So, I was thinking about why it took me so long to finish DOOM. I’m pretty good at charging through games, and this campaign isn’t overly long. Honestly, I think it’s because the hours I usually designate to playing games are the hours before I go to sleep. I usually inject myself into a wonderful fantasy world to wind down, before I totally tune out for the night. And with DOOM I can’t do that. Parading through Mars and Hell, murdering everything in sight, isn’t at all conducive to sleep. There’s flashing colours, jump scares and an almost obnoxiously heavy (in the best possible way) soundtrack. DOOM is literally a case of ‘you snooze, you lose’. You play this game and your heart rate gets jacked up. Your adrenaline is pumping and there’s no chance in hell – trust me, I’ve spent the last week turning it inside out with a chainsaw and a super shotgun – that you’ll be able to sleep.
What I’m trying to say here is that DOOM is the gaming industry’s cure for low testosterone. Bethesda and id’s latest outing is so packed full of machismo that the disc basically has beard. We’re talking about double barrel shotguns, chainsaws and super-powered punches. We’re talking about totally unnecessary violence. We’re talking about the exact type of game that psychologists would attribute to rising rates in childhood violence. And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing because it’s the exact type of game that DOOM should be.
Words honestly can’t describe how nauseatingly sick I am of games masking their true intentions, stringing levels together with a wispy plot and then forcing that plot upon you. Now, I’m not going to tell you that DOOM’s going to win an award for storytelling. It’s not. The main story is basically a farce of all the ridiculous stories we see in shooters these days. There’s some obviously deluded scientist attempting to do something that is, equally obviously, a crap idea for the advancement of mankind. We’ve seen it a million times before, and the UAC’s attempt to weaponize demons is only different because it knows it’s a joke. The hologram of the UAC spokesperson really drives home the satire. This dude pops up around the UAC maps, giving you tips on how to avoid the various calamities that have already happened. He had some moments of utter hilarity with dialogue like: “the road to hell is paved with argent energy” and “unlike everything else in your life, your work at UAC matters”.
DOOM barely pretends that it’s got a point past Doomguy waging genocide on the demonic species. And as much as I’d love to tear the game apart from a narrative standpoint, the lacking story doesn’t detract from the DOOM experience. The brief summaries in each level’s loading screen give context to the environments and provide you with a sense of direction. And we know that the larger goal of the game is to close the gates of hell. I think it’s important to note that the lack of story is deliberate minimalism not laziness. Codex entries can be found throughout the levels and reading these entries, and their descriptions, will reveal the intricacies of the world. There’s a story behind every character, every environment and every enemy type. And if you take the time to read the text, the game becomes much more three-dimensional. But DOOM doesn’t throw this excess information at you; it’s a shooter through and through. Shooting is the game’s primary focus, and it’s something that it does very, very well.
In an age of Battlefields, CODs and simulation shooters, DOOM takes FPS mechanics back to their basics. In short, it makes the shooter ‘fun’ again. There’s no reloading, there’s a superbly overpowered shotgun and you can run around with every weapon all at once. The combat itself is incredibly fast paced. If you’re not strafing, jumping and using power-ups then you’re doing it all wrong. The glory kills are fluid and, like everything else in the game, sickeningly gory. They’re amazingly animated and they fit perfectly into the gameplay. The chainsaw is another important gameplay element, with equally polished animations. It’s really well managed too; killing larger enemies requires larger amounts of fuel. The same can’t be said for the BFG, a weapon that is overpowered to the extent that it drains the challenge out of single and multiplayer games. Still, there’s an unrivalled sense of sadistic fun to be had parading through DOOM’s environments, from the polished labs of UAC to the depths of Hell, and all while listening to a soundtrack comprised of the exact type of metal that makes you want to murder everything.
