In recent years, Bethesda has helped herald the return of old-school shooters for a new generation. This worked to a wonderful degree with MachineGames’ Wolfenstein: The New Order and its 2015 expansion, The Old Blood, both of which brought new life and gameplay mechanics to the iconic FPS series. Now with 2016’s Doom reboot, id Software has taken a different approach than Wolfenstein and different still from Doom 3, the series’ last release in 2004. And that’s because this new Doom is a love letter to the days of old, with chaotic fun and head-spinning speed that proves eviscerating demons in all manner of ways is a timeless pastime for all.
The first thing that players will notice about Doom is their character’s incredibly fast movement speed, and everything else in the campaign matches that intensity with the meter cranked up to eleven. The enemies themselves are extremely aggressive at all times, from impish creatures that hurl fireballs your way, to giant horned monstrosities that charge you mercilessly across the wide, open maps. Combine this with the adrenaline-pumping heavy metal soundtrack that kicks its way through your speakers during every combat encounter, and Doom’s gameplay becomes a pulse-pounding, head-banging thrill.
The lack of cutscenes and heavy story elements place the focus squarely on the gameplay, and the good news is that Doom is an absolute blast in that area. There’s essentially no such thing as taking cover in the game, and standing still at any time almost always results in a quick and violent death. As there’s no regenerating health or a weapon reload function, this also means regularly fleeing from enemy demon hordes to find health and shield pickups or extra ammo on the battlefield. It’s definitely a blistering change of pace from today’s modern shooters, and while it may not be for everyone, the frantic nature of battle harkens back to the classic days of “shoot now, ask questions never.”
Staggering an enemy gives players a brief respite amidst the constant onslaught of chaos, and this is where the brilliant glory kills come into effect: brutal melee finishers with unique and gory animations depending on the enemy type and the player’s physical position in relation to them. For instance, jumping down on a staggered demon from above will result in a curb stomp glory kill, while crouching down will sweep their legs out from under them before delivering the final deadly blow. Glory kills result in extra health pickups and add a crucial element to the rewarding run-and-gun cycle that encourages over-aggression.
The chainsaw, which gets its own dedicated button on the controller, is another blissfully gory mechanic that splits demons straight down the middle in a frenzy of bloodshed at breakneck speeds. Glowing power-ups are also found dispersed throughout the environments for an extra advantage in battle, such as dealing quadruple damage or brief spurts of invulnerability, but my favorite power-up lets players pummel demons into meaty chunks with their fists. Though most of the enemy encounters involve clearing entire rooms of demon hordes before moving on to the next, these violent variations on killing demons ensure that the formula never gets old.
In addition to the visceral shooting portions, Doom prides itself on old-school exploration and platforming sections, with extra upgrades and clever nods to past Doom games stashed away in hard-to-reach places. It helps that the environments themselves are carefully crafted with sprawling architecture and vertical landscapes. While the campaign features its fair share of research stations and various facility interiors, it is the stunning outdoor vistas on the surface of Mars and Hell that give Doom a unique visual identity, and these open exploration moments really allow the game’s graphics to shine.
The game provides a surprising amount of depth in its various upgrade systems, which intertwine collectables and weapon-usage challenges to power up your deadly arsenal and suit capabilities. It’s another strong example of how Doom manages to rework modern FPS and RPG concepts into its old-school mold, and the result feels fresh and invigorating, with the game’s over-the-top weapons becoming even more ridiculously violent through unlocking different modules. Short arena-based trials offer special runes that augment your abilities even further, as they task you with killing different demon types in specific ways or completing a platforming course before the timer expires.
Outside of the main campaign, Doom comes equipped with a robust level editor called SnapMap, which lets players create their own versions of Hell on Earth within minutes. Although the SnapMap interface itself looks a little bland, it actually offers a fair amount of options for creating your own nightmarish scenarios, and I was especially impressed to find different win/lose conditions and linking switches or pressure plates to enemy spawns, in addition to randomized demon patrols. The Doom community has already made great use of these tools by offering up an eclectic batch of user-created content, the most popular being modern recreations of classic Doom levels.
Unfortunately, Doom’s new-age versus old-school mentality doesn’t translate nearly as well in the game’s multiplayer component. Mostly comprised of standard Team Deathmatch and Domination scenarios with a little pinch of demon presence for good measure, the multiplayer feels more like an afterthought to the richly developed campaign rather than a standout experience. The online matchups are weighed down by various character loadouts and excessive perks, yet the simplistic combat and execution seems too much at odds with this modernized format.
Whereas the player’s blistering speed works in thrilling fashion against the endless demon hordes in the campaign, the same speed takes things too far off the rails in an online arena. Unique modes like Soul Harvest and Freeze Tag make things a little more interesting (the latter is played in five rounds with one life per player and the ability to thaw out fallen teammates), but there’s something that just feels off about the multiplayer altogether.
However, Doom’s sweltering campaign more than makes up for the shaky footing that offsets the multiplayer modes. Doom is fast, frantic, and most importantly, fun. The game expertly weaves old-school mechanics like no cover and non-regenerative health with modern ideas like upgradable weapons and character attributes. The result is wonderfully unique: the battles are intense, the exploration is rewarding, and the brutal chainsaw kills are gory in all the right ways. Although this may be Doom for a new generation, old-school shooter fans will feel right at home in this new version of Hell.