Strife On Mars
You’ve got to be careful naming things, haven’t you? If you’re expecting a child soon, probably don’t call them something like David Beckham, Jessica Ennis or ThunderHawk Destroyer of Worlds, because these names carry a certain amount of expectation with them. Similarly, if you’re making a new game in a franchise, is it wise to name it after the first one if that happened to be one of the games that not only redefined a genre, but shaped everything that followed in that genre for about twenty years? I’m not saying don’t aim high. By all means shoot for the stars, or whatever other aspirational nonsense you’ve read on Facebook, but there are connotations to these sort of things. You’re going to end up with something destined to be compared to it’s older sibling, and that can be hard to manage.
For a franchise that is over 20 years old, it seems fairly remarkable that there have only been four proper Doom games (five if you include the misleadingly titled Final Doom, which was released way back in 1996). I don’t feel it’s too controversial a statement to say that 1993’s Doom is the definition of a classic game; I will fight you on this. And not just as a product of its time, either; go ahead and play it again now. It is still a solid 9/10, available on Steam for around £5 yet worth five times that, even to someone who wrote a thousand odd words about how I’m not enamoured by retro videogames. The level design is incredible, and raises both chuckles and panic in equal measure with the barest of tools by today’s standards. You can’t even jump and it doesn’t matter.
Enter this iteration of Doom. Developers releasing new versions of older games with the same titles really isn’t helpful when you’re writing about them, besides any other problems that may bring. Apparently it should be typed as DOOM, which is all very nice but it does give the impression you’re sporadically yelling at the reader, which isn’t ideal really. By dropping the sequel numbering, it seems Id Software had the intention of recapturing that initial essence in a modern world. It’s hard to feel it’s not the gaming equivalent of a tired band saying their new album is just like their early stuff in interviews to try and generate some goodwill. Elsewhere, things have moved on; hell only seems to appear in videogames now as a metaphor; war is hell, and so on. The landscape in Doom is an approximation of actual hell with actual demons. This is not subtle.
There’s been much discussion about Bethesda’s reluctance to release review copies of the game before launch. This was due to the servers not being online until then, if you follow the official line. While that may have appeared indicative of a sub-standard game, happily I’ve found these concerns to be largely unfounded.
There’s been some grumbling about the introduction of a plot, but this seems a bit misguided. Firstly, it’s not exactly Citizen Kane. There’s a story but it is very loose, mostly just providing some vague justification to killing everything. Admittedly, Doom 3 aside, plot has never been a cornerstone of the franchise. Do you know what the story of the original Doom is? You’re a marine who gets sent to an outpost on Mars for disobeying orders, and what should be a really quiet and dull job turns into you fending off demons and having a terrible day when you shouldn’t even be there. That, my friends, is the plot of Clerks but on Mars and with more plasma rifles.
Also, it’s 2016. You’d attract far more complaints and confusion if you didn’t have anything in the way of plot. No, the original may not have had much but that was 1993. They probably didn’t have any space left on the CD-Rom for a story. By comparison to 2004’s Doom 3, this one is much truer to the original; that game went almost fifteen minutes before you got to kill anything. This iteration throws you right into the action, as you awaken in a prison on Mars which has been overrun with demons and the reanimated corpses of possessed colleagues. You’re warned that “demonic presence is at an unsafe level”, which is presumably anything higher than zero; I’d call the presence of any demons unsafe, even half of one. The UAC have once again been causing problems, despite claiming good intentions (in this case, the road to literal hell is paved with such intentions), trying to merge the human world and the underworld to harness energy. Obviously it’s all gone wrong, and as the only human survivor on the base you have no choice but to throw your armour on and sort it from the inside out.
I found the campaign missions to be hugely enjoyable. New weapons are thrown at you with pleasing regularity as you careen through the research facility, and eventually the underworld itself. There’s not an enormous amount of variety to the plasma-rifle fodder, but taking them down is satisfying and frenetic. You’ll find reimagined versions of old classics, like the Cacodemon, Revenant and Mancubus, all looking brilliantly detailed and nightmarish. The weaponry feels chunky as you disassemble demons, and the overall speed of the game means you can spin and weave around enemies, making you look far more competent than you probably are. It has the feel of something like Quake; the movement speed is somewhat unrealistically fast, meaning you’re expected to dodge and strafe around enemy fire rather than take cover.
