Doom needs little in the way of introduction. Launched in 1993, the hugely important and influential title helped bring first-person shooters to the forefront of gaming. However, despite the series being so well regarded, iterations of the game have been somewhat of a rarity. There were two in the 90's within a year of one another, and then there was a decade-long gap between 1994's Doom II: Hell on Earth and the third game in the series.
Now, after an even longer twelve-year wait, the fourth version of Doom is finally upon us, and, as a huge fan, I've been keen to find out whether the game is a classic throwback, or something completely new for the series. Turns out that it's the former – although while it does echo the past, it's essentially a modern take on the classic Doom gameplay.
The plot focuses on an unnamed marine who's freshly escaped – or let free, it's not really clear – from imprisonment on Mars. He walks into a world where all Hell has literally broken loose. Turns out that the Union Aerospace Corporation has been channeling Argent energy from Hell itself via a portal to create an infinite power source for Earth, thus solving mankind's energy crisis. To cut a long story short, renegade researcher Olivia Pierce has opened up the portal and demons have invaded Mars, and our friendly neighborhood Doom guy arrives just in time to potentially save the day. Guided by facility director Samuel Hayden, he takes on the mission to close down the portal and kill all invading demons – a task that spans a variety of locales from Mars to Hell itself.
I'm skimping somewhat on the details of the plot, simply because Doom's story feels more like the means to justify its action, rather than being a device to spin a detailed and cohesive narrative. There are few cut scenes – what little there is of the story is mostly told through audio vignettes that pop up between missions, and as you're running around. That's not a complaint, by the way. Doom is clearly an action-oriented game that's all about achieving objectives, and the journey through the game and what you do is essentially the story, rather than you feeling like you’re a part of some greater overall narrative.
Jumping into the single-player campaign, the first thing that struck me was Doom's tremendous sense of speed. This is one very fast-playing game, both in the sense that its action moves along, and the way it encourages you to aggressively tackle its challenges. There are no cover mechanics, and you need to stay on the move while fighting – if you stand still for even a short length of time, you're likely to get nailed by one or more of the myriad of demons that populate each level.
Doom's biggest and most immediate new feature is its glory kills. When you shoot at a demon, you wear down its health to a point where it starts to glow. That's your signal to step up close and press R3 to melee your quarry to death in spectacular fashion. Apart from it looking gruesomely sweet, glory kills cause health power-ups and occasionally ammo to spew from your victim's body – and this is largely how you keep yourself alive. While most levels are typically littered with extra ammo and health power-ups, the action is so intense, and you're wading through so many enemies that you inevitably need to keep topping up your health bar by performing glory kills. It's a great system: One that essentially rewards aggressive play, and ensures that you're constantly in the thick of the action, scything down enemies in brutal style.
Another new aspect to the game is upgradable weaponry. I love that Doom features a classic array of weapons: There's the shotgun and super shotgun, plasma rifle, rail gun, rocket launcher, and heavy assault rifle. In default mode they're all hip-shooters, and feel great to use. However, you can upgrade them with mods that you can find hidden throughout the game, and then use L2 to fire advanced shots. In this fashion, for example, you can lock on to the enemy with the rocket launcher and fire a burst of three rounds in short succession, or build up heat with your plasma rifle and let it rip as an AOE effect. It's a neat idea that helps add a little additional depth and dimension to the way the weapons work, and opens up a few new tactics while fighting hordes of demons.
The game also includes the chainsaw and BFG, and, once you find them, they become mapped to their own unique joypad buttons. The BFG does exactly what you want it to do – and that's take out a horde of demons, or indeed knock a huge chunk off a boss' health bar. The chainsaw is a limited-use item that needs fuel to work. Assuming you're fully gassed up, it can be wielded to cut most demons in half – and the process creates a fountain of ammo that you can collect to pretty much refill your supplies in short order. That can be a lifesaver in certain protracted fights when you've exhausted all the ammo lying around a particular level.
Doom's gameplay is somewhat compartmentalized. Basically, you move from objective to objective through a series of zones, and for the most part you can't access the next zone until you've killed everything in your current zone. In earlier levels, where the zones are more expansive, it doesn't feel restrictive, but as the game goes on, this mechanic is used more and more, and towards the latter stages, you're essentially locked in a long series of arenas where you have to defeat waves upon waves of demons before you're able to progress to the next one. The action is certainly fun, but over time can feel rather relentless – particularly as you end up fighting what feels like basically the same patterns of demons repeatedly across a series of different areas. One might be a more open environment, while another might be more dungeon-like, but the fight is basically a repeat of what you've done before. It almost feels like filler content – the game's limited roster of Demons being recycled a little too much to pad out the proceedings.
Another aspect of the game that didn't always work for me is that sometimes you need to find items on a level to unlock doors. For the most part, important objects are found fairly easily, but there are a couple of levels where it's easy to miss a keycard or skull, and that can lead to a lot of fruitless wandering about. Fortunately it didn't happen too often, but when it did it just wasn't much fun. I ended up tracing and retracing my steps until I finally found the cubbyhole in which was tucked away the item I was looking for.
Fortunately, though, Doom's action is really solid and offsets its minor hiccups well enough. It's a blisteringly fast shooter whose innovative glory kill mechanics keep the proceedings feeling tight and visceral. The lock-in arena battles, while eventually becoming somewhat repetitive, are nevertheless really fun. Strafing is a key tactical component here, and you have to constantly stay on the move to survive. As a consequence, the action feels dynamic and kinetic – there's only time to breathe between levels.
The boss fights also echo that feeling of dynamism – they're tense encounters that will have you on the edge of your seat as you attempt to whittle down some giant demon's health bar. Most fights are quite easy to figure out what you need to do to survive each boss' offensive moves, but executing the moves perfectly to defeat them is another thing entirely. I often found myself yelling in anger and frustration while I was trying to master them, but once I got everything right, I felt a deep feeling of satisfaction having conquered them.
I also felt really satisfied when I completed the twelve-or-so-hour single-player campaign. The ending is a little perfunctory, but then that goes with the game's fairly lean plot. Doom has never been about the story – it's all about the action. And if you enjoy shooting things, this latest iteration of id's classic game really does deliver the goods. There's some repetition in its latter stages, but the action never lets up, and it's gloriously gory. The fact that it also looks fantastic, and sounds great is just the icing on the cake. Or should that be, the the skull on top of the offal?