Tom: If I’m going to keep playing Doom — which I had probably better if we’re going to write this review — it will be almost solely based on the campaign progression. Crazy weapon upgrades? Incentivized indiscriminate slaughter? Navigating and exploring using maps? Challenges throughout? The gratifying chaos of pinata monsters popping out candy? Where have I been doing this lately? Ah, right, the latest Ratchet & Clank. There is no shooter that isn’t better by borrowing from Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank series, even if they don’t admit or realize they’re doing it. Have the Bethesda folks been citing Ratchet & Clank as an inspiration for Doom? I kind of doubt it.
Nick: This is the Doom I always thought I remembered. Thumping drums, melee kills, double-jumps, and chainsaw ammo pinatas. Nevermind that none of that was actually in Doom. Somehow id Software and Bethesda found a way to add all this stuff and trick me into thinking it was always in the series. There was an assault rifle with a zoom scope in the original Doom, right? However they did it, they brewed up some damn fine shooting here.
After the jump, now with extra punching!
Tom: Doom has what is probably the smartest game design I’ve seen from id, a company known for their passion for tech and their absolute uninterest in game design. I mean, seriously, did you play Rage? For all it’s hyperactive mayhem, Doom plays in a rhythmic looping structure. Spend ammo shooting monsters to stagger them so you can glory kill them for health. When you run out of ammo, use your chainsaw to cut open monsters for ammo. Which you’ll use to get health. Which will sustain you until you get more ammo. Along the way, find more gas for your chainsaw.
This clearly defined gameplay pattern sustains Doom’s breakneck pace. If I was just zipping through monsters holding down the fire button, it would get pretty tedious pretty quickly. But because I’m constantly positioning myself in that ammo-health-ammo-health sequence, I’m staying engaged. I’m surfing some pretty smart moment-to-moment gunplay. Doom grooves.
Nick: Surfing is right. The developers refer to the single player combat arenas in Doom as “skate parks” and that’s a pretty good description of how it works. You run in, hit the switch or monster summoning pod, and zip around the level killing things. The areas are set up like Tony Hawk playspaces with platforms you can mantle onto, walls to dodge around, and catwalks to jump off. I kept expecting a half-pipe to show up as a set piece. The most effective way to play is to constantly move and shoot while setting up chains of kills. You’re not so much concerned with killing each enemy one after the other as you are making sure you maintain speed and setting up glory kills at the right times.
It almost reminds me of Bulletstorm, except there’s no points for being awesome and the only environmental kills you can set up are the ever-present exploding barrels. But hey, exploding barrels! That’s Doom, right? If only there was a system that doled out scores for performance and had a running tally to compare against my friends. Dick-tits!
Tom: Maybe that’s why I keep feeling the need to quip “I’m going to punch your dick off…” while I’m playing this game. The Bulletstorm vibe is strong, and Doom would lend itself wonderfully to a scoring system. Maybe someone will use that horrid Snapmap thing to come up with a scoring mod for the campaign. Can you do that in Snapmap? Isn’t Snapmap supposed to let me fulfill all my hopes and dreams for Doom?
Nick: Snapmap is not the idTech editor you’re looking for. Slapping pre-made rooms together and populating them with props and enemies is a far cry from what people have come to expect from id. This isn’t even as good as Forge from the Halo games. I have no doubt some clever folks will be able to make some cool stuff with this. Some of the examples available now include a pure parkour map, a level with the piano from Big, and a memory test. But they all suffer from the limited room selection and bland geometry offered. Remember the Aliens TC mod for the original Doom? You won’t be seeing that kind of freedom to create here.
Snapmap is better than literally no editor, but it’s not much better. Oh, and the developers stuck a weird progression grind in here like they did in multiplayer. Why am I supposed to care about cosmetic doodads for my armor in the editor mode?
Tom: You know what other level editor shenanigans had a weird progression grind? Disney Infinity. And look where that got them.
Nick: If they’re going to have a grind in the editor, how about making it relevant to the mode? The developers put a few Snapmap puzzles into the game that act as a sort of tutorial, which are satisfying in a weird SpaceChem way. They missed the opportunity to tie meaningful unlocks to these puzzles, however. Getting through them just gives you more points to buy the armor bits instead of unlocking more complicated editor assets or even just some Hell-themed rooms. What’s that all about anyway? There’s no Hell stuff in Snapmap. It’s all just bland metal corridors, crates, and Martian base chunks.
