Video Game Review: Doom (2016)

You know, if anyone had told me a new Doom game would be good in 2016, let alone one that came after years of development hell, John Carmack leaving id Software and a critically mauled multiplayer beta, I would have laughed and asked you how many drinks you’d already had.

Mind you, it’s not like id had completely forgotten how to make good games: a lot of people really liked Rage (though I’m not one of them) and, after how good Wolfenstein: The New Order was, I was cautiously optimistic for the rebirth of Doom (despite the fact that Wolfenstein: The New Order wasn’t actually developed by id) and I’m glad I was.

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Now Doom needs no introduction for how influential the original was or how much it impacted game design to most gamers, but, for the benefit of those not familiar with the franchise, then here’s the basics that you need to know: when Doom launched on the PC back in 1993, it was critically acclaimed (as well as pretty much singlehandedly popularising the first person shooter genre), was one of the first games to make use of shareware to great success and it was the video game that coined the phrase “deathmatch”. On a personal note, it was also one of the first video games I ever remember seeing when I was five years old.

The reboot is interesting, because it is the first game id have released without any of their founding members involved in the company. No John Romero (although, considering people still haven’t entirely forgiven him for Daikatana, that’s probably for the best!), no Bobby Prince (who technically was just a freelance musician rather than an actual founding member of id, but his contributions to the games were invaluable), no Shawn Green, no John Carmack (although he is not forgotten: he is credited as former technical director, former engine programmer and former developer on the title), no Jay Wilbur, no Tom Hall (who might also be known for working on Rise of the Triad and Deus Ex) and no Adrian Carmack. This isn’t to say that there aren’t key members of the company remaining in it (Tim Willits is still studio director now, over 20 years after he joined the company, and executive producer Kevin Cloud is still in the company now after joining in 1992), but none of the company’s founders remain. A nerve wracking situation for longer time fans, I’m sure you’d agree!

As far back as Doom goes, there’s always room for some new breed on the team, Mick Gordon, the composer of Wolfenstein: The New Order, makes a welcome return here with a sound that is best described as Meshuggah inspired chugging and weird electronica noises, which actually fuse together really well. Even the rendition of ‘At Doom’s Gate’ is done with care and respect.

Level design is decent, well paced and has a visceral quality to them that id do when they’re at their best. It’s clear that they’ve been playing the original Doom and Doom 2 in the office, with expansive levels, secrets and amusing little Easter eggs that all harken back to the games that made Doom so beloved. There’s also some inspiration from Doom 3 in its corridor design, which might seem concerning to some fans due to Doom 3 not having the best of reputations, but I don’t mind it myself!

On the visual design front, I have to start by admitting that I was never a fan of the demon designs when Doom was unveiled at E3: I always felt they were a bit cartoony. However, I think they’ve done a really good job of modernizing the demons (revenant and imp especially) whilst still making them recognizable.

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If you pardon some potential spoilers, I feel the story is well told, with Doomguy giving a “I don’t give a shit” attitude. He never speaks, but he’s got more personality than another mute character like Gordon Freeman or Jack from Bioshock 1. His actions throughout the course of the story mode when getting exposition give enough character to make the muteness work. It’s also nice that they’ve written some lore for the universe this time, with it going into detail about the creatures, personnel of the UAC and the environments. As the original Doom‘s exposition and story was just a couple of paragraphs of text over a midi file, it makes a refreshing change. Also, for the most part, the story isn’t forced on the player and the player is free to avoid it, which is a surprisingly good way to handle the story because it means that it doesn’t get in the way of the core of the game (mowing down demons) while still being available for those who are interested in that kind of thing.

I know I’m gushing over the single-player, but that’s because it’s good. Now for some of the things that aren’t as good as they should have been. The multiplayer feels tacked on and throwaway: the two weapon limit in multiplayer doesn’t really make much sense and it feels like it lacks an identity compared to its single-player component. However, I feel I should point out that I’ve also been playing the game on the PS4 and non-PC fans don’t have a problem with this, so you can draw your own conclusions from this as you wish.

This one is a bit subjective, but some people won’t like the demon gorenests, I’m not bothered either way, but it’s focused on lockdowns and wave based combat. It feels a lot like Painkiller rather than Doom, if I’m honest, but that’s not really a bad thing as there’s enough Doom DNA in it to still be called Doom and not Painkiller MK2 (although that would be great to have too…).

There’s also a few other things to comment upon that aren’t really part of the game, but are worth noting anyway. For one thing, the texture load in bug is still there from id Tech 5. It’s nowhere near as bad as it was, admittedly, but it’s still present. PC users will notice that there is slight mouse acceleration until you disable it via Config files or Launch commands. Some users have also been reporting issues with crashes and poor performance. I’ve not experienced either of these issues myself, but it may be worth keeping this in mind if you’re wanting to run the game on less powerful systems.

Snapmap is also available, but I can’t really comment on it as I’ve not delved enough into it.

At the end of it all, though, all I can say about Doom is that I’m surprised that id is back with a good title. That might seem like an odd comment to some people, but I was never a massive fan of Doom 3 or its expansion, Resurrection of Evil (although I can appreciate them more now) or Rage, despite there being some interesting ideas in it. They weren’t awful, but they just didn’t grab me. So I’m glad to say that Doom is back and it’s good. In fact, I guess you could say that it isn’t doomed! (Groan! -ed.) With decent performance on both the PC and the PS4, Doom is definitely worth picking up if you’re a gamer!

(For the benefit of the curious, there are the specs that my PC runs on: Intel 4790, 8GB Hyper X Beast DDR3 1866 RAM, R9290)

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