The creation of any new game called DOOM in this day and age was going to be a tough balancing act for its the developers.
Given its prominent place in history and the legacy it carries along, you have to make sure not to alienate your core audience of series veterans by making sure it at least faintly resembled previous games, or at least their memories thereof. Combine this with the need to maximize sales by making sure your game was accessible and modernized enough for the average AAA shooter fan (who, at this point, is probably more accustomed to things like Call of Duty or Halo) and you have a pretty unenviable task ahead of you.
With this fairly demanding landscape in mind, it brings me no small amount of pleasure to declare DOOM as being a fairly big success in nearly every regard.
Upon starting a new game in DOOM, things seem…off, somehow. Instead of the typical ‘space marine beset upon by an unknown invasion, you seem to be some kind of ancient warrior being subject to experiments and/or rituals. A disembodied voice informs you of the task ahead, and the way he talks makes it sound like you’ve done this all before…and you don’t know if he’s referring to your character…or you.
You soon stumble to your feet and find a gun, at which point everything starts to seem a little more familiar. You’re bobbing and weaving between your zombified foes with a grace and agility rarely seen in shooters nowadays, and the responsive controls allow you to avoid attacks and land satisfyingly grotesque headshots with ease.
So far, so DOOM, right? Everything changes once you step outside onto the beautifully rendered Martian landscape. In a reveal not dissimilar to Bethesda stablemate Fallout 3, you’re treated to a breathtaking glimpse of the vast red planet before you, and you’re suddenly reminded that it isn’t 1992 anymore. The next few hours of the game reinforce this, as you’re slowly granted with new abilities such as upgradable suit powers, weapons with customizable alt-fire modes, and even a rough approximation of RPG stats like health and armor. It’s a little deeper than DOOM normally goes (except for that time they made a DOOM RPG for early smartphones) but it’s hardly obtrusive – all the game wants to help you do is rip and tear your enemies more effectively, and you never feel like the RPG-lite aspects are being shoved down your throat.
That said, the aforementioned ripping and tearing is really what any game bearing the DOOM title is going to live or die on, and I can safely say that the combat in DOOM is some of the best I have experienced in an FPS in years, or at least since Wolfenstein: The New Order. The speed at which everything happens is exactly what DOOM needs to feel like, and may prove shocking to people more accustomed to the bullet-sponge Navy SEALs you control in more recent shooter offerings.
Thanks to the game’s reliance on health packs (which I am unreasonably excited about) you’re forced to rely on your agility to dodge attacks, leap to higher ground, and stay mobile, while avoiding the demonic hordes you’re forced to contend with. Even if the rest of the game were subpar, the sheer speed and excitement of the combat would be enough to warrant a recommendation, at least to anyone who enjoys Serious Sam and Hard Reset.
And yet the combat is so much more than just bobbing and weaving. Even if the game is reliant on health kits, you might not always have one at hand, so you’re forced to rely on special melee kills to replenish your health and ammunition – thus making every enemy a potential power-up, and the sheer tension you’ll feel when trying to successfully land one of these special kills is a big driving force behind the excitement of the combat.
The pacing helps, too – many of the enemy encounters take place in a wide area with plenty of different options for how you approach each battle, from different paths and ledges to use to different opportunities to try out your alternate fire or test your suit’s abilities. The sheer number of options combined with the fact many of the fights descend into brawling arenas of chaos almost recalls the original Halo or Crysis 2 in its flexibility, all with that nu-DOOM sense of speed and brutality.
The multiplayer matches the single-player game in at least tone and presentation, if not flexibility. Online is perhaps where DOOM has made the most concessions to what people expect of a modern-day shooter, and while most of the points I made in my initial multiplayer preview still stand, it’s worth mentioning how fun (if not unpolished) the multiplayer mode is.
Keeping with the same speed and sense of chaos, DOOM offers fairly standard class-based multiplayer action like you’d expect out of a game in this era, although with some fun twists – the ability to turn into a demon being a big one (even if it is a little overpowered and comes dangerously close to being a ‘win button’) and the fun selection of weapons from the single player mode being among the big ones.
I’ll level with you, I’m not the biggest multiplayer guy in the world, but maybe that’s why I liked DOOM’s online even as much as I did – I was remembering my time spent in Quake 3 way more than I’d remember the meager efforts I put forth into something like Halo 3. If your memories skew similarly, you’ll probably have fun, but it may not be deep enough to lure a lot of people away from the Battlefields of the world.
But maybe it doesn’t need to. DOOM, even after its long absence, has managed to carve out a pretty successful and comfortable space for itself. The speed, violence, and setting (not to mention how fun it still is to carry eight guns at the same time) will be enough to make most cranky old shooter fans feel at home (even including me, and I consider myself particularly cranky when it comes to FPS games) and conjure memories of id’s previous triumphs, even if neither of the Johns work there anymore.
But the modern touches – upgrades, absolutely stellar graphics, etc – should be enough to lure in any shooter fan looking for something a little off the beaten path. Maybe give it a pass if you’re squeamish or demand any semblance of realism in your games (and if you do, you probably already know to avoid anything called DOOM), but otherwise I can recommend DOOM to anyone who has ever had an interest in shooters.
Hell, my dad liked it, and my dad hasn’t played anything since Quake 2. If dads can play DOOM, why can’t you?