Kingdom Come: Deliverance (2018) PC Review

 

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Warhorse Studios have realized their ambition of of creating an authentic-feeling medieval RPG that, unlike most historical themed action games or RPGs which feel the need to add elements of fantasy or nonsensical science fiction (I’m looking at you, Assassins Creed), goes for a much more grounded and realistic approach. And not only that, but it chooses for it’s setting an early 15th century Bohemia,which is rather obscure to most of us in the English speaking world. But Warhorse, under the helm of Daniel Vavra, have made this an accessible and fully compelling setting and adventure.

Like many RPGs and medieval stories, you start as a young man whose village gets attacked by a foreign enemy, slaughters the village and the parents of the protagonist. In this case, you are Henry, the son of a blacksmith and after the village is attacked, you set out on a quest for vengeance and to regain the sword forged by your father. It is a very typical set up. However, to the game’s credit, it takes its time and it is elevated to have a stronger emotional impact than one might expect.

Once the game starts to pick up, you meet plenty more compelling characters, my favourites of which are Hans Capon; a haughty young noble that is first at odds with Henry but soon become friends. The second is Father Godwin; a local priest with whom is part of a wonderful quest involving drunken escapades that require you to deliver his sermon for him the next morning. Theresa is also wonderful, a simple village girl who lived in the same village Henry did. She has a romance quest line associated with her that feels genuine. It really nice and uplifting. I do however wish there was more of it or that extended into the main quest line with at the very least dialogue that reflects the point you are at.  There is also a hilarious side quest involving a witches sabbath that goes awry. And let us not forget Henry himself who is a rather ordinary, but likeable young man who has believable motivations. These are just some highlights, but the writing here is generally quite strong and so are most of the voice performances.

The low point for the quests would probably have to be the monastery infiltration, mainly because it is kind of tedious and annoying if your more rogueish skills are not up to snuff by that point in the game. It felt a little like Bully, minus the fun and ability to give wedgies or kiss girls.

If you have a decent computer, Kingdom Come: Deliverance looks astonishing. The forests are dense and luscious, some of the best I have ever seen in a game. Simply traveling through them either to explore or in between locations and questing is a serene pleasure, whether on foot or on horse. From the tall trees to the running creeks, clearings and hills, the Bohemian countryside presented here is serene, joyous and wonderful.  Towns too are brilliantly realised and despite their relatively modest scale and architecture, feel much more lively and large than anything present in Skyrim. Characters, armour and weapons also possess an incredible attention to detail, not only from their fidelity, but also to the grit, grime, blood and wear and tear shown. I played at the high preset, although I had to turn down my resolution to 1080p. Simply put, the visuals of the game possess extraordinary technical quality that allows for the amazing mimetic aesthetic here. It is incredibly immersive, when it all works.

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Yes, as you have probably heard by now, KC:D fits the “eurojank” descriptor quite well. It is plagued with technical issues. There’s clipping issues, weird shit like sometimes levitating during alchemy and some people have even experienced bugs that have made certain quests impossible to finish or corrupted their saves. Sometimes certain staircases are bizarrely difficult to surmount. Thankfully, in my approximately 60 hours I didn’t experience anything quite that game breaking. However, for me the worst was the pop-in issues that are frequent enough as to be incredibly distracting and immersion breaking. The performance too is quite poor. To play on medium-high, or high preset, I had to drop my resolution down to 1080p to get generally playable, but not ideal, performance on GTX 970. At 1440p, things were wildly inconsistent with some parts being playable, with the better performance being in wilderness areas rather than cities. In cutscenes too the frame rate dived to painful single digits and in towns it would be a “cinematic” 24fps or thereabouts. This would be more understandable if I tried going for the ultra preset on my setup, but on high or a medium-high mix at 1440p, it should not be so bad. So the game definitely needs some work on that front.

