The original Doom, released in 1993, is a truly landmark title. Groundbreaking not just for first-person shooters, but for video games in general, Doom pushed forward the medium with its revolutionary software engine and focus on fast-paced shooting from a first-person perspective.
Building off of what id Software had previously established with games like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom took everything to another level. Where level layouts in Wolfenstein had consisted of simple hallways and rooms, with every wall adjacent to each other at a 90 degree angle, and with just a handful of different enemy and weapon types to encounter, Doom significantly added to the complexity of what id could deliver to action game players.
While still technically not a true 3D game, Doom made an even more convincing illusion of first-person 3D than Wolfenstein did before it. Thanks to adding graphical and design features such as variable floor heights (allowing for the existence of walls and platforms of different sizes), variable lighting (allowing for a much more frightening atmosphere to be cultivated than the sterile lighting of Wolfenstein 3D was capable of), and the ability to create walls that intersect at any angle possible, it was now possible to make levels that stood out as instantly memorable in design.
One would be hard-pressed to tell any given Wolfenstein 3D level apart from one another, but Doom excelled in intricate, complex level design that, while abstract in presentation for the benefit of gameplay flow, resulted in levels that bore artistic and thematic influence from the best elements of sci-fi and horror film classics like Aliens and Evil Dead 2.
Doom‘s impact on the FPS genre can’t be overstated. For several years after its release, every first-person game that came out, got labeled a “Doom clone” moreso than the “FPS” label that is commonplace today. While other ’90s games ranging from System Shock to Duke Nukem 3D attempted to showcase more realistic environments than those of Doom‘s to varying degrees.
It was primarily with the release of Valve Corporation’s 1998 debut, Half-Life, that first-person shooters would largely move away from their arcade-esque roots, focusing more on levels with a linear design in mind, and actively telling a story to the player, often simultaneously while they were being played in first-person perspective. The Doom-style design of having separate levels that are oriented around being replayed over and over so as to discover every secret and beat the suggested completion time, is no longer the face of the genre.
Since games like Half-Life popularized their take on the genre, games that follow the Doom approach to FPSes have fallen by the wayside, relegated mostly to the occasional smaller entry, or one of millions of Doom mods that fans have made since the game’s initial release. In a time when FPSes that utilize cover systems, regenerating health, and scripted setpieces, have become the new norm, id Software’s newest game, simply titled Doom (and henceforth referred to as “Doom 2016” for clarity’s sake), is a truly refreshing experience.
Doom 2016 is the kind of new FPS I’ve personally been wanting to see for years now. It blows my mind that a major company (even if it was id Software of all people) got the opportunity to make a high-budget ’90s-style FPS. Levels in this game are largely non-linear, focusing heavily on keycard & switch hunting to progress. Much of your time in between fighting enemies is spent searching for secrets, which offer health/armor/ammo, or upgrades of various types.
Most combat takes place in arenas, which lock the player into battle against several demons at any given time. Occasionally there are surprises, like environmental traps or small groups of demons suddenly springing up to attack you while exploring. I appreciated this, and do somewhat wish they were a little more common than they currently are, but I do really like the major arena battles all the same.
This game is a big step up in quality from id’s last game, 2011’s Rage. Rage was… flawed. It had some good things going for it, like its fast-paced intense FPS combat, but it also mixed in a bunch of other elements which either didn’t fit (the vehicle combat/racing felt like it should have been part of a different game entirely), or were thoroughly underdeveloped and tedious to force one’s way through (pretty much everything related to the towns you explored, and accepted side-quests and main missions through).
Rage felt like a bunch of unrelated tech demos that were awkwardly mashed-together, and lost its sense of what it really wanted to be, as a game.
The new Doom, then still called Doom 4, was planned at the time to be a much more serious game, set on a destroyed Earth (similar to Doom II‘s setting), and aesthetically looked kind of like a combination of Rage with any standard Call of Duty clone. After Rage‘s failure, someone at id wisely suggested a reboot of Doom 4‘s development, and the team started over from scratch. After another several years of quiet development, id created the Doom we have today, which stands proudly as a worthy sequel to its pedigree.
