About a month ago, Star Fox Zero came out, and to it I asked what it meant to be a Star Fox game in 2016. And although I enjoyed the game a great deal, it didn’t really have an answer. It was just kind of, “I don’t know, how about just Star Fox 64 again?” Doom is in a very similar situation. Despite being one of the earliest and most fondly remembered first person shooters, the original Doom doesn’t really resemble a modern game in the slightest. Now that a new Doom is out, I asked it the same question. What does it mean to be a Doom game in 2016. Thankfully, it actually has an answer.
Doom throws you into the action right from the start. You don’t even know what’s going on yet, you’ve just awakened from some kind of sarcophagus and you’re surrounded by zombie like creatures. Armed with a handgun with infinite ammo, you take out the zombies before finding the armor traditionally worn by the protagonist in these games. You make your way through some hallways, find a shotgun, and open an airlock leading out to Mars.
Pretty early on, I realized that this game was absolutely, without a doubt, a video game. In a world where so many games seem to care more about their narrative than anything that actually makes video games an interesting form of media, Doom is about the gameplay first and foremost. And it shows, it genuinely feels good to play this game. You’re a lot more agile than in the older games, able to jump and easily scale most structures. Movement is fast paced, with no need for a sprint button as you’re already moving at top speed.
A lot of the core mechanics help to answer what it means to be Doom in 2016. First, it answers by showing elements of the original Doom that absolutely need to be in the game to feel like Doom. Doom needs to be fast. You don’t need to reload. You’re fighting an army of demons. You start on Mars and end up going to Hell. That’s Doom in a nutshell, and all that is still here intact. And it’s still fun too.
Other components of the game, like the jumping and climbing, are ways that it’s modernized itself. Unlike Star Fox Zero, Doom does not feel like a twenty year old game that is just now seeing the light of day. Everything about the basic feel of controlling the game is straight out of modern shooters, and anyone who’s played Call of Duty or Halo will immediately be comfortable with the controls. The radial menu for selecting weapons is slick and feels like a lot of more recent games. But there’s even more to it then just mimicking these other games.
In some ways, Doom feels like the next step forward for single-player shooters. In the last decade or so, shooters have become very linear games. They’re games that more or less revolve around moving straight ahead while shooting anything that moves. In what is both a throwback and a step forward, Doom does away with that entirely. The levels are maze like in structure, forcing you to explore to find the right way through. There’s always an objective marker pointing you where you need to go to continue the game, but that doesn’t always lead you to exactly what you to do. For example, it may lead you to a locked door that requires a blue key card to open. Where is the key card? Well, open your map and figure out where you haven’t been. This leads to all kinds of secrets to be discovered along the way, and some of those affect the gameplay too.
Doom features an upgrade system that give your guns new abilities. Every gun has two unlockable mods, which can then be upgraded to apply different bonuses to them. For example, the heavy assault rifle has a mod that adds a scope. Upgrading the scope allows you to move faster while zoomed in or even doing more damage. There’s also upgrades that directly effect your character. These are often found within secret rooms and let you add to your maximum amount of health, ammo, or armor. This really encourages you to look around, hoping that you’ll stumble onto something that will make your next encounter much easier.
You’ll be very thankful for those upgrades in the later parts of the game, as Doom doesn’t mess around. I was playing on the default difficulty and was pretty regularly completely overwhelmed by the amount of enemies the game throws at me. One of the more interesting systems in the game helps to balance out some of these fights. When you deal enough damage to an enemy, they’ll stumble and start glowing. This is when you’re able to preform what’s called a “glory kill”. They’re canned animations of you brutal killing your enemies, and although you’ll see all of them a million times by the time you’re done with the game, you’ll still want to do them whenever you can because they cause additional health to drop. This is an awesome way to keep you in the fight. There is no ducking behind a wall and waiting for the red on the screen to fade away. If you want your health back, you have to beat it out of the enemies that took it from you. The end result is this roller coaster of almost dying and suddenly being back to fighting shape that never stopped being exciting.
Now, I know I said before that Doom is first and foremost a video game, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a story. There is one, and it’s delightfully stupid. The best part is, the game clearly knows it’s stupid and runs with it. Your primary objective is to stop an invasion from Hell. Along the way you learn that you’re some kind of mythical warrior called the Doom Slayer that brought Hell to it’s knees. Your character is always angry, and no matter what will react super violently to anything thrown at him. It’s really cheesy, but in a way where you can feel the game developers winking at you. They know what they did.
Unfortunately, I was unable to get in any multiplayer matches in before writing this. I tried, but was unable to get into a game. I don’t know if there’s just no one playing anymore or if there’s some kind of problem with the matchmaking on the Xbox One version of the game, but it just wasn’t happening. Regardless, Doom is completely worth the asking price even if there wasn’t any multiplayer.
Speaking of the Xbox One, despite the fact that I played the game on what is the technically the weakest platform it’s available on, Doom looks amazing. The models are all all beautifully detailed and really pop off the screen. The environments are all appropriately spooky without falling prey to the constant grey colors of the last generation’s shooters. And even with all the gorgeous visuals and swarms of enemies on screen, I only noticed the frame rate drop once in the entire game. Weirdly, it was in a boss fight, so I would assume there’d be less to process. But either way, the game runs incredibly well.
The long and short of it is, you need to play Doom. I haven’t felt this strongly about a single player first person shooter in ages. I asked what it meant to be Doom in 2016, and Doom answered. It said it needs to have all the elements of the original game, it needs to play like a modern game, and it needs to push the genre forward the same way the original did. It succeeds in all of this and gets my highest recommendation.