Doom Review: Let’s Party Like It’s 1993

Doom is easily one of the best single player shooters in recent years. It’s fast, frantic, and gory as Hell. It mixes the best parts of shooters of old with the best parts of more modern shooters to great something exceedingly special. After 2011’s Rage, it was easy to question whether id Software would knock one out of the ballpark ever again, or if they’d simply aged out of baseball. Nope, Doom proves that id had at least one good swing left in them.

Polish is through the roof, as well. The game looks and sounds as good as it runs, and it seems like many of the faults people had with id Tech 5 (and Rage) have been solved in id Tech 6. There’s still a minor amount of texture pop-in, but it’s nowhere near as egregious as it had been in Rage when that game first came out. In the weapons, enemies, and levels, there’s great attention to detail. All of the models are immaculately crafted, with loads of beauty even in their grotesqueness.

Doom is hard – if you want it to be. Ultra-violence is the highest available difficulty by default – and while it’s not easy, it’s not super challenging, either. Nightmare unlocks after you beat the game, or you can unlock it early with a console command, which I highly recommend doing if you’re looking for a challenge. There’s also Ultra-Nightmare for the truly sadistic. Not only is it hard as balls, but it also has permadeath.

No part of the game offers more of a challenge than the arenas, which are plentiful. You’ll be locked in a room with seemingly endless demons, many of which will kill you almost instantly if you’re foolish enough to stop moving for more than a split second. To stop is to die. It’s easy to see why Doom forgoes reloading and simply lets you fire until you’re drained of ammo. Doom wants you to keep moving and to keep firing.

These scenarios are when Doom’s Glory Kill mechanic comes into full play. These are the scripted melee finishers that can be performed when an enemy has taken enough damage and becomes staggered. You’re bounding around like a jackrabbit, trying to land perfect hits with the shotgun, and going in for Glory Kills. They refill your health and, thanks to a few frames of invulnerability, offer you a chance to breathe and regain you bearings. If you’re within range for a Glory Kill – and that range is significantly farther than in their face, you’ll snap right to the target. This helps tremendously with the momentum of battle, so much so that the extra health regen gained from a Glory Kill is almost secondary. Almost. There’s no automatically regenning health in Doom, and health packs are limited, so those Glory Kills still to keep you alive.

Some people have criticized the repetitiveness of the arenas, but I imagine they were playing on the easier difficulties. They’re Doom at its most fun. Some of the arenas later in the game throw such a dangerous mix of enemies at you, and in such a quantity, that victory provides a stellar sense of satisfaction. There are a few tools in your belt that help, though. The aforementioned Glory Kills provide health, a few milliseconds of invulnerability, and the ability to get out of a dangerous position in an instant. Then there’s the chainsaw. It provides a means of both getting ammo in an instant, and instantly taking out a dangerous foe, and it too provides you with a few seconds of invulnerability while the animation is playing out. Combat in these arenas turn into a symphony of kiting enemies in circles, performing Glory Kills on the staggered ones, and putting the chainsaw to any enemies you want to take out of the fight instantly. Eventually you unlock the BFG 9000, which can instantly kill any enemy it comes into contact with in a straight line. If used at just the right moment, the BFG can clear a room.

The rest of the game is a cakewalk by comparison. Even boss fights gave me hardly any trouble after being hardened by the game’s arenas. The game’s significantly easier when you only have to manage one enemy instead of many. Even on Ultra-Violence, I killed the final boss in the game in one fell swoop. Bosses shouldn’t necessarily be smash-your-head-against-the-keyboard hard, but neither should they be walks in the park. Doom’s at its best when you’re having to manage multiple enemies at once and are struggling to keep your head above the proverbial waters, so maybe Doom’s boss fights would’ve been better if it pitted you against multiple enemies, such as the boss and a few adds.