I’ve seen people online favorably compare Doom 2016 to another recent FPS reboot… that being MachineGames’ 2014 game Wolfenstein: The New Order. While I would agree that both games are great, I don’t think they have that much in common from a design standpoint. While The New Order had somewhat of an old-school feel, with regard to how over-the-top its action can get (having the ability to unrealistically dual-wield automatic shotguns doesn’t hurt), it doesn’t play very much like a run-and-gun shooter. Generally in The New Order, you’d still have to either play with a focus on stealth kills, or by making liberal use of cover to avoid a swift death from enemies with hitscan-based attacks.
Doom 2016 on the other hand, encourages the player to leap into the fray, as almost every enemy attack is either melee-based or utilizes projectiles that are slow enough to be dodged via side-stepping, which lends a very old-school stylized feel to the action. One other particularly surprising aspect that I found is that you don’t even have to reload in Doom 2016; like the classic Doom games, you automatically have new rounds ready to fire at any given time, and if you run out, that’s a sign you need to switch to a different weapon. It certainly captures the flow of combat that the classic Doom games had, while featuring its own additions that I think actually make it better in some ways.
Amongst the new features Doom 2016 has, the level design is worth noting. Each new level consists of several types of environments to traverse. While they generally fall into the series-standard Mars or Hell settings, I feel id Software did a good job of helping each level feel distinct from the last, and to stand on their own as truly macabre places to pass through. Practically every location from this game would fit perfectly as the front cover for a ’90s death metal album.
There’s a healthy mix of indoor and outdoor environments, both on Mars and Hell, and occasionally difficult terrain to traverse, which requires some platforming to get across… which in turn means you can actually jump, unlike in the classic Doom games. You’re fairly mobile and can move at a decent speed (not as fast as in the original Doom games, but still fast compared to most modern FPSes), and you can gain a double-jump partway through, so platforming is very fun to partake in.
Certain levels can involve a lot of moving around from platform to platform, or scaling tall cliffs, which add a major sense of verticality to the game, both when proceeding toward the next combat arena, and within each separate arena.
There are lots of different ways to kill each demon you face. Most of the Doom standbys like the shotgun, super shotgun, and chaingun, make a return for this game. Almost every one of these weapons has two different optional upgrades, which add various abilities like being able to explode a rocket in mid-air before it makes contact with a target, or being able to wind the turret of your chaingun prior to firing, or unleashing a charged-up wave of heat energy after firing your plasma rifle for long enough. These weapon attachments, which can be further upgraded to increase their utility, allow one to customize their equipment to suit their playstyle, and let each weapon remain viable in the late-game.
You can even melee-kill enemies that have been stunned by gunfire, which in practice functions somewhat like the melee-attacks that are possible in games such as Resident Evil 4. They require you to get up close and personal, which can potentially put you in harm’s way of nearby enemy attacks, but will instant-kill an enemy if you make contact with them during their stun-period, and cause health items to pop out of their corpse afterward, which can be an invaluable help when running low on health… if you can avoid getting hit yourself.
Both fan-favorite weapons, the Ripper chainsaw and the BFG 9000, are also present, though as separate items from the rest of the game’s selection of weaponry. Both can instantly kill enemies, though they use up quite a bit of their respective ammo, and you can only hold enough ammo for a handful of attacks with each weapon at a single time, so one cannot solely rely on them to clear out wave after wave of enemies.
They still have a use beyond being bonus “one-hit-kill” weapons, however. The Ripper in particular will cause a ton of ammo to burst out of each enemy you chainsaw, which can easily fill up the ammo for your conventional weapons if you’re running dangerously low on them. Combined with the regular melee kills and how they can refill your health, they serve as a nice alternative to the regenerating health of other games, wherein you never have to risk running entirely out of health or ammo, yet you can’t blindly run into combat without careful consideration of when to use each weapon or attack at which time.