800 words and I haven’t even talked about how the game plays yet! To summarise, the game is an open world structure much like the Elder Scrolls series and The Witcher 3. The entire game, except for dialogue, is in first person. Combat lets you use primarily swords, axes or maces and it uses a sometimes fiddly lock on system. It is directionally based, with five directions plus a thrust and the ability to feint, parry and later on, riposte. As you level up, you can learn new combos as well. It is a system that in its fundamentals is actually quite intuitive, but at first it can feel a bit clunky and very weighty. However, the progression is excellent and you go from slow, clumsy scrub that can hardly handle one or two moderately armored bandits to death on two legs by the mid to late game that can singlehandeldy wipe out an encampment of five or six guys by yourself.. So for me it felt like the typical RPG combat progression and it is incredibly satisfying.

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Archery is another facet of the game and, like the melee combat, can feel a bit awkward at the start, especially with the lack of cross hair. But with enough perseverance, it can be rather fun in its own right. Much like the Elder Scrolls games, leveling a skill works by doing, rather than the traditional RPG method of gaining xp and assigning points each level. But with this, an a lot of other elements of the game, will be rather familiar if you have played some of the bigger RPGs of recent years.

As for the save system that is often complained about,while not having a standard manual save (which has been fixed by the recent 1.3 patch), the save system of autosaves or requiring a particular item or using a bed isn’t terribly obtrusive. As for some other general things about the game: much ado has been made about how “hardcore” it is and, while it certainly offers a decent challenge, especially in the combat department, it’s not much more “hardcore” than the Witcher 3 is. The other controversy from some outlets and internet forums is the lack of racial diversity in the game, but those complaints are utter nonsense and I am glad to report that this game is free of irritating pandering to current hot button political issues and other such nonsense.

From start to finish, Kingdom Come: Deliverance was utterly captivating and has been just about the only game I have been playing the past few weeks. I was drawn into it’s serene and beautiful wilderness, the believable characters and the challenging combat. It is a brilliant debut effort from Warhorse Studios and is well worth playing, however it is firmly describable as eurojank, and so the present technical issues seriously hinder the game from achieving true greatness for the present time. Considering that the story also ends on a cliffhanger, I am eagerly awaiting some kind of expansion or sequel that concludes Henry’s story and draws us more into the medieval politics of the Holy Roman Empire.

8/10

 

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Bayonetta (2017) PC Review

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With legs that don’t quit to the point where they are actually disproportionate and sporting guns on her heels,Bayonetta struts and flaunts herself with confidence. The game is a brazen, cheeky and lighthearted hack and slash romp that is self aware and relentlessly exciting, radiating confidence effortlessly.

The game falls in the tradition of character action games pioneered by titles like Devil May Cry, being a fast paced brawler that prioritises fast reflex and skillful combo memorization. A halfway decent player can create a speedy and fantastic spectacle that can end in torturous finishing moves that sometimes resemble some strange form of BDSM. One of the core mechanics here is witch time, which rewards skillful dodging and risk taking with a brief hit of slow motion, allowing you to start wailing on enemies with abandon,continuing a combo and juggling so insanely like an expert circus performer or Tekken player. This hack and slash brawling, while being a little more combo focused and button mashing than the older Devil May Cry titles is nevertheless requiring in skill and an absolute blast to play.

In regards to the difficulty, I did my playthrough on normal and let me tell you, it can be quite challenging and occasionally frustrating, especially if you want to get the highest mission ranking. However, it rarely becomes so frustrating as to feel unfair or make you want to throw your controller out the window. The only times I felt the game was a bit unfair were with some enemies that could stun lock you and hit hard, taking large chunks of health away. Another is that witch time appears to not work on some enemies for some reason that is not immediately clear. Another thing I would like to have is a few more immediate health restoration drops on the normal difficulty, especially after a particularly difficult mob or mini boss. That said, some sections where I had barely a sliver of health left motivated me to push harder in each section and sometimes to success. On continues, the game restores you health bar fully and boss battles have checkpoints, making them much more fair.

