I think, like most gamers out there, there is a long list of games that I’ve yet to play, not for any reason other than the fact that there are so many games that release year after year, that some fall by the wayside. Like many others, I have a list on my phone of games I’d like to complete when there are few games releasing, and this time of year is generally one of best opportunities to tackle those titles. We’re just about to hit the time of year where big game after big game will drop on fans waiting with bated breath, so I’ve had the chance to play some smaller titles, but also some of the bigger names in my backlog. So I’ve created a new series to give my somewhat belated thoughts on a game that deserves gamers’ time and deserves to be reviewed despite the fact that, in the case of Doom, released nearly three years ago. So I hope you enjoy the first installment of Backlog Reviews, and in this inaugural episode, I’m going to give my thoughts on the reboot of a much-loved series that broke ground for first-person shooters all the way back in the 1990s and has redefined what a single-player first-person shooter can be decades later. Id software’s 2016 masterpiece, Doom.
The first person shooter series Doom has been a staple of the industry for over 25 years since the original released all the way back in 1993. It is brutal and fast-paced combat, and tearing apart of demons was its major draw, developed by the masterminds at id Software, who also pioneered the first-person shooter genre with Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. But Doom was much more bombastic than its Nazi-focused counterpart. Hell demons of all shapes and sizes and a suite of weaponry that included the much loved, legendary BFG, set Doom apart from its contemporaries and made a serious mark on the industry, proving again how talented those at id Software really were. Over the years Doom saw multiple sequels, and then, after prototyping a new version of this once insane and bombastic world which saw it look much more like Wolfenstein and much less like a true Doom sequel – to very tepid reception – the developers managed to go back to the drawing board with the series in 2016, with something that can only be described as a perfect return to form and return to what made Doom special so many years ago.
Gameplay | Combat
This latest game is a treasure of a title, with some of the most fluid and satisfying combat in a first-person shooter. There’s no taking cover and waiting for opportunities to strike, there’s no running backward and retreating when under fire, it’s pure mayhem in the best way possible.
Each level and combat encounter is designed like a game of chess where the Doom Slayer must constantly be evaluating what next to kill, and how to kill them. Enemies flash when able to be glory killed, which is superbly animated and just as satisfying, and this doles out health and – with upgrades later in the game – armor. The chainsaw, which is limited in fuel, replenishes ammunition for all your weapons, but must be used sparingly and when necessary.
There is no inventory management, you just find weapons throughout the game and then they are available in a weapon wheel to be accessed. It’s these, seemingly simplistic and somewhat old school game design features that actually make Doom stand out in our current climate of games where inventory management and limits mean micromanagement is a constant battle for the player. Doom just doesn’t bother. Ditto with the story.
There is a story here, and actually, it’s kind of cool and interesting, nothing that will blow your mind but it’s still fun nonetheless. But id Software doesn’t mess around with too much exposition or storytelling, it’s done mostly through gameplay and how the Doom Slayer reacts to the world around him. At one point you’re told to turn off some valves, but don’t destroy them, as it will ruin years of research, but the Doom Slayer doesn’t care, he smashes each and every one of them just to try and stop the Hell demons from overrunning Mars.
Graphics | Level Design
Doom keeps the player enticed with not only its balls to the wall combat arenas and satisfying weapon selection, that plays out at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second on consoles, but also in its level design that moves from the UAC facility on Mars to the depths of hell and back again multiple times. Very light puzzle and traversal mechanics are occasionally head-scratching, but nothing that takes away from the pure enjoyment of exploring the levels and ripping and tearing demons by the dozen. And the narrative plays out over radio comms and through your gameplay so as to not draw you away from the first-person camera and action through the Doom Slayer’s eyes.
The Other Stuff
Now, there are other game modes in Doom, like a multiplayer suite and a map creator called Snap Maps, however for the sake of this review I haven’t played either of them and wanted to focus purely on the single-player experience. And this single-player mode truly shines as one of the best single-player first-person shooters in a long time – an even longer time than envisaged due to the fact I played this game nearly three years after its release.
Its truly self-aware way of, at some points, literally throwing exposition and story aside to focus on the beautifully crafted gameplay, its splendidly designed way of throwing challenges at the player in combat and telling you to just get in there and don’t hold back, with a strategic, gruesome game of chess that you really just get lost in.
The music, by masterful Australian composer Mick Gordon is incredibly well designed for the combat, for the downtime between arenas, for the entire game in general, and the gritty sounds of analog synthesizers, mixed with huge distorted and chunky guitars and fierce metal drums make sure you have a huge smile on your face while you rip and tear the demons of Hell throughout the game’s 10 or so hour campaign.
The satisfaction of glory kills, the pure joy of chainsawing your enemies at point-blank range and the enjoyment that comes from clearing a packed room of the biggest, craziest demons makes you truly feel like the Doom Slayer is the one that the demons should be afraid of. There is a power fantasy here that is greatly realized through the combat, and to step in the shoes of the Doom Slayer is to feel the confidence to destroy the armies of Hell without batting an eye.
Doom gets so much right about the FPS genre and doesn’t get bogged down in issues and mechanics of many modern games. The developers at id clearly had a design philosophy to put the power in the hands of the player and create as much pure enjoyment as physically possible. From the old school mechanics to the simplistic mission structure focusing purely on the combat, Doom is a game that is all about the shooting, and the killing of demons first and foremost, even though the story isn’t a let down in any way. The game is expertly designed around some of the most interesting levels, with incredible verticality and a vast array of areas that keep the player very much invested in the gameplay and the narrative.
I don’t know how this one slipped through the cracks and wasn’t something I picked up earlier than 3 years after release, but I am ecstatic that I’ve decided to play it now. Doom Eternal releases in November this year, and I for one am more than prepared for more insane combat, gorgeously brutal visuals and the new features that will make Doom Eternal another truly fresh take on the series. The masterminds at id Software deserve all the praise they get and have weaved a masterpiece in their reboot of the classic Doom series. It is a pleasure to play this game, and if this is still in your backlog as well, do yourself the favor and get ripping and tearing ASAP.
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