Today, we have a guest review from my friend Craven
Arm Ripping. Spine Tearing. Mind Blowing.
Developer: iD Software
Release Date: May 13, 2016
Platforms: PS4, XBone, PC (Played on PC)
Copy Acquisition: Purchased ($50 AUD)
Playtime: 13 hours
NOTE: This review only concerns the single-player portion of the game. Multiplayer and Snapmap functionality have not been tested at the time of writing.
In the leadup to the 2016 reboot of DOOM (which for simplicity I’ll be referring to as DOOM 4) it was easy to be cynical. iD Software’s games have declined in quality for a long time now. As more of the original team left iD became a studio more keen on interesting technology than it was in interesting game design. This peaked with RAGE, a game more remembered for its experiment with megatextures than its mark as an actual video game. Now with John Carmack’s departure leaving no original DOOM team members left, hope seemed as low as ever for iD. Couple this with DOOM 4’s gameplay reveal demonstrating a both cluttered and console geared appearance, and an incredibly poorly received multiplayer beta that gave off the impression that DOOM 4 was an amalgamation of Call of Duty and Halo. All signs simply pointed to DOOM 4 not being able to reach anywhere near a worthy successor to the over 20 year legacy of the DOOM series.
In the end though, it simply makes it all the more surprising. Because oh my god, they actually did it. DOOM 4 is a spectacular shooter, combining elements from various old school shooters with ideas brought in from other genres to make a thrilling new game.
Let’s begin with the plot. What’s there is a sci-fi romp akin to the stories told in the other DOOM games. Demons happened on Mars, it’s your job to stop the demons and close the portal to Hell. On Mars. DOOM 4’s only supporting cast member is Samuel Hayden, a robot intent on guiding you to the point where you can go save the day. Apart from him and main villain Olivia Pierce, this is Doomguy’s show. And it’s Doomguy that gives an otherwise threadbare story an interesting twist, as it becomes very clear that Doomguy’s role is to mostly ignore the plot and only be concerned with one thing: killing demons. A screen comes up providing an exposition dump and he pushes it away. He’s told to carefully take apart expensive research equipment and responds by kicking it straight to the ground. If it doesn’t immediately assist with the purpose of killing more demons, it doesn’t matter to Doomguy. Hell, one of DOOM 4’s strengths is how quick it is to get you to the point of demon killing. You just wake up chained to a sacrificial altar, break said chains and proceed to smash a demon’s skull in before beginning the shooting right then and there. It seriously takes the game about 10 seconds to get going and it’s a delightful way to open.
Now as for the gameplay it’s important to first dive straight into DOOM 4’s most controversial addition: melee finishers. These canned animations have been subject to flak as a sign that the game was being built less for enjoyable play, and more for “cinematic” single button presses to just show you the fun instead. Thankfully in practice these are made to accompany the flow of the shooting, rather than distract from it. Firstly, the animations are incredibly short, so short that even with the full speed of the action (and the action is fast) it doesn’t feel like they’re wasting a single moment of your time and never outstay their welcome. Secondly, the main way you heal in DOOM 4 is for enemies to drop health pickups. Using the melee finishers not only drops the most health, but you get to pick up the health immediately by virtue of already being right up to the demon for killing. Layered on top of this is the chainsaw, which has very limited uses but on use causes an enemy to bleed bullets instead of health, providing an ammo refill for when you most sorely need it. This, coupled with the fact that the game is very fast and actually quite substantially difficult, leaves the combat with 3 distinct rules:
- You stop moving, you die
- You stop killing, you die
- If you can’t keep shooting, it’s chainsaw time. You can now continue shooting.
One last thing to mention about the gunplay is the BFG, which in DOOM 4 feels like an addition ripped quite naturally from the bullet hell genre. Similar to the chainsaw it’s very limited on uses, but functions as a screen clearing bomb to save for whenever a fight becomes too overwhelming.
The structure of the levels is another thing where DOOM 4 feels comfortable in taking inspiration from another genre. It still retains a lot from classic shooters with secrets in a healthy enough abundance and just well hidden enough to make them rewarding and fun to find. However individual encounters with monsters almost exclusively happen in combat arenas that lock you in single rooms, with most paths and existing for traversal and secret hunting, rather than combat. It’s a structure that feels like it was pulled directly from the hack & slash genre, like their main inspiration came from God of War or Devil May Cry, rather than looking exclusively at classic shooters. Hell, to go back to the melee finishers, they fill a surprisingly similar function to the Zandatsu mechanic from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Point being it’s inspiration that naturally fits the style of gunplay they’re going for, and serves to add to the shooter genre in a different direction to where most shooters have gone in the modern era.
Now DOOM 4’s aesthetic & music are both dividing elements of the game, with a lot of pre-release footage giving off a really bland look, topped off with cover art that’s about as generic as it comes. However when coupled with how the game feels in your hands, it feels like the aesthetic & music were a puzzle, and the gameplay was the missing piece to make it all feel complete and cohesive. In motion during actual play the visual style pops, with a lot of the duller colours serving to make brighter one pop out vividly. The music’s blend of heavy guitar riffs and synth flow with the action well, with the track changing whenever you pull a melee finisher as well as changing when more and more demons flood into the level. It’s not the amazing flow of the aforementioned Metal Gear Rising and its boss music, but it’s enough to have a similar effect of ramping up the music to accompany the action.
Ultimately, DOOM 4 will fare well with you depending on what your expectations for a new DOOM are. Because it is a new experience, and many DOOM fans will take issue with some of the design changes. If you’re looking for what would essentially be a HD remake of DOOM II look elsewhere, and if you’re looking for a further progression of where DOOM 3 took the series you’re also set to be disappointed. DOOM 4 for what it is though is a thrill, an absolute joy to play and a will almost certainly go up as one of the best games of 2016.