Doom 2016 Review
Doom is a new reboot by id software and people were understandably worried. The original Doom isn’t just a great game, it’s one of the most influential games of all time. The reason we have PC gaming, modding, online multiplayer and the FPS genre is because of Doom. The reboot had quite a large pair of shoes to fill. The end result isn’t going to cause a revolution, but it is a fun shooter.
Just like the original game the plot is pretty inconsequential. Unlike the original game it is also hard to follow. Most of the story is told through PDAs you find scattered around so it’s very fragmented. The UAC has found a way to tap into hell to harvest energy, and they use this to solve an energy crisis on Earth. Olivia, an employee of the UAC, has purposely opened a portal to hell that allows demons through. She did this because she’s the leader of a cult and they need the demons for something. Either that or she was mind controlled, or perhaps this is an elaborate bid to take over the company. The story isn’t really worth paying attention to, but at least it doesn’t get in the way of the game.
The game is filled with half-finished or aborted storylines and it’s tonally inconsistent. There’s a whole set of prophecies that relate to the religion of Hell and it’s all very serious. At the same time the PA system on Mars cheerfully reminds you to remain calm in case of a demon invasion. It’s amusing, but jarring. I will say that the Doom Guy is characterized well. He doesn’t have any long speeches or silly one liners. His actions don’t have any greater motivation behind them. He’s in it for the same reason we all are: the love of violence. His defining moment is when he needs to disable a laser and is given complex instructions on how to safely do so. He just smashes it and moves on.
The game is good where it really matters though. The weapon selection is varied and interesting. Every gun has some unique upgrades for it, and they’re all very meaningful. Instead of really granular upgrades like “5% more damage against imps” you have upgrades such as explosive rounds for the shotgun or a freeze ray for the plasma rifle. The enemy design encourages that you use all these weapons. Shotguns are great against weaker enemies, but larger enemies demand the rocket launcher or gauss gun. It’s simply a great arsenal and you’ll actually have a reason to use it all.
Resource management is also quite important. Enemies can take a lot of damage and there’s rarely enough ammo to bring you back up to 100%. This makes combat a lot more interesting; the rocket launcher may be the best choice in a situation, but what do you do when you’re out of ammo? This not only further encourages weapon switching, but also encourages secret hunting. Every level has a few areas tucked away that offer some much needed supplies, along with fun collectibles and bonus levels.
The man issue is that the game gets too easy. As you get more upgrades your enemies don’t change, so over time they just become easier to fight. While the weapon upgrades are good, there are also suit upgrades, marine upgrades and runes. These systems usually offer more basic content such as extra health and ammo, or a faster movement speed. A battle that may have been tense is ruined when I have 7 times as much ammo to deal with it. The resource management and weapon variety mentioned earlier basically just go away.
The gauss gun is the most powerful weapon in the game and can kill any enemy in 3 hits. In the mid game this was limited by the low ammo count, but after a number of upgrades it was rare to run out. Even worse is the chainsaw. This incarnation of the chainsaw instakills any enemy and when you do so they drop tons of ammo for all your guns. Matches quickly become a cycle of using all your gauss gun ammo and then using the chainsaw to fill it back up. Thankfully these aren’t core gameplay problems. It’s a well designed game, it just needs a bit of rebalancing so that the gauss gun doesn’t dominate.
One aspect that only gets better over time is the monster design. There’s a steady stream of new enemies to fight and they are all deadly. A Cacodemon can eat you in one bite, while a Cyber-mancubus can cover an entire area in deadly acid that’s dangerous to step in. Enemies are a lot more aggressive and versatile than the ones in the original game. They attack more constantly and can easily surround you. Movement is actually more important here than the original Doom; it’s not possible to circle-strafe the AI, especially since they don’t move so predictably anymore.
Every enemy has a unique way of moving and this has a layering effect. Running away from a Baron from Hell that’s bearing down on you is easy, but not if you also have to doge an Imp’s fireball and the rockets from a Revenant.Every enemy has a strategy that works against them, and when you fight more than one type at a time you need to constantly change your tactics. It’s pretty fantastic. Every section is just a mad dash of running and jumping while trying to survive. The only way it could be made better would be by adding strafe jumping and rocket jumping (while rocket jumping is in the game, it’s very limited). They’d fit perfectly in a game like this so it’s a real shame that they don’t make an appearance.
