Ah, Doom. Like a lot of people, I’ve been a fan of this franchise since I was a kid. Unlike most people, however, I loved the third instalment. It certainly was a departure from what it’s prequels were known for, but I thought it was a captivating game. In fact, for the longest time, Doom 3 was my favourite game ever. I played it, replayed it, added mods and re-replayed it again. I suppose I never quite got the criticism until I returned to the original Doom (via the great Brutal Doom mod) later in life, and the differences between Doom 3 and its predecessors became more apparent. I still loved the game, regardless. With the latest Doom, we’re seeing what can happen when a modern game decides to go back to basics.
Doom 2016 returns to its roots with similar mechanics that made the first instalments what they were: fast movement, large arenas to fight in, demons aplenty, power-ups, and of course, monster infighting. The only thing that didn’t make a comeback that I wished would have was the old school shotgun that didn’t have the signature bullet spread that all modern shooters have. Doom 2016’s Combat Shotgun feels less powerful too – in the original Doom it could one-shot an Imp. With this one, you need to really be up close and aiming at the head to be able to send your target into ‘fatality mode’ (more on this later). Enemies do seem harder to kill than the earlier Dooms, though, so this might have something to do with it.
The campaign starts with you bound with metal manacles to the inside of an opened stone sarcophagus. A shambling zombie-thing is nearby and aiming to hurt you, but you break free and smash its head on said sarcophagus. Then you hop down, pick up a gun and proceed to shoot similar zombie-things lumbering about the room. If you thought the original Doom threw you straight into combat, well, this one does it even faster. Now, as someone who enjoys story, I did feel that some exposition would have helped to build some tension about your situation, but Doom has never really been the game one goes to for a good story. It’s always been all about the action. While I don’t agree with the quote below, it did work in Doom’s favour in the 90s. You might say it’s application is situational.
– John Carmack
Like all Doom games, your default weapon is a pistol (that you will end up never using once you get your hands on the shotgun). Like most of your arsenal in Doom 2016, it has an alternate fire, but even that fails to make it more interesting than the other guns. I was hoping id Software would have pulled a Brutal Doom and eventually replace the pistol with a futuristic blue laser assault rifle – especially seeing as weapons can be upgraded now – but alas, it was not meant to be. The rest of your demon-slaying repertoire remains fantastic, though, so I suppose it’s not really an issue.
The guns feel great. I was a bit surprised to find that the Plasma Rifle seems to have been taken down a notch on the pecking order of guns because the default hotkey for it is 3 instead of 5. While this did cause some confusion as to which gun I was switching to in the heat of combat, in the end, all the guns are equally as great, and each work best in certain conditions. For instance, one of the plasma rifle’s alternate fire is to overheat and release a blast around you, dealing significant damage to anything in your immediate vicinity. Imps will usually disintegrate if you have a large enough charge. The Plasma Rifle’s secondary alt-fire is a stun grenade that will paralyse any demons struck by its blast, though I’ll confess I never use this one. Like, ever. Some other great changes to weapons include the Mobile Turret for the Chaingun that makes it separate into three barrels that will obliterate anything in it’s path (which will overheat if you keep it spinning for too long) and the Explosive Shot on the Combat Shotgun, a grenade launcher attachment.
Worth mentioning is the Gauss Cannon, the new addition to your gun collection. I have a special love for this gun as it is insanely powerful, and can kill those shielded soldier bastards in one direct hit. The Gauss Cannon becomes especially deadly after you unlock Siege Mode; this thing will unleash a beam of pure, concentrated murder and rip through anything in the way. It is the best way I know of dealing with Pinkies. If you must know, Pinkies in Doom 2016 are the most infuriating pieces of shit I have even had the misfortune of encountering. Not only are they extremely hard to kill now, but they will charge at you with increasing velocity and run you down like a battering ram. On Nightmare difficulty, they are the bane of my existence. But, yeah, the Gauss Cannon. It’s the second highest-damaging weapon after the BFG. Since you can only unlock one alternate fire for one gun per level, it becomes up to you to decide how to modify your arsenal in a way that best fits your play style.
Speaking of play style (and the numerous mentions to Brutal Doom), Doom 2016 has a little something called Glory Kills. If you’ve been following the game’s development, you already know what it is, but for those of you who don’t, Glory Kills are execution-style finishing moves you can perform on demons once they have been wounded enough that they enter a dazed state and begin to flash orange and blue. When they are in this state, you simply need to approach them and perform a mêlée attack, and depending on which body part you were staring at, you will perform a corresponding Glory Kill. They’re very gory (sorry) and extremely satisfying. If you’re wondering whether they break up the flow of the game, fear not as they’re brief and animate quickly enough that you don’t feel like it pulls you out of the action.
