The urban dictionary definition for ‘fucking metal’ is “incredibly hardcore. Used to describe very obscene events, usually containing gore and death”. It stems from heavy metal music, and is usually uttered in a complimentary context, evoking bodily reactions in the recipient like snarling, baring one’s teeth, and getting goosebumps from the dopamine that floods your body upon coming into contact with something ‘metal’.
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Being British, I’ve never referred to anything as ‘metal’ before, simply because it sounds better with an American inflection (which makes it sound more like ‘medal’). But since I’m writing and not speaking, I’m going to take this opportunity to use that word to describe something – for probably the only time in my life
From the metal of a Revenant’s shoulder-mounted rocket launchers crushing its skull as you smash them together, to the metal of the burly weapons filling up a quarter of your screen, to the grinding metal riffs of a nine-string electric guitar that jump and stutter, to the graceful brutality of the game’s combat, Doom is Fucking Metal.
Being a horror fan, I appreciated the moodiness and shock-a-minute style of Doom 3, and wasn’t overly impressed by the pre-release content I saw for this outing. It seemed too fast, lacking impact and atmosphere, with the excessive instakills looking like they were designed to cause gasps and laughter in an E3 audience rather than amount to gameplay of any substance.
I was wrong.
From the start, which gives you just a snippet of story before Doomguy violently awakens in a lab from some kind of hellish slumber, smashing the skulls of the nearest two zombies, it’s clear that this is a game confident in its ultraviolent identity. Everything about Doom pushes you to be aggressive. There are no dark corridors for enemies to jump out and go ‘Boo.’ Even if there were, then Hell help the demon who gets staggered when you’re in range, because Doomguy (still anonymous, still mute, but angry like never before) is a veritable killing machine. There is a decent story here too, featuring a couple of well-rounded, self-motivated villains with conflicting goals, in the middle of which are you, Doomguy, now a mythical figure prophecized to rain all hell down on, errr, Hell.
It’s simple, it’s solid, and it’s all you need to know, because really it’s the visceral, in-your-face action that torpedoes the game forward.
Damage a demon enough and you’ll stagger it, causing it to glow blue then orange when you’re in range, at which point you can pull off a Glory Kill. Limbs pop off weaker zombies, Hell Knights’ horns snap and get plunged into eye sockets, and grotesque Mancubi get fed their own rocket packs, which blow up to leave their skulls dangling on their exposed spinal columns like antenna balls. You’ll spend a lot of time glory-killing, as it not only yields health pickups, but gives you a couple of seconds to plan your next move or weapon switch. Despite that, I never got bored of it, as each enemy has several glory kill animations depending on the angle from which you attack them, and it serves a tactical purpose.
These glory kills never last more than a couple of seconds, helping not only to keep up the relentless pace of the action but also preventing things from getting gratuitous – 2.5-second bursts of extremely violent instakills are great, any more than that is pushing it. Another form of instakill comes by way of the great Doom chainsaw – which only has a couple of uses before you need to refuel it, and causes ammo drops. Both health and ammo are easy come, easy go in Doom, and often the only way to restock them when running low is to charge headlong into the fray. It all feeds into the game’s brilliantly-executed sense of forward-momentum and aggressive gameplay.
Just as you must be ruthless, so too are your enemies. While it’s a bit of a shame that there aren’t any eye-catching new demons joining the Doom bestiary, all your favourite faces return with their greatest designs yet. I have a soft spot for the aesthetics of Doom 3, where the enemies have a dark, tragic quality about their appearance that makes them seem like they were created by Satan in Frankenstein’s lab. But here, they’re bright, bold, and look like they’re relishing the opportunity to do battle with you.