The story is there, but it’s also completely ignorable, but it also has its highlights. It’s whimsically hilarious how the Mars facility views demonic invasions. Humans have meddled in Hell so many times that the upper management has come to expect these incursions. One of the first monitors in the game reads: “DEMONIC INVASION IN PROGRESS.” It was just a matter of time before someone went and messed everything up. If there’s anything negative to throw at the story it’s that it ends extremely abruptly and baits an obvious sequel, or maybe even an expansion pack or DLC. Bethesda already proved willing to do that with Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, and I’d say Doom is ripe for its own single player expansion, be it small or large.

That’s not to say that the game’s ending is a complete wash. Spoilers about the Doom mythology will follow, but only because that’s the interesting part. The story itself is fairly by-the-numbers. Throughout the story, you come to learn that this Doom is canon with the previous ones, and that the Doom Marine putting an end to these invasions has become customary. So in a way, the ending of Doom just sets it up in a way that the cycle will again repeat, seemingly sooner rather than later. The game also serves to build up the mythology behind Hell itself. Through in game codexes, you learn of the Doom Marine’s history with Hell itself, and how every time humanity has popped the cork and unleashed Hell on Mars, the Doom Marine has been there to put it right back on. He’s a silent protagonist, but there’s enough personality in his gestures that he’s not simply a blank slate. He’s just got nothing left to say.

Since the Doom Marine has single-handedly beaten Hell multiple times now, Hell has come to fear him, and even that is putting mildly. They’re scared shitless of the Doom Marine. So much so that they stuck him in a box and buried him in the depths of Hell so that he could pester them no longer. Of course he’s found by the current Mars regime, and when the goings get tough, he’s released, and boy does he rain Hell down on Hell, and at the end, after all’s said and done, the Doom Marine is imprisoned once more. Of course the next time humans go meddling around in Hell, the whole cycle will repeat, but that’s sort of the point. He’s like the Godzilla of Hell. He arises periodically to reset the status quo, then disappears until he’s needed again. The ending fits, and it’s completely in line with the lore behind Doom, but that doesn’t really excuse how abruptly it comes.

You don’t have to be paying a lot of attention to the game to pick up all of this, but grabbing the secrets do help, and so does reading the codex logs. The game even goes as far as to reference battles that have gone on deep within Hell for millennia, and the many different factions at play. Much like a country, the leadership of Hell has rotated through the years, and it’s even implied that the Doom Marine might be descended from some ancient warriors who fought Hell directly in ages past. So in the end, it’s no surprise that he’s able to combat Hell directly, and with such resolve. He was born for it.

But enough about the game’s mythology. You’ll be spending most of the time shooting the heads off demons and probably not pouring over the many writings in the game. It’s fortunate, then, that the guns feel so good, but that’s not too surprising. Say what you will about Rage, but even its weapons felt great, especially the shotgun. There’s a reason it’s my and many other player’s go to weapon. But it’s not the only tool in your arsenal, with a few other weapons that are unique to multiplayer. They’re all really fun to use, and you’ll find yourself switching to certain weapons to take care of certain enemies. Sometimes this is because they have a really good primary fire, or because they have really good mods.

Mods are Doom’s first and only form of weapon customization. Each weapon has two different mods. The Combat Shotgun, for example, has a Charge Shot, which fires off a three round burst, or an Explosive Shot, which fires off an exploding grenade that deals a fair amount of area damage. You’ll eventually unlock both mods, and once you do, you’ll be able to switch between them at will. There are also weapon upgrades that you’ll collect as you progress through the campaign. These will make the weapon mods even more powerful, but a weapon’s primary fire will always remain the same – with the exception of the Super Shotgun. It forgoes mods in lieu of upgrading the weapon’s primary fire directly. Weapon upgrades are plentiful and are gained from either finding secrets, completing challenges specific to each level, or by simply killing lots of demons. If you unlock all of a mod’s upgrades, you can earn a master upgrade by performing a specific challenge unique to each weapon. There are suit upgrades, as well, in the form of Praetor Tokens. These are found on dead guards and are used to improve your survivability, power up efficiency, and agility. Doom is no RPG, but it provides enough progression and customization that you feel as though you’re a true badass by the end.

