DOOM (2016) Review
DOOM (2016) Review
Reboots are always a tricky proposition, but DOOM's campaign is hellishly fun for FPS fans.
Posted: 06/10/16 | Category: Review | Developer: Id Software | Publisher: Bethesda Softworks | Platform: Playstation 4, Windows, Xbox one

Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release date: May 13, 2016
Review Platform: Xbox One

Reboots are always a tricky proposition, whether you're re-imagining a movie, TV show or video game. On the one hand, creators have to have enough callbacks to what made the earlier stories, characters and/or gameplay mechanics work so well that past fans will be satisfied. On the other, if they put in too many callbacks or not enough new elements to keep the formula fresh, potential new fans will be confused and others will accuse them of making a cash grab, attempting to simply squeeze more money out of an old property.

It's impossible to overstate the challenge Bethesda and id Software had in balancing the expectations of new and old players while attempting to reboot Doom, which was the granddaddy of the modern first-person shooter. A new game hadn't been released in the franchise since 2004 when the critically acclaimed Doom 3 was released. A Doom film starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was panned, and plans for a Doom 4 had been scrapped. In that time, an entire generation of gamers grew up who had never experienced Doom.

I was one of them. I had only ever really heard of Doom in passing, but had bought Bethesda's reboot of Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein The New Order, and thoroughly enjoyed it when I got my Xbox One a year ago. With it came an insert to sign up for the closed alpha of Doom's multiplayer which arrived this year and was incredibly unimpressive as was the open beta (for reasons I will touch on in the multiplayer portion of this review). So even as somebody who has no nostalgia for Doom, I had mixed feelings when the new and confusingly named DOOM showed up for rental at my local Redbox shortly after its worldwide release for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. I thought, "Oh, well, I suppose I might as well check it out for the single-player campaign. If I hate it, then I'll return it."

I ended up keeping it for three days. Here's why.

Campaign
 

The story in DOOM's campaign can be summed up as: Demons are invading Mars and you're just the nameless hero to kill them and close the portal to Hell. There are collectible diaries that explain the backstory if you want to find them, and there's a couple twists and turns sprinkled throughout to keep you interested in moving through the levels, but if you absolutely don't care, the story stays in the background, most of the time. But your main character, the Doom Marine, can punch the screens spouting bland expository dialogue so he can get back to shooting and pummeling demons.

In most other campaigns, I'd fault the game for a weak story, but from the first moment you're given a pistol until the final boss ten or so hours later, the act of killing demons is so fantastic that I didn't care at all. All eight guns that you get (my favorites were the booming double-barreled Super Shotgun and the enormous Gauss Cannon lightning gun) feel and sound extraordinarily punchy, backed by a smooth frame-rate the entire time on my Xbox. I used all of them against a variety of demons that are quick on their feet, surprisingly adept at surrounding and overwhelming you, and (especially on Ultraviolence, which is where I set the difficulty most of the time) can rip off your armor and health very easily if you're not careful. Health doesn't regenerate, which initially put me off a bit, since sometimes in games where you have to use health packs you can get stuck in a big boss fight, or face a large group of enemies on low health and there's no way to get it back unless you load a past save or explore old and empty areas.

Combined with the fact that the game only uses auto-saves, I was worried that I would get stuck in frustrating loops of death and respawning. There are some moments of that, as when you're killed by the last demon after slaughtering what seem to be dozens of them and have to take all of them down again, or when a boss is being cheap (more on that in a bit). But the campaign brilliantly solves this problem in two ways.

First, you don't only get armor and health from exploring. There are colored keycards that you need to find in order to unlock certain doors of the corresponding color. Drones give you attachments to your weapons that, for instance, can turn your chaingun into a mobile turret or give your assault rifle micro missiles. These can in turn be upgraded by earning weapon upgrade points for doing well in combat or finding secrets. Argent crystals allow you to permanently upgrade your health, armor, capacity, and ammo. Praetor tokens from the armor of dead Marines give you passive upgrades to your suit. Plus, you gain throwable equipment ranging from grenades to holograms, a chainsaw that can use a certain amount of fuel depending on the size of the enemy, and ammo for the BFG - an enormous cannon which can obliterate an entire wave of enemies in emergencies depending on how long you hold the attack button.

Even though the upgrade systems allow you to tailor the game to your play style, having to manage everything in your inventory can get a little daunting, especially since standing around in one place means death, so you're constantly forced to run and gun rather than take cover.

That's where the Glory Kill system comes in. It allows you to turn your running (and you move at blistering speeds, even with no sprint button) into forward momentum that keeps the combat going at a fast pace. When enemies takes enough damage, they'll glow blue if they can be Glory Killed and orange if you're close enough to do it. Clicking down on the right stick on consoles will then show you a brutal kill animation (which varies depending on where your attack comes from), make you invincible for a few seconds while performing it, and drops health (or ammo if you're using the chainsaw) from their corpses.

