In Doom, I see a world brimming with demons, explosions, and hellfire. I see familiar faces screaming, with bloodthirsty eyes and unwavering stares. Playing it delivers the same cathartic craze the original Doom and Doom II did in the early ’90s: overwhelmed by the horrors around every turn, but empowered with an impressive collection of weapons at the ready.
But the new Doom is louder and faster than the old model. Its battles ask more of you, and its heavy-metal soundtrack causes your body to quiver from turbulent surges of adrenaline. From the outset two things are made immediately clear: you were born to kill demons, and you’ll do anything it takes. You will wrench countless jaws from their joints and eviscerate the swollen flesh of your enemies between bouts of furious gunfire. These powerful moments carry what, at its core, is a simple game. The cadence of Doom’s campaign is unwavering to the point of predictability as you make multiple round-trips between Mars and the depths of hell. Each location bears its own distinct but static identity, and your return trips inspire more deja vu than surprise as you tread familiar ground on either side of the dimensional portal you’re charged with dismantling.
You rarely take an unexpected turn, but any bothersome feelings this gives you are washed away the moment you enter battle. Doom equips you with a range of weapons that start simple and grow ever more elaborate. Not all are created equal, and there are some you will ignore for their lack of stopping power, but many are formidable, and a near constant stream of upgrades allows you to tweak your favorites in order to give them greater functionality and strength–more cause for attachment to, and wonder in, the power at your fingertips.
This power extends to Glory Kills, Doom’s contextual dismemberment techniques that can be triggered when you cause an enemy to stagger. They are the embodiment of gore fetishization, offering multiple ways to tear enemies into pieces, dependant on your angle of approach. Glory Kills are also strategically valuable. Enemies occasionally drop health items and ammo when felled by a gun, but you’re guaranteed an injection of health when you flay your opponents using your bare hands–and occasionally with a body part of their own. This incentivizes you to rush in even when on the brink, offering hope at the end of a potentially deadly tunnel. Similarly, you also collect a chainsaw that can rip demons in half as a one-hit kill, which causes ammo to spout from their corpses. Your chainsaw requires precious fuel and should be used sparingly, and figuring out the best time to use it becomes a tense mind game of its own.
The rhythm of combat–which almost always begins as a plainly presented lockdown in a room–grows increasingly hard and fast over the course of Doom’s thirteen missions. Larger and more dangerous demons appear over time, and in greater numbers. As you weave and leap around maze-like arenas to improve your vantage and search for much-needed supplies, you function like a magnet, drawing enemies toward you. As you do, the once-disparate groups in an arena become concentrated. The effect of this is that you can put your explosive munitions to good use and inflict heaps of damage to multiple enemies at once. But there is a downside: you can quickly back yourself into a corner as you retreat. Despite this danger, herding enemies is par for the course in Doom as it’s often the most viable tactic. This plays into the cyclical murderous bliss of Doom: round and round we go.
The tension of facing increasingly durable enemies gives this system longevity despite its repetitiveness. Bipedal imps give way to towering, bloated monstrosities, powerful stampeding beasts, and disembodied flaming skulls. To keep up with the horde, you must use resources earned for your past feats to modify and upgrade your weapons with new capabilities. This steadily feeds into your brash and violent persona in order to maintain the high of combat in the face of your growing tolerance for all things brutal. Where a shotgun blast to the face was once satisfying and effective enough, you ultimately desire the thrill and power of unleashing a mortar-like cluster bomb from your double-barrelled best friend. When he’s spent, you’ll be thankful you upgraded your heavy assault rifle with micro-missiles that pierce the air with a subtle whistle before lodging under the skin of a demon and exploding, one after another.
Where a shotgun blast to the face was once satisfying and effective enough, you ultimately desire the thrill and power of unleashing a mortar-like cluster bomb from your double-barrelled best friend.
Upgrades can be earned by sweeping maps of demons, or discovered by exploring every inch of Doom’s environments. Both techniques demand diligence. Secrets and hidden areas aren’t new to Doom, but the variety of rewards you can reap are greater than ever. Every bit of hardware, including weapons, armor, and their underlying software, can be augmented in multiple ways. Nevertheless, you come across your fair share of upgrades even if you stay on the beaten path, and you’ll probably want to as the thrill of combat gets under your skin. The process of awkwardly platforming your way across Doom’s maps grows increasingly tiresome as your pulse drops to a murmur, and your patience for anything other than combat wears thin. The advent of Rune Challenges mixes this up a bit, offering self-contained tasks that momentarily take you out of missions and into tiny arenas where you need to defeat enemies under strict conditions. As enjoyable as these can be, they don’t hold a candle to mission combat and eventually become an afterthought as you seek your next battle.
When Doom funnels you from one location to the next, it introduces brief moments that tell your story, and the story of the energy-obsessed Union Aerospace Corporation. It’s the UAC’s ill-conceived decision to tap into Hell’s energy resources that created the portal between dimensions in the first place, and though you are an agent of the UAC in a way, yours is a reluctant enlistment. The tale of your involvement carries a certain gravitas in the way it speaks of legends and dark messiahs, but it ultimately amounts to little more than window dressing to justify your actions.
When your journey comes to a close, you will have spent close to a dozen hours in the thick of it, the last of which are punctuated with riveting boss fights and seemingly impossible odds. With a flush arsenal and enhanced physical abilities, you may opt to return to previous missions and find items you may have missed, or lay waste at higher difficulty levels, but multiplayer awaits those who seek something new. Apart from a few multiplayer-exclusive weapons and the ability to play as demons during portions of a match, there’s actually very little new about Doom’s multiplayer. Its modes are few, delivering the expected assortment of match types, including team deathmatch and domination challenges, and a couple fun diversions like freeze tag. By and large, you won’t find much in multiplayer that hasn’t been done before, but what’s there is enjoyable in small doses thanks to the fast pace of combat and the explosive nature of Doom’s weaponry.
Doom is straightforward and simple, but it serves its purpose: to thrust you into increasingly dire scenarios fueled by rage and the spirit of heavy metal.
More impressive than multiplayer is Snap Map, a mode that allows you to create and share both multi- and single-player maps online. Tutorials walk you through the steps involved in creating a map, which is intuitive to begin with. Beyond ease-of-use, Snap Map will live or die through the creativeness of the community, which has already made a strong showing, delivering a range of maps that range from brutal to absurdly entertaining. More than multiplayer, Snap Map is the cherry on top of the new Doom.
But without a doubt, the loud and chaotic campaign is Doom’s strongest component. It’s straightforward and simple, but it serves its purpose: to thrust you into increasingly dire scenarios fueled by rage and the spirit of heavy metal. Many shooters chase the thrill Doom delivers, but few are as potent in their execution. It captures the essence of what made the classic Doom games touchstones of their day, and translates it to suit modern palates with impressively rendered hellscapes and a steady influx of tantalizing upgrades. Doom is the product of a tradition as old as shooters, and while it’s not the model to follow in every case, modern shooters could learn a thing or two from Doom’s honed and unadulterated identity.