I’m sure someone out there will criticise the design of the ‘Hell’ levels. And I’ll admit, the landscapes of the abyss look like they’ve been pulled from the mind of a fourteen-year-old who listens to ‘Cannibal Corpse’ and dies his hair black. But I think we should remember that this is a video game, not a socio-political commentary, and it’s called ‘DOOM’ not ‘A Divine Comedy’. Suffice to say, that an image of ‘Count Ugolino’ gnawing on the head of ‘Archbishop Ruggier’ would be slightly out of place. Plus, given the legacy of the franchise and the point that DOOM has made of maintaining that legacy, the skulls, blood and gore are probably the exact image of hell that this game needs. I honestly don’t think that there’s much fault in DOOM’s artwork. In fact, I’d say that anyone who does fault it needs to step back and think about the type of game they’re playing.
On the topic of faults and game types, why are we still putting bosses in first person shooters? It’s 2016. The boss battle has been refined far past the idea of emptying all your guns into some behemoth. I would have thought that with all the Witcher 3s, Final Fantasy’s and Dark Souls of the world, this type of boss fight would have died long ago. But it’s hanging on like a little bit of poo that AAA gaming has forgotten to wipe. See, the only major criticism I have of DOOM is that the Cyber Demon and the Spider Mastermind boss fights sucked. Yes, I know that these demons were bosses in the original game, and I know that id are staying true to their roots, but these fights seemed ridiculous when compared to the more thoughtfully developed Hell Guards.
Since Gears of War 2 pioneered the horde mode, it’s become increasingly apparent that, in a shooter, fighting multiple normal bad guys is much more satisfying than fighting one super, massive bad guy. The entire premise of these games centres on accurate aiming, and if the supposed ‘hardest fight’ is with a giant target, then the challenge is nullified. I don’t care how difficult it is to dodge his attacks. And I don’t care how much his health is buffed. It’s easy, it’s boring and it’s time consuming. That massive health bar looms overhead long after the novelty is gone, and by that stage the only thing I want to shoot is myself. I’m honestly thinking about starting an international gaming regulation committee with the primary initiative of monitoring boss fights, because I am one hundred-percent convinced that the world would be a better place if the likes of the Cyber Demon were removed from video games. Life is short and there’s a million better things to be doing than blasting round after round into the same inflated git.
One of those ‘better things’ is exploring DOOM’s Snapmap mode. It’s your typical create a map mode, but players are given access to almost everything in the games inventory. There’s the occasional limitation – only being able to spawn 12 monsters at a time, for instance. But players have quickly found ways around these. I’ve played some genuinely great user-generated levels in this mode, and more maps are coming everyday. It’s awesome that this feature works and it’s awesome that it’s being used. It fits well into the whole legacy of the franchise, what with the WAD files in Doom 2 and the modding of the original game. I honestly wish the developers had placed more emphasis on this feature, rather than the multiplayer mode.
That said, DOOM wouldn’t be a ‘Doom’ game without the inclusion of multiplayer. I spent six hours this afternoon playing DOOM’s various online modes and while they’re all fun, the multiplayer itself is fairly… bland. It’s the typical collection of game types that we’ve come to expect – king of the hill, team death-match etc. – based around the same ‘level up for unlock loot’ system. Once you’ve unlocked enough items, the character customisation actually becomes surprisingly detailed. I’ve seen some unique and seriously imposing figures, but aside from that and the multiplayer-only weapons, the demon power-up is the only ‘new’ thing that DOOM’s multiplayer brings to the table. And as enjoyable as it is to experience things from a new perspective, the demons are so overpowered that it feels like you’re rorting the system. From a technical standpoint, the multiplayer runs perfectly. But at the end of the day, shooting other people just isn’t as fun as shooting millions of demons in the campaign or snapmap modes.
Now, I know I said a few harsh words about those boss battles – and I stand by the points I made but, truth be told, I adored DOOM, primarily because it didn’t try to be anything that it wasn’t. And that goes a long way these days, when every game is trying to tick every box. Sure, DOOM doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it takes all the best parts of a game series that did, and makes them modern. And what it doesn’t do is drag me – screaming and crying, might I add – through hours of unskippable cutscenes. It ticks all the boxes it’s meant to tick and it leaves the others blank. And boy, oh boy does it look nice.
DOOM might not be the best game of all time, but it’s the best shooter I’ve played in a very long time. It gets my vote for having balls – in every sense of the word.