DOOM: First Impressions

Brutal.

I love Doom. It is my favourite game of all time, bar none. Nothing else comes close. I even loved Doom 3, even though it wasn’t what “Doom” was. The thing is that what Doom actually “is” seems to be a diluted concept. Most people will tell you it was “super fast with hordes of enemies and non-linear gameplay and awesome MP.” Except it wasn’t, and that actually belittles Doom. Doom was wonderfully paced, something many games get wrong. Yes, you had your arena areas with a load of enemies, usually spawning in when you crossed the magic linedef, but these were set pieces. Much of it was exploring interesting architecture, looking for secrets, and facing off against a handful of enemies at a time. Doom wasn’t non-linear. It’s as linear as a line. Your progress is carefully moderated by keycards and switches. Backtracking is not non-linearity; there’s generally only one single way to finish the level (unless there’s a secret exit, or you break the game). And Doom’s MP was stock-standard and notable only because there simply wasn’t much like it at the time. Doom’s netcode was so bad it would crash LANs. It was just tacked onto the SP portion.

It’s only in the last decade or so, with things like zDoom, Skulltag (RIP) and Brutal Doom that people have decided that Doom is 100% rapid paced action with strong MP. Many people were hoping for the arena shooter to make a comeback, yet that hasn’t happened (nobody has been successful to the same lengths as Counter-Strike or TF2 for example). So when DOOM’s beta dropped and people bitched about the MP, everyone took it as a sign that the game was doomed. Really? Really, guys? Doom has been a SP game first and foremost. Always. If you think otherwise, you’re remembering things wrong.

How is the gameplay?

If I had to describe DOOM, I’d say it’s basically Brutal Doom lite. It’s much closer to the original Doom than Doom 3 ever was. The maps are more open, although they have their fair share of corridor elements too (as did the original). Enemy encounters vary from a handful to many (though not Serious Sam levels, because that’s ridiculous and not Doom), although some of the enemies are a little bit too bullet-spongey for my liking (but so was Doom before it). Backtracking and keycards return (yay?). Secrets return (yay!).

The story takes a back seat to the action. While Doom 3 took a fairly serious (haha) tone, DOOM gives up on that. The UAC are a sterotypical evil corporation that are harnessing Hell as a solution to an energy crisis… and yeah, things go wrong and that’s it. There’s a bit of UAC cult-like mentality spread around but it’s overt and slightly overplayed, I feel like they put it on too thick. Curiously though there’s a codex that provides backstory on a lot of things, including the various demons you’ll be up against. It’s like they couldn’t decide how much story they wanted. The story serves as a way to connect the different levels together.

The levels themselves are quite large, at least by modern game standards, and feature mixtures of wide open spaces (including outdoor environments) and claustrophobic corridors. There are lots of secrets to find, a fair amount of backtracking and exploration, and generally they feel slightly more like the original Doom’s maps rather than Doom 3’s corridor shooter mechanics.

The gameplay itself is pretty damn good, and I had a lot of fun with it. It’s a bit like Brutal Doom. You’ve got your standard assortment of classic Doom weapons, including a shotgun, the plasma gun, and a rocket launcher (to name a few). The Chainsaw and BFG are special weapons and treated differently – the chainsaw now uses fuel, and instantly kills enemies, consuming a different amount of “fuel” depending on the size of the enemy (a basic demon will take 1 fuel, a Hell Knight will take more). Enemies can be killed as in any other game, but if you cause them to stagger you can rush in for a Glory Kill – basically a brutal melee execution. These are quite well animated. Enemies executed in this way will drop health or ammo.

The enemies themselves are more or less as you’d expect. Possessed (the new former humans) wander around and pose little threat, until the later variants where they get guns and shields. Imps are pretty much unchanged except they’re much faster and will actually leap all over the map, cling to walls, and occasionally get up close. The AI is basic but getting Imps to leap up on to geometry like they do isn’t really a small ask, that’s some clever work there. Some enemies take too many hits in my opinion; you don’t really mow your opponents down, although the combat is extremely satisfying and visceral. It’s very fast, at least compared to Halo (although slower than the original, but few games are that fast these days, and even fewer that are popular).

