DOOM in 2016 has no right to be any good. All we’ve force fed for years is linear cinematic shooters with melodramatic plots and empty bombast. The old ways would never work again. People wouldn’t want to just rip and tear through bloodied levels. They needed a thinly threaded reason for doing so. DOOM takes that thinking and shreds it to pieces with the jagged end of its chainsaw.
Every fibre of logic says this shouldn’t be the case. Id Software backed itself into a corner with the DOOM reboot. The originals ushered in first-person shooters to the world. The third was an awkward ode to Half-Life; an attempt at a story-driven horror adventure that, while it had the facade of DOOM, never really had the spirit. How DOOM 3 is remembered now says it all. The big question hanging over everything was how you take something so resolutely 90s and bringing it screeching and screaming into 2016.
Somehow id totally nailed it. DOOM is brutally dumb fun, but it’s also host to some of the slickest first-person combat I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t be beyond belief to suggest this is a new peak for the genre. Much of this stems from the movement. DOOM has always been about rapid play, but player viewpoint was locked to a single axis. In DOOM 2016 it’s all about verticality. The titular Doomguy can mantle up ledges with ease, while unlocked double jumps and speed boosts make him even more versatile. It lends a free-flowing element to DOOM which calls to mind combo-happy sports games like Tony Hawk, constantly moving through these densely packed arenas. Limited ammo necessitates regular weapon changes, while the constant updates to the enemy roster and your own armoury enforces on the fly tactical switches.
Where DOOM really should fall is in the upgrades. There are upgrade systems on top of upgrade systems on top of upgrade systems. It’s the antithesis of DOOM, but somehow id has stitched it together into something cohesive, logical, and never overbearing. You begin with the base DOOM weapons, most of which have become staples of the genre since. There’s a pair of shotguns, a gauss cannon, plasma cannon, chaingun and more. Everyone is unique and useful in certain scenarios. Aside from the pistol that is, which is a real weak point in the roster.
Each of these guns can also be equipped with attachments which can be found on floating droids littering the levels. I still can’t help but laugh as Doomguy inexplicably and oafishly punches the droid once he’s got his upgrade. Anyway, the upgrades are usually pretty nifty, such as a three-round burst or a grenade attachment for the shotgun. In turn these can be upgraded using weapon upgrades points which can be found as secrets in levels, earned for completing bonus challenges, or through killing enemies. Unlock every upgrade for an attachment and you get a mastery challenge for a further super upgrade.
There’s also Praetor armour upgrade points to consider. An entirely separate upgrade system, these cover everything from item usage, to environmental damage, and power-up capabilities. These are also found hidden within the levels.
The whole process sounds so very un-DOOM, but it happens with such a natural flow that you’ll never feel bogged down. It helps of course that upgrades come at a rapid rate. After a few hectic battles and a brief bit of exploring I’d typically grab a Praetor suit upgrade and two or three weapon upgrades in one swoop.
You’ll need to do all that as well, because it doesn’t take long for DOOM to pile enemy upon enemy on top of you. Id typically drops a new enemy type in front of you as a 1v1 stand-off. Having bested them i a duel and wiped the sweat off your brow the next room will cruelly throw three of them at you at once, flanked by a dozen imps and innumerable possessed. It’s the FPS equivalent of being given a pair of iron shoes and shoved in the harbour.
Action is fast, frenetic, liquid smooth and consistently varied. One particular worry for me was the Glory Kills. These canned animations on the surface seemed like a disastrous idea but their implementation is sublime. Weaken an enemy enough and they’ll glow blue or orange. At the press of a button you’ll perform a gory contextual kill, each more gruesome than the last. Ripping a demon’s leg off and shoving it down its own throat was a particularly memorable one, and sums up perfectly what this DOOM reboot is. On its own this would quickly grow tiresome, but the beauty of the system is that Glory Kills reward you with a health boost. They're vital for survival. It then becomes a constant risk / reward scenario where you contemplate heading into the centre of a throng of demons for that health boost, or hang back and pick them off. The chainsaw works in a similar manner, providing an insta-kill and a huge batch of ammo drops, at the expense of the limited supplies of petrol.
There’s rarely a dull moment to be had, and id Software has expertly woven the pacing with exploratory elements so it’s not just a Painkiller or Serious Sam-esque torrent of foes. It’s that element of FPS games which has been missing in recent years; actually exploring the levels and uncovering secrets. Maps are complex, with intricate networks of tunnels, overlapping paths and open arenas. Fortunately the map is informative while never holding your hand, and there’s a certain puzzle element to be found in figuring out how to reach certain areas.
It all comes together into an unmissable and bloody enjoyable whole; certainly one of the finest shooter campaigns I’ve played through. The same unfortunately can’t be said of the multiplayer component, which isn’t necessarily terrible, but it’s not really good either. There’s nothing on offer here to drag MP fans away from a free alternative like Unreal Tournament. DOOM’s multiplayer was created by an entirely different studio to id Software and it shows. Loadouts are bizarrely a thing, and it leans far too heavily in the direction of both Halo and Call of Duty. The essence of arena shooters is on weapon pickups and holding these key points. Everyone spawning with a rocket launcher kind of ruins and eliminates much of the tactical play.
The Demon Rune power-up which lets one player transform into a demon is fun, but way overpowered, while the focus on a levelling system seems so out of place. I could see myself playing DOOM’s multiplayer for a week or two longer, but there’s not enough to sustain interest, particularly with the lack of mod support.
On that subject, there is the innovative SnapMap feature. Essentially LittleBigDOOM, this fairly comprehensive utility lets players stitch together map pieces, spawn enemies and initiative certain events. Everything created in SnapMap is playable via up to four players co-operatively, and all of them can be shared with the click of a button. It’s a fun entertaining diversion and I certainly look forward to seeing what some of the more ambitious users can create, but it’s lacking the comprehensive PvP options required to improve on the MP deathmatch component.
Overall DOOM is one half of an impeccable package. If it shipped without any of the multiplayer at all I’d still believe it worthy of the score below; the tepid multiplayer does little to sway it on either side. For fans of single-player FPS campaigns DOOM is a juggernaut, and some of the most fun I’ve had in gaming for years. It’s never going to grab you with an engrossing plot of spectacular linear set pieces, but the flawless combat ensures DOOM just never lets up. Now it’s just fingers crossed time that Quake can get the same treatment.