Your play style can be further customised with a new mechanic called Runes that you will unlock on some levels after passing a trial. There are three Rune slots that you gradually unlock; Runes will act passively and just make your life easier. Some will affect Glory Kills (like allow you to perform them from further away), some will affect your ammo, and some will enhance your mobility. Runes are really a great addition to Doom, and to keep their effects fresh, you can fulfil certain objectives to upgrade them while they’re equipped. One thing that I think would make the gameplay even more similar to the original Doom would be a Rune that removes the ‘fatality mode’ threshold, effectively reducing their maximum health. This would do great in Nightmare difficulty, in my opinion.
Progression is ever present in Doom 2016. While the game did go old school for the most part, it does have its fair share of modernisation. Everything is upgradeable, from your guns to the armour you wear. You will get gun upgrade point by killing enemies, and armour upgrade points by seeking out dead elite UAC guards and stealing a special chip from their armour that you can use on your own. They’re usually hidden in secret places, so it’s up to you to explore the level to find them.
I do have to mention that secrets in Doom 2016 are far easier to find than those in the previous games, and that’s mostly due to the Automap that will straight-up display all explorable areas. Whether they’re actual secrets is up to you to find out. I can only be grateful for that since I was never able to find all those damnable secrets in earlier Dooms. Unless you knew where to look, you would usually miss most of them. The Automap made exploration less painful, and once I was able to find all those sneaky hidden places, I could breathe a sigh of relief and move on to the next mission.
The level design of Doom 2016 itself seems to sit between the third Doom and the earlier ones. Sometimes a level will be open and spread into multiple directions, prompting you to explore and move back and forth between the sectors. Sometimes it’ll be more linear, with earlier levels closing off behind you. With the latter, woe be to you if you’ve missed any secrets or else you’ll have to replay the level all over again to get them. That being said, there is no need for you to complete a level to retain the achievement of getting a secret, so there’s that. On the plus side, if you enjoy arena-style fights (I’m not too fond of them), the linear variety of levels will be your jam since they seem to have more of those. Regardless, Doom 2016’s level design has a degree of verticality that is apparent, since double-jumping and grabbing onto ledges is a thing you can do. The movement is fluid and responsive, making even the platforming segments quite easy to breeze through, especially if you have the Air Mobility Rune equipped.
Doom 2016 is a well-optimised game. It runs smoothly, has a wealth of visual customisation, and while I had to downgrade my graphics down to Medium to be able to maintain a constant 60 frames per second, I couldn’t tell if the prettiness had taken a hit or not. Doom 2016 looks great, though I will say that Doom 3 did a much better job with the Hell levels. The ones in 2016 have a yellowish hue to them (aka piss filter) and feel more desolate than they feel oppressive and terrifying. Doom 3’s Hell was positively infernal, whereas Doom 2016’s Hell was kinda bland. Ironically, the Mars landscape looked more threatening. Another thing that was very noticeable was the texture popping on the gun models when you would swap them out, or on certain doors, but otherwise, everything was cool.
Before I conclude this review, I would like to talk a bit about the story – nothing spoilery, but rather that I was pleasantly surprised to find out it wasn’t as half-baked as I expected it to be. In fact, I quite enjoyed it. As a lore nerd, it was my pleasure to read up on those data entries discussing the biology of Mancubi or the back-story of Samuel Hayden, UAC’s director, who is, in fact a cyborg. Or even Olivia Pierce, our would-be nemesis. Doom 2016 does away with all the suspense about demons and Hell and put you right into a time period where all those things are well known and researched. Hell, in doom 2016 is just another frontier, and the UAC even found a way to exploit its wealth of energy for mankind’s own needs. While this does somewhat demystify a realm that was always shrouded in the flames of perdition, there is still a lot that has yet to be uncovered. Given the rather… interesting ending of the campaign, I’m bracing myself for another journey in the shoes of the Doom Slayer in a potential expansion set.
Doom 2016 is a great fun time. It’s visceral, responsive and, for the nostalgics, hearkens back to the early days of first person shooters. It’s a hybrid between the old and the new, and while nothing is perfect, this game comes close to it in my books (as far as the campaign is concerned anyway). To be perfectly honest, I’d recommend Doom 2016 based on the campaign alone. The Multiplayer and Snap Map modes do make for additional content, but as far as I can tell, like a lot of people I bought Doom 2016 for the Singleplayer experience. The rest is just bonus content. id Software did a stellar job.
Now to wait for Brutal Doom II…
(Screenshots below contain spoilers)