Knee Deep In The Dead with Doom (2016)
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I will admit that when I first saw footage of the new Doom I was left teetering on a fence built of both excitement and apprehension. The weed smoking metalhead manboy buried deep inside of me became nostalgic for his teenage years spent blasting Cacodemons with a sawed-off shotgun, but the tired and jaded old man who has been layered on top of that overgrown child due to years of disappointing games like Operation Raccoon City and Perfect Dark Zero knew that slapping a brand name on something new isn’t enough to capture the magic that made the original so engrossing. Gaming has changed drastically since the days of 3½ inch floppy discs and DOS prompts. Oftentimes this leaves us in a catch 22 situation: either we update the formula to match recent times and contaminate the DNA of the original, or we feel like we are playing an artifact that doesn’t appeal to our modern sensibilities.

Frank and I briefly streamed the PC version of Doom when it first came out, and although Frank loved it, I still held reservations. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to snag a PS4 copy of the game and really dig into it on my own. I am very happy to say that it manages to mix new ideas into the old style in a way that makes it feel fresh without betraying the purity of the original’s simple style. At it’s heart Doom has always been a fast paced game of dodging fireballs and pumping shotgun shells into the faces of unholy abominations, and the new game captures this beautifully. The recharging health that has become a FPS staple since Halo popularized it fifteen years ago is absent, with enemies dropping small bits of health and ammo upon receiving the aforementioned shotgun shells to the face. You get more health or ammo for executing demons with melee “glory kills” or using the series staple chainsaw, which promotes aggressive offense over being patient (or acting like a baby) and hiding behind cover.

The fluidity of combat is wonderful, but the overall pacing of the game makes sure that you never get tired of it. Maps retain the scale and demand for exploration that the original games had, but in a way that takes advantage of the new platforming elements. When the adrenaline rush of slaughtering Hell’s minions begins to fade, you will find yourself hunting for secrets that tie directly into your progression system. The more of these secrets that you find, the better you become at murdering things. When you tire of exploring, you usually find a Rune Trial, and when you are about to become frustrated with the challenges presented there, you are thrown right back into the action. This gives the game a flow that keeps you engaged. You earnestly want to take part in these three pillars of gameplay because they all work together to enhance your enjoyment of the overall product.

The upgrades earned from this cycle carry a depth that transcends simply making you better at the game. Besides your armor having three skill trees and Runes earned from trials being equipped, every gun has two unlockable alternate firing modes that come with their own set of upgrades and challenges that reward players for switching their weapons and attachments often. This is great because unlike older Doom games, where each gun was stronger than the last with few exceptions, every weapon remains useful for the entirety of the experience. Even the default pistol, and every gun does something different. Players are given a constantly growing toolbox to tackle situations with, which only improves as they find secrets, rip and tear their opponents, and complete Rune Trials.

Speaking of ripping and tearing, I initially thought the glory kills would be a gimmick that would be cool the first four times I did them and then quickly become annoying, but thankfully they are short enough and come in such a variety that they end up feeling more like a satisfying addition to combat. There is no greater feeling than weaving through a horde of Imps to slam a rocket into a gigantic Hell Knight and be rewarded with the ability to rip it’s arm off and beat it to death with it’s own limb. The Berserk powerup makes a return, and it brings along a whole plethora of new melee kills to laugh about with your friends. Sometimes Imps will panic and run from you because of this. It’s highly amusing.

In fact, Doom keeps this air of levity throughout. Much like Limp Bizkit’s “Chocolate Starfish” album, this game knows how ridiculous it’s concept is, and chooses to revel in it rather than be embarrassed (a mistake that greatly hampered Doom 3’s enjoyability). It gives the game a level of charm that is wholly absent from the generic army man shooters that plague every bottle of Double XP gamer bro Mountain Dew that occupies store shelves. The plot is laid out in such a way that it simultaneously doesn’t matter and enhances your enjoyment of the game if you choose to care about it. Should you choose to dig in, there’s a decently deep lore that pays homage to the old guard in a way that sets this one up like a sequel while adding enough new concepts to help this game stand on it’s own two legs as an original story. Right out of the gate Doom makes this clear by having a character explaining backstory before humorously being interrupted by the nameless protagonist smashing a console and cutting the chat short mid sentence. It says “flavor text is cool and all, but this game is really about violence. Don’t sweat it”. Doom is not a game made for Youtubers. It is a game made for players. It is the first game that I’ve experienced in a long time that made me feel like I actually had to play with my own hands.

The enemies are just as varied as the ways to kill them are. Mixing redesigned classics with new ideas, every single one of these assholes has their own behavior and strategy. Pinkies will charge straight at you and require you to circle to their backside to do damage. Imps will climb walls and move sporadically. Mancubi can take severe punishment while firing volleys of deadly plasma, and Barons of Hell want nothing more than to chase you down and throw punches. You need to prioritize on the move while switching things up on the fly, always adapting. A standard encounter will involve chainsawing a Pink Guy to get him out of the way, quickly switching to the Gauss Cannon while backpedaling and punching rails into that Baron, deftly unzooming to sidestep the Mancubus’ attack while shooting an Imp with your shotgun before reorienting and taking that Baron down so you can deal with the Fat Boy distraction free.

I feel like the boss battles are the weakest encounters in the game, but at least they are few and far between. It usually turns into a game of dodging and trying to line up shots with either the Rocket Launcher or Gauss Cannon, which seem to be the only weapons that do any significant damage, and it isn’t really as intense or rewarding as regular combat. There is one particularly annoying battle towards the end of the game which is essentially waiting for a shield to lower, firing a shot, and repeating ad nauseam. Thankfully there are only three bosses in the game, and there’s still the “oh shit” factor of seeing the new Cyberdemon. It will leave you anticipating the natural conclusion of an encounter with the Spider Mastermind, which has some really cool animations.

The game ends on a cliffhanger that sets up a sequel due to you accidentally freeing the Icon of Sin, and it leaves you wanting more. I can’t believe this, but I actually yearn for more of this. A game that I didn’t expect to be any good, and I am sitting here wishing it wasn’t over. If that isn’t the mark of a good game, then I don’t know what is. Doom definitely proved itself to me.

Multiplayer wasn’t touched in my run through this game, because I could care less about customizable cosmetics, 14 year old kids who fucked my mom, paying sixty bucks for PS+, and a loadout system being shoved where it doesn’t belong. Multiplayer for this game really should have just been Quake. Also, a big special RBX thanks goes out to Stephen Molintor, who provided the review copy used for this article.

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