This allows you to rarely feel frustrated, even if health and armor packs are rare in a level, while still feeling tense about keeping your health intact, since you can always switch up your tactics on the fly and gain health back from a Glory Kill in a pinch. It also makes DOOM the single goriest game I've ever played, and made me feel like a god of death whenever I, for instance, ripped a giant demon's stomach out, shoved it down his throat and watched him explode into a pile of guts with his skull and spine standing in the air like a Slinky as I let out a triumphant grunt as the excellent death metal and electronic soundtrack thundered in my ears.

TESTOSTERONE.

That's not even the nastiest kill you can pull off with this system. So if you're queasy at all, then this game is definitely NOT for you. But if you're reading on from here, you're probably not, and I can assure you that the Glory Kill never becomes overly necessary either. Each stage is very well-designed and, as the game progresses, includes neat new features such as jump pads or portals between different rooms that can give you an edge in a pinch. There are also power-ups that can give you temporary invincibility, quadruple your weapon damage, increase your speed and, my personal favorite, the ability to kill any demon with one punch.

However, the objectives can get a little repetitive, especially towards the end. Usually, you'll need to explore to find keycards to open doors (the only difference is that in Hell, they're colored skulls -- clever). Then you'll get locked in an arena with waves of demons charging you until they're dead, explore to get to the next area, often by platforming and double jumping (which controls decently well), sometimes over floating areas with bottomless pits below, kill demons in the next arena, and repeat.

As I stated earlier, the well-designed stages make up for a lot of this, but DOOM can be a mentally exhausting experience at times; even though it kept me playing for hours-long stretches over the rental period, I sometimes needed to take breaks.

The last few missions throw in three bosses, and while these do add some variety, the boss fights are the weakest part of the campaign. Pretty much all of the creativity present in the arena fights is completely stripped away and you're forced to avoid the same heavily telegraphed attacks that can obliterate you quickly while waiting on some very short windows of opportunity to damage the demons, slowly and tediously wearing down their massive health bar. In one encounter, for instance, I thought I could dodge an attack that would trap me, only to find that I was warped into the trap anyway. The game also doesn't explain that the only way to gain health back during boss fights is to damage the bosses with the BFG and then shoot them in an extended stun period. Only one of the boss stages gives BFG ammo, though, so you might be tight on options if you've already used all your BFG charges against hordes of demons. I'll definitely keep that in mind next time I play the campaign.

Multiplayer, SnapMap, Conclusion
 

Despite the bosses, there will be a next time; possibly on Nightmare or, if I’m brave enough, on Ultra-Nightmare (where you die once and die forever, and can see skulls where other players failed) since the campaign allows you to replay any past missions with all your upgrades intact. However, I won't be doing this until DOOM is back in stock at Redbox, or significantly discounted.

That’s not to denigrate the SnapMap custom map-building feature at all. I never got around to trying to create any maps, and I’m not sure I’d be any good at it. However, there are plenty of ingenious player creations to enjoy. These range from recreations of old Doom levels to multiplayer maps to the hilarious “Raccoon Simulator 2016,” which has you playing a raccoon mother in a story with multiple endings (that I won’t spoil). My favorite is a parkour challenge map that involve platforming to a goal in a set amount of time. Unfortunately, switching between campaign and SnapMap (or multiplayer) requires a lengthy loading screen; SnapMap is the only cooperative content, as the campaign is single-player only.

As fun as they are, the campaign and SnapMap don’t make the overall package worth $60, especially since the multiplayer was quickly outsourced to another developer. While the speedy movement and satisfying shooting are carried over from the campaign, the maps and modes (except for one where the capture-point moves around the map) are uninspired. The customizable loadout system and two-weapon limit from Call of Duty also means that pretty much everybody just equips the super shotgun and rocket launcher to blow people away without much skill. Those players are also likely to be camping demon runes, the only standout feature of the multiplayer, which allows them to turn into one of several demons from the campaign, complete with the ability to take a ton of ammunition and kill you really easily. Or they’ll probably use Glory Kills to instantly stomp your face in when you’re at low health with no ability to counterattack. I encountered all of these multiplayer annoyances in the Alpha, Beta, and then full game. I’m sure many people will have fun mastering DOOM’s multiplayer, but I won’t be one of them.

This is quite a shame because the campaign is honestly one of, if not the best, most challenging, and incredibly memorable single player first-person shooters I’ve experienced, alongside the likes of BioShock and Call of Duty 2. If you get DOOM on sale, the campaign is sufficiently lengthy that you’ll get your money’s worth playing it a few times on higher difficulty levels, and to hunt all the secrets you can, and then dabbling in the SnapMaps. The multiplayer is such a boring and frustrating experience, however, that I really would have preferred they scrap in favor of a couch or online co-op feature for the campaign.

DOOM is absolutely worth trying if you can. And when I do try it again, I’ll enjoy nearly throwing my controller in frustration as I fight off the forces of Hell a second time.

 

Grade: B-
Sinfully amazing and gory presentation
Hellish fun; difficult, brutal campaign is one of the best of all time
SnapMaps are a demonic good time
 
 
Damnable boss fights
Condemned by boring multiplayer
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Specials from Digital Download
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