DOOM Beta:… is it really Doom?

Managed to grab a few hours this weekend stomping through the warrens of hell in the Doom (’16) multiplayer beta. Well, at least the two levels that were accessible in the beta – so more of a brief Sunday drive through the warrens of hell, but still enough to fill out a postcard of impressions and mail it back to family for all to know that I was having a good time without them…

So what was in the beta…

Two levels, two gamemodes, a handful of weapons, one demon… and online only multiplayer madness:

Ask the question “Name some settings in which the game Doom take place in?” and you’ll probably get one of two answers; Futuristic Space ‘Facility’ & Hell. Luckily the beta has you covered on both counts, picking these two settings for their chosen maps in which to try the two gamemodes. Team Deathmatch pretty much describes itself but the second gamemode, Warpath, is a cross between area control and a TF2 style payload map. The ‘Warpath’ is marked by a series of arrows in a looping path around the map; each team must win and maintain control of the solitary control point slowly meandering along this road.

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… the Doomiest bit of map I could find… 

The weapons are also a mix of classic and new, a not-so-subtle attempt by Bethesda to ingratiate themselves with fans of the originals. The Super-Shotgun, Plasma Rifle and Rocket Launcher all make an appearance, but alongside the Heavy Assault Rife, Lightning Gun and Vortex Rifle; the latter being a charging sniper weapon similar to Quake’s Railgun… and if you’re not familiar with Quake, specifically Quake III Arena (or Quake Live) then be warned, I will be mentioning it several more times.

The playable demon is the Revenant, unsurprising considering it has featured heavily in the promotional material for this DOOM reboot, equipped with jetpack and shoulder mounted rocket launchers. At various points during the round the, overly chipper sounding, announcer will casually mention that the demon token is spawning, causing a scurry to activity toward the marked region for one lucky camper to pick it up transforming them into the Revenant for a limited time… usually giving their score a pretty hefty boost.

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The transformation to the Revenant is pretty cool… 

Gameplay Impressions

The beta played like a smooth arena shooter*, I’m not sure how much ID heritage remains with Bethesda, but the experience of one of the yardsticks of FPS arena shooters, Quake III Arena, has been put to good use here; combat competently put together and fairly balanced. I opted to flick into a railgun mindset for most of it to play sniper with the Vortex Rifle equipped.

Movement speed felt a little sedate compared against QIIIA; as a comparison, 2014’s ‘Rise of the Triad’ remake captured the ‘true pace’ of 90’s fps gaming. Nevertheless, our faithful space marine had a quicker gait than the one we embodied in Doom 3 indicating a distinct shift of series focus towards fast, frantic, combat. Our armour comes pre-fitted with a handy double jump facility and leaping toward a ledge smoothly transitions into a grab and scramble up animation. All this re-affirming the mindset initiated in QIII that fps movement should not be a hindrance in multiplayer combat and that vertical movement within a map can be just as important as the horizontal.

The weapons included in the Beta all seemed to fulfil a role; the Super Shotgun particularly provided some satisfying close combat action with the quick weapon switch time vindicating the decision to bring this antique into combat. The Beta also included the special ‘Gauss Cannon’ weapon, a one-shot-kill energy blast-type-thing, good for 3-shots and an almost guaranteed 3-frags. Throwables, despite not being something I make great use of, added further variety, specifically the personal teleporter allowing for some quick predator/prey role reversals … at least that’s how my opponents managed to use it. Powerups also ripped a page from the QIII playbook with such classics as ‘Quad Damage’ & ‘Haste’ making the cut, and being represented ingame with bright floating icons rather than more realistic depictions of physical objects.

The less traditional elements consisted largely of two additions: the much-hyped finishing moves, and a playable demon. I’m sure with practice the finishing moves will become more instinctive, but there isn’t currently any prompt letting you know when you can do one of these so, despite feeling pretty satisfying when it happens, there were repeated melee scuffles with both participants engaged in an awkward tango, both looking for that elusive win, before one gets shot from behind by a third party. Playing as the demon is good fun, although arguable overpowered, and it’ll be interesting to see the different demons added to the multiplayer arena.

How it Stacks Up as a ‘Doom’ Experience

Worth remembering that these are just my impressions of a multiplayer only Beta with limited content… 

DOOM ’16 was always going to be a tricky sequel to make; the original is sacred PC gaming ground…

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The customisation is very nice… but doesn’t scream Doom… 

I can’t escape the feeling (based on the trailers for the single player campaign and this Beta) that Bethesda are trying to make two different games and wrap them up in one package; the action packed single player campaign combined with a new standard in multiplayer arena fps action. As I may have already let slip, the Beta borrows many elements from the world of Quake III Arena, but I’m struggling to see why. Quake III (or live) are excellent games, slimmed down to be the purest examples of arena combat, each weapon & powerup has a role, the stark visuals aid the player, and combat feels tight and precise. The DOOM Beta can’t help but come off as bloated by comparison, the visuals arn’t as stark & stylised, the gameplay not quite so streamlined, and the movement just that little bit too sluggish. By borrowing from the Quake world, DOOM just highlights these differences but also fails to generate an identity of its own; why does it specifically use the words ‘Haste’ & ‘Quad Damage’? and where are the classic Doom-style powerups such as the classic armour models, the soul-sphere (for Supercharge), and the traditional health kits?

To add to this, the overall presentation feels generic; we’re offered a multitude of slight armour model variations to unlock (even in the Beta), but why arn’t we provided with the ‘Doom-guy’ as standard? The blue-glowing ready-room of the intermission screens is much more reminiscent of the Halo series than Doom and the fonts chosen seem to remind me of Tekken. In-game it doesn’t get much better; the ‘Hell’ level is the nearest-miss with some quite striking demonic influences in areas, but the ‘industrial facility’ map is as standard as they come and the weapon models (apart from the Super-Shotgun) could be lifted from any futuristic fps. Doom’s world should be grimy, full of flickering lights, blood-smeared walls and the gentle glow of hell ever present along claustrophobic corridors. Doom III (despite having some flaws) did capture the oppressive nature of the originals choosing to focus on creating tension rather than adrenaline fuelled combat; watching the winning players in DOOM Beta gleefully ‘Gangnam Style’ on the podium just made me wince and hope that Johns Carmack & Romero along with Tom Hall and the rest of the original team had the sense to stay away.

Most of my Beta playtime was Friday evening, but I revisited yesterday to confirm my first impressions. Upon closing the game on each of these occasions I escaped back up to the title screen to see the Doom logo starkly presented before I quit and was suddenly reminded what game I had been playing; I had enjoyed the sessions, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with any of it, but this Beta didn’t feel like Doom – hopefully the single-player campaign will make up for it and remind us what Doom is all about…

*There seems to be some debate if it is actually an ‘arena shooter’ due to the loadout selection and damage of specific weapons etc. I’ll leave this to the fps pro’s to argue out (this is just a blog post of my own personal impressions). If you’d like to read more about this then there is an interesting article on ign about it here.

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