Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Despite their increasingly pretty graphics and ever-evolving gameplay concepts, many of today’s shooter games owe their success to classic titles like Quake, Unreal Tournament, and the original Doom. These games helped to pioneer the visceral first-person-shooter experience, both as a single-player affair and as a crazy, explosion-filled arcade-style multiplayer deathmatch.
When Bethesda and id Software first announced they were planning on reviving the Doom franchise with a game that would blend both old-school and new-age concepts, some fans were naturally skeptical. Fortunately, whether you’re looking for single-player thrills, nail-biting multiplayer, or even a solid co-op experience, Doom hits all the right marks with only a few minor stumbles along the way.
Considering most of Bethesda’s pre-release marketing for Doom was focused on the game’s multiplayer component, you’d be forgiven for assuming the game’s single-player campaign was treated as an afterthought, but you’d also be wrong. While the story behind the single-player campaign is laughably thin (you play as a voiceless marine working to shut down a massive portal connecting the planet Mars with Hell), it’s not really meant to get you invested in the game’s lore (though there are plenty of codex entries to collect if the lore appeals to you), it’s more of a justification for constantly pitting you against massive groups of demonic forces.
The early hours of the campaign aren’t terribly exciting, since you’re mainly just exploring and solving minor environmental puzzles (Doom brings back old classics like collecting key cards and platforming across ledges) while fighting enemies that don’t put up too much of a fight. However, as you progress, the game uses yet another classic tactic of slowly introducing new enemy types, keeping you on your toes and making combat encounters more and more hectic (and fun).
The combat in the single-player campaign does eventually start to feel like a bit of a slog, but there are several elements which help to keep you motivated as you play. Not only do you find a large arsenal of different guns with which to blast your demonic foes, you can also upgrade both your guns and your character in a multitude of ways, customizing your passive abilities, the bonuses granted through your armor, and the two different “weapon mods” (alternate firing methods which offer new tactical options) each gun has.
These single-player unlocks allow you to custom-tailor your character’s capabilities to a surprising degree, whether you want to focus on taking down demons efficiently, searching each level for its hidden secrets (of which there are plenty), or even speeding up basic actions like mantling up ledges or performing “Glory Kills” (brutally violent melee kills which can be performed on a badly wounded enemy). As mentioned before, they also help to keep you motivated during the campaign’s eight or so hours of length, which is handy since the campaign does start to drag a bit towards the end.
Doom’s competitive multiplayer component manages to blend old and new shooter concepts even better than the single-player campaign. Sure, it still doesn’t feel good to lose, but id Software implemented a rather clever system which rewards players with randomized items for every match they play, win or lose (items are also granted every time you level up). These items include cosmetic unlocks such as armor pieces for your multiplayer avatar, taunts, and weapon skins, and more practical “Hack Modules” which can be activated mid-match at the player’s discretion, and which grant various passive bonuses such as increased armor or the ability to see wounded opponents through walls.
This near-constant stream of unlocks is only one of several reasons why Doom’s multiplayer component is so addictive. An exhaustive list of in-game challenges helps you feel like you’re making progress even when you lose several matches in a row, and the large list of different game modes ensures the multiplayer component won’t ever feel repetitive or stale (even if it is currently missing a straight up free-for-all mode). Doom’s quicker, more mobile gameplay format (which eschews elements like iron sights and sprinting) also strikes a nice balance between being more accessible to casual players, but also containing enough of a skill curve that long-term competitors will be noticeably rewarded for their dedication.
I made the mistake of assuming SnapMap was simply a place where Doom players could make their own custom maps for private multiplayer matches, and boy am I glad I was wrong. SnapMap is actually an entirely separate entity from the competitive multiplayer, featuring three of its own dedicated game modes: Free-For-All Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and co-op, and allowing players to create and share their own custom maps for those modes. Even better, SnapMap has its own quasi-progression system which allows SnapMap players to earn “SnapPoints” for playing each of the included modes before spending those points to unlock the same cosmetic rewards from competitive multiplayer. SnapMap even has its own section of in-game challenges which let you earn additional SnapPoints for completing specific in-game tasks.
Sadly, SnapMap does have some limitations. The maximum number of players which a SnapMap match can support is four, which works fine for co-op but makes Capture the Flag and Free-For-All feel a bit empty. There’s also currently no way to make maps for any game modes besides the above mentioned three, so if you were hoping to make some crazy custom Freeze Tag or Warpath maps, you’re out of luck (at least for now). Fortunately, there’s a crazy amount of variety to be found within those three modes, as long as you don’t mind hunting around for some of the more unique creations players have already come up with.
While Doom is far from perfect, it still has plenty to offer to both fans of old-school shooters and more modern shooter entries. It’s the sort of game which rewards intrepid players who are willing to at least dabble in all three of its core modes, since no matter which mode you pick, you’ll find a highly polished and compelling experience which has plenty of replay value. Doom’s ultra-violent veneer and other minor stumbles may turn some potential players off, but if you don’t mind the near-constant blood splattering on your screen, you’ll find a surprisingly deep (and fun) shooter experience.