Those who just can’t escape my blog will already know that when I jumped into the DOOM ’16 (I’m just going to keep adding the ’16) multiplayer beta a few weeks ago, I was less than blown away – but given how much I enjoyed ‘Wolfenstein: The New Order’ last year, and how (despite only now having the publisher in common) Wolfenstein & Doom are inexorably linked in my mind, I decided to wipe the blood from my visor and leap into the single player campaign as one of my rare forays into a AAA title at release. I’m only 5 hours in, and hoping there’s more campaign to go, but I’m relieved & satisfied to know that my blessing of ‘second chances’ was wisely bestowed upon this latest chapter in the sacred game series of DOOM.
Without any hint of surprise, I was quick to discover that this latest outing to a demon infested Mars focused heavily on action rather than trying to cultivate any kind of subtlety. Anyone who has vaguely been keeping tabs on the game is sure to have seen some comment that there is barely five-seconds of cutscene before you’re handed a gun and have to start blasting minions of hell; from this point on it’s basically more of the same, and I don’t anticipate any sharp departure from this gameplay tangent. The graphics are suitably clean and crisp and the environments are well sculpted visions of a ruined off-world facility with hell’s glow gently glistening in the details. A combination of “I’ve not finished it yet” and “It’s not the kind of game I can say anything profound about”, has convinced me to mix up my review format. Whilst there is nothing (so far) that I think is particularly bad about DOOM’16, there are some aspects to it that I’m less enthusiastic about; therefore I give you my list of “Three things that are ‘Good!’ and three that are ‘Meh…’ about DOOM’16”.
Given that 90% of the game is combat and the other 10% is just walking to the next ‘combat’, it’s a damn good thing that I like it. Whilst I was lukewarm about the multiplayer beta for not being as fast paced at ‘Quake III’, here it feels both rapid and silky-smooth. The player’s agility really makes the difference; the double jump and the uninterrupted transition from soaring through the air to grabbing and climbing a ledge both make navigating combat areas easy rather than a chore. Weapon transition is seamless, with each having its unique place in the battle and all the entries in your arsenal (with the exception of the pistol which I havn’t switch back to once since the game’s opening) feel solid and satisfying to use. My only complaint from the point of view of the loadout are the generic gun-models, too many of the weapons look like “futuristic gun”.
A number of mechanics drawn you in for close, frantic, combat; there is the distinct leaning of weaponry to be short-range, and even those with a zoom don’t generally allow for prolonged telescoping into the fray. Enemies drop health and ammo upon their demise forcing you to run in and collect, usually in order to survive. The chainsaw shamelessly emphasises this; rather than a continual use item, the chainsaw has a specific small amount of fuel ‘credits’ and guarantees kills until those credits are used, each chainsaw kill yields a much greater jackpot of ammo to load you back up again for combat. Likewise, ‘Glory Kills’ have featured heavily in the promotional material to hype the game release; I was concerned that these would feel ‘shoehorned’ into the game and break the combat experience, but I’ve been surprised that these gory & visceral QTE interactions are a tight fit with the gunplay either side of them.
Meh…: Health on kills
Although I’ve just listed combat as a big old title in the plus column, I’m fickle enough to say that enemies dropping health upon a kill feels like a workaround. Fans of the original DOOM titles would emphatically oppose any kind of regenerative health, but ‘health-on-kill’ is essentially a variation on that theme; a quick way to boost your health during combat. The traditional DOOM gameplay was as much about directing the combat toward the next pickup as it was about blasting demons; a delicate balance of being able to focus directly on what was happening whilst also having a wider appreciation of the virtual space in which you character inhabits. That might sound overly philosophical for DOOM, but in the absence of driving plot and glorious graphics, those original games only had gameplay to fall back on, and clearly they did something right. So far in the game I havn’t finished a fight with low health, it’s not a bad thing, but robs the player of that quintessential feeling of having ‘just’ making it through the battle in one piece; bleeding but alive.
