The Dreaded Backlog: Doom (2016)
2016’s Doom feels like the story of my gaming life, except it’s also better than that.
As a child I played a lot of Quake and Quake II, quite a bit of Wolfenstein 3D and some amount of Doom and Doom II. This turned into vague attempts at the original Half-Life and approximately a billion hours on Unreal Tournament. I still play Unreal Tournament 3 if I ever need a distraction. Unreal Tournament 2004 is probably the best first person shooter ever made, to my mind anyway. I clearly have a strong affinity for hyper violent first person shooters from the ‘90s and early ‘00s. I even enjoyed Doom III despite its genre change into survival horror. It was a good twist on the formula.
Since a lot of these games we have had the successful rise of the Halo and Call of Duty franchises. Bunny hopping and strafing is no longer what it used to be (although Halo does keep some of that alive to be fair). Wall jumping has been replaced by twitchy iron sights focusing. Both of these eras of FPS games have their respective strengths and weaknesses and their classic titles and their shitty titles. So what happens when Doom comes back and decides to go old school on us? The best FPS of 2016 obviously.
It’s important to mention how FPS games have changed since Doom II in the ‘90s as this new throwback title doesn’t ignore advancements. It brings back bunny hopping, health packs, lots of strafing and being able to hold twenty weapons, but it pays some respect to modernity too. You can collect and upgrade weaponry. There are collectibles in every corner. Whilst the original Doom games did have many hidden hideaways and secrets, the benefits of finding them in 2016’s Doom feels akin to modern collectibles in open world games. That being said, this is not an open world game.
Remember linear games? Those were good. Sometimes they still get made. Doom is one of them. It knows a game can be less than twenty hours and get to its point. Although this game does go on about three hours too long.
What is the point of Doom? It’s to shoot demons on Mars in the face, or to rip their faces off. It’s to do this with colourful arrays of weaponry and animations. In fact it is notable how well this game creates a story out of not having a story. You play a dude who is nameless and doesn’t give a shit what is going on. Some scientists have fucked up on Mars and opened portals to hell. He doesn’t listen when they try to explain, he just wants to shoot things.
On the other hand, the game does provide collectibles that provide background details to the lore of the world. If you do actually care you can find out and it is interesting stuff. Scientists were mining energy from another dimension that has endless energy and it turns out to be Hell. It’s implied the ‘Doom guy’ you play as is an ancient warrior that can be raised in times of great strife, like when you open a portal to hell. There is also a lovely undercurrent of “the bad guys have a point” in that the humans are essentially ripping their dimension apart. All of this has its own consistent internal logic that does evoke good Sci-Fi and Fantasy mythologies. And the brilliance of all this is that you can choose to ignore it and things are still fun and feel significant.
Why do things feel significant? Challenge. This game can be hard. It’s aggressively fast paced and requires good levels of spatial awareness, as older FPS’ did. But it again learns from modernity by providing difficulty levels for those who aren’t use to this style of play whilst giving hardcore players the grind they desire. I completed it on normal and it wasn’t the hardest game ever, but by the end I was forced to learn and adapt and overcome. I had to push my ability to think and memorise space and then turn it into something faster than thought. Whilst obviously not in the same realm of difficulty of Dark Souls games, victory did come with a similar sense of satisfaction and having had improved yourself.
Every room is an arena. Most of them have a single power up which you can use immediately or save for a disaster, sometimes you can end up wasting them entirely. Using a chain saw refills ammo, but it is hard to find fuel for. Health can be regained by close combat melee kills, but also health packs which you may want to save. Enemies are numerous and surround you and aggressively pursue you. The game loves to overwhelm you with fast moving enemies that chip away at you at the same time as huge enemies that can take a quarter of your health off with a single heat. Ammo conservation is a key aspect of the game too.
On the surface Doom appears to be very violent and stupid, but it actual requires a degree of mental focus to balance all the systems required to stay alive. With all this you have to wonder how well the game runs.
Doom has top of the line graphics and runs at a solid 60FPS…even on…the Xbox One…
Id and Bethesda took pride in their ability to craft a game that runs this well, whilst looking stunning, on a relatively weak piece of hardware. I played it on Xbox One and had no issues. The loading times are a little long sometimes, but never egregious.
So what does Doom have? Beautiful smooth gameplay that is both modern and harkens back to a grand gaming legacy, including FPS platforming puzzles. Excellent visuals and a thumping soundtrack (yayyy, cheesy video game metal). Many, many collectibles. A vast range of weaponry that is upgradable. A combat system that pushes you to be better than you are and makes you enjoy that process. Fantastic gore and much gibbing. Characterisation and lore that works if you look at or if you don’t. Both Mars and Hell look better than any Sci-Fi and/or Fantasy film ever has. You can even unlock the entirety of the original Doom game, but with the new enemies in the levels…
The only criticism of the game is that it is two or three hours too long. When the worst thing about a game is that there is too much of its greatness, that’s not the worst thing in the world. Especially when it has an arcade mode to increase replay value.
This instant classic will stand the test of time.
What is a Dreaded Backlog?