There are a few other elements, like weapon upgrades, suit upgrades, an automap which is honestly one of the worst I’ve used, but most of this is fairly inconsequential. The main point is that DOOM’s core gameplay mechanic – exploration and combat – is very much intact in this game. It’s a return to the original with a modern touch, and the original was by no means perfect. The corridor mazes are gone, obscure switch hunts are gone, and the game makes excellent use of true 3D vertical space (which the original couldn’t do, being a sector engine). It’s a blast to play, and I just love ripping demons up with a shotgun, occasionally going in close for the kill. Where Doom 3 forced occasional cautious play and constant monster closets, DOOM encourages you to fight. It’s just plain fun to play.

There are some issues…

It isn’t perfect, of course. Firstly, ammunition is strangely limited. You can upgrade your carrying capacity, and there are quite a few pickups, but I routinely ran out of ammo for various weapons during some of the more protracted engagements. I ended up using weapons not because I wanted to, but because I ran out of options. Resource management was part of the original Doom (do I use my rocket launcher now, or save it for the Hell Knight that might be in the next room?) but it seems a touch too restrictive here, particularly early on.

Doom includes a new jumping and mantling mechanic, which works well for the most part, but with it comes a few platforming elements which aren’t so fun. It’s a very dynamic system without the typical “LOL CLIMB HERE” prompts that many games today use, but this ultimately leads to a few frustrating points in the game. Doom isn’t a platformer.

Although I’m not going to criticise DOOM too much for a lack of story, given that it’s Doom, I’m going to say that the storytelling is inconsistent. While parts of it appear to have a lot of thought put into it, the Union Aerospace Corporation is portrayed as a cartoonishly evil corporation-cult rather than a legitimate business. While the UAC aren’t benevolent in the other games, they are just shown as a corporation out to make money, and definitely acting with negligence and unethically, but not inherently evil. Juxtaposed with this however is the relatively serious plot point of the UAC harvesting Hell to solve an energy crisis, and the Doomguy’s actions in trying to stop this event are basically shitting all over that. Make up your mind, guys, how much story do you want?

Technically Speaking…

I played DOOM on my PS4, surprisingly. The framerate was excellent and the visuals were… well, I don’t want to say excellent, but I don’t want to merely say “adequate” either. The environments are relatively detailed, considering this is a pretty fast-paced game. There’s a bit of texture pop-in which seems inherent to all idTech games since Rage and megatextures became a thing. It’s better than Wolfenstein: TNO, but it’s not the most beautiful looking game out there. Lighting and shadows are excellent (and yes, you can actually see where you’re going this time). Motion blur is too heavy by default but you can turn that down. There’s a general lack of clutter objects except in very specific areas, which contrasts with Doom 3’s obsessive use of little objects to make areas feel alive (although they were very small areas). That said, this is a fast paced game, so it doesn’t matter so much. The only complaint I have are loading times – on the PS4 they feel a bit excessive and the game loads almost at every goddamn screen.

I haven’t played with Snapmap that much yet, but I’ve had a quick look. SnapMap is an added feature that lets you make your own maps using a load of predefined map segments that you snap together. It’s no DoomEd from the 90s, but then again few people actually have the skill to use a full 3D map editor, so I can see why id thought a simplified version would be a good idea. I’ve only had the briefest of looks, but it seems like there’s enough flexibility for creative people to come up with interesting SP maps. A general user without much skill can make something and feel accomplished, even if it isn’t particularly noteworthy.

In all?

It’s DOOM. As a classic Doom gamer, I’m extremely happy. It solves most of the problems introduced with Doom 3. Will it make everybody happy? No, because lots of people have forgotten the early-mid 90s when Doom came out. If you’re dead set on finding things to bitch about, you will. “It’s not exactly like the original Doom!” will be a common complaint, but nobody’s going to do that, because that already exists and we’re still playing it. This is pretty much as close as we’ll get. The old “Serious Sam is a better Doom than DOOM!” argument is wrong – Serious Sam is not Doom, if you think it’s Doom you’ve got the wrong impression of Doom. SS has no pacing. Doom does.

If you’re after a robust MP experience, don’t get DOOM. Get it for the SP gameplay, which is all that Doom has ever been about. MP has always been an adjunct to the SP game. The arena shooter is mostly dead.

If you’re unsure, don’t dive in until there are more impressions (or until you can get it cheap, I guess). But this is a very good game. Flawless? No. Bad? Far from it. It’s just that Doom, by its very title, invites a lot of ridiculous and flawed comparisons that will result in hate either way. Just wait until Half Life 3 drops!

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