The level design is also pretty great. Maps have a good mix of big arenas to fight in along with smaller “monster closets”. Levels aren’t quite as labyrinthine as classic Doom maps, but they also aren’t just a linear series of empty rooms like other throwback shooters. Every room is built to provide a different combat experience. Some will have multiple levels so you can escape enemies via platforming, while others focus on giving you lots of cover to navigate around. I just wish it required a bit more exploration. The path through every level is pretty obvious, not to mention that you have a mini-map and an arrow to guide you along.
One of the more controversial inclusions is the glory kill system. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Glory kills are visually interesting and there are enough of them that they don’t get repetitive to look at while playing. They also have some risk associated with them; you might need to leave a good position to glory kill an enemy and end up surrounded by a host of other monsters. However, you get a lot of health from a glory kill so they do get prioritized. Stopping the natural flow of combat for a glory kill really hurts the pace of the game. At the least, they replaced the standard regen health system with one that rewards violent murder. That’s gotta be worth something.
Instead of dubstep there’s a proper heavy metal soundtrack. There are some fast-paced blood-pumping tracks for the combat sections and slow, creepy tracks during the slower periods of the game. Sadly the sound design isn’t memorable. Weapons don’t sound satisfying to shoot. The Doom 2 super shotgun was the sound of God backslapping you, but the shotgun here sounds generic. Enemy sounds aren’t iconic either. In Doom 2 you could walk into a room blind but still know which enemies were there based on their opening scream. If you heard a cyberdemon and an archvile you were about to have a bad time. Here all the sounds blend together. It’s hard to even hear an Imp scream, much less remember it. The sound design is just so cluttered that nothing stands out from it.
The game is also a mixed bag graphically. On a technical level it is gorgeous. The guns are glorious to look at and every fight ends with a pornographic level of blood and gore. It’s beautiful, but it’s all so washed out. Everything is a murky shade of brown or red. The original Doom was vibrant with bright hues of blue, yellow and green. Brown and red were still there but were crisp and clean. Here it’s all muddy and enemies start to look similar because of it. Again, it just lacks the distinctiveness of the original games.
Multiplayer was outsourced to the same team that did Halo 4’s multiplayer and it shows. What should have been an arena shooter is instead an identity crisis. It has movement like Halo, loadouts like CoD, and timed demon spawns which are similar to the titans in Titanfall. It doesn’t know what it wants to be so it just tries to be every popular game in the last 5 years.
The poor weapon balance in the multiplayer is just blatant. In previous arena shooters like Quake you could hold every weapon so even the niche guns would be used. In this game you’re limited to 2, so you the only ones you see are the most popular ones.The super shotgun is the best close range weapon and the chaingun is the best automatic weapon. In terms of pure DPS there is literally no reason to use anything else. The plasma gun, lighting gun and machine gun are all automatic weapons in the same vein as the chaingun, but the chaingun has a greater damage output. The vortex rifle and burst rifle are good at range, but long range attacks rarely come up, and in short range they’re useless. There’s an equipment slot and it has some interesting items such as the teleporter and a leech grenade, but it suffers from the same issue. The grenade is powerful enough to kill an unarmored enemy, so no one uses anything else.
The rest of the multiplayer isn’t any better. You can equip hack modules before a round. You get them randomly, and some of them are insanely useful. A match might be decided based on which modules you have and since the modules are randomly given the entire match is basically just a luck of the draw. Some are useless like an extra 5 armor on spawn, but some give unlimited ammo for 90 seconds or the ability to see enemies through walls. This is basically legitimized cheating. Demon runes aren’t much better. When you get one you become a powerful demon that can kill anyone in a single hit. When you die your opponent gets it, and this sort of back and forth just continues for the entire duration of the match. Every game just devolved into trying to hold the demon rune for the longest. No unique strategies, no teamwork needed. Just equip the super shotgun, chaingun and grenade and rush to the demon rune first. The multiplayer doesn’t even have basic game modes such as FFA or CTF. It’s a joke.
SnapMap on the other hand is a lot of fun. It’s a map creator that has a lot of expressive power. There are some really well designed levels, but its true value lies in the non-combat possibilities. there are some parkour maps, some puzzle maps and some really creative maps. Someone created a whack-a-mole minigame. Someone else created a large piano that you can use to record music. There’s even an RPG where you play as a pregnant squirrel. How do you cope with empty nest syndrome after all your children go to squirrel college? It’s still a far cry from the full mod tools of Doom 2 (there are some pretty strict restrictions on how many enemies you can place on the map, or the changes you can make to the physics engine), but there’s enough here to have fun with it.
Doom isn’t anything more than a very good shooter and that’s all it needed to be. It eschewed all the modern trends that plague most games and just focused on good design with interesting content. It’s a flawed Doom game, but it still feels like a Doom game.