After over a decade since the launch of Doom 3 on PC—seriously, it’s been 12 years now—plus a shit movie and several scrapped iterations of sequels, 2016’s Doom has finally arrived on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
And seriously, this game is fucking gory. Within seconds of starting the main campaign, your nameless and voiceless protagonist (Space Marine) skull-fucks one of the possessed (zombies) with his fist before breaking free from the chains that bind him on what appears to be some sort of Satanic altar. Thus is the beginning of your journey into Hell on Mars at the Union Aerospace Corporation.
Having grown up with Doom on MSDOS, after my uncle installed it on my mother’s computer without her knowledge back in 1993, this has easily been my most anticipated title of the last decade. However, as with any game stuck this long in development hell, there was some concern that it was . . . Doomed to fail. The long road to release coupled with the fact that Bethesda didn’t feel compelled to release any early review copies only exacerbated those concerns that this game was being shipped off to die an unceremonious death.
Thankfully, however, this is not the case. Instead, Doom hits the ground running with its blisteringly fast combat in an arena-style shooter that is reminiscent of Quake III and Unreal Tournament of yesteryear. It feel refreshingly old school, as there is no reloading and no regenerative health—health packs and armor shards are thin on the ground throughout the map, so you’ll have to make sure that you use them sparingly during combat. Poor item management means almost certain death, something that is even more true when playing higher difficulties. However, if you happen to use up all your health packs midbattle and your health drops too low, the game demands that you get up close and personal in order to perform a “Glory Kill”: a gory, cinematic finishing move that primarily involves disemboweling your enemy in order to regain health during combat. It’s a great addition to a shooter that helps break up the typical run-and-gun gameplay and allows the player to catch their breath, even if only briefly, during Doom’s 10- to 15-hour campaign.
The single-player campaign is easily the game’s true standout, despite the plot being about as simplistic as one can imagine. The story centers on you (the Space Marine) having been brought in by the Union Aerospace Corporation to help stop the demonic invasion on Mars caused by the UAC trying to harness the power of Hell for energy. That’s it, and quite honestly, that’s perfectly fine. Doom has never been a game that relied on the nuances of complex storytelling, instead allowing the basics of the lore to thrive without too much convolution, and this game is of no exception.
Unfortunately, the simplicity in Doom’s design isn’t always a benefit. This is especially true with the campaign’s primary objectives, which often force the game into redundancy. More often than not, you’ll find yourself forced to destroy demonic hives (Gore Nests) until more enemies spawn, at which point you eradicate the demonic threat. Rinse and repeat.
But even as tiresome as some of the quests become, the combat helps keep the fluidity of the game moving and prevents it from becoming overly stagnant by constantly incorporating new enemy types throughout the game from Doom’s massive rogues gallery. Couple that with the introduction of several new and classic weapon types, and Doom manages to take a simplistic formula and keep the game feeling fresh—at least until closer toward the end, when the game finally exhausts its supply of new stuff to throw at you.
With so much emphasis from id Software on keeping Doom feeling genuinely old school, it should come as no surprise that the team chose to incorporate some of the best Easter eggs I have ever seen in any game. Levels from the original 1993 game have been added as secrets to find throughout each level and, once unlocked, can become playable through the level select. That’s right: the classic, iconic E1M1 map is available to play, and it beautifully merges the old-school aesthetics of the map with the new skins of weapons and enemies.
Musically, the game hits all the right notes thanks to veteran composer Mick Gordon. His bone-crunching guitars blending with industrial-style metal are dripping with nostalgia, and riffs from classic Doom tracks blast through your speaker as you slay your way through the campaign.
While this game does act as a reboot of sorts, I suppose one of my largest complaints about 2016’s Doom campaign is that the majority of it takes place on Mars. Mars is an aesthetically barren red landscape that has been done to death since 1993’s original, so it would have been nice to see Doom move its location to elsewhere. Despite spending only about three or four levels in Hell itself towards the latter of the game, I’m still yearning for the days of Doom II: Hell on Earth to come full circle, especially since Doom 3 had a wonderful setup. With the success of this title, though, I suppose there is reason to believe that the sequel will do just that.
Sadly, the multiplayer feels woefully underwhelming in comparison to the single-player mode. While the multiplayer campaign isn’t bad, it isn’t particularly great either. It’s a serviceable addition likely to keep some of the most diehard fans playing the game a bit longer than they would have otherwise, but it doesn’t really capture what made the single-player campaign special. With the addition of load-outs, the game attempts to put a modern spin on classic arena-style shooters that fails to really make any real lasting impact. Instead, the game becomes a tedious exercise of item management. Whichever team can control the items on any given map will likely control the outcome of the match.
Outside of the subpar multiplayer, my only other real complaint about Doom is its shitty final box art. I know that this may be a petty gripe, but seriously, the box art is fucking awful. For as much as the game attempts to throw back to the glory days of Doom’s PC era, it felt like a real missed opportunity for a game that is this rich with nostalgia to come off as blatantly forgettable and mediocre. For context, the space marine on the cover could be any number of characters from the gaming industry—it’s almost as if it’s trying to pander to the Halo crowd, hoping that some bullshit cover art will trick them into buying this game. However, id Software did create a reversible slip that pays homage to the artwork featured on the 1993 version, Doom: Knee Deep in the Dead.
Doom has succeeded where many games in development hell have failed and is what can be best described as the best shooter of the last decade. While easily the most violent, bloody, and gory game I’ve ever played, Doom is able to take a formula that has been done to death over the course of three decades and bring something wholly original and fresh to it. This game could have easily felt like a cheap re-skin of any generic shooter, yet it attempts to bring home what made us love the classic in the first place. Though the multiplayer is often forgettable, it does act as a serviceable attempt to keep the Doom community every bit as tight knit as it has been in the past, and potentially brings with it new excitement at future QuakeCons. Here’s hoping that this is the start of a beautiful new beginning for gaming’s most notorious shooter.
Final Score: 9 out of 10