At the moment, the DOOM multiplayer beta is sitting with a “Mostly Negative” rating on Steam from almost 12,000 user reviews. A cursory glance over the negative reviews of the beta reveals that the most common complaint stems from the multiplayer’s supposed “identity crisis.” Simply put, there are many users who say that this game is simply not the DOOM they know and love.
Most of the time, such expectations are usually the result of longtime fans who hyped themselves up too much, but in this case it’s id Software and Bethesda that are responsible for most of the hype. Even the game’s Steam page promises the “Return of id Multiplayer” and “DOOM’s signature, fast-paced arena-style combat.”
Instead, this modern day DOOM’s multiplayer is an attempt to make the great FPS compromise. It tries to retain certain qualities of what made that era of shooters so great, while also incorporating some more moderns FPS multiplayer elements in order to better acclimate the franchise into the modern world. The result is a multiplayer mode that feels both overconfident and fundamentally unsure of itself.
As a throwback to the traditional style of FPS multiplayer, DOOM feels overconfident. It incorporates elements of that era, such as an increased play speed, traditional weaponry, and power-up items, but sadly puts too much faith in its ability to understand what really made that era of games special.
For example, DOOM is a fast game in the sense that your character moves like an 8-year old on a sugar binge, but fails to realize that pure character speed is nothing if the rest of the game isn’t designed to support that type of chaotic gameplay it is intended to create. DOOM’s weapons lack the damage potential and design creativity needed in a game that is trying to be an arena shooter. They have no personality, like the Rocket Launcher and Shotgun, which simply fail to live up to their powerful predecessors.
Then you have weapons and power-ups which — in this beta build of the game — feel overpowered. The biggest offender of this design is the ability to pick up an item drop that turns you into a demon. Given that the demon is just a faster, stronger, tougher version of a regular player, this ability essentially guarantees you a significant kill streak with little effort required. Its appearance is also sporadic and random, meaning that picking it up is often a simple matter of luck.
DOOM’s map design is also counter-intuitive to an arena shooter. The two maps available are both far too small, far too cramped, and lack the sense of flow needed to really feel like you can master them. Their visual design is also something of a disappointment. The maps capture the whole “fighting in Hell” aesthetic, but in an era where the brown and gray FPS design dominates, this brown and gray FPS series feels less twisted and more generic than it used to.
But if DOOM doesn’t play quite like a classic arena shooter does, then it could of course make up for it by playing like an exceptional modern shooter. Many may have hoped that DOOM would return to another time but, as that wasn’t promised, something a little more current would have also worked.
Sadly, this is where DOOM feels so unsure of itself. It has many of the trademarks of a modern shooter, like loadouts, character customization, and abilities, but presents them in a way that suggests DOOM is having a mid-life crisis and is trying in vain to understand what’s hip. The most amusing case of this is the ability to perform various emotes in a game that is otherwise constantly presenting itself as bleak and damned, but this shortcoming affects the gameplay as well.
DOOM pays lip service to more modern FPS elements, but fails to incorporate them in a meaningful way. Loadouts feel irrelevant given the relative strength of pick-ups and your melee ability, while the game’s character perks feel insignificant. None of them really provide particularly exciting advantages, and by-and-large aren’t that fun to use either.
It all results in a multiplayer game that just feels unnecessary. It’s worth clarifying that DOOM’s multiplayer is by no means awful. It has its share of problems, but is far from unplayable. The mode’s biggest sin, however, is that there’s nothing that stands out about it. Though the FPS bubble has burst a bit in recent years, there are a variety of games that I would recommend over DOOM’s multiplayer in its current state. If you’re looking for a classic arena shooter, then you want something like the revitalized Unreal Tournament. If it’s a modern shooter you’re looking for, Call of Duty and Halo do it much better. Even an incomplete multiplayer game like Evolve still offers the kind of unique experience that DOOM does not.
In its current state, DOOM’s multiplayer just feels like an afterthought. Although I have not yet found a way to complain about getting free samples, it does seem odd that id and Bethesda would release this multiplayer mode as an event, when the actual gameplay feels so uneventful.
As I said in the beginning, DOOM‘s true legacy has always been as a brilliant single-player experience. As such, I still believe that this incarnation of DOOM’s reputation will ultimately rest with the quality of its single-player content, and that a fantastic campaign mode can turn this multiplayer mode into the serviceable afterthought it is most likely intended to be.
Still, there is something unsettling about the way the game promises a return to the good old arena multiplayer style of old and fails to make any real strides in providing that kind of experience. The implication that this DOOM game might be trying to reap the rewards of its name without properly bearing the responsibility that comes with it is so unsettling.
Matthew Byrd is a freelance contributor.