You awake in an unknown location, chained to what appears to be a surgeon’s table. To your left, you see a grisly sight; a man sitting against the wall with his insides splayed out all around him. Even worse is what you see to your right; a disgusting, malformed skeletal demon moving straight toward you with his arms outstretched ready to gnaw on your exposed flesh. A normal person might scream out or quietly accept his assured doom. But not Doomguy (or The Doom Slayer, as his prey knows him). He simply grabs hold of the demon by the eyehole, smashes his head into a red paste with one arm, yanks free of his metallic bindings, and heads off at a blinding pace ready to kill anything that stands in his path of destruction.
So begins Id Software’s re-imagining of Doom, perhaps the most kinetic, and frenetic, first person shooter to ever hit the market. Across the 13 missions of Doom’s blood-soaked campaign, there are only fleeting moments of rest during exploration before the industrial pulses of Mick Gordon’s Death Metal-inspired soundtrack explode into the forefront of the game’s gloriously violent soundscape as another demon-slaying spree begins. That hook never gets old, and it’s the driving force behind an otherwise relatively shallow experience.
The failures of both SnapMap (a mode that lets players create their own Doom levels) and competitive multiplayer in Doom have been well-documented, so I won’t harp on them here. But what holds back the largely enjoyable campaign experience from the peak of FPS nirvana is its maze-like level design. While the environments Doomguy blasts through are highly detailed, the maps rarely open up beyond their mostly cavernous structure. While this is fine in the early game, I would have liked to see Id mix things up a bit more between the two different Mars and Hell archetypes in which these levels reside. Another frustrating mechanic of the level design is Id’s over-reliance on color-coded doors and gates that require specific keycards. I know that this was a staple of the original Doom experience, but level design has progressed a lot over the past 20 years and I would have welcomed a more modern approach. Every block of time I spent combing through corridors looking for keycards were minutes I would have rather spent blasting demons into pieces and that frustration never wore off as I progressed through the campaign.
Despite its shortcomings in other areas, though, the glory of Doom’s combat really cannot be overstated. Quite simply, it is the greatest run-and-gun first person combat I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing in a video game. Doomguy’s arsenal is constantly expanding throughout the game’s first half, and it is never unsatisfying to discover a new weapon and begin testing its limits in live combat. Even better is the game’s upgrade system which allows for almost every weapon in the game to be upgraded down two separate paths each with their own benefits. Ammo is plentiful and even though I had my favorite go-to weapons (the explosive shotgun, and pinpoint accurate Gauss canon, in particular), I found myself constantly switching on the fly without slowing the game’s blistering pace. Doomguy’s two side weapons, the chainsaw and the returning favorite BFG, are absolutely lethal but must be used sparingly due to their high ammo cost and sparse availability. But few things are more satisfying than blowing an entire room of baddies to smithereens with one shot or carving up a particularly tough enemy with one slash.
You’ve probably noticed how little I’ve mentioned Doom’s story so far. That’s because, quite frankly, there isn’t much to tell. Id knew that their game’s greatest strength was its gameplay and, in a callback to the original Doom, put storytelling on the backburner. That being said, what Id does provide with regards to storytelling under the surface of Doom’s hardened exterior is actually mildly entertaining. The robotic Samuel Hayden and his deformed assistant Olivia Pierce have discovered a new form of energy that could revolutionize the infrastructure of the world: Hell energy. Unfortunately, ripping energy straight from the bowls of Hell doesn’t come without its drawbacks; the process created the opportunity for a demonic invasion and Hell’s finest wasn’t about to miss their chance. Now with demons threatening to completely override Mars, Doomguy is Hayden’s only hope for putting an end to this holocaust. While the game contains a few cutscenes and dialog to progress the story, the meat of the game’s lore comes from the Codex which is accessed with the map button and is updated regularly throughout the campaign. I actually found quite a bit of the information on certain characters and enemy types to be an intriguing and fun diversion in between demon slaughters. The backstory that emerges about Doomguy in particular is by far the story’s strongest development and only makes it that much more satisfying to control one of the most badass avatars in gaming history.
It’s exciting that an old school juggernaut like Doom can make a grand return over a decade removed from its last entry and still find the widespread success that it deserves for, if nothing else, its critical role in the history of our industry. If Id Software can shed this entry’s geriatric pitfalls with its upcoming sequel, I have no doubt that it could be one of the great First Person Shooters of our time. But even though Doom’s rebirth wasn’t perfect, it remains a largely enjoyable experience that should certainly not be missed by any FPS fan or history buff.