Speaking of enemies, there is plenty of variety between the standard enemy types that the game throws new ones at you almost constantly and mixing them with the previous ones, providing a pace that never leaves you bored. The enemies are typically some form of angel, that are all white and gold trimmed and bosses are impressively scaled and look like bizzare statuesque frankenstein beings with tentacles and wings and gigantic faces and legs that sport a white and gold trimmed aesthetic. One later boss looks like some weird cross between Volgin, David Bowie and the Phantom of the Opera, rocking robes that look like a catholic clergyman and decked out with peacock feathers. All these boss fights, in addition, are tremendously fun, with the Jeanne fights being particular notable highlights since they often have the best backdrops and are the most intense, reminding me of the Vergil fights from Devil May Cry 3.

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The overall look of the game is stunning, with sharp high resolution textures, sublime animation work and environments that range from bright medieval cities with a slight gothic influence in the architecture to art deco near futuristic cities and the heavenly paradiso, Bayonetta will have you running, jumping and fighting your way through all of these. You will even fight on a plane, a rocket and on the sides of buildings, and by the end, literally kill god. The story isn’t the greatest, but it’s presentation is so enjoyable that it’s worth holding off on that skip cutscene button, at least on the first playthrough.

Did I mention that this game is completely ridiculous? Because it is and it revels in it from the absurd character proportions, unbelievable fight choreography in cutscenes and some weird story about the balance between light and dark and destroying the universe to create a new one. Oh, and demonic summons that are weaved from hair. Bayonetta herself , as I have mentioned, is cheeky and sexy, with a sultry and sarcastic British accent. She is just a fun character, both to play and to watch.

The score of the game too is quite idiosyncratic that goes from fast, poppy jazz renditions of Fly Me to the Moon during normal combat to a big orchestral score that builds and sounds like something that might belt out through the choir in a cathedral. It’s quite a strange sound mix for the genre, but it fits the tone of the game quite well.

In terms of game length, a playthrough on normal took about 10 or so hours, but this is something that is made to be replayed, with new unlockables, such as outfits, more techniques and weapons and increased difficulty levels that are a bit more well thought out than being a mere buff in enemy attack and speed and debuff in player health.

As a port of a game that is about 8 years old as of this writing, the PC version of Bayonetta is definitely the best. It performs flawlessly at high resolutions and my system doesn’t break a sweat at max settings with 8x MSAA. It looks sharp and the cutscenes, which I am not sure if they are prerendered or not, look fantastic although they’re locked at 30fps.  I would also recommend playing with some kind of game pad, considering that this game was not originally designed for keyboard and mouse. But if you’re feeling particularly risky, the keys are fully re bindable. As far as glitches and crashes go, I only experience one glitch on the plane section and one CTD somewhere else, but it was otherwise smooth sailing. The load times are incredibly quick too, making the combo practice feature during loads that were supposed to make them bearable on the console release, at least for me, became redundant.

This PC release is without a doubt the definitive version of this Platinum Games classic. Especially if your only experience with the game is the shoddy PS3 version, you should definitely give the game another shot here. The game itself also remains a joy, with some of the best combat in the genre and a lighthearted and sexy style that is impossible not to love, unless you’re some kind of weird prude. This is an absolute must play and it’s only $20 on steam, so there’s no excuse not to get it.

9.5/10

Shadowrun: Dragonfall Directors Cut (2014) PC review

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The campaign of Shadowrun: Dragonfall does something most other RPGs have difficulty doing: being concise. Where other classic RPGs will throw in an overwhelming amount of lore and odd character names at inopportune times, the world of Shadowrun is fairly easy to understand and I knew nothing about the series. It also feels perfectly paced with minimal fluff and no MMO type questing.

The premise is this: you’re a shadowrunner,which is basically a type of mercenary often doing work for shadowy corporate types operating within an anarchist Berlin in a cyberpunk future. But this sci fi setting is also mixed in with a fantasy one in which elves, dwarves, orks, trolls and magic also exist. It reminded me of Arcanum a little bit. The general thrust of the main plot is that a job goes wrong and it seems like you were set up and you’re trying to find out who it was and why. It’s a simple yet effective framework to hang the main plot and all the self contained stories that occur through the jobs you do for clients.