Tom: Doom looks fine. And not fine as in fine, but fine as in just fine. The graphics engine is certainly fancy and fluid, but the actual artwork is your typical Martian base in the aftermath of a hellwave. Yep, a hellwave. That’s what happened here. I’m not sure where this falls on the severity scale compared to Half-Life’s resonance cascade scenario, but it makes for a target rich environment. That is unfortunately still a typical Martian base.
Nick: I’m surprised at how often I’m not blown away by the environments. Am I jaded? Have I just seen one too many Martian bases and hells based on rock album covers? The levels set in Hell have some pretty skillfully made areas, but even they fail to really impress me. Oh, look another set of spikes with skulls. There’s a flaming pool of blood next to a bloodfall. Yawn. It’s all so sincere and goofy. Twenty-two year-old me thought this stuff was bitchin’ in the original Doom, but I guess I’ve grown out of butt-rock and tattoo art. No, that’s not true. I still love butt-rock and Doom does have a nice selection of the buttiest of butt-rock in the soundtrack. There’s nothing like splitting a demon open while a machine gun guitar riff blares from the speakers.
Tom: Ha ha, you’re playing Doom with the music turned on. It occurred to me that part of the issue with the environments is that they’re so fixed, so immutable, so completely unresponsive to the havoc I’m supposedly wreaking. For all the violence inflicted on flesh, for all the gibbing and squishy splurching, for all the limbs and eyeballs ripped out of sockets, everything else is sterile and impervious. I’ll take a dynamic responsive environment over a pretty environment any day. The occasional damage decals just don’t cut it anymore.
Nick: You can blast everything in sight with a rocket launcher or a shotgun and nothing in the scenery breaks. Not even the glass in the vending machines. The UAC is really serious about the integrity of their snack dispensers.
Tom: And Hell is just as serious about its candles! I still haven’t been able to destroy one of those things and not for lack of trying. By the way, I thought the game was nearly over when I went to Hell. Not by a long shot! The campaign is actually pretty long, and although it can get a bit repetitive once you’ve met all the monsters, the three types of settings — Mars base, Hell, and a third place that’s a cool nod to a previous id game — shuffle up enough to vary the scenery. The beauty of the levels isn’t just the fixed visuals. The beauty is how much room they give you to move around. Usually. A few of the fights feel really cheap for locking you into a small room and dropping in monsters with a ton of hit points. It’s the proverbial knife fight in a phone booth, and your knife is doing a D6 of damage at a time to a monster with a thousand hit points. Ugh. I almost prefer the rare points in Doom when you get locked into a room for a few minutes to listen to exposition.
Nick: Is that Lance Henriksen’s voice?
Tom: It does sound like him, doesn’t it? I had to look it up. It’s not. But it is the same voice actor as the guy who did Chef Pepper Jack in the Skylanders games. That’s probably where we recognize him.
Nick: I love how he keeps asking you to do things, and you keep giving him the finger throughout the story. “Hey, Doom-guy! Don’t break that irreplaceable doohickey!” Doom-guy immediately breaks irreplaceable doohickey. Doom-guy is a perfect representation of my id. I see what they did there.
The story — such as it is — chatters along about Hell portals and disabling energy capacitors and Doom-guy is having none of it. He just wants to punch demons in the face until they explode. One of the first story interactions in the game has Doctor Optimus Prime trying to dump some exposition on you, and Doom-guy casually smashes the computer monitor out of his way because he doesn’t have time for that nonsense. Perfect.
Tom: It sure is nice to see an id game with a little self-awareness and humor. This game isn’t trying to make me its bitch. Instead, it’s hanging out and goofing around with me. Afterwards, we’re going to get a beer and see the X-Men movie.
Nick: Hey, you know who has a rad superpower? Doom-guy. He can travel through time thanks to the save system. You can die after upgrading your guns or armor, be sent back to the last checkpoint (which is thankfully usually not far off), and still have the improvements from the most recent unlock. This behavior carries over to replaying whole missions. You’re free to go back through levels that you’ve already beaten to uncover any secrets you’ve missed, and your unlocks come with you. If you get more stuff from earlier levels, and go back to the later levels, you’ll bring the new upgrades.
Doom offers four ways to upgrade your character. Weapon upgrades, armor upgrades, ability upgrades, and a cool little rune system. When you touch these glowing rocks, you can play a short timed mini game like kill 15 imps with a shotgun or use a pistol to blow up 30 barrels. When you beat it, you claim another upgrade for your suit. It makes no sense at all, but Doom is wholly unconcerned with narrative or world-building logic. The UAC computer upgrades your weapons based on the amount of demon kills you get in each level. Why? Who cares? It’s Doom!
