Click click, boom boom

The new Doom (2016)

The rebooted Doom (2016) offers what is perhaps the definitive follow-up to the classic shooters from the 1990s, doing away with any misguided attempts at realism like reloading, stamina, and the use of a flashlight.

Josho Brouwers

Id Software, developers of the first Doom, released in 1993, created a new instalment in the series, also called Doom; it’s probably intended to be reboot. I loved the original Doom back in the day, which popularized the first-person shooter genre to the point that all early FPS games were referred to as “Doom clones”.

So how does the new Doom stack up? To put it simply: the game is fantastic. It’s fast-paced, looks gorgeous, and plays great. What struck me most about the game is its near-perfect pace: in Doom, the lulls between the action give the game a heart-pounding sense of rhythm.

A simple game

Doom is, needless to say, a very simple game. You are a space marine on Mars, stranded at a base operated by UAC, an archetypical evil corporation. By somehow opening a portal to another dimension, UAC was able to collect vast amounts of energy that was sent back – sold, one presumes – to the people of Earth. This other dimension turned out to be hell, and it didn’t take long for its spawn to cross over to our world and start wreaking havoc. Doom pits you against the demonic hordes and an array of possessed humans (essentially zombies) as you make your way across Mars to reach whatever objectives you need to fulfil on your way to the end credits.

I loved first-person shooters in the 1990s and early 2000s. I remember reading a review (in a magazine) of Unreal (1998) and then picking up the game in the store. I can still picture the big, black box that it was originally sold in. I still enjoy playing shooters. A few that I did play in more recent times and thoroughly enjoyed include Singularity (2010), Bulletstorm (2011), and Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014), as well as the various Borderlands games. I don’t even like guns in real life, but there is something about a virtual shooter that is very appealing.

Welcome to Mars! Be sure to keep moving or be prepared to see the “Game Over”-screen a bunch of times.

Back in 2004, I bought Doom 3 the moment it was released (I remember that it came in an oversized DVD case), but was left sorely disappointed. To be fair, the graphics were excellent, and I think they still hold up to this day. The architecture of the UAC base on Mars was varied and interesting, as well as hauntingly beautiful in places. But the way the game played wasn’t what I would consider fun. The developers had tried to turn Doom 3 into a horror game that relied on cheap gimmicks, such as monsters that spawned behind you or that were summoned as soon as you picked up a health item. Worse, much of the game was very dark and you could hold either a weapon or a flash light, requiring you to switch back and forth between the two. This issue was first fixed by a mod that essentially duct-taped a light to your guns, and this is now the default option in the Doom 3: BFG Edition version of the game.

Worse still, Doom 3 was utterly dour and depressing. It had none of the joy of the earlier games in the series. As a result, I had no interest in the new Doom that has been in development for a while (with an earlier version completely scratched based on negative response, if memory serves). So imagine my surprise when I heard that the new game was actually fun. Indeed, some claimed that it was a perfect modern take of the 1993-original game. Intrigued, I checked out some gameplay videos and sure enough, this seemed like fun to me, too.

A shot of nostalgia

Doom looks and plays as I remember those shooters from the 1990s did. It doesn’t waste much time when it comes to story or cut scenes. You’re almost immediately thrown into the game, shooting a few possessed humans. You hurtle along through corridors, large rooms, and across the surface of Mars towards your objectives. Above all else, the game is fast: your movement speed is perhaps not quite as ridiculous as in the original Doom, but it’s a lot faster than more ‘realistic’ shooters like Call of Duty. A few levels in, you also acquire special boots that allow you to double-jump, by far one of the greatest abilities in video-games ever and sadly absent in most modern games.

Doom, in more ways than one, harkens back to the old days – not in the least with various Easter eggs and other, often surprisingly subtle inside jokes, like a form with a number that references an old Doom level. But it is also very much its own game rather than a straight-up riff on the original. Aside from a simple progression system and a collection of optional challenges that you unlock as you move through levels, it introduces two important new features. The first is called the ‘glory kill’: once you’ve sufficiently hurt an enemy character, it will become dazed and start to glow. Approach it and hit the melee button to start a brief animation in which the creature is executed in a brutal yet satisyfing manner. Like a gory piñata, it bursts open and yields a variety of items, mostly health packs.

Getting up close and personal with a Revenant; a mancubus is visible in the background.

The second feature involves the chainsaw, which you pick up early in the game. Provided you have fuel, you can use it to chainsaw an enemy to death, at which point it yields mostly ammunition so you can go back to shooting. These two features add great variety to the fights: you will run around, shoot enemies, evade fireballs and the like, and depending on whether or not you need health or ammo, you close the distance and either melee a highlighted enemy or chainsaw it to death. In other words, the game forces you to make interesting decisions as regards resources: are you going to shoot this enemy from a distance, or are you going to close the gap to either glory-kill it (for health) or chainsaw it to pieces (for ammo)? Do you really need the health to do the former? Or if you need the ammo, do you have enough fuel available to power the chainsaw?

All these considerations ensure that the battles unfold like a high-speed dance across a blood-soaked floor. This isn’t a modern shooter like Call of Duty, where you take cover behind something and hope for the best. Here, in true Doom fashion, you run and jump around, spin on a dime, shoot an enemy at the left, then one on the right, lob a grenade at a group of Imps or shoot the explosive barrel behind a Hell Knight before glory-killing a possessed soldier to recover some health. You’ll pick up some extra armour packs or ammo when possible and then continue running, jumping, and shooting until the area is cleared and calm is restored for the time being.

Naturally, fighting is at the heart of the game. Battles are intense and every victory feels earned. But the time between each bout of combat is equally as important. These allow you to soak in what just happened, to explore the map in search of secrets and other goodies, and to prepare for the next engagement. There are few surprises along the way: you can often tell when you’re supposed to get ready for a new fight because fresh supplies of ammo and health appear and the corridor opens up into another arena-like space where you’ll be fighting for your virtual life for another few minutes. The action is short and quick; the build-up makes it satisfactory.

Final thoughts

The game looks fantastic. Id Software are nothing if not technological masters. But the design – the look and feel – of everything really takes the experience to a higher level. I played Rage (2011), back in the day, and while I don’t think it’s very good as a game it does feature some of the most fantastic art design, both when it comes to environments and characters, that I’ve seen in any game.

Doom fits in that same mould, with excellent architecture and landscapes, as well as noteworthy character and especially creature designs. Of particular note are the different types of monsters: each and every single one of them looks simply amazing, with high levels of detail and just a great overall look to them. You’ll have to see for yourself to really know what I mean.

So yes, Doom is a great game and if you have any interest in first-person shooters, you should probably check it out. It’s available on Steam (of course). There’s also a season pass, but all that does is add stuff to the multiplayer. I have zero interest in playing this online; Doom really is a single player experience and Id Software probably agreed, as they outsourced the multiplayer component to another studio.

From what I’ve seen, the online play seems perfectly serviceable, but why bother? Just go off to Mars and kick some demonic behind in what I think is easily the best first-person shooter of the last decade.