DOOM has no business being a good game.
It sounds weird to say this, but you have to consider the past decade for id Software. Their track record hasn’t exactly been the best and the development cycle for DOOM/DOOM 4 was, from leaks and reports, extremely troubled.
For whatever reason, id hadn’t made a completely successful transition into the world of HD gaming. While games like Doom 3 and Quake 4 were enjoyable, they don’t exactly elicit fond memories. In the transition to the “modern age of the shooter,” the roots of the franchise were lost. Instead of fast paced action with over the top weapons, we had slow, mechanical experiences through corridors and hallways and a poor narrative focus. Then there’s RAGE, a game that was horribly mislabeled by the public. Despite the beliefs by some that it was id’s version of Borderlands/Fallout, RAGE was nothing more than an outdoor version of Doom. I, personally, enjoyed it, but I also went in expecting this out of RAGE and nothing more. It didn’t help that every TV spot for the game focused more on NBA star Blake Griffin than the game itself, which is mind-boggling, but it only further proved a narrative concerning id Software: had they lost their touch?
It also made us wonder if these beloved franchises from our past should stay there. Shooters in the late 2000s and early 2010s had a change in focus. Gameplay couldn’t carry the entire affair and multiplayer only titles (Quake III, Titanfall) would be crucified regardless of how good that multiplayer is. Was it possible to take an id franchise and put the modern spin on it? Could you take a Doom, Quake, or Wolfenstein and combine the gameplay we all know and love with a story worth telling?
Yes, you can; 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order answered this with a resounding yes. Despite my personal attachment to the franchise and bemoaning of its lack of multiplayer, you can’t deny that this was what a modern shooter should be: 50 percent strong narrative worth telling, 25 percent old school gameplay, 25 percent modern shooter mechanics. There was just one problem: id Software didn’t develop New Order. Machine Games did.
id was busy with the return of their flagship franchise and trying to figure out how to make it, for lack of a better phrase, not terrible. Everyone has seen the leaks, rumors, and reports regarding the game’s development cycle, but ultimately none of that matters now. The cheesy, clichéd plot line from Doom 4 is long gone and DOOM has an all new story: shoot everything in sight before everything in sight shoots you. Turns out that if you want to make a good game you just need to stick to what you’re good at, regardless of whether or not it meets the “standards of the modern shooter.”
DOOM has always been at its best when it moves at a lightning pace, and this is no exception. It’s the fastest shooter on the market and bombards the player with an (at times) relentless pace. There’s room to breathe while you explore the worlds of Mars and Hell, but you’re not bogged down by an unnecessary story. That’s not to say that it flat out doesn’t exist, but it is more macguffin than narrative. You’re on Mars, demons from Hell are running around, you have to find out why and stop them. This game isn’t winning any Pulitzer Prizes, but it doesn’t need to. It’s like id learned that in order to make a DOOM game, the only thing they need to modernize are the visuals. Most people don’t care about the game’s plot, they don’t care about whether or not humanity will survive, or why we’re on Mars to begin with. Most people care about shooting big baddies with even bigger guns. DOOM has that in spades.
Everything about the game has been crafted as a homage to the originals: Enemies, level design, weapons, gameplay, speed of play. All of it brings back fond memories of the games we installed from our floppy disks. The modern twist doesn’t come in terms of unnecessary innovation and changes, nor is it solely from improved visuals, but also an improved enemy AI. During the game’s intense firefights, enemies will do whatever they can to ensure their success. This includes Imps constantly running out of harm’s way before slinging their fireballs to an endless barrage of larger than life demons aiming to bring forth your doom (pun intended). With that said, there’s a couple of immersion breaking sequences during some of the game’s more difficult moments; I quickly picked up on the fact that enemies will often only spawn when you cross an imaginary line, leading to me being able to control this “relentless onslaught,” but that’s a minor nitpick at most.
DOOM simply does too good a job putting you into a groove for you to care about these wall breaking moments. The soundtrack’s subtlety sets the mood for intense firefights, matching pace with the gameplay. You won’t find any clichéd fight songs or exploration medleys here, just the riff of the guitar to amp your adrenaline. The game’s music is reminiscent of a tightly wrapped bow on your oversized Christmas present, putting a smile on your face bigger than that Christmas morning when you finally got the GI Joe with the Kung-Fu grip you always wanted.
It’s just a shame that the same love didn’t go into the game’s multiplayer, which is serviceable at best. It seems incredibly out of place for DOOM to even offer the feature, given how it blatantly doesn’t care about being a “modern shooter.” Yet here we are, memories of Bioshock 2 rampant as you’re left wondering why it shipped with the tacked-on mode. It’s doubly intriguing when you consider the game’s SnapMap mode that allows players to edit their own profiles. This is where you can get longevity and replayability from DOOM; as cool as being a gigantic demon in a multiplayer arena is, it got old at PAX, it stayed old in my room, and it definitely aged further in my girlfriend’s living room.
In fact, I actually began to write an article about why DOOM even had multiplayer to begin with, only realizing that I had already wondered that during my PAX piece. Here’s a snippet from that planned piece I want to share:
“We’re long past the video game era where multiplayer was “mandatory” to the point where Bioshock 2 included it for some odd reason. I remember being in a guild with one of its developers. He would talk on and on about it and I’d always go “That’s cool, I guess, but when I thought of everything I wanted from a Bioshock sequel, multiplayer wasn’t one of them.” What’s even stranger is the fact that Bethesda, again the publisher of DOOM, is not afraid to fund games without multiplayer. While, yes, both the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises are their two marquee games, they’re expansion, never-ending open world adventures that don’t need the additional replayability on top of their already 100+ hours of gameplay. Dishonored and Wolfenstein: The New Order, however, don’t have that 100+ hours of gameplay, but they didn’t tack on multiplayer either because, again, they didn’t need it.”
DOOM doesn’t need multiplayer. People are happy enough with the single player campaign. SnapMap can add in those post-credits game time. Expansions can release to add more content. It’s just, I don’t know, odd. I get that the multiplayer was developed by Certain Affinity and not id Software – maybe that’s why it feels different and out of place. Maybe DOOM is just a game that doesn’t need multiplayer; New Order did just fine for the Wolfenstein franchise despite its past having the free-to-play Enemy Territory expansion I spent thousands of hours of my life in.
I’m starting to ramble, though. The bottom line is this: DOOM is fantastic. DOOM is bloody. DOOM is amazing. DOOM is, well, DOOM again.
It also might be one of the best game of the year when everything is said and done.