When I was 12, I was a dork. I'm still a dork, I'm just aware of it now. When I look back at the things I liked and the way that I liked them, I often have to laugh. A lot of it doesn't hold up, or, if it does, it's often not for the reasons I remember. Being that age is serious. You know everything, and everything is super important.
As Doom returns from a 12 year absence – and a ten year absence before that – I'm forced to look back and consider all this.
Reviving Doom could go one of a couple ways. It could be a reminder of why that era of games eventually passed by or grew up, or it could be a loving, self-aware look back at what made those games so special and fun. Bethesda and Machine Games pulled off the seemingly impossible task of making Wolfenstein relevant again with Wolfenstein: The New Order in 2014, and now Bethesda has id Software bringing us Doom to try to do the same thing.
Nostalgia done right
Doom isn't exactly a sequel, but it's not exactly a reboot, either.
We wake up as the Doom Marine, revived from some kind of hibernation. It becomes clear almost immediately that this is not his first rodeo. You could imagine it as a total reboot, or place it in some kind of area after the first Doom game, if you wanted. The details aren't really important, though. All we need to know is that the Doom Marine is awake, pissed off, and has a single-minded focus on destroying everything that looks even vaguely like a demon.
It's a stupid story, and that's sort of a key thing here. Doom is a pitch-perfect love letter to the era it originates from without trying to slavishly recreate the conditions. It pokes fun at it in all the right ways without ever cracking a smile. It's in on the joke, but the game never acknowledges it.
After the Doom Marine breaks free of the chains that held him in hibernation for so long, he gets armored up and finds a shotgun. Meanwhile, someone is trying to talk to him, trying to let him know what's going on, but he destroys the first few screens that pop up without so much as a second thought. The Doom Marine cares as much about the story as we do. Like I said, he's here to murder demons.
Later, that same voice asks the marine to turn off some devices to stop the demonic incursion. The marine knows the voice at the other end has an agenda, though, and takes more permanent measures. It's still a game, but it's trying to poke fun at the tasks that modern games so often give players that keep them from the action. You want me to do chores and errands for you? No thanks. I'd rather break stuff.
Each level ends with ultra bassy hard metal guitar that you'll find it hard not to headbang to, whether you're a metalhead or not.
The whole thing feels loving, but it's created by adults that don't want to go back to being that age as so many of the nostalgia-driven games so often seem to want players to do. If the core parts didn't work, though, none of that would matter.
The other kind of 'twitch'
Doom is a relentlessly, unapologetically twitchy shooter. While it does give you a little bit to get used to the controls and pace of the game, Doom expects that this is not your first shooter. The difficulty ramps up quickly and for the most part stays up there, making sure that every encounter with Hell's army leaves you breathless and low on ammo.
The hardcore nature of the game is absolutely a callback to Doom, but, like I said, the game isn't slavish about recreating the original.
Whereas the first couple Doom games didn't even have a jump button, jumping is at least as core to the game as the violence. Not only does the game require a ton of jumping for navigation, the combat demands that you're in motion at all times. Standing still is almost synonymous with death in all but a few cases.
There are also tons of cool mechanical touches that remind us of the original but add new dimensions to the game. The chainsaw, for example, returns fairly early on. It requires fuel, but instead of making it feel like a limitation, this makes it feel special. Whatever enemy you're using the chainsaw on requires a certain amount of fuel, but what you get in return for the fuel is an instant kill – a very gory one, at that – and tons of ammunition. It's another part of your bloody toolbox you can pull out when necessary.
Id software also saw fit to bring some leveling mechanics into the game.
Throughout the game you'll pick up generic weapon mods that can be applied, as a one-time permanent use, to enable the alt fire on a weapon. The heavy assault rifle, for example, can be used with a scope or with some small but mean rockets. They'll never replace the rocket launcher, but they're still useful. Each of those mods has a few different upgrades you can apply using points you gain naturally through combat, which culminates in an ultimate effect obtained by performing a certain action enough times. There are also upgrades for your armor that let you do things like climb ledges more quickly or withstand more of certain types of damage.
Instead of slowing things down, though, the leveling both lets you play to your own strengths and in your own style, while also encouraging you to get to know each of your weapons in depth.
If you do want a break from the relentless shooting, though, the game is covered from end to end in tons of secrets to find and optional challenge maps that can give you new skills, more upgrade points, or simply give you access to a silly mini-game or in-joke.
Doom is the best of what our memories can summon up about the original games, but without the rose-colored glasses so often used to excuse clunky elements.
Hell is other people
The game is more than just its single player, though, and that's where the praise slows down a bit.
Online multiplayer was in its infancy back in those days, and Doom pioneered the idea of the Deathmatch multiplayer mode. This new game doesn't, unfortunately, have much else to offer.
There are multiple modes, and they're each fun in their own way. There's nothing bad here, by any stretch. It's just not terribly memorable. It's weird to say this about a Doom game, but the multiplayer feels like an afterthought.
While I can't tell the future, I'd imagine it'll be tough to find matches a few months from now when people are busy with other, much more memorable multiplayer shooters.
The game's map-builder, called SnapMap, is a bit like Mario Maker for Doom. Upon loading up SnapMap, you're presented with an intimidating set of tools that will let you, within certain constraints, brew up just about anything you can imagine. People are already creating some awesome stuff.
The interface isn't ideal on consoles, though, and building a level on PlayStation 4 proved difficult at best and more often frustrating.
The upside of this is that the content created in SnapMap is platform agnostic. You'll be able to play PC-built maps on PlayStation and Xbox, so the possibilities should be just about endless. The maps can be single or multiplayer, too. Keep in mind that's just sharing the map that's cross-platform, not actually playing on it.
While I found SnapMap difficult, the potential it has is huge to give the game a long life and to spice up multiplayer. It just has to pick up the necessary audience to get enough momentum to start moving, and it's hard to say at this stage in the game's life if that'll happen.
Technically, the game is a beast. It ran like a dream on PlayStation 4 throughout. I did fall through the map once or twice, but it wasn't common, and I didn't experience any other bugs. My only real complaints are that this is a shooter that feels to me like it'd be significantly improved by a mouse and keyboard, and that the loading times are very, very long. Both of these, of course, are moot points on PC, and they didn't significantly hamper my time with the game.
Doom, like 2014's Wolfenstein revival, is exactly the game we wanted. All the best parts of the game, including the fast pace, brutal difficulty, and heavy metal sensibilities, are back, while the things that would make it feel dated have been left behind. I can't promise the multiplayer will have a long life, but Doom's single player alone is worth the price of admission.
Disclaimer: We received a copy of Doom for the PlayStation 4 from the publisher. We completed the campaign on Normal difficulty and checked out multiplayer and SnapMap before writing this review.