The original Doom carries about as much weight as it’s possible for a game to carry. Uttering its name conjures up raging MIDI metal, the groans and growls of the undead, chainsaws and shotguns, and cyber horror demons. It’s as important as any game, and it’s inspired decades of new maps, mods, countless imitators, and laid the groundwork for every modern first person shooter. It was bold, brash, tasteless, and badass, a kind of virtual Sam Raimi action film. While I enjoyed Doom 3‘s haunted house survival horror crawl of monster closets and it’s killer engine, it didn’t feel particularly Doomy, and id Software has since seen its founding members leave and pursue other ventures – potential for a BFG-sized disappointment for this new Doom loomed large. I’m happy to say that all concerns evaporated in the first minutes of the game. Doom is back, and Doom kicks major ass.
Doom‘s opening minutes were the first time I’ve smiled while playing a game in a long time. As our silent hero Doom Guy wakes up, you’re tasked with smashing demon skulls to unholy jelly within seconds of pressing play. Soon after, you’re contacted by UAC Mars Director Dr. Samuel Hayden. While Hayden drones on about working together in a way that would be mutually beneficial, Doom Guy shoves the monitor out of the way and gets on with it. Mere moments away lies a shotgun. Later, while Hayden tries to assure you research into Hell was for the betterment of mankind, Doom Guy punches the monitor, cutting him off. Cut to title card while heavy metal pummels your ears. Awesome. We’re not in Doom 3 territory anymore, and if anything, this feels like a response to Doom 3 – no more combing through logs, no more conversations, Doom Guy is all out of bubblegum, and he’s here to put his foot up Hell’s ass and send it back where it came from. He’s kind of a silent, no BS antihero combination of Ash Williams and Snake Plissken.
This is the fastest first person shooter I’ve played in ages. I had forgotten how quick FPSs used to be – more kin to scrolling top-down shooters like R-Type and 1942 than to modern, crouch and recharge hitscan FPSs. Enemies run, jump, and hurl projectiles at you, and you have to run, jump, dodge, and hurl things right back. It’s a ton of fun, and if there’s anything that sums up 2016s Doom, it’s fun. The game is an eyeball scorching, heavy metal arcade twitcher, and it makes no excuses for it. Blood and guts fly, particles and effects fill the screen with wonderful eye candy, and the guns feel punchy and visceral.
What’s most surprising is that Doom has depth. Each weapon can be upgraded as can your suit, adding more cool stuff to your arsenal like exploding shotgun rounds, mini-missiles, and lock-on rockets. In addition, there are upgrade runes that you can claim if you beat their associated rune challenge – kind of quick arcade rounds with special rules, like blast thirty zombies with the double barrel shotgun before the timer expires. These upgrades all you to really choose a personal play style, and adapt to different challenges in the game. My favorite thing so far, though, are the levels. They’re sprawling, covering vertical as well as forward and lateral ground, filled with fun-to-find secrets, and exploration is rewarded; with the jump boots and map, it all feels a little like id looked at Metroid Prime. id also brought back keycard hunting, which is fantastic – yes, complexity like this can lead to moments where you’re not sure where to go next, zooming and rotating the map, but I’d rather have that than the rollercoasteresque no-exploration single path forward shooters that dominate the modern shooter market. I wasn’t looking forward to the so-called glory kills – they looked gimmicky, and like they’d break up the flow. What’s cool about them, though, is that they execute super fast, so they feel like a choice rather than a loss of control, and they’re used as a way to regain health – the chainsaw, by contrast, has limited petrol, and works as a way to turn enemies into bloody ammo boxes. Graphically, this new id engine is amazing. It runs gloriously well, the animation is incredible, and it’s overflowing with effects. Mick Gordon’s killer, dynamic NIN-esque industrial metal soundtrack deserves a mention, too – it’s just wonderful stuff, and it’s my favorite game score of the year. How about a vinyl release, Bethesda?
I haven’t finished Doom yet. A job, family, and all those other common pesky annoyances keep getting in the way, but I’ve sunk in about ten hours now. I haven’t tried the multiplayer, and I’ve only just quickly dipped my toes into the user content creation distribution and creation Snap Map system. Still, if single player is your thing, I am confident in recommending Doom without reservation. I am an oldschool gamer, and the original Doom is one of my touchstone moments. I still remember a friend bringing over a set of floppies, each inscribed in barely readable sharpie scrawl with “Doom Shareware” and an associated disc number. I still remember that first bootup, shocked at the graphics and the gore and the sheer fun, shortly followed by my parents bellowing for me to get off the damn computer and come join the family at dinner. It’s one of the greatest games of all time, and it’s still awesome. 2016s Doom brings us back to those roots. It’s not the revolution that Doom was, but it’s a blazing, fist-pumping, ass-kicking return to Hell, and it brings with it a reminder that games can be fun, and that gameplay should be king. It’s the best FPS campaign I’ve played in a long, long time, and ironically given its atavism, it’s also the freshest game that I’ve experienced in years. I think I hear my wife bellowing for me to get off the damn computer and help her fix dinner, so I’ll leave you with this: if you hold Doom in a special, bloody, firey place in your heart, give this new Doom a go. It’s an echo of a simpler time, and it’s a nice reminder that sometimes, it’s not just nostalgia telling you that something was awesome. Sometimes, it really was.