Obese mancubi lumber towards you blithely, firing rockets in time to every plodding step they take. Revenants jetpack around arenas with manic skeletal grins, then land and charge at you, eager to meet you in close-up combat. Imps, meanwhile, pirouette balletically as they chuck their trademark fireballs your way, and scale the walls of the arena like monkeys. The legendary floaty-red-head cacodemons? You’ll be pleased to hear that they’ve gone back to being red floaty heads for the first time since Doom 2 – purple plasma, green eyes, everything you want from some of Doom’s most iconic enemies.
Horrific though these creatures are when you get up close to them, they’re designed with action rather than horror in mind, fitting perfectly with Doom’s gung-ho tone. All of them hone in on you with the same aggression as you impart on them, making each encounter feel more like a head-on Spartan collision rather than a typical FPS shootout, albeit with a hell of a lot of running, jumping thrown in, and the classic circle-strafing thrown in.
The game takes you between Mars and Hell with the ease of an elevator going between the ground and first floor, but really each area has a similar structure – vast arenas connected by arterial corridors. The arenas are filled with conveniently placed platforms and jump pads for some first-person parkouring, though most of the demons are as capable of getting around them as you are, so even in seemingly safe high points, you’ll need to have your next move planned ahead as everything from an Imp to a Hell Baron will be able to reach you.
Although Doom’s levels lack much sense of place, they stay true to the artificial, gamey nature of the levels from Doom 1 and 2. As you attempt to manage the traffic of tens of demons in pursuit of you, you’ll come to appreciate the satisfying verticality of the arenas, which encourage second-to-second improvisation and make for some of the best platforming you’ll find in a first-person shooter, particularly when you gain the double-jump ability.
Entering one of these arenas always gives me a tingle of anticipation, and as soon as those grinding metal riffs kick in and I hear the hell portals opening, I enter into a trance that channels my distant past of playing Quake 3: Arena and Unreal Tournament. It becomes all about constant movement, not getting cornered, and the beauty of the up-close, bullet-fast combat. As my health runs low, I manage to pull off a split-second strategy to leap for higher ground, cave in a couple of imps’ heads for some health, then switching to the gauss gun to stagger a mancubus before jumping down 50 feet onto its head for a glory kill. I don’t even have time to relish this piece of murderous poetry in motion, as a couple of Pinkie Demons charge me while a Revenant hovers overhead targeting me with rockets, and I need to jump straight into dealing with them in a way that’ll no doubt be equally spectacular. Only when I dispose of the final demon – punctuated by the music stopping – do I allow myself to be overcome by a wave of euphoria.
To balance out the relentless pace, there are moments of downtime between these arenas, when you can look for data logs, hunt for the game’s veritable battery farm of easter eggs, and do some obligatory RPG-style upgrades to your character – weapons upgrades, defensive bonuses, you know the drill. You can carry out special timed rune challenges that reward you with various passive boosts, though my favourite asides are the sections of old-school Doom levels hidden throughout the game, reminding you – as if you needed it – that this is the love letter to its own roots we’ve been yearning for. Searching for these various side-bits can prove tricky because of the somewhat convoluted map, which awkwardly and inexplicably doesn’t let you toggle between floors. The result is that looking at the top-down map is useless because you’ve no idea what floor various items, secrets and collectables are on, while the 3D map is painfully fiddly.
I reluctantly tore myself away from the single-player campaign to test out the multiplayer and SnapMap – the lightweight level-making tool that promised to be accessible to newbies as well as veterans of the Doom modding community. I went into multiplayer begrudgingly, suspecting that my inflated ego from being such a primal killing machine in the single-player campaign would quickly be burst by the Quake 3: Arena types who’d no doubt dedicated every waking second since the game’s release to establishing their dominance on the servers.
My verdict from a few hours of play is that the multiplayer is fine but unremarkable.
Amidst the generic game modes, the couple that sort-of stuck out were Soul Harvest, in which felled players drop runes that you need to collect to gain points, and Freeze Tag, where the objective is to freeze the entire opposing team (by essentially killing them), while thawing your own frozen teammates by pushing their iceblock bodies into lava or other hazards, causing them to respawn. A nice wildcard in the multiplayer is that the first player to die in the match drops a demon rune, which turns the person who picks it up into a demon (initially a Revenant, though more get unlocked as you level up).