Tom: I have long since learned to stop worrying and love the grind. So I’m glad for the option to go back and farm levels if I feel underpowered. Not that I’ve felt the need to do this. Doom doesn’t understand how to turn the challenge level into an actual gameplay system. I can freely bounce the difficulty back and forth among “I’m Too Young to Die”, “Hurt Me Plenty”, and “Ultra-Violence”. I eventually cranked the difficulty down to “I’m Too Young To Die” just so I could get on to whatever endgame challenge awaited me. Which is going back through the levels to upgrade all my weapons, max out my armor, beat all the rune challenges, and find all the secrets. At which point, uh, surely there’s a new game plus in here, right? If id is going to borrow its design approach from Ratchet & Clank, I get to flex all my maxed out equipment, right?
Nick: There’s Ultra-Nightmare if you’re looking for that sort of thing. That mode adds permadeath to the highest difficulty. Before release, id was bragging that it was “unbeatable” and that no one at the studio had defeated the game on Ultra-Nightmare, which is like daring the internet to make you look foolish. Two days after release, someone posted a video of himself running roughshod through the game and handily conquering Ultra-Nightmare. One point to House Gryffindor!
Tom: Speaking of points, how about that multiplayer? My overwhelming feeling is that, good lord, do people want to play this kind of multiplayer shooter?
Nick: I don’t know how the multiplayer can be this bad when the single player is so good. This is the opposite of Call of Duty: Black Ops III. I hated the single player campaign in the latest Call of Duty, but the multiplayer was a terrific mix of vertical movement and skillful shooting. Doom is not that. It’s a weird stew of old school arena-style levels, not-quite fast enough movement, cosmetic unlocks, and clumsy feeling weapons. Somehow, the developers were able to take the satisfying gunplay from the single-player campaign and boil away everything good to make this bland and generic-feeling multiplayer game. They lose all the compelling “skate park” rhythm and present randomly spawning monster transformation power-ups instead as a poor substitute.
Bethesda thinks the multiplayer is good enough to be the basis for all the DLC. The Doom season pass is going to be three packs of multiplayer maps and more cosmetic junk for multiplayer. Supposedly, there will be new weapons for multiplayer included in the DLC, which sounds like a great way to split your player base.
Tom: As near as I can tell, this is strictly old-school. Doing well involves two skills: 1) remembering where to find the best power-ups and 2) the hand-eye coordination to line up headshots while bunny jumping. I would honestly rather play one of those Barbie games where you run a veterinary hospital.
Nick: You want kiddie games? You can unlock “classic” Doom levels for later play by finding bits of them hidden in the campaign. They’re meant to be cool little Easter eggs that you can collect, but they mainly serve to show how incongruous the new enemies and gun models look in the old low resolution levels. It doesn’t help that these classic levels lack the moody lighting that helped make the original games so great.
Tom: Those levels really take me back. Which isn’t somewhere I want to go when it comes to videogames. Still, they’re cute.
Nick: Maybe not as cute as these in-game collectible dolls. Who knew that I wanted to collect chibi dolls in Doom? Apparently this is something I’ve always needed in my life, but I didn’t know it.
Tom: I love how Doom Marine pauses for a brief animation when he finds one. He considers it idly, turns it over, looks at the back of it. I can almost hear him musing to himself whether he’s going to keep this one on the main shelf in the front room. I like how Doom lays out its level design with a 3D map worthy of Descent and helpfully tells me where to find the collectibles. What a great way to encourage exploration.
Nick: Getting into the nooks and crannies of the level is usually a bit of a puzzle. See that broken catwalk way up there? You can probably get up there if you try hard enough. Doom is fond of showing you a closed-off area filled with goodies and challenging you to find a way in. It’s not just banging on the spacebar while running next to every wall section. This kind of exploration gets high marks from the sleuth in me.
Tom: Okay, so let’s talk ratings. I like Doom. Really like it! The single-player, that is. The multiplayer I can do without, and if the Snapchat ever produces something noteworthy, I’ll gladly look into it. I’m not holding my breath. Until then, I got plenty of thrill, exploration, character progression, and more thrill from the campaign.
Nick: The single-player may be some of the finest first-person shooting I’ve experienced in a long while. It’s no small feat to make a fully 2016 Doom with this new style of gameplay, and somehow make it still feel like 1993 Doom. I’m amazed the developers managed this as well as they did. Doom is crunchy, meaty, and hard as nails, but it keeps pulling me back.
A wonderful single-player campaign full of violent thrills, rewarding exploration, and gratifying upgrades, all worthy of the Doom legacy. Plus some lame multiplayer and ingame mod construction set nonsense.