The prospect of reimagining Doom left id Software stuck between a rock and a hard place. From the departure of notable principals like John Romero and John Carmack, to the tepid reception of Doom 3, this modern reboot was rife with design challenges. Despite everything working against it, though, id somehow wriggled out of the corner it was backed into and did an admirable job blending new and classic design paradigms, creating one of the most exhilarating shooters in years.
Hell on Mars
Doom's campaign begins in media res, without lengthy cutscenes or wordy dialogue to steep you in its premise. Your nameless protagonist begins strapped to a stone slab, breaks free of his bonds, and lets you get down to business bashing heads and busting caps, all in an effort to stem a deluge of Hellspawn spilling onto Mars.
Doom puts the pedal to the metal right away for a reason: every action at your disposal is designed to propel you forward. "Doomguy" smoothly hoists himself up walls and ledges. Deal enough damage to enemies and they'll begin to flash, signaling that they're susceptible to Glory Kills, gruesome executions that break open monsters to shower you in health power-ups like candy spewing from a piñata.
Glory Kills feed into momentum in other ways. You're invulnerable while performing them, buying precious seconds to catch your breath, and Glory Kills bequeath more power-ups depending on your health: the sorrier your condition, the more health you receive. It's a clever trick to incentivize playing aggressively rather than running away and cowering behind cover.
Doom's gunplay is just as varied. You find guns in a rough sequential order, but each serves a unique function in combat. The shotgun is fast and punchy, the rocket launcher is good for spreading damage around, and the Gauss cannon fires focused blasts of energy that will feel familiar to anyone homesick for the railgun from Quake 2 and 3.
Reloading? Not in this game. Reloading slows the pace, and Doom won't tolerate that.
The chainsaw, only useful against a select few monsters in older games, is one of Doom's most versatile armaments. Wielding it assures an instant and grisly kill, but bigger demons require more fuel than fodder like zombies and Imps. It's a cool twist that adds an extra layer of strategy to encounters by letting you keep the chainsaw in your back pocket (so to speak) for heavy hitters like Barons of Hell.
As an added bonus, enemies chewed up by your chainsaw dispense copious amounts of ammo—yet another way Doom facilitates nonstop action. Every individual gear and crank in this machine is built to accelerate the others, and when working in tandem the game itself becomes an unparalleled rush.
Hell's Coming With Me
Progressive upgrades are Doom's one concession to new-school shooters. Weapons have modifications you have to unlock by searching out drones (and punching them in the face), and every mod comes with perks you open up by earning weapon points in combat. Challenges scattered throughout missions reward you with runes that augment passive abilities like expanding your pick-up radius for health and ammo drops; other items boost your maximum ammo, health, and armor, and still others let you tweak your suit to mitigate environment damage, switch guns faster, and shrug off blasts from explosive barrels.
All of these elements come together in Doom's classic level design. Environments are sprawling and multi-tiered, full of ledges, tunnels, and wide-open spaces. Such a huge variety in architecture means that you dictate the pace of encounters: what guns to use, and when, and where. On top of that, maps are riddled with optional side areas and secrets, and the game does an excellent job of breaking up the action just long enough to let you soak up each area's ambience and poke around.
Doom's story, given no more than a cursory paragraph in the original game's instruction manual, deserves a nod this time around. Although the beats are fairly standard, the presence of your character, the fear and awe he inspires amid Hell's ranks and the way his proclivity for violence informs his character arc, coalesces into the ultimate power fantasy--one that split my face in a big dopey grin every second I played.
Hit and Miss
Deathmatch circa Doom and Quake centered on learning a map's weapon layout and guarding coveted firearms. Territory control coupled with pixel-precision aiming separated great players from merely good. Unfortunately, Doom's multiplayer doesn't hold a candle to that brand of white-knuckled play. You choose a loadout of two weapons before a match, and while you can change loadouts each time you die, you're stuck with your chosen two. Only health and armor populate maps, and they're plentiful enough that there's no reason to plant your flag in any one spot to defend it.
As a result, maps boil down to two teams of players starting on opposite ends and hurtling toward one another like trains speeding along the same track, destined to collide in the middle over and over with little variation in how things play out. This problem is compounded by most weapons feeling weak: fan favorites like the rocket launcher don't pack enough of a punch, while others are vastly superior. Unless you're packing a Gauss rifle and a chaingun, you'll get shredded.
Doom's multiplayer is not terrible. It is insipid, an arrangement of modes and mechanics that feel copy-and-pasted from other multiplayer games. It doesn't feel like Doom, and comes across as derivative in the face of the perfectly balanced blend of new- and old-school of the campaign.
SnapMap is multiplayer's saving grace. Intuitive and powerful, SnapMap lets you build maps from scratch by dragging and dropping elements. A few keypresses cycles between blueprint-style layouts, shaded rectangles signifying rooms, and a first-person view where you can float around to see what your players will see, and more precisely plant items, rooms, and instruction sets. If building levels from scratch seems daunting, you can build on top of preset rooms, snapping new wings into place and installing your own monsters, weapons, power-ups, AI, and scripted events.
The sheer amount of gameplay possibilities SnapMap puts at your fingertips is staggering. I've played Horde-style modes, raced other players to collect rings and cross a finish line in a map reminiscent of Sonic 2's bonus stages, fought in an arena based on WWE's Elimination Chamber match, where opponents enter the fray at timed intervals, and play a memory game by walking through doors signifying right and wrong answers.
From memory games to classic-style deathmatch, SnapMap is a bottomless well of creative content. It remains to be seen how far down to Doom's roots it will let the community tear, however, given that the tool is steeped in the base game's conceits. Its longevity hinges on how deeply the community invests in spicing up ways to play.
Big Freakin' Game
That a first-person shooter like Doom exists in 2016 is shocking. Its levels are vast and intricately designed, its gameplay diverse and joyful, its toolset robust. Multiplayer is its weak link, but the adaptability of SnapMap is more than enough to offset that.
While other first-person shooters have stepped forward to challenge convention in recent years, none carry the clout and cachet of Doom. For id Software to overcome the challenges specific to its history and craft a shooter that flies in the face of convention marks Doom as nothing short of a triumph—and, one hopes, a sign that change is in the air for a genre in desperate need of it.
This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Doom is available in retail and digital stores for $59.99. The game is rated M.