As for the writing overall, it’s quite good. Older cRPGs or newer ones in the same vein as the classics often have a habit of being overly verbose but here it strikes a good balance between literary flair and being to the point and easy to understand. Dialogue is also mostly quite believable except for one mission called False Flag, which had strawman nazi stand ins who had a plan to gas the metahumans. They also had a propaganda document which gave me a bit of a smirk reminding me of A Wyatt Man illustrations, but aside from this one particular quest I generally enjoyed the writing.

The character I played was a human street samurai by the name of Bane Big Guy. I specialised mainly in assault rifles and by the end I was a fully decked out cyborg. The dialogue options in the game were quite limited however in the way cRPGs usually are by their very nature but most of the time it was enough that allowed me to have a solid basis for forming my own character and filling in the blanks with my imagination. Also with the cybernetic upgrades, the more you install, the less essence you have (to a minimum of 1 from a starting point of about 6), which in turn weakens your ability to effectively utilise magic.

One of my complaints with the role playing mechanics is that the skill checks are locked out if you don’t have the requisite skill. So there’s no chance of failure or chance of success even if you don’t have the required skill for the particular action, which can limit roleplaying even more. In terms of stats, there’s a decent amount of them and easy to understand. How they work is that you have your base stats, such as quickness and then skill trees under those, such as pistols or shotguns. If your quickness skill is say at 5, then each of the skills it governs can only be upgraded up to 5 and upgrading from level 4 to 5 in a tree requires 5 skill points. Simple and forces you to specialise, so it’s a good system. Most of the governing stats govern about what you’d expect if you’ve ever played and RPG before.

Combat is also quite good. How it works is almost exactly like the newer X-Com games (minus the environmental destruction on account of the 2D backgrounds). It’s turn based on grids, there’s cover,an overwatch option. Unlike X Com however you’re always stuck at 4 party members total except for one time circumstances in certain quests, but overall it was a system that was very easy to understand and get in to whilst still having a decent amount of challenge on Normal difficulty.

In terms of the aesthetics, the game uses highly detailed 2D backgrounds with simple 3D models for characters and weapons, which is for the most part visually appealing and guarantees that the game can run on toasters. I do have my own issues with the look though, maybe because I’m used to the visual styles from classic Fallout or Arcanum and such for 2D cRPGs, but the overall style looks a bit too flat and clean and reminds me of Transistor instead. This is a minor gripe of course because it still looks pretty nice overall but a bit more grit would’ve been good.

These criticisms aside, Shadowrun: Dragonfall Directors Cut is a very fun RPG that looks nice, is incredibly user friendly and has for the most part, good writing and even better pacing. An all round excellent RPG.

8.5/10

 

Devil Daggers (2016) PC review

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Devil Daggers is like somebody’s black metal or dark ambient demo tape on cassette. It’s lo-fi, has few tracks (in this case, one track) which may be very long or very short. Devil Daggers is also a first person shooter that is stripped down to it’s barest essentials and is one hell of an intense game.

How it works is this: you enter the level, which is basically a square arena. You have two firing modes: continuous fire and shotgun. You can jump, strafe and shoot,moving at a very high speed. Your goal is to survive as long as possible and try to top the leaderboards. It’s pure arcade fun and survival is not easy and trying to last long is almost tantric, requiring an immense level of skill. My highest score so far is just under 90 seconds, but the pure concentrated tension can feel like an eternity.

Whilst I introduced this review with a music comparison, there is however the fact that this game has no music. It is terrifying ambience that come from the croaking of the flying skulls, to the scrambling and scuttling of the uranium green spiders and god knows what other horrors lie beyond, for I am not yet good enough at the game to even reach the point of their spawning.

