Doom might be filled to the brim with demons and hellfire but the game feels like a damn miracle. This modern reimagining of the beloved shooter franchise doesn’t just return the series to form. It steps up and dares the rest of the genre to match its ferocity. Doom feels like it shouldn’t work. The modern landscape of AAA production and design has altered first person shooters in drastic ways. Halo’s regenerating shields and two weapon standard has colored nearly everything that followed it from Call of Duty to BioShock. Foregoing modern standards, Doom breaks away from the pack to be bold, unique, and fantastic.
I think it is fair to say that Doom was subject to some apprehension. Would the game move like the original? Would it still manage to be as bloody? Would it hold onto the legacy of the original? These questions are answered emphatically within a minute of play. Yes. This is Doom. It is a fitting entry within the series. But it is also something unto itself. A singular experience that is both familiar and new.
The key to Doom’s success is combat. By reclaiming old shooter tropes like powerups and health packs, Doom situates itself outside the pack. But there are many unorthodox affectations that alter the ebb and flow of combat, keeping it fast and brilliantly brutal. The most prominent of these are “glory kills”.
Weakening an enemy to a certain threshold will allow the player to perform devastating melee finishes that are outrageously visceral. You’ll snap off tusks and shove them into eye sockets, tear off legs and stomp on demon’s faces with their own foot, and just flat out tear enemies in half. It never feels gratuitous. Every glory kill is a satisfying punctuation mark. These kills also reward ammo and health beyond the already present pickups. No more hiding behind cover to let health regen. Doom rewards aggression and risk. Fortune favors the furious.
This combines with sleek movement controls, turning gunfights into the most hellaciously sadistic and gory ballet imaginable. Speed is a hallmark of the franchise and Doom understands that perfect. Nothing feels loose. Everything feels intuitive. In short time, you will be jumping about arenas, raining death on the hordes of hell, snagging power ups, blasting monsters into bits, and snapping their bones with ease. The chaos may get overwhelming from time to time but you’ll have so many weapons in your arsenal and tactical options in any given moment that you’ll break through that confusion to assert dreadful dominance over foes.
Under normal circumstances, this type of player empowerment would feel irredeemably crass. But Doom’s tone is irreverent enough that the affair never seems self aggrandizing. The game hovers somewhere between the larger than life bellicosity of 1981’s Heavy Metal and the simmering rebellion of Mad Max: Fury Road. It splits the difference between boyhood ideas of “badass” and something much more subversive than initially apparent. Doom masterfully navigates the puerile and satirical, allowing players to participate in power fantasy but continually pointing out its own absurdity.
This is best expressed in the game’s story. It is an endeavor so unnecessary that its existence seems baffling at first. But it becomes clear that the whole production is well aware of its superficiality.
The story, as it is, concerns a nefarious corporation turning Hell’s energy into a power source in a grand facility on Mars. All it takes is one small act of sabotage before portals drop demons everywhere. You wake up on a slab, break your chains, and start killing until there’s nothing left to kill. Be it on Mars or in the depths of Hell. The game might try to add some narrative window dressing but it never pours it on too thick. You’re killing because you are The Doomguy and that’s just what you do. You aren’t just a first person shooter protagonist. You are the first person shooter protagonist, ritually summoned back into action to blow the shit out of everything.
The exercise isn’t perfect, mind you. Levels are big, providing plenty of secrets and hidden goodies to find, but they begin to bloat. The latter half of the game becomes needlessly labyrinthine. Exploration eventually feels less and less rewarding before turning into a chore. The addition of set piece boss fights against larger demons creates combat scenarios that feel lackluster compared to the sprawling arena battles against hordes of monsters. Also: platforming. First person platforming. It all mixes together and begins to shutter the flow of things. A game like Doom lives or dies by its pacing and the engine begins to run out of steam towards the end.
Thankfully, this frustration is eased once you enter the game’s multiplayer mode. It boasts a variety of game types ranging from traditional team deathmatch and point capture to the more inventive freeze tag. Every match is absolutely wild, as players let loose on each other, some even turning into dangerous demons thanks to special pick ups. Glory kills carry over to the multiplayer as well, encouraging players to get in each other’s faces and bring the pain.
Less impressive is the multiplayer’s progression system. Players unlock weapons for a loadout instead of picking up what they can find on the map. It’s the only case where Doom strongly draws from modern titles and the result feels derivative. Affectations like taunts and skill enhancing boosters work well enough, but occasionally interrupt the organize chaos.
However, invigorating variety is tossed into the affair thanks to the game’s level editor: SnapMap. It is an intuitive tool that is certain to produce dazzling player-created content. Map segments click together and can be forged into single player or multiplayer experiences. From tribute levels and faithful recreations of old maps to new and exciting multiplayer death fields, SnapMap holds a lot of promise. Given an active community, I can see Doom’s online component growing into something truly special.
More than anything else, Doom feels different. It is a change of pace. A welcome move away from the soulless AAA standard towards something with genuine heart and character. What minor missteps exist are buried under a jubilant sea of confidence. Doom knows what it wants to be with an amazing purity and delivers on those ambitious perfectly. It is a heavy metal sex fire of violence. Pure, unfiltered hell. Rack your shotgun and rev your chainsaw. The king of first person shooters is back.