The other form of customization in Doom is runes, which are unlocked by completing Rune Trials found within the levels. These minigames might have you kill a certain amount of enemies with a certain weapon in a certain timeframe. Once you’re successful, you unlock a rune. There are twelve of them in total, and you can have up to three active at once. They grant nifty benefits like increasing the amount of ammo gained from kills, or increasing the range at which you’re able to perform a Glory Kill. That’s a personal favorite of mine. Glory Kills already have an impressive range to them, but if you have that rune equipped, then you can basically teleport meters at a time with the click of a button. Another really good rune is the one that increases the frequency at which ammo drops. All of the runes can be upgraded, and the upgrade for the ammo rune makes it so that enemies have a chance to drop BFG ammo. Without the mod, BFG ammo is limited and found in specifics spots on the level, and the BFG itself can only have three charges at once. You can imagine how nice it is being able to use the BFG more often.

Of course no Doom game, and no game claiming to be a throwback, would be complete without secrets, and they’re plentiful. You can unlock 3D models by collecting bobble-heads, and each level has a classic Doom map hidden within it. The auto-map – which by the way is awesome – can show you the rough location of bobble-heads, but you’re going to have to figure out how to get to them on your own. The classic levels are completely hidden, and Doom is no corridor shooter, so good luck tracking those down. I only found two or three in my playthrough.

The level design itself is great. Doom proves that there’s a nice middle ground between open world game and linear, a middle ground that seems fairly lost on a lot of games these days. The levels are open, with lots of paths, and doors to unlock with colored keycards. It would be easy to get lost, but the auto-map helps to keep that from being an issue, and each level has an auto-map pickup that completely reveals the map. You can spend upwards of an hour combing each level for secrets, unlockables, ammo, health, etc. Another slight complaint is that Doom takes you to Hell a bit too early in the campaign. I would’ve preferred if id kept that ace up its sleeve till the very end. That’s mostly personal preference, and the Hell levels themselves don’t disappoint regardless of where in the campaign they’re found.

I guess I should also mention multiplayer, but I don’t think we’d be missing much if I just ignored its existence, and you probably should, too. It’s not so horrendously broken that it’s unplayable, but it doesn’t fully embrace the old as well as the single player does. It feels like this weird amalgamation of Halo and Doom, with bits of Call of Duty thrown in, but it doesn’t lean enough in any direction. Instead of Kill Streaks, which reward players for performing well, there are Demon power ups that let random players rampage around as a demon for a bit. Like I said, it’s not horrendously broken or anything, and for what it is it seems fine, I guess, and if you check it out and find yourself enjoying it, don’t let its reception stop you. Just know that chances are if you’re going to play Doom, it’ll be for the single player, not the multiplayer. There’s also the SnapMap, which is a highly accessible content creation tool. Already players have done some impressive things with it, but it’s unfortunate it’s useful for creating new Multiplayer/Co-Op maps with the rulesets found in Multiplayer and not new single player content.

I absolutely adored the thirteen hours I spent with Doom’s single player. Replaying most games these days revolve around finding every last collectible, and sure, there’s plenty of that in Doom, as well, but there’s a good chance you’ll play through Doom multiple times just because it’s fun. I found Ultra-Violence to be a little disappointing, so maybe I’ll cut my teeth with Nightmare. I’m not crazy enough for Ultra-Nightmare.

I’d say Doom is worth the ticket price just for the single player story alone, SnapMap and the Multiplayer are just icing, however hard and stale. Let’s just hope it’s not another decade before we see another Doom game from id.

About Josh Price

Josh Price is a writer who probably spends too many hours of the day playing video games. At some point he decided to put the two together to (hopefully) great effect. He also wrote some fiction. You should check that out if you're into such things, which you should be. Reading is FUNdamental.

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