admiring it’s loveliness with the occasional reload of ammo or gadgety twitching of valves on the more high-tech weaponry. The stars of the show though have to be the demons. From the way the Imp leaps around, climbs walls and hurls fireballs to the bounding of the Hell Knight, the twin horned bastard who loves nothing more than to jump and squash your puny mortal frame, very fast and fluid.
The artificial intelligence in Doom has come a long way from the original game. Demons now flank you, Imps will jump, grapple pillars, leap platforms and lob their signature fireballs and Hell Knights will even leap up to areas where you think you are safe, in fact, they even utilise jump pads and teleports, it’s quite a sight to behold. Of course it wouldn’t be Doom without the odd inter-Demon skirmish and these guys know how to fight! It’s quite amusing taking a break from all the killing to sit and watch three or four imps take on a Cacodemon. Much fun.
Obviously this is the PC version being reviewed. I am fortunate enough to own a decent graphics card, an Nvidia GTX 970 and a G-sync capable monitor. The two married up are an absolute treat. Mouse smoothing was enabled by default but a quick tweak on Steam’s launch options fixed that. The default, and lowest field of view is 90 and can be extended all the way to 120 for those with wider displays. There are a plethora of game and graphical tweaks, it really is a love letter to PC owners. The game rarely dropped below 60FPS on ultra detail at 1080p, even on the mighty boss fights and arena style gameplay where the onslaught was relentless, nothing glitched or ever crashed. It’s a far cry from the post launch woes that came with RAGE, lessons were learned, it seems.
Audio in Doom is a mixed bag on PC, there doesn’t appear to be any obvious surround sound, many PC players have reported this, so hopefully it will be addressed in an update. What sound there is, is pretty good. The weapons sound very punchy, save from the plasma rifle, it sounds a little too weak in my opinion. Demon sounds are suitably chilling and terrifying as well as the abundance of atmospheric sound in each level. Hell is a particular favourite; the groaning of agonising deaths, screaming and other chilling aural touches. Of course there’s the music. The iconic, remixed Doom main theme kicks in during the intro which reminds us all why we love the these games so much. Incidental tracks play out heavy metal as you’re gleefully dishing out death to Hell’s minions, it adds to the already adrenaline fuelled gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, the campaign lasted around 15 hours for me, this was on the average “Hurt me Plenty” skill level. Once you complete the game on “Ultra Violence”, you gain access to the more brutal “Ultra Nightmare” skill level which is a one shot deal. No respawns, once you’re dead, you’re dead, you start from the beginning. Truly an unforgiving mode in which only the skilled and battle hardened gamer will survive. Rewind to Doom 3 and how methodical the gameplay was, slow paced, limited enemies, tight, winding corridors with the need to utilise your flashlight for the truly pitch black areas, the game was more focused on scares and horror; this Doom is more based on combat and fast, fluid gameplay, it hearkens back to the original Doom where manoeuvrability and skill were king, a true rush when you hit that “Exit Level” button, just before you look back to admire the carnage you’ve wrought.
The story is of little consequence in Doom and the developers have gone out of their way to make sure that DoomGuy (you, the player) comes across like he really doesn’t care. He’s here to do a job and wants to kill them all, kill, maim, rip and tear, the only good demon is a dead demon. Of course you can play the game like a demented psycho. You can run through, ignore the large, open areas that beg to be explored for secrets… you can ignore the echo holograms that play out to tell the story, you can even choose not to upgrade your gear, suit runes or vital stats, it’s your choice. I dare say the hardcore out there have done this, they’ve speed run the game by whizzing through without collecting anything apart from the necessary ammo and health. You see, this is a smart move, it’s all unnecessary fluff if you’re a Doom purist, if you want to just mindlessly kill and switch off, go for it.
You’ll spend most of the time clearing areas of demons, squishing Gore Nests and surviving the lockdown until every last one of them are kissing concrete. On paper it sounds repetitive but in practice, it’s absolutely glorious. The movement and combat is as smooth as can be, damage a demon enough and they will stumble; this is where the Glory Kills come in. These context-sensitive fatalities play an integral part of the game, you can even use the environment to splat a demon’s head against a wall. Aim for a particular part of the body and a quick, smooth animation will play out. This is clever as the animation is quick (just short of 2 seconds, just enough not to interrupt the flow of combat) and yields health. It is beyond rewarding when you’re hopping, running around the arena-style map, chipping away at the horde and glory killing to stay alive. Make no mistake, you will come across some rather precarious parts and that desperate attempt at a glory kill will make the difference between life and death. It’s an ingenious, yet simple gameplay mechanic that works well.