The loadout and powerup system keeps things simple, with several extra items and three weapons becoming available when you level up, but nothing that should create too big a gap between newcomers and more experienced players. Hack Modules, meanwhile, are temporary perks, each of which you can use for a set amount of time per round. The lack of clutter in Doom’s multiplayer harks it back to a distant, simpler age of online shooters, making it far more accessible to jump into at any point than the elitist environs of your CODs and Battlefields.
The multiplayer suffers from not being able to recreate that graceful dance of death from the main campaign, which is what the entire game was clearly designed around. Without that ebb and flow, you’re essentially left with two small squads of multicoloured marines shooting at each other, with little room for the melee moves and platforming that prove Doom’s greatest strengths. Rather than fishing you out of demonic trouble, grabbing a ledge now puts you in the perfect position to be shot, which inhibits you from getting your parkour shoes on. There is the occasional opportunity for a Glory Kill, and chainsawing a marine who you know is a real person is obviously extremely satisfying, but without the constant need for health and ammo these elements lack strategic purpose. In fact, much like the ledge-jumping, Glory Kills make you vulnerable for a couple of seconds as players don’t have that demons’ courtesy of waiting for your animation to finish before attacking.
This kind of speedy arena shooter also lends itself well to quick kills, where a well-placed double shotgun blast can turn an enemy into an explosion of cuboid meatballs, but the reality is that players are bullet-spongy enough to warrant little damage numbers flying off them each time they’re shot – which feels far more ‘The Division’ than ‘Quake 3’. Each mechanical element is sound enough, but none of it gels to become a gory gestalt like the main game.
Much the same can be said about SnapMap, which for me was always going to be supplementary rather than central to my experience of Doom. The tools are simple, very simple, which will welcome the casual tinkerers but disappoint the hardcore modders. Using these, you can create indoor arenas (no outdoors) using a library of premade building blocks and textures, place demon spawn points, positions and so on.
You can also create your own objectives and story elements that pop up in writing on screen, and create special conditions for killing certain enemies, essentially allowing you to create your own boss encounters using existing enemy models. The limitations of the tool mean that we’re unlikely to see any player-created maps outweigh the excellent campaign however, and as such it’s unlikely that Doom will bring together a creative community like that which continues to flourish around the original games.
Doom thrives on a relentless energy and dynamism that has no equal in the genre, though there are moments where I miss the tension and atmosphere of Doom 3, and the sense of it being a ‘place where bad things have happened’. The journey between every large-scale battle would be dripping with dread as you never knew what was waiting to ambush you from the shadows. In Doom, there is little in the environment that really catches the eye. Hell looks classically hellish (bones and fire and reds and browns), while the Mars base feels your typical sterile space station, albeit decorated with corpses and gore.
Each time I start getting a little nostalgic for a bit more horror and atmosphere however, the hefty guitar kicks in and I’m pulled into yet another scintillating battle that makes me forget about everything but survival for the next five minutes, and leaves me with a grimacing smile on my face akin to the original Doomguy’s when he continually unloads a plasma gun into a Cyberdemon. Doom is one of the most wonderfully vicious games I’ve ever played, succeeding in all the areas where so many equally macho-minded games have failed. Its gore is fun but not gratuitous, it does first-person platforming perfectly, and it’s faithful to its roots while at the same time having some of the most progressive FPS gameplay around. All of this is wrapped up in a self-aware package that takes a chainsaw to pretences of story and character development, exhilarating you with an aggression that transcends visuals, gameplay and music.
It’s Doom as you know it. It’s Doom as you’ve never seen it before. And it’s bloody brilliant.
Been fighting like hell and have your own thoughts on Doom? Let us know in the comments below.