June 17, 2016
Reviewed on Xbox One

A wild roar echoes through my living room, tearing through the still air with the same suddenness and sharpness of a lightning strike. This isn’t the bloodcurdling screech of one of DOOM’s many demonic entities, though - the epicenter of this particular din is yours truly.

It’s not a scream of resignated frustration - more the cry that an olympic lifter would let out, on the cusp of performing a record-breaking lift, or a boxer, after delivering a knockout to a formidable rival. It’s the primal call of human triumph, the sound of emergence from a crucible, victorious, but changed and shaped by the battle, the tone amplified by adrenaline and the memory of the failures that paved the way to this great vanquishing.

It’s a sound I haven’t made in years, in the context of gaming. But then, that’s probably because I haven’t met a challenge like DOOM in years

For those who don’t know, this new DOOM is a reboot of the 1993 classic of the same name, which featured an unnamed space marine - historically referred to as “Doomguy”, and christened “Doomslayer” in this new title - battling demons on Mars. In addition offering this unprecedentedly metal premise, the 1993 game is also considered a cornerstone of the First-Person Shooter genre for being one of the first titles to introduce 3D spatiality and the first-person perspective, as well as networked multiplayer.

When my brother and I sat down to play through DOOM, in preparation for this review, we agreed that in order to get the real experience we needed to play DOOM on it’s hardest available setting (the aptly-named “Ultra-Violence” mode, analogous to “Hard”). From the get-go, this proved to be a brutal decision.  The first time we encountered a group of Imps - fireball-slinging demons that would soon become the game’s “cannon fodder” enemy - they murdered us in seconds. Where we expected the typical block-headed AI, we found unforgiving monsters, hell-bent (literally) on murdering us as quickly and brutally as possible. Every wasted bullet, every wrong turn, every moment of indecision was met with a swift, bloody end, and it was a breath of fresh air.

Games have gotten soft. From Call of Duty’s “cower-and-shake-it-off” health system to quick-time events, modern gaming has taken a serious hit on the difficulty scale lately in favor of scripted, cinematic sequences. There’s a reason for this - those sequences, once upon a time, were innovative. They allowed us to perform actions that weren’t limited to the buttons on our controllers, which was a big deal at the time. In a similar way, the “cower” health system was a solution to another problem - searching for “health packs” broke up the flow of action sequences and could leave players in difficult situations, and replacing that with a regeneration system streamlined the experience.

Both elements also have their drawbacks, though, primarily with regards to difficulty and what I’ll call ‘satisfaction’. Take Dying Light, for instance. By and large a phenomenal game - it’s my personal favorite from the Zombie genre - but heartbreakingly disappointing in its use of quick-time events. Here was a game that spent a lot of time and effort making the player feel skilled at parkour and fast-paced combat, and yet the game refuses to tap into that skill at key moments - for what? So that the action can be scripted and feel more “cinematic”? It was a major misstep, and killed any feeling of ‘satisfaction’ that those moments could have had.

For the problems that health regeneration presents, just take a look at arguably the two largest FPS franchises - Halo and Call of Duty (though I’ll give the original Halo trilogy a pass, out of respect and because Halo 3 is somehow almost ten years old). Both franchises have pumped out enough stale reimaginings of the same scenarios to make Madden releases look innovative. The “Shoot enemies → Move up → Hide if Hurt → Repeat” pattern can only go so far, and this staleness is caused by the handling of health in the game. When a player can hide for long periods to heal and suffer no consequences, conservative actions and disconnection from the game are actions that are rewarded. The player is, in a way, punished for interacting with enemies, and rewarded for hiding away - not to mention the fact that having an immortal player-character wreaks havoc on any sort of difficulty curve. In order to make the game harder, the only option is to introduce instant-kill enemies, which are nothing but frustrating in practice. As a result, I’d guess the most seasoned gamers are beginning to feel a bit like the appropriately-named hero One Punch Man - show up out of interest, only to be disappointed by another easy affair, hardly worth the time and the skill you’ve honed.

DOOM is not a perfect game. At least one of the Boss battles is a bit too easy, and the “collect the keycard” pattern, while nostalgic, does get a little tired. It does, however, provide solutions to the problems that have caused the FPS genre to stagnate in recent years - and finally, it presents some real challenge and satisfaction.

DOOM, like many classic shooters, features health and armor that can only be replenished with “pickups”. While there are some health and armor packs placed throughout the levels, the feature at the heart of DOOM’s genius is the ability to perform “Glory Kills” - brutal melee kills that can be executed once enemies have been stunned or worn down with conventional weapons. “Glory Kills” alone solve the two problems in modern FPS games - first, they’re cinematically impressive scripted actions, but the player must interact with enemies to trigger them, and they’re incredibly varied. Each enemy has several “Glory Kill sequences”, depending on the player’s position relative to the enemy, and the environment, which keeps things fresh. Even during the game’s last huge battle, I had “HOLY SHIT DID YOU SEE THAT” moments from newly discovered Glory Kill sequences. 