Visually, the games uses a lo fi 3D aesthetic, with unfiltered textures, jittery polygons and enemies that appear more or less pixelated depending on distance, which is reminiscent of the technical qualities of Playstation 1 games. It is a rather striking and simple aesthetic that works very well with the simple yet skillful mechanics, although where it differs from the aesthetic of Playstation 1 games is that here textures are actually displayed correctly and you can have a high frame rate. In essence, it’s making the old new.

Devil Daggers, while potentially addictive, it is something that is best in small bursts, playing a couple rounds here and there. It is light on content however and retails usually for $4.99 on Steam. I got mine for $1 in a humble bundle not too long ago. If you want something small, visually and aurally interesting, as well as skillful in the way that would have been a hit in the heyday of arcades in the West, then look no further than Devil Daggers.

7.5/10

Silent Hill (1999) Review

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Silent Hill is one of those landmark horror games, both part of early 3D graphics for video game consoles and one of the two pillars of the survival horror genre. I recently played this (through emulation at a resolution much much higher than the game was ever intended to play at). So, 17 years on, how does it hold up?

In my view, Silent Hill holds up very well. Of course, the visuals are very dated and suffering from that typical jittery polygon look, low render distance which in some sections isn’t covered by the fog and a 30FPS cap which is unchangeable even through emulation. Well, you can, but it just makes everything go twice as fast. But these things are excusable given it’s age. But even though it looks dated, it doesn’t look bad. It’s caught between everything being clear, from the details of the foggy down, to the childrens drawings in Midwich Elementary, to the grimy industrial nightmare of the otherworld. Playing this now, especially with the creatures being caught between clarity and abstraction, along with the technical limitations, gives the game an alien and unsettling feeling that uses your imagination to fill in the gaps on some of the more bizzare creatures such as Split Head. I also managed to get the FMVs to look something approaching decent considering their age so they didn’t look like a completely unintelligible and pixelated mess through emulation magic.

The plot starts off simple enough. You play as Harry Mason, who is driving with his daughter and then there is a car crash. You wake up and she is gone and the plot is driven by trying to find her. Then you encounter the bizzare nature of the town and otherworld and uncover it’s mysteries. The plot is pretty decent and while it doesn’t reach the emotional heights of it’s sequel, it works in it’s own more or less simplicity and ramping up of reality distortion. There are also multiple endings that depend on whether the player has completed a sidequest (or not) and does a late game boss fight in a particular way, which I had no idea about whilst playing.

The game, like it’s cousin Resident Evil, uses a fixed camera in the sense that it’s not player controlled. But unlike Resident Evil, the camera isn’t static and is more cinematic, using occasionally static angles and a camera that follows the player from various different angles to great effect. The game is also a masterwork of level design, especially the final level, which is to put it briefly, a mindfuck.

This game also has tank controls, but are totally manageable and very easy to get used to so they were very rarely an issue for me. However, they still have the desired effect in combat, especially when you’re faced with two or more enemies at a time, or a boss fight. I played on Normal difficulty and ammo conservation is very important and most of the time, I either ran away from enemies or used melee weapons to defeat them, especially since most enemies take at least a third of a mag to take down.That said, I finished the game with a shitload of handgun ammo so unless you try and kill absolutely everything you see, the game is fairly generous with hand gun ammo. But you don’t want to be too liberal with using your health items in the early and mid game because towards the final act, you’re going to need them. Mechanically, the game is similar to classic Resident Evil but with the important difference of there being no inventory management mechanics, which is fortunate considering the pacing and narrative structure that would make an inventory management system a nightmare, but in a frustrating way rather than one that adds to the experience. There are also no ink ribbons and save points are just regular save points, which are spread far enough to threaten progress if you fail but not so far as to be annoying. Between navigating the town and the various levels, such as the school or hospital and smacking or shooting weird zombie nurses and being chased around town by things that look like pterodactyls, there is a strong puzzle solving element that is really great. Puzzles here are usually paired with a riddle, so if you solve the riddle, you can solve the puzzle, as well as good old item hunting, backtracking and doing things in a particular order. The puzzles are logical and thus minimally frustrating but maximally satisfying, unlike the sheer ridiculous abstraction found in something like Grim Fandango.  The boss fights here are ok, with Split Head being the best since it requires it’s own specific strategy whereas most of the other bosses in the game require the Doom style strategy of shoot at it until it dies with the rifle.

