We didn’t expect much from the 2016 version of Doom. The last iteration of the game, which shipped in 2004, felt like a hackneyed cross between System Shock 2 and an early 1990s shooter. The new Doom (originally Doom 4) has been mired in development hell for years, and early feedback on the multiplayer wasn’t very kind.
We can’t speak for the multiplayer, since we’ve yet to venture online, but the single-player campaign is much more faithful to the spirit of the original game than Doom 3 was. While there is a story, id Software opted for a framework that’s more-or-less an excuse to hurl weapons, power-ups, and abilities at you while you chew through the demons pouring through the portal.
Doom kicks off as you wake up chained to a block of stone, snap your bonds, and smash a few zombies (called the Possessed). It quickly becomes apparent that unlike in Doom 3, where the secret research that tapped into Hell was known only to a handful of base personnel, Doom staff and researchers were fully aware of what they were doing. At one point you’re actually told, “We exploited Hell and its resources because it was in the best interests of humanity to do so.”
Doom’s actual gameplay does an excellent job of capturing the speed and energy of the original — far more than the 2005 iteration. Doom is faster than even the first game and plays more like Brutal Doom, the extensive mod project that reworks the base game and adds features like jumping and freelook. Enemies in Brutal Doom respond to the player more quickly than their classic counterparts, and Doom is a high-energy title. You’ll leap across crevices, pull yourself up to ledges, chase down imps as they leap from pillars to roofs or new vantage points, and frantically dodge the ground attacks of Hell Knights.
While Doom 3 stuck almost entirely to straight-line firefights in cramped rooms and narrow spaces, Doom alternates between open vistas and cramped environments. While I haven’t finished the game, all of the levels I’ve played thus far have been built both vertically and horizontally. Secrets peek out from ledges or caves you can’t initially access, while the interior environments offer a mixture of choke points and open industrial areas.
The firefights with demons and zombies are intense and fast. Gamers were concerned about the lack of strafing in the latest Doom, but its omission doesn’t mean you have the option to stand still. Doom encourages you to use its physical fatality system by rewarding you with health and ammunition if you perform melee finishing movies. If you find the game’s visual indicator of when a monster is ready to be finished off distracting (creatures glow orange when they can be killed with a fatality), you can disable this in the in-game options. I did so immediately and I think the game plays better without it.
There’s a wealth of content to unlock, including upgrades for your weapons, armor, and mystic runes you can earn through completing special challenge maps. The upgrade system gives you options for weapon customization and offers a variety of alternate fire modes. The basic shotgun, for example, can be upgraded to fire either an explosive shell or a triple-charged shot. Both of these powers can themselves be upgraded and when you’ve bought all the powers for a particular weapon sub-type, you earn a “Mastery” bonus that further improves the weapon.
Sounds and visuals are both good, with one notable exception — the rocket launcher sounds more like someone throwing a hand-sized rock at a wall than an actual shoulder-mounted explosive cannon. One of the complaints about Doom’s multiplayer mode was that the game’s rocket launcher felt weaker than the shotgun and I’m unhappy to report that that seems to be the case in single-player as well. Luckily most of the other guns feel meatier and the sound effects are stronger.
There are a lot of subtle touches to like about Doom’s single-player maps. While there’s still an objective waypoint system to offer general guidance, many (but not all) of the vertical surfaces you can scale are called out with subtle lighting effects. The game uses a fairly standard “Enter the enclosed space and turn enemies into a meat slurry before moving on” approach, but the maps give you plenty of hiding spots, vantage points, and environmental hazards. The double-jump boots open up new scaling opportunities but also make it easier to overshoot your targets and sail off into space.
There are a handful of things I wish Doom had done differently. I like the weapon upgrades and unlocks, but it’s more difficult to arrange fights so that demons end up blasting away at each other rather than at you. The game takes some cues from platformers, including the Argent Tower level, which heavily emphasizes the vertical, but if you don’t play Doom to platform (and I suspect most don’t), then this level can be an exercise in frustration. The game doesn’t use a standard PC save system, instead opting for checkpoints, and while these work reasonably well, it’s frustrating to continually reload and reattempt the same sequence when the last game save is 30-60 seconds away from the actual part of the game giving you trouble.
If these seem like fairly minor criticisms, it’s because they are. The 2016 iteration of Doom may not necessarily be a flawless game, but it’s pretty darn good, especially for fans of the classic franchise. In my personal opinion it does a better job capturing what made the first Doom great than Doom 3 did in 2004, and it’s genuinely better than I would’ve expected given the years it spent in development hell.