(The review focuses solely on the single-player aspect of the game.)
The 2016 DOOM is the fourth game in the series that pioneered the very genre of first person shooters. Brash, beautiful, and an absolute hoot, DOOM reminds us why this genre became so popular in the first place.
The new DOOM is once again set on Mars at the Union Aerospace Corporation or UAC, as has been the case with all the previous games. Something goes terribly wrong and now the demons from Hell have overrun the facility, and you’re the only one that can stop them. While there is a story here, it’s mostly a flimsy excuse to slaughter enemies and that is pretty much what DOOM has always been about.
So here’s the basic gist of DOOM gameplay: you kill things. You shoot everything that moves and you don’t stop shooting until it stops moving. And then you shoot it again, just in case. The gunplay is not just the core gameplay element here but pretty much the only gameplay element. As such, it needed to be absolutely perfect for the game to work, and it damn well is.
The game throws enemies upon enemies at you, which could have gotten tiring but the game’s splendid pacing makes it a joy. While the previous Doom 3 had a slower, more deliberate pacing with a survival horror element, the new DOOM has no time for all that. The character movement in the game is absolutely spot on. By default the player is set to run, and pressing Shift actually slows you down. The quick movement, perfect mouse sensitivity out of the box, and sharp controls lets you dance around your enemies while you unload your ammo down their throat. The speed and agility will come as a breath of fresh air if you’ve played any of the recent first person shooters, which feel slow and lumbering in comparison. But the speed in DOOM is not just a feature but an important asset, and without it you would be dead. That’s because it’s not just you who are fast in this game, but also the enemy, and if you’re caught slowing down, or worse, stopping, then you’re pretty much dead.
DOOM also has a glory kill system, which comes in when you damage an enemy enough. The enemy will start flashing blue (or orange if you’re within range), and with the press of a button you go into a glory kill animation that deals with the demon in a gloriously brutal way. The control is taken from the player during these animations, which could have been a disaster but the animations are quite short and don’t mess with the game’s rhythm or put you in a bad spot. Also, as a reward for using glory kill instead of just shooting more to finish the guy, you also get additional ammo and health packs.
The game has an amazing roster of demons this time, many of which are returning from previous games. They range in the amount of damage they can deal and soak but all of them feel balanced. The weaker enemies compensate for their strength in attack by being annoyingly agile, surrounding you in seconds and knocking you around if you’re caught snoozing. The bigger ones can soak entire ammo clips and dole out copious amount of damage. Then there are some that are strong and agile, and you should stay very far from them. You will learn to fear them all by the end of the game, and you should because underestimating them will get you killed pretty quickly.
Thankfully, the game arms you with equally fearful range of weapons. There are eight “regular” weapons and two special weapons. I won’t mention them here as it’s fun to discover them on your own but rest assured all your favorites are here, returning from previous games in the series.
All the weapons in the game, except maybe the basic handgun you get in the beginning, feel immensely powerful, which may have something to do with how crazy large some of their models are. There is a good variety of them, from short range ones to long range, and some that can cause just a crazy amount of damage. For most parts there is plenty of ammo in the game at the default difficulty setting, but that doesn’t mean you should spray and pray, otherwise you will find yourself running out pretty often.
Almost all weapons have an alternate fire mode, which often releases a significantly more powerful attack that comes at the cost of more ammo and reduced agility (some even require you to stay still). These are not recommended for fast moving enemies but if you line the shot right they can be quite devastating. The weapons can also be upgraded by spending special items you collect throughout the game.
One very interesting aspect of the gameplay are the power-ups. You will find these glowing orbs in rooms where you expect a big fight. These power-ups give you limited-time special abilities, such as super strength that lets you literally punch your way through all the enemies, increased agility, invincibility, or quad-damage (another favorite) that multiplies all weapon damage 4x. It’s really difficult to wait until later in a battle to use these because you know that’s when the toughest enemies would be coming, but that’s how it should be done ideally.
There are also secret areas within levels for you to discover, where you will find additional ammo, weapon upgrades, and special items. Then there are also runes which give access to timed events, where you have to perform a task within the time limit to unlock special abilities.
All this sounds fun, but the game isn’t exactly perfect. One of my concerns is the repetitiveness of the gameplay. About halfway through you’d notice you’re doing the same things over and over again, and towards the end it becomes really obvious. Go to a room, kill all the enemies. Go to the next room, kill all the enemies. Over and over again, for about 12 hours of the single-player campaign duration. Towards the latter half of the game, even the order in which the enemies spawn is repeated. It’s the exact same thing being done over and over, just in different areas.
The only different gameplay element in DOOM is platforming. This could, again, have been a disaster, as platforming in first person view isn’t fun, but there’s just enough of it to let you breathe in between all the shooting. The game does have a handful of boss battles, which for me were the best and most enjoyable distraction from the monotony of the shooting, even though it was more shooting. The reason for this is that while the rest of the shooting was fairly mindless, the bosses require you to slow down and be more patient with your shots. It’s a welcome change of pace but unfortunately the game has fewer boss battles than what I would have liked to see, and they are all towards the end of the game.
Visually, DOOM looks utterly flawless. Whether it’s the indoor environments of the UAC, the outdoors landscape of Mars, the hellscape, the character models, or the gun models, it’s all gorgeous and breathtaking. The pacing of the game rarely lets you stop and admire your surroundings but it’s worth spending the few moments you get for this because it really is very pretty. The levels are also well-designed, with multiple paths and platforms for you to move around and separate the enemies so you don’t get ambushed.
Best part is just how well the game runs. On my Core-i5 3570 and GTX 970 machine, I would often see triple digit framerates, with the lowest being around 80, all of which are way beyond my 60Hz monitor range. And this is with every single setting maxed out at 1080p, except for two, which couldn’t be maxed at as the game wouldn’t allow selecting them unless you have a graphics card with 5GB or more of VRAM. DOOM is getting Vulkan support later, which should make it run even better, great for those with high refresh-rate monitors or weaker graphics cards.
The sound is a different thing, however. While I loved the sound design in general and the heavy metal soundtrack that really adds to the excitement of the combat, often the game would just randomly throw enemy sounds around the room. Enemies could be across the room or on a different level and they would sound like they are right next to you. I couldn’t figure out if this was by design or a bug but it was quite annoying.
In the end, the new DOOM is one hell of a game. There is no denying that it is a one-trick pony but it’s a wonderful trick that the game executes beautifully. The combat is immensely enjoyable and incredibly well paced, and the game looks absolutely stunning. If you grew up on first person shooters, this should bring back some memories. If you are used to other kinds of shooters, this would be an excellent change of pace. Either way, if you are into shooters, DOOM is a must-buy.