Ah, DOOM. Memories of MS-DOS, sprites, gibs and the search for secrets come to mind. This was an era I thought forgotten and left behind, banished to the realm of whimsical nostalgia and fan-made mods. Was I glad to be wrong. DOOM is back, and is a fitting reminder of how id Software, the king of FPS, still has several things to teach modern games.
[pullquote_left]The first time I got a berserk power-up, which turns you into a melee only juggernaut I let out an evil laugh as the carnage was taken to the next level[/pullquote_left]In singleplayer the story is merely a vehicle, an excuse to get you to travel from place A to point B to kill demons in several arenas on the way. Doom Marine doesn’t care about politics, about power plays within a massive corporation. He doesn’t care about the energy crisis or any of the myriad issues presented during the course of the game. No, Doom Marine is here to kill demons. All of them. He is a silent force of nature, a hurricane of bullets and gore. Under that silent exterior is a seething pit of rage, Doom Marine strikes out at anything and everything, from bashing doors open to ripping arms off for keycards and hurling noisy, bossy computers across the room, he is in control. However if you want the real story, the full nostalgia and the best nuggets of the game, get ready to look for the secrets. Pages of text detail the characters, the events at the Mars facility and its expeditions into Hell, as well as the key players of the base. It allows for a depth of story you wouldn’t expect to be in the game and hell, it isn’t like Doom Marine is going to stand around and listen to anything, right? Each level has a classic secret, complete with old pickup models and aged textures. Once you find them, you can replay classic levels from the game’s menu, a nice reminder of how far games have come.
Welcome to the arena
Arenas are the mainstay of the singleplayer and this is where the beauty of the game really shines. Often you will be assaulted from all sides as demons teleport in to hinder your progress. Everything needs to be destroyed before you can continue moving on, not that you planned on moving on and leaving any demons alive, right? The art of the strafe is back and Doom Marine’s best asset is his speed. There is a ballet involved in taking on the arenas of the game moving away from threats while picking the most efficient weapon to deal with the threat at hand. There is no ducking into cover, no waiting for some magical force to restore your health back to full. This is a fast-paced dance, and when you get it right, you become a whirling dervish, leaving only entrails and shotgun shells behind.
This is all about resource management, really as you zip around the map grabbing ammo, armour and the occasional power-up to deal with foes. You will move in close to deliver a gory coup de grâce, known as a Glory Kill, to save some ammo and replenish health. The chainsaw and the BFG are the crowning resources in your arsenal. The BFG turns particularly nasty foes into goop, while the chainsaw turns an enemy into a piñata full of tasty ammo. Their ammo counters sit neatly below the weapon you are using, a small reminder of the massive power you have at your disposal.
Speaking of Glory Kills, be ready to see the fathers of gibs return with highly detailed gore. These moments of violence are brutal and detailed. They remind me of the extravagantly detailed pencil work of Marc Silvestri in The Darkness: you never thought you would spend so much time looking at highly detailed images of internal organs and viscera. Doom Marine’s rage is expressed in the way he dismembers, decapitates, crushes and lacerates his foes, turning demon flesh into a painful canvas. This violence is unabashed and is so well done you have to revel in it. The first time I got a berserk power-up, which turns you into a melee only juggernaut I let out an evil laugh as the carnage was taken to the next level. Until you see a Hell Knight’s head removed with bare hands, you haven’t understood how powerful Doom Marine really is.
[pullquote_right]If you are worried about how a jump button might kill the feel of DOOM, don’t.[/pullquote_right]In case you feel the living killing machine needs a bit more oomph, collectibles can be used to power your suit, giving you more armour or health or max ammo capacity. Little chips off fallen soldiers can improve recharge times of your grenades, or tell you when a secret is really close. All of your upgrades evolve around being better at killing things and the mods you get for weapons just add to the list of resources you have available to you. Each mod has three upgrades, with a fourth unlocking once you complete a challenge. This upgrades keep even the lowly shotgun in play right to the end of the game. One mod lets the shotgun fire three shots in really quick succession, while the other adds a grenade launcher to the weapon. Both are great and which you use depends on the enemies you face, as well as their proximity. Switching between them takes a few seconds, so you might want to get higher up and away from enemies for a little while.
If you are worried about how a jump button might kill the feel of DOOM, don’t. It fits in perfectly and levels have been designed to take full advantage of the new vertical freedom. Secrets can hide just a clever jump or two away and the level designers have left green lights all over to highlight platforms that can be reached by jumping. Speaking of level design, the stories told by the levels is amazingly intricate. Altars for demonic worship can be found in the bowels of the UAC facility, rooms full of mangled corpses show the fate of workers when the Hell portal opened. Scrawls on the wall go from English to occult symbols as you travel deeper in, the cheery sing-song of automated announcements about the company a stark counter-point to the bits of human strewn across the walls.
But there is more
Once you have worked through the campaign and found all those secrets and Easter eggs, you can start building your own maps. Snapmap is pretty easy to use and within an hour you should have a pretty cool level designed, complete with a boss fight, spawning waves of enemies, secret areas and more. I can’t wait to see what creative people are capable of creating in the game, which I think could easily be used to create a horror level, or a quiet level reflecting on the way in which we are led by our noses through levels. Or maybe a go-karting level? Who knows.
If your bloodlust isn’t sated yet (you monster) head into the multiplayer to take on some humans. Armed with two weapons most modes are more about collecting armour and health rather than knowing where all the weapon pickups are. Demon runes give you a chance to go on a killing spree, as you become a sturdy creature with insane damage. You can either run away from them or group up to kill them and get the power-up for yourself. It is always scary bumping into a revenant, seconds before its twin rocket launchers turn you into a puddle.
Depth is added here with hacks that you unlock and equip for a match. You can activate them before you respawn, adding extra damage to your attacks or perhaps starting with armour. There are also hacks to see the position of your killer, letting you go get revenge or you can get an XP leech that gives you XP whenever a teammate gets XP for kills. There are many objective based maps in the mix, from controlling moving zones of influence to collecting souls from fallen enemies, adding variety to the team deathmatch formula. It takes a while to get used to the idea of not running around finding weapons, until you grab a BFG that was hiding on a out-of-the-way platform. Get ready for some overkill.
A solid singleplayer campaign, an easy to use map creation tool and a healthy mix of multiplayer modes is going to keep me playing DOOM for a long time still. Some of those rune challenges stumped me, and now it is payback time, game. Prepare for a chainsaw to the face.