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Doom (2016) Review

By injecting new mechanics into an old school shooter — or maybe they injected old mechanics into a new school shooter — the good people at ID Software have done something interesting with the new Doom (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC). Though how much you’ll enjoy this sci-fi first-person shooter will depend more on how much you appreciate those old school mechanics more than the new ones.

Doom 01

When the campaign in new Doom begins, you wake up strapped to a surgical table, with freaky creatures coming to get you. Breaking loose, you grab a gun, blow them away, then don the power armor in the other room and wander off, hoping to figure out what the hell is going on, why does the computer keep talking about demons, and who lit all these candles?

In some ways, this new Doom feels like the 1993 original. Weapons don’t need to be reloaded, you can’t look down their barrels for added accuracy (save for one gun), and you don’t automatically target the closest enemy like you might expect a well-trained space marine to do. You also scoot around the world like you’re on a pair of well-greased roller-skates, while occasionally grabbing pick-me-ups that will make you invincible, move really fast, or even go a little nuts and start punching people with abandon.

On the defensive side, neither your health nor your shields regenerate if you avoid being shot for a few moments, so you better grab some of the health and armor packs lying around. Even your enemies act as if they’re old, often running straight at you instead of ducking for cover, then blowing apart at the seams or turning into a fine red mist when shot instead of falling to the ground and continuing to shoot you until they’re really, truly dead.

As for what’s new in Doom, let’s start with the melee system. When enemies are wounded or stunned, you can pull off a “Glory Kill,” which is like doing an execution in Gears Of War if those finishing moves caused your enemies to drop health packs and, on occasion, some ammo.

Doom also changes things up in its level design. In the campaign, you’ll sometimes find yourself in large areas full of demons, and it isn’t until you kill them all that the door to the next section unlocks. These areas often have numerous passageways, as well as multiple levels, which not only makes them feel like multiplayer maps, but it also makes these gun fights rather frantic, since enemies will come at you from multiple angels.

This Doom also adds the ability to augment and upgrade your weapons and armor with new abilities and secondary attacks. For example, you can increase the number of shotgun shells you can carry at any given time, add the option of occasionally making those shells explosive, and reduce the amount of time you have to wait between using those exploding shells.

Doom 02

You also earn upgrades by fulfilling certain conditions, ones along the lines of “Find 3 Secrets,” “Kill 10 Demons In 10 Seconds With The Shotgun,” and so on. While some run in the background, and give you until the end of a chapter to complete, others come up during “Rune Trials,” in which touching a glowing statue whisks you away to a secret location to do a specific challenge. Though you also earn weapon upgrades by, naturally, killing lots of enemies.

This new Doom even manages to do something most first-person shooters fail miserably at: platforming. Granted, most of these parts — save for two lengthy sequences — don’t put you a position of having to judge distance and not overshoot your mark, which is usually where platforming in first-person games gets tricky. Instead, most of the platform is just you climbing up onto boxes or ledges, which is made easier by your ability to double jump.

When all of these elements work together, as they often do, Doom becomes a fun and frantic shooter, with some of the latter battles escalating to the point of chaos and mayhem the likes of which we haven’t seen in years.

That said, there are aspects of Doom that don’t work, or at least don’t work as well as they should. Though many, admittedly, are more a matter of personal preference than design flaws.

For starters, some of the old school-ness of Doom also doesn’t fit this new edition. For instance, having armor power-ups that are bright green, shield shaped, and standing upright makes them look out of place amid the game’s otherwise gritty aesthetic. I also don’t like how this goes old school by taking its sweet ass time when loading the next level or reloading a checkpoint after you’ve died.

Doom also doesn’t have much in the way of variety when it comes to what you do. Though you use a wide range of weapons to destroy a good assortment of enemy types, that’s basically all you do. You don’t get to drive anywhere, or use a turret, or pilot a spaceship into battle. And with the campaign being rather long, all of this running and gunning makes this feel a bit samey after a while. Though, admittedly, this also make this feel super Doom-y as well.

Doom 03

Oh, also, not having a “run” button Doom is a bummer, even if your normal movement speed is faster to the causal saunter of other games. It also has movement and aiming controls that are a bit too loose, but you can easily dial them back in the options menu.

The new Doom also has a problem so common that I cut and paste this paragraph into nearly every reviews I write: the type is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your television — y’know, like your mama told you to — you won’t be able to read the mission objectives, the dossiers, the captions, or the menus.

But the biggest issue I had with the campaign in Doom is that the game just doesn’t have an epic feel about it. While there are big battles, and the levels certainly don’t all look alike, there are no big set pieces, and no truly memorable or unique moments. It is, as Homer Simpson might say, “just a bunch of stuff that happened.”

Doom also does a poor job of telling what little story it does have. Which is too bad since, as the underrated Doom 3 showed, a little narrative told in an interesting way can make any shooter better.

While the single-player campaign in the centerpiece of Doom, the game also has a full slate of multiplayer modes. And not surprisingly, it too is rooted in the ways of old. Reminiscent of the online modes in Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament, such modes as “Team Deathmatch” and “Domination” are fast, furious, and full of moments when you’re running around like madman, looking for ammo, health, or armor pick-ups.

But Doom‘s online modes also recall those of such modem shooters as Halo 5: Guardians and Call Of Duty: Black Ops III by having a progression system, as well as the ability to customize your avatar and your loadout. Though, Doom being Doom, the first loadout in the list is, of course, the one with a rocket launcher. There’s even a version of the popular C.O.D. mode “Kill Confirmed,” here called “Soul Harvest.”

The thing is, while Doom‘s multiplayer modes can be fun, especially since having the arenas populated by people instead of demons makes these battles feel less predictable, it still doesn’t do anything particularly unique or different. As a result, it feels like more of a side dish to the campaign than the main course or even a second entre.

Doom 04

Yet, despite all of its shortcomings — the lack of epic moments, its lack of varied missions, and so on — Doom still manages to be one sweet shooter, one that’s definitely worth playing two or three times through. Thanks to the intricate and multi-tiered levels, the abundance of enemies, and its speed, this game’s gun battles are fast and frantic and utterly addictive. Sure, you’ll appreciate them more if you’re old, or just appreciate the old ways, but unless you’re expecting something completely modern, you’ll find that this new Doom — if you’ll pardon the pun — is one hell of a good shooter.

SCORE: 8.5/10


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