Video Games Review: DOOM (PS4, 2016)

The pleasant surprise has become a real rarity in games today. We know so much about every last game before they arrive now, and from this deluge of information it’s usually easy to identify red flags. Following its explosive showing at E3 2015, I wasn’t sure if DOOM could live up to the adrenaline rush its trailers promised. It took the game only a few minutes to start putting those misgivings to rest.

DOOM is an update of the venerable shooter franchise from id Software that works hard to replicate the tone and design of the original games with a fresh coat of paint. If, like me, you grew up playing the DOOM games on your old Pentium 133 in the 90’s then a lot of what this new game has to offer will be pleasingly familiar to you.

Weapons like the Super Shotgun and the Chainsaw make return appearances, you still have to scour each level for coloured keys to open corresponding doors, demons intimidatingly snuffle, growl and squabble amongst each other just the way they used to.

And then there’s the gibs. Oh my god, the gibs. For a while there in the 90’s, it was pretty common for a game to let you turn your enemies into bloody chum with a well placed rocket. Like the original DOOM, these things were typically accomplished through sprites. With 3D graphics still in their infancy, gibs weren’t as easy to pull off and so they kind of went away for a while, only reappearing in games like Soldier of Fortune where they were deliberately gross and exploitative, a way to provoke outrage.

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DOOM brings gibs back in a way that rings true to the originals, providing a satisfying full stop on every demon slain. It then takes it a step further by introducing finishers, vicious melee attacks that will let you end limping enemies in return for health, armour and/or ammo replenishment.

(I understand that a 32-year-old man keen to turn enemies to hunks of raw meat with explosions is why some people still struggle to take this medium seriously, but I’d also ask you to accept me for who I am.)

Part of what makes these finishers so satisfying is DOOM‘s building of player momentum. Every combat situation you find yourself in becomes a kind of blood soaked ballet as you demolish everyone unlucky enough to get in your way. On the higher difficulty settings, your movement decisions and weapon choices are critical to your survival and it adds an important layer of tension to the proceedings. When you finally take down the last demon, it’s not unlike coming out of a trance. You realise that there was heavy, industrial metal playing in the background the whole time and your stomach and jaw unclench. Your grip on the controller loosens and your heart rate returns to normal.

The story attached to the game is utterly bananas and id not only know it, they completely embrace it. I’ve rewritten this par six or seven times trying to describe just how delightfully stupid the game’s premise is. Basically, the UAC have decided that Hell is a super good place from which to mine Hell Energy (which I think might just be fire? Or blood?). This Hell Energy (?!!) will be used power all of mankind’s greatest achieveme– oh shit demons.

Your motivation is: “There are demons. Demons should probably be shot.” Even the computers are like “This room has too many demons. Please shoot the demons as I apparently have a minimum threshold for demon occupancy.” Clearly, these Martian weirdos knew what they were getting into. Periodically voices over your radio will tell you that maybe you shouldn’t break this piece of expensive looking technology that harvests Hell Energy (!?!?!). Do not listen to them. They probably want you to stop shooting demons.

That’s really what makes DOOM such an enjoyable experience. It knows what it’s good at and what its audience wants so its works hard to minimise any roadblock that keeps you from the good stuff. While the map designs aren’t anything on the level of Romero at the height of his powers in the original game, they still do a nice job of setting up a series of kill boxes to be overcome.

There’s also a multiplayer you can jump into if the substantial single-player isn’t enough, but I found it it to be far less enjoyable than the campaign. All your standard multiplayer modes are there, and some of the Hell-themed maps recall the glory days of games like Unreal Tournament, the camping of weapon spawns and overpowered pickups. It’s fine, it just isn’t anything to write home about. Go and play Overwatch instead if you’re looking for multiplayer, you’ll have a much better time.

DOOM‘s single player campaign, like last year’s Wolfenstein reboot, is rather wonderful. It pays homage to its legendary forebears while bringing something exhilarating and new to the franchise. This is no small feat. For a game that could have coasted on the prestige its name infers, it works hard to earn it instead.

Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Incredible combat; Delicious gibs; Dat soundtrack
Lowlights: Multiplayer technically okay, just a bit paint-by-numbers
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda
Release Date: May 13, 2016
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Windows PC

Reviewed on PS4.