Review: DOOM

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Nintendo has Mario and Microsoft has Master Chief, but PC has the Doom Guy and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The original DOOM has remained a bloody good time for more than twenty years, thrilling players with its lightning-fast chainsaw-wielding hero against hordes of fleshy demons. DOOM II was more of the same in the best way, and DOOM 3 took a detour into the more grounded and measured areas of the genre, but the fourth outing of the series is very much DOOM for a new generation. Everything that made the original good is here, married to a boatload of modern design innovations. And while a few of the bits don’t fit together perfectly, the parts that do are so incredible you’re likely not to care.

Just so you know that everything is on the table, the game opens with a little nod to the incomparable DOOM comic. An ominous voice directs you to RIP AND TEAR, you wake up on a slab, instinctively murder a hell minion, and away you go. From the very moment you are given control in the game you are killing things, and the tools and techniques with which you rend and eviscerate your foes increase exponentially. This is the traditional arc of the Doom Guy, murdering hellish beasts across the surface of Mars and into the heart of hell itself, and it plays out with all the gloss and detail of a modern title but with plenty of reverence for its roots. It’s a much more kinetic, high-flying version of the old arena shootouts, featuring mantling and even double jumping, all in service to getting you up in the grill of a demon and smashing it to pieces.

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Mechanically this setup goes quite a bit deeper than its predecessors, even further than just adding impressive verticality. Starting with a humble pistol you’ll find all of the familiar DOOM armaments, from shotguns to rocket launchers to plasma rifles, but also new offerings like a heavy assault rifle and a high-impact Gauss cannon. All of these weapons can dispatch your slavering foes but damaging them to the brink of death also puts them into a state where they can be glory killed with your bare hands. This is core to the combat because glory killed enemies drop additional health or ammo necessary to keep your relatively small pools filled, so instead of engaging a room of monsters from the doorway you’ll need to be weaving through the pack, ripping and tearing to stay topped off.

There are plenty more tools than just glory kills to keep you knee deep in the dead, though. The chainsaw is back with a new fuel system that lets you instant-kill any enemy if you have enough juice and release a veritable deluge of ammo. You’ve also got off-hand equipment like grenades that can make short work of large crowds and help keep the pressure off in large battles. And every weapon can have up to two mods (one active at a time) that adds versatile new functions to your weapons. The humble shotgun, for example, can be modded to burst-fire three shells or launch an explosive slug to gib foes at a distance. Oh, and glory kills work from multiple directions so enjoy tearing off every possible appendage and shoving it through every possible organ on every monster, forever.

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The menagerie of hell is varied enough to keep this feeling fresh through the many hours of separating heads and limbs ahead. From the wall-crawling imps to the floating meatballish cacodemons you’ll encounter a wide range of threats in all sorts of groupings and arenas to tax your tactics and reflexes. There are enemies that charge, enemies that snipe, enemies that teleport and enemies that simply overwhelm. Between the many sizes and shapes of hellspawn and the small ammo pools it’ll be impossible to settle into one kind of approach, so every battle is a bright new opportunity to explore your tools of murder.

There’s even more to the mechanics, if you can believe that, including stat boosts to your health and ammo pools, unlockable traits for your weapon mods, unlockable abilities for the Doom Guy like no environmental damage and faster climbing, and equippable runes that provide dramatic passive effects. All of these features are tied heavily into the many, many, MANY secrets hidden in each level, as well as how effectively you clear the level of monsters. The latter will likely happen by default but secret hunting is a huge aspect of power progression, rewarding you with upgrade points for finding hidden ledges and secret doors. It’s a good system to encourage exploration and hearkens back to the secret-filled levels of the original, but unfortunately does terrible things to the pacing of the game.

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DOOM works best when you’re forging forth into the jaws of hell and ripping their teeth out to then jam into their eye sockets. Most of the time that’s what you’ll be doing, but to get the most out of the game you’ll need to break up your murder sprees with roaming empty halls and scrutinizing the (frankly amazing) automap for secrets. I wish there was a better way to integrate secret-hunting into the game but it really starts to drag here, especially when you only turn up ammo or armor you don’t need just to tick off another upgrade point towards something.

I’ve been talking away from the story because it’s best experienced in the moment, but it also drags a bit on the action in how its integrated. DOOM definitely sticks to the economy of words and characters, with only three major players (and you) to keep track of and a very simple plot that both manages to drive the action and explore the story of the Doom Guy. A huge amount of the telling is in the wordless actions of your character, expressing a barely-constrained rage that I’ve rarely seen the equal of in any medium. Watching your character interact with things in his grim, Judge Dredd-esque way is a pleasure the whole way through. However, some story moments require him to stand and pay attention to people talking or worse, cut off access to previous parts of the level for dramatic beats, which again cuts into the pacing and flow of the game.

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There’s only a few rough seams between classic and modern design though, and the slick graphics and sound design that wrap this package up are among the best you can find. Levels are detailed and colorful (even though that color is red most of the time) with gore painting the walls and complex readouts scrolling across screens. The models are just as lovingly crafted, with weapons so detailed you can count the scratches and enemies you can see the pores of as you reach into their orifices to rearrange their organs. The soundtrack is exactly what you think it is, pounding metal over the thunderous eruptions of shotguns and the shrill screams of the damned. It’s a thoroughly intense and incredible experience, and that’s without even mentioning the multiplayer or custom mapping scene which both could rate their own reviews. DOOM is at the top of the FPS heap, shotgun in one hand and still-beating heart in the other, and if that sounds like any sort of fun you won’t be disappointed.

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