Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Doom - Review

Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks 
Platforms: PC, PS4 (version played), Xbox One

Doom wastes no time establishing what kind of game it is. Its opening has the Doom Slayer literally punching the story out of the way so you can begin shooting the bejeezus out of a bunch of Hell's minions. A sly nod at the wayward creative decisions of Doom 3? Perhaps, and an appropriate introduction to the rest of the campaign.

Doom (or DOOM, I suppose, if we're differentiating from the original), is overwhelmingly intended as a reboot of the series. All of the classic elements have returned; a health and armour system that doesn't regenerate but instead requires items to be picked up, a weapon wheel that, by the end of the lengthy single player campaign, contains all of the 1993's classic weapons. And, perhaps most importantly, there's hundreds upon hundreds of Hell's monsters to kill.

What's most impressive about Doom is that it isn't a lazy release hoping to tap into early '90s nostalgia. It has those elements certainly, but id Software have created a game that's genuinely an update to the original rather than simply pandering to it. Its visual style soaks each level in an atmosphere that's part Alien; steam laden corridors and claustrophobic vents, and the Hell-meets-Sci-fi designs of Event Horizon. But, more so than the misguided Doom 3, Doom knows that it's an action game first and foremost, rather than survival horror, with ammo aplenty and a grinding, guitar-riddled soundtrack to underscore each combat encounter.

And nothing is more satisfying that the hefty, gritty “closeness” of that combat. The first weapon you acquire in Doom is the shotgun, and, for the early levels, it's practically the only weapon you'll have besides a pistol side-arm. It sums up the new combat system perfectly too, with a fast movement speed, a jump button (yes, you can jump, double jump, in fact) and a melee attack that rewards close combat kills with a fountain of gore and health pick-ups. This is a game that, quite emphatically, doesn't want you hunkering around trading gunfire whilst ducking behind cover.

Instead, many of the combat encounters are more akin to mini time-trials, as you weave through the hordes of Hell, splatting monster after monster, switching weapons on the fly to suit the foe. Doom is primarily concerned with the simple violent glee of lining up a gooey headshot, but that doesn't mean it has to be dumb about it.

No, in fact there's a surprising amount of tactical awareness and smart design elements that go into the various levels that comprise the single player campaign. And, as retro as it (intentionally) is, that doesn't mean the game ignores the developments that have been made in the FPS genre for the last two decades.

Upgrades comprise a major factor of the weapon system. Each firearm in Doom comes with two different upgrades. The upgrades can, in some cases, radically alter how a weapon functions, such as the decision to attach a tactical scope or a mini rocket launcher to your assault rifle. Meanwhile each upgrade can be subsequently improved with the bevy of weapon points you acquire from level to level, by killing enemies or finding secrets.

Likewise, armour bonuses can be unlocked using similar tokens found on various corpses hidden about each level. These RPG-lite aspects are nothing new to modern shooters but they're especially helpful for Doom, turning what would otherwise be a good but nonetheless complete reliance on shooter-twitch into something slightly deeper. How you approach each encounter, especially earlier on, can sometimes depend on the upgrades you have and your particular playstyle.

The enemies you face operate on a similar clever “rules” system, with each foe requiring different strategies/weapons to take down. Early on its simply lining up those satisfying shotgun blasts on a horde of fire-slinging Imps. Later on, it's zipping from Hell Guard to Hell Guard, pummelling them with assault rifle fire, before back-pedalling like a maniac as a Hell Knight comes barrelling along towards you.  By the time the campaign reaches its climax, each fight is a hectic juggle of strafing, jumping and rapid-weapon switching as you juggle everything from Cacodemons to Barons of Hell.

It's all enhanced by a solid sense of pacing on the developer's part. New elements are drip-fed into the campaign level by level, be it a new weapon or new monster type, to prevent player overload.
And it's refreshing to find an FPS that actually needs a map screen, rather than simply being funnelled down a narrow corridor disguised by a few explosions. There's multiple paths, not to mention verticality, to many of Doom's levels that reward exploration (each level boasts a handful of secrets) and even a bit of platforming courtesy of that double jump. As far as modern games go, Doom isn't a particularly easy game either, with its later levels being a hefty enough challenge even on regular difficulty, especially when boss monsters start cropping up toward the tail end of the campaign.

Even the multiplayer, which has come under fire from some quarters for being underwhelming, arguably is more in keeping with the tone of the rest of the game. It's a mutliplayer that feels like an actual multiplayer mode, complete with humble  Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag variants, rather than a cash cow to laden DLC after DLC upon.

Speaking of DLC, you practically have a boatload of it already waiting thanks to the map editor. Snapmap is the meat of Doom's online modes. It's a simple to grasp but surprisingly complex map editor, that has you stitching together your own levels from pre-built tile sets. If you've ever sunk hours into Timesplitters 2's level creator you know exactly what to expect from here. Already the community has conjured up modern versions of the original Doom's levels, next to Resident Evil homages and even a Dark Souls-style dungeon crawler with a rudimentary level-up system using experience points.

Doom is a tightly made game. It doesn't waste players' time and instead packs each level with more than enough new ideas. It's a throwback to older shooters but with plenty of new ideas that make it feel more than just a glossy-eyed nostalgia-fest. This isn't an old game dug up from the past but rather a new title that incorporates a lot of the best ideas that modern first-person shooters have brought to the table.

Doom isn't just a fitting tribute to the series, it's a downright great game in its own right. Its campaign is lengthy without being poorly paced, and a solid challenge without resorting to lazy gimmicks. Meanwhile, its level editor alone promises untold hours sunk into player-generated maps. It's an excellent game and, like Wolftenstein: The New Order before it, shows that the founding fathers of the FPS genre can still entertain a new generation.

Welcome back Doom, we've missed you.


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