To summarize Doom, which I will be calling Doom 4 for simplicity’s sake, briefly: the single-player campaign is one of the best action experiences this year, and is an early contender for one of the best of this generation of hardware. Everything else is, at best, anemic; you have an incomplete, unsatisfying batch of tools for the level designer, and the multiplayer suffers from unbalanced weapons and the lack of some obvious modes, such as a classic deathmatch setting.
It’s an unbalanced package, at least out of the box, and I suspect a lot of what’s missing (i.e. the chainsaw and berserk pack not being available to place in user-made maps) is going to be sold later as DLC. The campaign is brilliant and close to perfect; everything but the campaign is, at time of writing, pretty underwhelming.
I grew up playing Doom and Doom II, back when they and Marathon were the only shooters worth mentioning on the Mac, and so Doom 4 was almost instantly and comfortably familiar. The plot is bare-bones; you wake up on a scientific outpost on Mars that’s already been wholly conquered by demons, and alone, set out to kill them all before they kill you. More details get filled in later, through flashbacks and the occasional found document, but even the protagonist thinks it’s mostly irrelevant. There are demons. You should kill them, as they are demons. The end. No moral.
I knew I was going to like this game as soon as it started, and my character started moving around the hallways of the base as if he was on rocket skates, moving at a full sprint at all times, with a standing jump like Michael Jordan in zero gravity. The Doomguy does not care about hard cover, infantry tactics, or changing magazines; he enters a room and is in constant motion, circle-strafing, dodging incoming fire, and shoving his shotgun directly up a demon’s nostril before he fires.
It is as far from modern, quasi-realistic military shooters as can be imagined. Your health does not regenerate, the enemies are varied and weird, there are actual old-school boss fights complete with attack patterns, you never have to reload, and every gun besides the starting pistol feels almost indecently satisfying to use. Even the chainsaw is amazing now, as it’s a gory one-hit kill on any standard enemy as long as it has enough fuel to do the job.
The few things that have been added to the old formula are just about all improvements. You can upgrade weapons, to add functionality and alternate fire modes, and boost your ammo capacity and maximum health by scavenging dead Marines for special armor components. There’s also a personal hologram and two types of grenades on a short recharge timer, which add some extra tactical utility. Winning various Devil May Cry-style optional challenges hidden throughout the later maps will unlock upgradeable Runes, which you can equip to give you up to three additional abilities. It allows for a surprising amount of flexibility in the late game, as you accumulate not one but two useful scoped weapons, an underslung grenade launcher for the basic shotgun, or the ability to transform yourself into an immobile but devastating chaingun turret.
The most immediate change, however, is the “glory kill” system. A demon on its last legs will get stunned and begin to flash. At this point, you can run up and melee them to death to finish them off, tearing them limb from limb in a short, gory sequence that will also always drop some health and ammunition. It never quite gets repetitive, as each kill’s animation is short and brutal, and it’s always great to finish off a particularly obnoxious demon by ripping out its eye and shoving it into its mouth.
It’s also as close as Doom 4 gets to regenerating health, as a glory kill when you’re on your last legs turns the demon into a health and ammo pinata. On higher difficulties, this becomes crucial, as you can bring yourself back from the brink of death by running around the arena picking off the imps and possessed soldiers.
The crucial thing, however, is that the combat is simply, joyously fun for its own sake, which is something that often gets lost in the current sea of post-Halo military shooters. Everything about a monster arena in Doom 4 feels as if someone was primarily concerned with that question above all else. Sometimes you can play a game and you can tell that some other consideration was paramount, such as realism, consistency, challenge, or even plot, but not here.
The only real concerns I have about the campaign are that it has a couple of unfortunate difficulty spikes, such as a particular arena in the sixth level, and I think it spreads out the acquisition of your full arsenal a bit too much. You can still be finding new equipment as late as the tenth mission, and in a thirteen-level game, that strikes me as a bit too long. The inclusion of a sort of “new game plus,” where you can enter old stages with your full loadout after clearing the game, helps with that.
I’m not nearly as enthusiastic about SnapMap, the heaviy-advertised level designer. While some creative user-made levels have already shown up, the toolset seems limited–a player in SnapMap can only carry two weapons at once, and several enemies and weapons simply aren’t available for placement, most notably the berserk pack–and you can see just about everything the mode has to offer early on.
Fortunately, the campaign more than justifies the price of entry. The multiplayer isn’t my bag and SnapMap feels like it was arbitrarily crippled, but I can see myself putting in Doom 4‘s singleplayer again and again when I want to burn off a little extra aggression, the same way I do with Painkiller or Serious Sam. Doom 4 may not exactly be a breath of fresh air, since it’s deliberately treading on a lot of nostalgia, but it’s the kind of absolute fun that inexplicably doesn’t come along very often.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
This review is based on a digital copy of DOOM for the PlayStation 4 provided by Bethesda Softworks.