Reviews// Doom

Posted 24 May 2016 12:35 by
Games: Doom
E3 2015
E3 2015
The 90s were a pretty good decade for PC gaming. I have extremely fond memories of playing games like X-Wing, TIE Fighter, Command & Conquer, Duke Nukem 3D and, of course, Doom. Each of these games pushed game design by creating worlds in which players felt they had some real agency - atmosphere and immersion were of paramount importance. With the exception of Duke Nukem, which is holding on for dear life, these games now only provide inspiration. Duke Nukem Forever was largely dull, not completely terrible, but also clearly an anachronism. So where does that leave a Doom reboot? Is there space any more for a simplistic and violent first-person-shooter, where the main objective is simply to survive and kill? Yes, there is.

Doom 3 attempted to take the game in a slightly different direction to the original and its sequel. It focussed more on horror and made a reasonable attempt at expanding and building on story elements from the first two games. It was a title clearly influenced by games such as Half-Life as it attempted to present a more 'intelligent' imagining of Doom. Whilst it was fun, it was lacking in a number of the core components that make Doom Doom.

E3 2015
E3 2015
These core components are excellent level design, atmosphere, pacing and a sense of feeling in control as the world is exploding around the player. Doom 3 had atmosphere, but by focusing on the horror aspect of the series, the other components were rather lost. The series was moved forward, but something was lost. It was no longer really Doom.

This reboot of Doom nails most of the core components, at least in campaign mode. It would be unfair to say that this entry is a back to basics, simplistic shooter as there are a number of changes to the game design that evolve the experience. Weapons, armour and abilities are all upgradeable, new functions can be unlocked for weapons and experience points from play can be used to enhance them. This is where the game really, really shines.

The pacing of Doom is superb and a times quite breath-taking. Encounters are chaotic and there is a real sense of rhythm as the player jumps, shoots and punches his or her way from creature to creature. The addition of 'glory kills' whereby the player can melee attack a stunned creature for additional 'skill points' makes encounters particularly satisfying. There's nothing quite like downing a large enemy and then ripping off a part of its anatomy and then hitting the creature with it to finish it off.

These sequences are clearly intended to shock, but the animations are short and enhance rather than break the flow of an attack. Indeed, they serve as a virtual full stop, or exclamation mark, at the end of a particularly difficult fight. The player is then given skill points that can be used to enhance weapons, adding even more rewarding ways to battle the forces of hell.

So, the pacing, it's brilliant and although there is a degree of repetition to encounters, each engagement is thoroughly enjoyable. The diversity of both weapons and enemies ensures that no fight is ever completely the same.

Doom is also an extremely attractive game. In the opening section, when I first stepped out on Mars I was slightly in awe. When I think back to playing the original Doom in the early 1990s, this is how I imagined the game should really look. The wind blowing the red sand through the air, the atmosphere polluted and hazy from the industrial plants dotted around the landscape. I have been playing it on the Xbox One and it is probably the most visually impressive game I have played on the system.

However, although the game is technically impressive it is a shame that more imagination has not been put into both creature design and the sections of the game when the player visits hell. Enemy design follows the originals closely and whilst this is a good decision, they lack the vibrancy of the original game. Enemies are largely brown, consequently making them look far less distinctive than their 1993 counterparts as they blend into the similarly coloured backgrounds. As a result, these creatures feel far less 'alien,' they don't feel like twisted products of hell. This feels like an opportunity missed, as does the player's time spent in 'hell.' Aside from the inclusion of some skulls and rune stones, Doom's depiction of Hell is rather pedestrian. Upon arrival I was hard pressed to distinguish the area with Mars. Both areas share very similar colour palates and follow the same level design. There are countless sources of inspiration for depictions of hell in both classical and popular culture, if only the designers had decided to take a bit more of a risk.

So, Doom has excellent pacing and is visually stunning, although a little conservative in design. What of the final core component, level design? Here Doom also delivers with one important caveat. I found each level to be quite lengthy, although it never feels like it is overstaying its welcome. Areas are extremely fun to traverse and the game features probably the best example of first-person platforming I've ever experienced.

The only complaint I can level at the level design (sorry), is its rather linear nature. Although id Software has included lots of secret areas for exploration, there is usually only one way to get to the next objective. Some more freedom would have been nice. This also impacts enemy encounters as creatures teleport in to areas and it is usually rather obvious when this is going to happen.

I never really felt dread as I explored as I knew that enemies were never going to lunge at me from behind a door. Battles usually take place in large, open arenas. Whilst this makes sense as it allows the player to run, jump and dodge enemy attacks, it also means that there are little to no feelings of tension. However, these arena encounters are tremendous fun. I just wish they were not so obviously announced to the player.

I realise that I have only really covered the single-player campaign mode of Doom. There is a reason for this. Multiplayer is fun, but, as the open beta suggested, it is rather forgettable. It feels more like Quake than Doom and it is quite clear that the majority of attention has been given to the game's campaign mode. Match options are uninspired and although there is the option to become a monster for a brief period of time it doesn't feel like a mode that I would come back to, particularly as there are much better options available.

The game does, however, feature one additional mode that I intend to spend more time with: 'SnapMap.' SnapMap is an included level design tool that, on initial inspection, appears very simple to use. Although simple, players have the option to start with a template and then use their imagination to make something truly unique. The diversity of maps available is already impressive and I urge anyone who is interested in what is possible to take a look on YouTube. Maps exist that range from a variant of 'tower defence' to 'Harvest Doom' where the player can nurture crops. There is a lot of potential here as the SnapMap mode really makes up for the rather lacklustre multiplayer offerings.

Overall Doom succeeds where Duke Nukem failed and proves that, with a little thought, it is entirely possible to
take a classic game and refashion it for 2016. I sincerely hope that the next time I return to Doom it will be 'hell on earth.'

+ Pacing is superb.
+ Visually impressive.
+ SnapMap has a lot of potential.

- Enemy design and encounters are a little repetitive.
- Multiplayer is forgettable.
- Level design is a bit too linear.

SPOnG Score: 8/10
Games: Doom

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