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Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack is an eerie industrial ambience that plays at the right moments to ramp up tension and the sense of dread. The sound design as a whole also holds up. However, the voice acting isn’t very good. Everyone sounds off. The script is fine and it never quite reaches Jill Sandwich levels of camp, but it works in a so bad it’s good way that makes everything more alien. It’s not great but it works well enough. The game is pretty scary and tense, relying primarily on the atmosphere created by the audiovisual design, camera angles and tank controls promoting flight or flight responses and a few well placed sudden loud noises, jump scares and fake outs.

What I’m trying to say is, Silent Hill holds up really well and if you haven’t played it yet, you should. It’s not too long either and took me less than 6 hours to complete.

8/10

Blood and Wine Expansion Review

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The sun drenched and untouched by war duchy of Toussaint, a place straight out of a fairy tale with a Franco-Italian feel to the countryside is the setting for this second and final expansion for The Witcher 3. It is a truly beautiful virtual world to explore and is vastly different from the often stormy and windy forests of Velen and the shores of Skellige that you spend much of your time in during the base game. The overrarching theme in this expansion is one of retirement and of rest, for Geralt, for developer CD Projekt and for the player who, ideally if you’re like me, has been with the series since at least the original game.

The expansion is both substantial and one of reunion. Not only is the landmass of Toussaint quite large, there’s a bevy of side quests and witcher contracts, most of which follow the usual formula established in the main game, but they are still fun none the less. There are also new monsters, some of which, like Barghests and Archespores making a return appearance as they were in the first game but not the rest, up until now. Some characters from the book series, such as the Duchess Anna Henrietta return, being the one who requested Geralt come to Toussaint to help investigate the murders of knights and others who I won’t spoil. Geralt is also given his own home, which can be upgraded, some of which provide benefits, such as a stable which gives Roach higher stamina or even just extra armour racks which allow you to display your favourite looking, but not currently in use armours. There is also a new Gwent deck, fist fighting quest chain, treasures, a new set of scavenger hunt quests that allow one to upgrade their witcher armour sets to grandmaster. It’s a fully fledged expansion and not light on content.

In terms of narrative and voice performance, the quality is high as one would expect from this series. Here, the bread and butter of the Witcher saga, which is the re framing and sometimes parody of classic European fables, folklore and fairytales is on full display throughout the main quest, both in dialogues and visuals, as well as many of the side quests. There is still also a suitable amount of choice and consequence, particularly towards the end, which alters the outcome of the narrative, perhaps quite drastically ( I will have to play the expansion again at some point to verify this).

Mechanically, the addition added in this expansion are an extra mutation which can be fitted in it’s own tree with one sign, alchemic or combat ability at a time, which then opens up the ability to unlock four extra slots which can be used for the normal abilities from the base game that match up with the mutations.

Interestingly, the performance in the Blood and Wine expansion is greatly improved from the base game. This is particularly noticeable in cities, where in Novigrad and Oxenfurt, the framerate can drop quite noticeably, whereas in the sunny streets of Beauclair, there is hardly ever any drops quite as drastic, even with a comparable amount of NPCs and other performance chewing things occurring in a given scene.

It’s a great expansion, go get it. And if you haven’t played the Witcher 3 yet, buy it with all the expansions included. As of this publication, it’s about $68 AUD on GOG so it’s excellent value for money.

Doom (2016) Review

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Today, we have a guest review from my friend Craven

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Arm Ripping. Spine Tearing. Mind Blowing.


Developer: iD Software
Publisher: Bethesda
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.

10/10