Doom (2016)

I sat down to play Doom (2016), curious to see if it lived up to the id Software classics that came before it. I was skeptical, based on reviews and on twitch footage. After having played well past the mid-point, I am quite pleased with it.

My impression from the game based on the reviews and twitch was that it had forgotten that Doom wasn’t just shooting demons while listening to awesome music, even if that was a huge part of it. There were also less impactful, but equally important, resource management elements and navigational elements, most of which gave the game some tension and made fights matter in the context of the overall level (and secrets were that much sweeter since they usually contained extra resources).

Doom (2016) is, largely, a modernization of that original idea. The first, most obvious one would be the proper use of vertical space.Perhaps one of the most important item the game provides is a set of boots that let the player double jump. These allow much more freedom in the level design by allowing the player to reach higher or father. Navigating the map becomes another skill required by the game, not just to reach from one point to the other, but also during the fights, since the arenas in which these happen are also informed and prepared to handle these boots. For example, the last fight arena fight I had, I found myself jumping from one place to another, shooting demons while dodging and weaving between the platforms, grabbing anything that was on my path. Jumping from one platform to another quickly became second nature, as did double jumping with the intent to dodge some of the enemies.

Secrets, which I’m pleased make a return, also use the movement allowed by the boots. Say, you might need to double-jump up to a vent. They are somewhat easy to miss in level, though usage of the map reveals most of them. The Classic Level secrets, however, have all eluded me, with the exception of the first one. I assume, based on that first experience, that there is no indication of them whatsoever in the map and that finding them will require extensive examination of the levels and much attention. A challenge for those who enjoyed secret hunting in the classic doom games.

I’m not quite sure how to feel about the fight arenas. The fights are great and definitely entertaining, with the teleporting in of demons providing an extended fight without overwhelming the player. However, they never truly happen in a large area, which makes some weapons pretty much niche, or even useless. I assume part of the reason is also why there are only so many enemies on an arena at any point, which is to ensure high performance, while also letting the player use any weapon (including the shotguns) they want. Regardless, they are fun, almost like a dance in a way the original could have never done at the time. The movement, the shooting, the glory kills, the rip and tear. It all comes together.

Another key change (or, perhaps, inspiration from Brutal Doom, if you will) is the addition of Glory Kills. Essentially, when a demon is weakened enough, you are allowed to perform a killing move on them by pressing the appropriate button. The doom guy then proceeds to kill the demon in suitably gory (and satisfying) manner. As an incentive for using them, the demons will drop health. They can get old quickly, as there are only so many variations of the same kill the game has. That said, the game seems to be balanced to account for it, so quickly it’ll become a tool to recuperate during a fight, setting the theme for a back and forth, trading and taking life from the demons.

Following on that trend, the Chainsaw, a weapon that now requires fuel to be used, instantly kills most if not all enemies, causing them to drop ammunition. Thus, if there is a particularly difficult demon, or perhaps you’re out of ammunition, the chainsaw is a very effective tool in both rip and tearing, and providing extra ammunition to keep killing demons.

There are also the rune challenges, which provide runes to bend the rules of the game a bit (say, demons drop health AND armor, or perhaps they are more resistant when staggered, so they can be glory-killed easier), some cute doom-guy toy collectibles to find; and, finally, an item that can be found both through exploration and at certain points through the game which allow you to increase your health, armor or ammunition.

When it comes to the weapons provided, most will be immediately recognizable. The pistol makes a return, this time with infinite ammunition and a chargeable shot. Quickly, however, the game provides the single shotgun, much like Doom 3’s shotgun. The plasma rifle. A machinegun, a rocket launcher, a gauss cannon (railgun), a chaingun… and, because a Doom game wouldn’t be very doom-y without this pair, the Double Barreled Shotgun (henceforth referred to as SSG) and the BFG.

And, oh, it is a joy to use them. The star for me is the SSG. Effective only at close range, it is enough to bring down most demons in record time. Hell knights are carefully dodged while being repeatedly shot with the SSG until they just die outright, no stagger at all. Pinkies, likewise, fall after a one-two. And with the upgrade that allows two shots out of it before reloading (this being the only weapon that reloads), it makes short work of anything you throw at it, provided you aren’t afraid of getting up close and personal.

Meanwhile, every other gun is balanced to be effective and useable through the fight, each providing different ways to handle a situation. And with the two modifications each guns has to unlock and upgrade (two exceptions, the SSG and the pistol), there is plenty to choose from and spice the combat up. Much like a dance, each player will develop their own style as they get better, and as the game demands more.

Personally, I found some guns to be redundant. The Chaingun, for example, remained mostly unused. I’d rather use the accuracy of the machinegun, with its modification that allows me to shoot micro-missiles. Likewise, short of wanting to kill a Mancubus rapidly and from afar, the Gauss cannon didn’t see much action. Curiously, the shotgun wasn’t completely replaced by the SSG, as its grenade launcher attachment is quite useful at dealing with imps and other, weak, clustered enemies. The rocket launcher, however, was eventually replaced by the micro-missiles. Its regular missiles are simply too slow to be of use in combat, and its locking modification was only useful at the beginning, when the micro-missiles still took time to be loaded and were limited to six per use. The plasma rifle is, perhaps, the odd one out of the bunch. Out of the arsenal, it is perhaps the most boring of the bunch. Yet its rapid fire and high capacity makes it a great weapon against anything big and slow, and a great backup against hell knights and barons, when the SSG happens to be not present, or otherwise out of commission. As for the BFG… as it is tradition with id games, it is a great problem solver and wall painter, capable of clearing out a room just as you’d expect it to.

The game runs like butter, too. I don’t have a high-end PC, holding an i5 3450, 8 GB ram and an HD 7870, and yet I can’t complain about the performance. And it looks good, too.

I was initially apprehensive given what I had seen. Doom (2016) might not place as much emphasis on resource management as it once did, nor might the levels be mazes anymore, but navigation is still important (in particular when hunting secrets), and the gunplay is great. If this is the series going forward, then I’m on board.

PS: There are interesting bits of lore throughout the game, in particular regarding the Doom slayer. I’ve also neglected to mention Doom guy’s characterization, which is quite good. For better or worse, those are not the focus of the game. Perhaps I’ll explore them in the future.