I grew up in the ’90s when fast-paced shooters like Doom, Quake, and Unreal were king. I put countless hours into the many campaigns of the old Doom games (even the underrated Doom 64) and then had my first deathmatch experiences in Quake and Unreal Tournament.
Those were fun times, but over the years I’ve grown to find those games to be shallow and frankly boring. A throwback to the old days like Serious Sam might be fun to check out for a few minutes, but shooters like Halo and Call of Duty have been much better at holding my interest for hours at a time.
Well, the new Doom is finally out after almost a decade in development hell, and while it does feel somewhat shallow at points, id Software appears to have done the impossible and made old school, twitch-based shooters fun again.
In a word?
While most first-person shooters feel the need to build a mood and a story with a lengthy intro (something even Doom 3 was guilty of), Doom literally starts off by handing you a gun and having you kill things as quickly as possible. The gunplay is quick and visceral. You don’t reload, and when one weapon runs out of ammo, it’s instantly replaced with the next one.
This feels like a proper sequel to the original Doom game of the ’90s with the perfect modern additions. In this case, the big addition is the “glory kill.” After staggering a demon with the gun of your choice, it will flash orange or blue. That’s your cue to get as close as possible, push in the right stick and execute an extremely gory and satisfying kill. Usually this involves breaking something’s neck or smashing its skull in. Doom has never shied away from violence, but the new game takes blood and guts to a level even beyond what we’ve seen in recent Mortal Kombat games.
Admittedly, the gameplay doesn’t change much throughout the 8-10 hour campaign, so it can get a little monotonous near the end. There are some extras though that help keep things interesting. You can search out weapon mods to increase the special attacks of your guns. Other upgrades scattered around the levels increase your health or other functions of your space marine suit. There actually is a bit of depth to finding everything and customizing your character just how you want him.
One of my favorite additions to this version of Doom are rune challenges. If you find a rune in a level, you’re transported to another room where you have to complete a challenge in an extremely short amount of time. This can mean killing enemies only using explosive barrel damage while you have low health and only 10 seconds on the clock (which increases with every successful kill). These challenges are Doom at its very best, plus the runes you pick up can be quite useful as the campaign progresses.
That being said, by trying to stay true to its origins, Doom has also retained some of the bad habits of ’90s shooters. After a frenetic firefight, it’s not uncommon to then be stuck running around like an idiot for five minutes trying to find a colored key card or some other exit (even with a map and radar). Given how fast-paced most of the game is, this can be extremely jarring and frustrating.
Then there’s the multiplayer. While the nonstop action of the campaign works well in single-player, it just never seems to click well in multiplayer. There are far too many cheap kills, and taking out other players often feels more random than like a reward for playing well. There are the obligatory unlocks and customization options from leveling up that are standard in every online shooter nowadays, but none of it really appealed to me. Doom has one of the best single-player campaigns I’ve played in years, yet I was ready to say goodbye to the multiplayer and never look back after just a couple matches.
And then there’s the third way to play Doom: SnapMap, which is really just a new name for a level editor. Just a week after release, there are already tons of SnapMaps available, and some are extremely creative. A few recreate classic levels from the old Doom games, while others focus on just racking up as many kills as possible with the BFG. I also tried out one that featured a very basic music creator with drum beats and a keyboard. There’s clearly a lot that can be done with SnapMap (it’s basically Super Mario Maker: Doom Edition), and I’m really interested to see what players came up with over the next few months.
Id has long been on the forefront of graphics technology. Even if Rage and Wolfenstein: The New Order had their problems, they were absolutely beautiful games for their times. Doom is of course no slouch either. All of the environments and monsters have been redesigned since the last time we saw them in Doom 3 to be as terrifying as ever. The revenant, which has featured prominently in Doom’s advertising is an especially creepy yet perfectly designed and realistic character. While the art-style can feel a bit like Hellraiser meets Gwar (just check out the mancubus), it still works incredibly well. It’s a welcome change of pace for Doom to be a little more colorful than Doom 3’s endless dark corridors, although sometimes it can make Hell look like more of a heavy metal album cover than a place of eternal damnation.
Id really doesn’t get enough credit for the sound work it’s done. While other developers just throw whatever scary sounds seem to kinda work at their monsters, id time and time again has crafted genuinely kinda terrifying grunts, screams, and howls for their demons. I don’t know how much time and effort they put into sound design, but every single noise seems to perfectly fit the character it comes out of. Much of the campaign is a quiet affair as you walk around the Martian base or Hell, but even the background noises set the mood. And when the rock music does kick in, it perfectly fits the action of running around a room while launching rockets and shotgun shells at a dozen demons. To top it off, the voice acting is outstanding.
The campaign is 8-10 hours long, which is perfectly adequate for a modern first-person shooter. Unlike the competition though, the campaign has a ton of secrets and collectibles that are worth going back for (much more than just a couple voice recordings). I found surprisingly few of these extras on my first playthrough. You can also pick different mods for your weapons and characters to fit your play style.
The multiplayer will surely keep some players craving old-school action occupied for years to come, though to me it felt like the worst excesses of the old Doom games. I probably won’t go back to it. SnapMap, on the other hand, has a ton of potential. I’m really interested to see what sort of new gameplay ideas or homages to old games come from it.
Reviewed by Chris Freiberg