“What’s your favourite game?”
Nine times out of ten, when people find out what I do for a living, that’s one of the first things they ask. On the surface, it seems a simple question. Completely unassuming. Innocent even. But it isn’t really. It’s painful every time. I’m sorry, but I don’t have a favourite game, Person I’ve Just Met. I’ve far too many fond memories of far too many incredible games to drill it down to a single, clean answer. But every time I’m asked, memories of the original Doom are invariably the first images that enter my mind. Perhaps that in itself says something, even though it’s seldom part of my chosen response.
I must’ve played through Knee-Deep in the Dead, the first episode of Doom, hundreds of times. That’s no exaggeration. Every so often I randomly hum the theme tune from E1M1 to myself, entirely unprovoked. Doom is almost as much a part of my DNA as my penchant for spicy food, or the outrageously thick hair that ensures I hardly need a helmet to save myself from vicious, skull-cracking tumbles.
Why am I telling you this? Because there are many out there like me, for whom Doom represents a vital chunk of their finest gaming memories. So when I say that this new Doom is exactly what I wanted it to be, I hope you’ll appreciate the significance.
Soon after stepping into the armoured boots of 2016’s Doom Marine, it becomes abundantly clear that at some point in Doom‘s prolonged, stop-start development cycle, a group of clever humans in id Software T-shirts wheeled a chalkboard into a meeting room and put their heads together to decipher exactly what makes Doom, Doom. I’m told you can still see said chalkboard in id’s offices today. You’ll find ten words written on it: PEOPLE LIKE MOVING FAST AND SHOOTING DEMONS WITH COOL GUNS. I don’t know about you, but that’s all I really want from a game that calls itself Doom. And Doom delivers that by the boatload.
Narratively, there’s not an awful lot going on, and I’m fine with that. Earth’s buckling under the weight of an energy crisis, until the Union Aerospace Corporation discovers a gateway to Hell on Mars or something. They begin siphoning Hell energy, harnessing it to deliver a near-limitless source of power to the inhabitants of Earth. But Hell is Hell and demons are demons, and soon enough Bad Things are streaming through the Hell portal, turning the UAC’s Mars facility into a total bloodbath. That’s when you awaken. Somewhat conveniently, it turns out the Doom Marine is some sort of ancient warrior tasked with punching demons in the teeth and collecting coloured keycards and generally being awesome or whatever. It’s total silliness, but I’m happy with it anyway, and the game’s various bits of writing and voice acting, while expectedly hammy, are nonetheless solid.
Sexy demon-shooting, that’s where Doom‘s true power lies. And gosh, it’s so good at the sexy demon-shooting. id Software’s always excelled at crafting arsenals of deliciously chunky weaponry with which to create almighty messes, and Doom is no different. It’s really all about the guns, see. “Only good things can come of whatever the hell this thing is,” you’ll think every time you pick up a new weapon, the Doom Marine carefully admiring each and every one. When you get into the thick of things and you’re surrounded by a plethora of demonic foes, there are few games that make clawing and biting and scratching (with rockets!) your way out of sticky situations quite so impressively satisfying. Movement is exactly as it should be: fast, fluid, stuffed to bursting with circle-strafing and frantic dodging. It’s fantastic.
Familiar enemies make a welcome return. Imps, possessed soldiers, Pinkies, Cacodemons, the Mancubus – they’re all here, waiting to be served a mouthful of chaingun. Their new designs are suitably grotesque, and each one poses its own challenge. Imps are a favourite of mine. I like the way they fire on the move, leaping onto crates, clinging to walls and charging in for ferocious close-range attacks. New to Doom is the concept of Glory Kills. Damage an enemy enough and you’ll be able to perform brutal, context-sensitive melee finishers on them. They’re more than just brutality for brutality’s sake; Glory Kills cause enemies to explode in a shower of health drops (and gibs), which is key to survival on the higher difficulties. Before playing Doom I worried that the Glory Kills would simply get in the way of the core action, but they successfully add an extra layer of strategy to combat as you scramble to perform finishers on foes whenever your health bar starts flashing. That, and the momentum they encourage is exhilarating, allowing you to mercilessly bounce from foe to foe, collecting vitality from each crushed skull and ripped jaw as you go.
Remember how the original Doom‘s levels seemed to hold a devious secret around every corner? New Doom has embraced a similar level design philosophy, creating hiding spots throughout levels that reward you for keeping a keen eye on the map and searching anything that looks even remotely secret-y. It’s embedded in the game’s system of progression. Finding secrets is one way to earn yourself tokens and points that’re put towards upgrading your weapon modifications and your Praetor Suit (i.e. your fancy Doom Marine armour). Most secrets are clearly visible from the map (especially if you upgrade the Praetor Suit to increase your detection range), which removes much of the shock and surprise that usually comes with uncovering hidden areas – but it’s still plenty rewarding when you finally discover the route to a secret spot.
Doom‘s levels are expertly designed, the architecture often looping back on itself to give them a steady flow and a sense of real space. Vertical space is used as much as horizontal, so combat often organically roams between the high and low ground as you pick off demons and evade their constant stream of hellfire. Importantly, the levels are fun to move around in, to explore and experiment with – and they’re covered in just the right amount of explosive barrels. You know, just in case you’re a fan of accidental deaths caused by unfortunate explosions in and around your fragile bits after an Imp’s fireball misses you, but hits the set of overeager barrels resting beside you. It’s okay, don’t be sad. These things happen.
There’s no overstating just how gratifying the game is in action. It looks absolutely brilliant, the id Tech 6 engine flexing its muscle to generate fantastic, eye-catching visuals – even though it’s all mostly browns and reds and steely greys. And the music. Oh, the music. I hardly ever comment on the music in games, but my relationship with the original Doom‘s soundtrack is such that I can’t ignore how strong this new Doom‘s musical offering is. Violent, crunchy guitar riffs perfectly complement the look and feel of the game, and the music often kicks into high gear to match the intensity of the chaotic combat. The rest of the audio is similarly amazing, delivering outstandingly punchy weapon effects and chilling demonic shrieks.
Pretty much all of the negative feelings I have for the game relate to technical failings. It consistently crashes to desktop on my PC, and every time it happens I die a little inside. It’s happened so often now that there’s very little of me that’s not dead. The audio occasionally bugs out, resulting in chunks of silence where the lovely music should be. I fell through the floor of a level once, resulting in a frustrating death. As for the multiplayer, I’ve played a few hours of it. I don’t know why the multiplayer beta was hated by so many, because it’s fun. Nothing even remotely groundbreaking, but I’ve nevertheless had a good time fragging excitable Germans who’re a bit overzealous with their microphones. The load-out system doesn’t offend me, getting to play as a demon is cool, and the amount of customisation options is incredible, despite being ultimately meaningless. Sure, I’d have loved a more Quake III-style experience, but I can’t really fault the multiplayer suite.
I was scared of Doom leading up to its launch. I was terrified it’d be completely underwhelming, that it’d taint my fond memories. I don’t know how I’d have reacted if that were the case. Thankfully, I’ll never know, because I’ve adored every minute I’ve spent with the game. At its core, it’s really a simple game about using beefy weapons to kill scary monsters. And that’s excellent. Because after all: PEOPLE LIKE MOVING FAST AND SHOOTING DEMONS WITH COOL GUNS.