An important new addition are the Glory Kills, essentially an overdone melee attack which sees you punching, kicking and ripping limbs off, while also saving vital ammo. These vary depending on how you approach an enemy, and the enemy themselves. For example, perform such a move on the Mancubus and your Marine pulls the demons heart out of it’s chest before putting it back in through his throat. They’re short, grisly but usually hilariously overdone moves that break up the constant shooting.
Weaponry is obviously key, and if you’ve played the original then you can probably have a good guess at what’s available. Plasma rifles, super shotguns, assault rifles, Gaus cannons, mini-guns and a chainsaw are among the favourites. I was a little disappointed that the use of the chainsaw is quite linear; approach someone with it and you’re led into a guided attack, rather than being able to aim it where you please. It is however, a great weapon for stopping the larger monsters, and even gets allocated it’s own button on the controller, such is its importance. There’s also power-ups kicking around the levels to help you along, such as speed pick-ups, the Id Software standard Quad Damage and also one that leads to your marine sheathing his weapons and attacking anything in the area using just his fists, or ‘Geordie Mode’ as I’m calling it. You can also level up certain attributes by finding little orange orbs of energy in containers, and assign these to different areas of your ability, such as your health or ammo capacity, as you wish. It’s nothing original, but it’s a nice addition nonetheless.
Doom feels a bit like playing through a Sam Raimi film at times, such as the Evil Dead. It’s so gratuitously violent and gory it becomes comical at points. This is all rendered in super shiny visuals; everything is polished and detailed, and usually covered in blood. The aforementioned Glory Kills are especially horrendous, as your treated to extreme close-ups of the perennially unnamed Marine ripping the jaws from Cyberdemon’s faces. The whole thing flies along and as of yet I’ve found no slow down or difficulties with the engine; it’s easily the smoothest and most capable FPS engine I’ve played in a long time.
Obviously every game needs an online multiplayer nowadays. While Doom has all the key elements, borrowing heavily from other genre standards in the available game modes and perk loadouts, it does feel a little like there’s something missing on occasion. I attribute this to the environments; they’re one of the game’s weaker points. This is a problem that permeates both the single player and online modes. The levels are mostly undistinguishable from one another, just a slew of sci-fi TV-set corridors with blood on the walls. As a result, none of the arenas have any character, which robs the game of that additional charm you find from, say, the Modern Warfare series. There’s also a bit of a hole in the matchmaking process, and a couple of times I had to abandon lobbies after waiting far too long to join a game when trying some of the less conventional game modes. But despite this, it’s worth sticking out the loading times. After several hours of play I’m still not over the panic of rounding a corner to find yourself face to face with a jet-pack clad demon, and once you’ve got some leeway with customisation options after a few matches I found myself having a lot of fun online, although it is a little inferior to the single player. Everything is hugely customisable, even down to your weapons. I was pretty thrilled to find I could cover my Marine and his weaponry in pink lovehearts before sending him into online battle, although I’m not sure my teammates felt the same way.
It wouldn’t be Doom without it’s signature soundtrack, and the developers happily saw fit to keep the kind of heavy metal you only hear in FPSs and wrestlers’ entrance music. There is slightly less of it than you’d expect, but it’s used sparingly to ramp the pace up when needed. The music moves up a level when you, ironically, move down a level and are cast back to hell, adding some nice symphonic elements to the chugging thrash metal. It sounds incredible.
This new instalment now exists in a world where Call of Duty is regularly featured in gaming charts in whatever ridiculous incarnation is most recent. Cover based, realistic shooters are everywhere, and Doom’s rejection of such cloying notions as health regeneration, realistic movement speed or even reloading is an obvious finger to the current crop. However, in order to be able to tell people to ‘take it or leave it’, you have to be fairly confident in your product. There hasn’t been a new Doom game since 2004, so it’s debatable how much good will and fanbase still exists in the title.
So, how does Doom measure up to… erm, Doom? Well, there’s a Jay-Z lyric from The Blueprint 3 where he says “If you want to hear my old tracks/buy my old albums” (I’ve paraphrased that quite heavily, that man enjoys a good swear doesn’t he?). The point being, you can still get the old Doom. If you want something completely faithful to the original…. just play the original. That said, if you really want to compare this to id software’s 1993 masterpiece, this isn’t that far off at all. In fact, it’s incredibly good. Repetitive environments aside, Doom (2016) is a lean game. A lightning-quick yet carefully made shooter with a grim sense of humour, I’ve had immense fun shooting through the campaign mode and enjoying a game that isn’t concerned with trying to be anything that it isn’t; a fun blast of a first person shooter.
A bad Doom game? No chance in hell.