More importantly, though - Glory Kills are one of the only consistent ways to get health back. Successfully performing one produces health packs that the player can pick up, and the result of this small mechanic is spectacular. Instead of trying to hide to regain health, the game rewarded me for meeting ferocity with ferocity, for diving further into the fray when I was at my weakest. When I did dive back in with a minuscule amount of health, the timing had to be perfect - lose track of one enemy around me, make one misstep, and I’m dead - succeed, though, and I’m back in control of the fight, feeling every bit the demon’s bane that the Doomslayer should be.

Therein lies DOOM’s success - the mechanics of the game fall in line with the fantasy that the game sells. The comparison I had to make often was to the recent Halo games - both games feature the lone space-marine archetype battling overwhelming odds, but only DOOM succeeds in bringing the feeling to life. After playing through DOOM, I can’t help but feel like the Master Chief has had it easy - he didn’t even have to sprint until some of the more recent titles, and can chill to let his shields regenerate. The Doomslayer, though, has to move constantly, aim perfectly, and fight viciously to stay alive, and the adrenaline rush from encounters with the demonic hordes made each battle feel like a worthy challenge rather an a dull stepping stone to advance the story.

On the subject of story, DOOM’s was surprisingly satisfying. A futuristic corporation, the UAC, has set up a base on Mars with the purpose of harnessing energy from another dimension - Hell - to solve humanity’s energy crisis. As can be expected, this eventually results in the base being invaded by demonic hordes, and it’s up to the Doomslayer to clean up the UAC’s mess. From the very first sequence, the game actively rejects tired FPS story tropes just as easily as it does mechanical ones - the base operator attempts to contact the player, offering to “work together to solve the problem in a mutually beneficial way”; for a moment, I even expected him to say “Would You Kindly?”. Doomslayer’s having none of that, though, and promptly smashes the computer screen, eliciting knowing chuckles from my brother and I. While you do eventually interact with NPCs throughout the game, the confrontations have none of the irritating convenience that many games get away with. DOOM is linear, but the path is made with such care that I’m happy to walk it

“"Instead of trying to hide to regain health, the game rewarded me for meeting ferocity with ferocity, for diving further into the fray when I was at my weakest."”

Throughout the game, My brother and I had been faced with increasingly insane amounts and variances of foe - DOOM’s enemy design is stellar, from the nimble Imp to the hulking Cybermancubus and tenacious Knight of Hell, and the ramping in difficulty creates a real sense of satisfaction. As the game progresses, enemies that were once mini-bosses become commonplace, and DOOM ratchets up your power just enough and at just the right moments so that you can keep up. Many games attempt to make the player more powerful relative to the same enemies to try and achieve the “legendary warrior” fantasy, but the result in those cases is often boredom. DOOM makes the player more powerful as an excuse to throw the Doomslayer into increasingly brutal scenarios. In this paradigm, it isn’t the new weapons or abilities themselves that shine - it’s the player’s ability to leverage them that brings the legend to life. Your arsenal will become as diverse as the threats presented, although the game will become crushingly difficult if time isn’t taken to explore and discover power-ups

The game offers four main flavors of power-up - Suit, Weapon, Rune, and General. General power-ups give you a chance to boost either health, ammo, or armor permanently. Suit power-ups offer extra protection and utility - choices range from quicker weapon handling to resistance to certain damage types. Weapon mods are interesting - each weapon has two unlockable modifications, and these modifications can be further strengthened. The shotgun, for example, can be fitted with one of two alternate firing modes - one, a tight triple burst, the other, an explosive shell. Runes offer specialized bonuses, ranging from increased midair control to the ability to magnetically pull health and ammo pickups from afar (we kept this second one on permanently). The Runes are unlocked by completing “trials”, or creative mini-games hidden throughout DOOM’s levels that provide a fun diversion from the main event

In addition to the main story, DOOM offers a classic arena-shooter multiplayer, and a mode called “Snapmap”. The multiplayer is fun, if simple, and definitely worth checking out for fans of Quake and its ilk - nothing revolutionary, but a welcome relief from the quasi-realism of many modern multiplayer shooters. Snapmap allows players to create and program maps at a basic level, and share them with the community. Thousands of game assets are at your disposal, and DOOM’s replayability helps fuel the desire for more creative scenarios - at least until a sequel hits.

Back to the roar, though. My victory shout followed one of my most satisfying fights in my entire gaming career, one of DOOM’s over-the-top boss battles. Bosses in DOOM are also classic in design - they have patterned attacks, and they’ll face off with players one-on-one in massive arena areas. This particular fight, though, was quintessential DOOM.

The fight pitted me against a nimble, shielded opponent. Only some of the weapons in my arsenal were quick enough to strike at the creature on the rare moments when it was vulnerable, which limited my options. I died five, seven, ten times, sometimes within seconds, sometimes within an inch of victory. No death felt like a failure, though - just another step, hardening my resolve and honing my ability. Finally, I triumphed.

DOOM’s response?

“Great. Now here’s two of them.”

My response?

“Bring it on.”

It was a simple conversation, one that we’d had with every fight, boss or no boss, and one that we’d continue until the game’s end, but this fight crystallized it so clearly. DOOM always forced me to push my limits - and I always relished the challenge


At once both innovative and evocative of its roots, DOOM unapologetically breaks the FPS mold in all the best ways.