For those who like to tweak and take their time, there’s a lot here. First, there’s your Praetor suit, the DoomGuy’s signature armour, you can upgrade certain stats to take advantage of the dire situation, items that protect you from the hazardous environments, your suit’s ability to scan said environments to reveal secret areas, your capacity to carry more items such as ammo and other gadgets, your power up effectiveness, which affects how collected power ups behave and their duration and finally, your dexterity, which can range from faster weapon switching to having the ability to grab ledges quicker. Tweak as much as you like, assuming you have the Praetor points required, which can be acquired by finding downed Elite Guards. There is also the Rune System, which can be upgraded and added to by completing the 13 Rune Trials scattered around the game. They are hidden but you’ll know one as soon as you see it. The challenges range from simple to pretty tough; it’s worth the effort though as you’ll further your skills with passive abilities, depending which of the 3 runes you equip. For the gun nuts, you’re well catered for with weapon mods. There are cute little mod drones scattered throughout the game which allows you to unlock certain mods for your weapons, it’s a great way to reward exploration, much like most of the rewards in the game. A well travelled DoomGuy usually is the more, well equipped one.
This is where the game excels. Not content with just creating an epic, fluid shooter, the chaps at iD went all out and expanded the Doom lore by adding Codex. Little chips you can find scattered around that gives information on the environments, story and various other information. Each new item, demon, environment and encounter are all documented for those who love to read. It’s also really well presented. The game’s map is also brilliantly realised. It’s 3D with an option to view top down, almost as a 2D view; your trodden path shows as blue and yet to be discovered is grey/white. You can also download the full map via consoles. Again, exploration is key.
So, as you can tell, I loved the single player, it’s spot on, it’s a return to form from the FPS Masters. So what about the other parts of the game? The Multiplayer, the SnapMap? Well, i’d be lying if I told you I’d played hours upon hours of multiplayer, but I haven’t. It isn’t terrible, it’s just it feels so out of place compared to the single player game, it’s almost as if the mode has a real identity crisis; does it want to be Doom with Call of Duty or Doom with Halo mechanics? Or does it want to be Halo or Call of Duty with some Doom thrown in for good measure? The multiplayer is satisfying. Freezetag, King of the Hill, Team Deathmatch (my favourite mode) and you can even be one of many (really overpowered, but awesome) Demons if you’re lucky enough to collect the respawnable rune, all these modes feel good to play but it’s nothing we haven’t seen or played a million times before. I think about it and it makes sense it has turned out this way. iD outsourced the bulk, if not all of multiplayer to Certain Affinity, who have worked on an absolute boat load of DLC for, wait for it… Call of Duty and Halo…they’ve done a lot and they’ve certainly put their stamp on Doom’s multiplayer. For those into cosmetic unlocks, levelling up, fragging and having a laugh, they will lap it up. I just didn’t feel the love after around 5 hours of game time. Each to their own, it’s still a solid addition to the game.
Last but not least, we have SnapMap. iD’s attempt to streamline what is usually PC only complex SDK tools. I was sceptical at first but this beautiful little bonus has so much potential. I spent about 10 hours messing around in other people’s creations and playing with the official releases with a buddy. I then bit the bullet and started to create my own co-op map. An industrial looking map with a dark tone. You start off with a basic template which sets up the kind of map you’re looking to create.
There is a wide choice ranging from classic deathmatch, arena style, survival modes and simple, which is what I used. You can spawn pretty much anything you like; demons, triggers, explodables, separate rooms, decorations and most interesting, game logic. In my map, i’ve trolled a little bit and spawned a super shotgun in the middle of an empty room. Now, in good old Doom tradition, when something’s almost too good to be true… yep, you guessed correctly, as soon as the player picks up the shotgun, certain demons will spawn in. It’s an example of how far you can go, and best of all, you can share it with all 3 of the released platforms (PC, Xbox One and PS4). You can also download and edit other people’s creations and re-upload, of course their original names are stamped on the maps so you can’t just go and steal people’s hard work.
The User Interface feels a little clunky with SnapMap when using a keyboard and mouse so I’m under the impression that it was designed for gamepads in mind. It doesn’t deviate from the fun though and you’ll find yourself spending hours just tweaking your ultimate masterpiece for people to enjoy. You can rate up/down people’s creations and if they’re good enough, Bethesda will add them on their featured page. We played a couple of really odd maps, one example; we spawned in a very small space, there were 2 BFG’s, so we picked them up. We walked through a set of doors and down a small corridor… then the level ended… nothing to shoot, nothing at all… weird. Bethesda have also created some really nice classic Doom maps. I need to play through E1M1 with a buddy, it simply has to be done. 🙂
So, in conclusion, Doom is a remarkable game. The single player experience is worth the price of admission all on its own, it really is beautiful, it plays and feels beautiful and I cannot wait to see where we go from here. I suspect any future DLC will be aimed towards multiplayer, sadly. Speaking of which, the multiplayer will appeal to the less “pure” Doom players, people like me, who prefer the single player after playing years of Halo and Call of Duty online. I predict SnapMap is going to blow up into a hive creative awesomeness and I hope that Bethesda/iD support it as long as possible, some great things will come from the community.
This is the Doom I wanted, it is the Doom that many of my friends wanted. Now, I must re-visit Mars to find the rest of the secrets.