Good: Enemy Design
I’m not 15 anymore, so any need I had for ‘guns ‘n’ violence’ in a game is now non-existent; I’ve even started to be a little creeped out when a game is too violent and begun to question if I’m really enjoying it or just cringing through the experience (this happened with Hotline Miami 2 and I stopped playing it). Given all of this, I had been keeping my distance from DOOM’16 during all of the hype… it is super violent. The problem is that DOOM walks around holding violence’s hand like they’re first dating and anything else would feel out of character, so the designers were left with a challenge of making it an appealing title, keeping the violence for the sake of heritage, but not come across as barbaric or disturbed. It’s a tricky ask, especially as current graphics make it impossible to hide behind technical barriers as an excuse for not ‘going to town’; remember that when the originals were released, the enemies were all low-res and sprite based so any grievances were with some pixels, code #FF0000.
Here is where the good enemy design comes in; those classic DOOM foes have been given the modern graphical treatment, and look amazing, but they’re certainly verging on the cartoon-ish. The ‘Baron of Hell’, ‘Pinky’, ‘Mancubus’, and ‘Cacodemon’ are all comic-book interpretations rather than dark, sinister, and horrific. Blend this with the ludicrously over the top ‘Glory Kills’, rock soundtrack, a remarkably bright colour scheme, and you’re left with an experience that is clearly in guilty-pleasure territory, but not truly disturbing.
Meh…: Level Design
… or specifically the design of the combat areas. As I may have mentioned, DOOM’16 walks you from big combat section to big combat section, more often than not locking you in an area until you’ve vanquished all foes. These combat ‘areas’ are interesting virtual spaces, the design often includes multiple-levels, open areas, corridors, power-ups and ammo crates. Unfortunately, more often than not, I’ve only found out how interesting they are after the combat has finished as I’ve been strolling around picking up supplies; this is specifically frustrating when you discover that there was a quad-damage or berserk lying around that you failed to pick up when the room was crawling with demons. Combat is often initiated by destroying a big-squelchy-thing (I think they probably have a technical name) in the middle of the area; demons spawn in and start attacking.. this is unrelenting until they stop attacking… and I find that, although I’ve been circling, jumping, and attacking, I havn’t really changed my general location within the area. The enemies come to you and you kill them. The aforementioned ‘health-on-kills’ Meh-ness amplifies this lack of overall movement in combat and, whilst I’ve tried to adapt my combat style to include more movement, I have to assign some of the blame to the designed design of the area and how the monsters spawn & move.
Good: The ‘Weight’ of the World
This is one of those intangible things where words don’t do it justice… but it’s such a strong feeling I have about DOOM’16 (and Wolfenstein:TNO before it) that I’m going to make it into a ‘good’ point anyway. There is a ‘weight’, or a solid-ness to the ingame world which adds so much to the immersion that I find myself physically arching my back up toward a ledge I’m grabbing, or tense my arms when wrenching open a door. Even with some recent (and highly rated) FPS titles, there is a sense of disconnect between the POV models and the rest of the world, and it wasn’t that long ago that your character would just wave their hands to do ‘stuff’. DOOM’16 goes a long way in breaking that barrier down, and I’m not entirely sure how it does it; more than any recent FPS title I feel as though I’m controlling the character’s body rather than just a floating camera.
Meh…: Skill Tree Stuff
Character progression and skill trees to tweak your character a preferred playstyle are a good thing. It allows everyone to adjust the game to an approach they like, but DOOM’16 seems to have lost its way with this; there’s just too much of it (IMO… that kind goes without saying). I’ve found often that I have stacks of points to spend or skills to assign and havn’t even noticed which is a fair indicator that at least some of it is superfluous. So, here is the quick rundown: There are suit modifications which are bought using pickups from other suits found around the levels; there are gun mods which can be obtained from hovering droids; there are different abilities related to each of the gun mods which are bought with erm.. combat points?; there are further abilities to the mods which are obtained by fulfilling certain criteria once a mod is fully upgraded; there are the classic upgrades to health, ammo capacity, and armour capacity; and there are runes which provide special bonus abilities and can be assigned to rune slots once you’ve won them from the challenges dotted around the levels. For a game which focuses on running around blasting things, it all feels excessive.
Have you played the new DOOM’16, do you agree or Disagree with my ‘Good’ and ‘Meh*…’?
I’ve been playing DOOM’16 on Steam, it’s available here…
*I was going to add plot to my Meh list, but I want to see how it plays out before committing to that…