Doom 2016 is the kind of game I wish we could see more of. While I do like some newer FPSes and the benefits that their approach to the genre offers, I really have missed the ’90s-style approach to FPS design, which emphasizes gameplay over story. There is actually a story in this game, and it occasionally seems pretty clever, both on its own terms and in terms of how it connects to the stories (how little they existed) of the first two Doom games. All the same though, you spend the vast majority of your time in Doom 2016 just playing the game, and most of the pages of in-game lore can easily be skipped.
I tend to read through every lore page I can in games like Mass Effect or Fallout, but with this, I read one or two pages (mostly to see what the in-universe explanation is for why there are chainsaws on Mars), and skipped over the rest. I simply wasn’t interested, and thankfully the game seemed understanding of that.
Before I discuss the technical performance, keep in mind that my system does not meet the minimum requirements as listed on Steam. My current PC set-up is as follows:
Graphics card – GeForce GTX 660
CPU – AMD Phenom(tm) II X6 1100T Processor
CPU speed – 3.3 GHz
RAM – 8GB
OS – Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate Edition Service Pack 1 (build 7601), 64-bit
Both my graphics card and my processor do not meet the minimum requirements, so I had some doubt about my ability to run the game, going in. Thankfully, my computer was able to pull through. It wasn’t a smooth fluid 60 frames-per-second, and occasionally (at perhaps two points in the game, both during quieter moments and not major fights) there would be some major slowdown, even with the game set to the lowest settings possible.
There were also a few points perhaps once every other play session, where the game would crash or freeze, and I’d need to either reload the game, or restart my computer entirely. When that wasn’t happening however, I found the performance level to be satisfactory, and I don’t think I can blame those crashes on the game itself, considering my computer’s issues during the creation of this review.
The game still runs for me, thankfully, but the framerate tends to fluctuate between 35-55FPS, depending on what’s on-screen. Amusingly enough, in the unlockable classic-themed levels, a relatively smooth 60FPS was much more easily achieved, likely due to their less technically-demanding textures.
What can I fault about this game? Not a whole lot, honestly. I won’t hold the crashes against the game itself, as stated above. Beyond that though, it’s clunky from a UI perspective when you die, as you have to select the option to continue either by mouse-clicking it, or by moving your hand to the Enter key. If you’re playing with keyboard & mouse, chances are your hands are nowhere near the Enter key while playing the game. Then, after it’s finished loading the stage, you then start playing by pressing the Space key. I’d find that if I died over and over in a battle, I’d have to move either my left or right hand over to the Enter key so I could try again, then move my hands back into place so I could press the Space key after the load. It’s kind of a pain.
One other short tidbit that I wish was different, involves the backtracking that is possible at various points in the game. Most of the early stages in the game let the player backtrack to any previous point in the level, and search for hidden items and secrets to their liking, even just before activating the level-exit panel if they so wish. This is a good thing, for its convenience.
What is not a good thing, is that not every level follows this rule. Some of the later levels in the game will lock the player out of earlier sections of the level as they press forward, which requires one to either search for hidden secrets right then and there, or else reload the chapter after beating it once. That inconsistency is a problem.
If those are the worst things I can say about the game’s design, however, then I think Doom 2016 is pretty well-off. The single-player campaign alone is an experience that shall be remembered fondly for a long time. Making a worthy successor to the original Doom is a nearly impossible feat, especially when considering the legacy that original game has built up since 1993.
While it’s too early to say in the long run how this will compare with the original Doom, it’s still an incredibly worthwhile game on its own terms. With the main game itself, the selection of remade classic maps to play through, and the multiplayer and Snap Map modes, I highly recommend giving this a go. It is truly a joy to play.
(My focus in this review has been on the single-player campaign. I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer, but I tried a few matches, and it seemed decently fun. The lack of a Solo Deathmatch mode is a glaring oversight, however, considering how the original Doom pioneered such a thing. Separate from both single and multiplayer is the Snap Map mode, which allows players to create their own maps and game modes using the in-game level editor.
I tried a few creations that have been uploaded; they varied from reimaginings of classic Doom levels, to more oddball ideas like a music creator and a memory game. It doesn’t seem to allow for levels as robust as what can be created via mods for the original Doom, but it’s a nice enough feature that I’m happy was included.)