“Hell On Mars”
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: May 13, 2016
There’s nothing subtle about id Software’s return to Doom. It’s an uncompromising and bloody matter, ripe with exploding demon heads and a deeply rooted attitude that conveys little investment in the situation at hand. However, this new iteration of Doom stands tallest when expressing itself as a gory, macho shooter. There’s nothing of sophistication to be found here in terms of narrative or character development, instead, you’re presented with a sea of hellish enemies to obliterate in the most gruesome way you see fit. Believe it or not, it’s an attitude that works, echoing simpler times in a wake of excessive blood and guts. Whether it’s achieved in crafting detailed, diverse environments to fight in, or varied enemy types to gratuitously decimate, Doom’s goals are simple and pull no punches on the single-player side of things. Amusingly self-aware and about as tongue-in-cheek as they come, Doom knows exactly what it is and shows no effort in expanding into anything different.
It’s a respectable approach that distances itself from other modern shooters, if not one that occasionally lands the title in tedious waters. A flawed multiplayer suite and poorly explained extras, place a substantial emphasis on Doom’s single-player campaign to deliver. And while the campaign is easily the strongest aspect of the package, it can become a rather predictable and uneventful affair. When all is said and done, I admired Doom and its vision significantly more than I enjoyed the act of playing it. As the fires of Hell dwindled to a glow and the bloodthirsty demons crawled back into the hole they came from, Doom left me at a crossroads. On one hand, I see a game with a refreshing dedication to a silly, relentless tone, yet on the other, I see a game that falls into sporadic pits of mediocrity. It’s been a few years since Doomguy had the pleasure of blasting his way through hoards of demonic creatures. The 2016 resurrection of the notorious, game-changing series is respectful of the 1993 original, while setting out on its own to bring a level of modernity to the franchise. In that respect, Doom excels. Fast, fluid, and incredibly violent, Doom’s gameplay runs circles around other modern shooters in terms of speed. There’s little room to breath, for if you’re not unloading the Super Shotgun into the face of an Imp, chances are you’re splitting a Revenant down the middle with a chainsaw. Covered in blood, making your way through Doom’s 13-level campaign is a frantic experience comprised of constant gunfire, completing straightforward objectives, and a few surprisingly solid platform sections. For better or worse, it’s rare that a minute goes by where an unlucky demon isn’t residing in a pool of blood before you. This creates intense thrills that rarely let up, feeding into what is one of the faster shooters out there today. Doom is so incredibly focussed on maintaining its central vision, it rarely pumps its breaks to reevaluate the mission at hand. The nature of this design decision ensures that keeping the pace up is never an issue, however for as bold as it may be, it’s a two-sided coin with its fair share of tangible repercussions.
DOOM IS FAST, FORCEFUL, AND UNYIELDING WITH ITS VISION
While Doom tends to dip in quality the longer it drags on, it starts off spectacularly strong. In fact, my favorite moments within all of the campaign are the first 10 minutes. The key factor elevating this opening sequence is simplicity, telling the player without any reservation, what they’re about to get into. Doom identifies within a few minutes exactly what it’s getting at–something some games spend 30 hours trying to convey. If anything, Doom should be praised for knowing precisely what it is, and while what “it is” gets the title into a fair amount of trouble down the line, it’s an admirable foot to get off on. Beyond its effort to setup the core combat loop with a slight bit of justification, Doom’s storytelling is treated as a passive aspect to the package. In Doom’s case, it’s not a bad thing, rather a necessary step in order to get on with the main show. By eliminating as much as possible, Doom has the tendency to come across rather one-dimensional. From a pure visual perspective, hour three, doesn’t look drastically different from hour eight. This obviously varies depending on the structure of the environment and other factors, but pound for pound, Doom is the same ambitious, bullheaded game, all the way through.Once the arsenal of deadly, well-crafted weapons is filled out, combat is able to be easily tweaked to fit your liking. The core gameplay loop surrounding the weapons, upgrades, and level design, is rock solid. Consistently engaging for most of the gory endeavor, is the way in which Doom physically plays. Shooting packs a deafening punch, movement speed is smooth, and landing a glory kill is as satisfying as it is disgusting. Nonetheless, for as robust as Doom’s gameplay is, when it comes down to it, killing is the soul focus. It becomes increasingly exhausting as it draws to a close, especially when the title stops implementing new mechanics, enemies, and fresh ideas, long before Doom approaches its climax. Surprisingly, id Software’s newest take on the series initially won me over with its simple, if not mindless, goals of blasting everything in a room to death.
Yet, as Doom carried on at its leisure, checking off the boxes which it saw fit, it lost me. Just like that, my investment and expectations all but vanished. Repetition came knocking and one thing led to another, creating for a snowballing effect that went on to reveal the lasting power of Doom’s campaign. When the bodies had piled up enough where the gravity of the situation was visible, Doom’s single-player left me feeling empty. It’s an experience with moments of great highs and lows alike, synchronized with an amazing soundtrack and overall sound design that remained a radiating positive through both Hell and Mars’ haunting locals. Eerie when it needed to be, exciting when it needed to be, the heart-pounding industrial presentation of each track is stellar. With Doom’s campaign complete, id Software has packed in two various forms of multiplayer into the mix. Unfortunately, neither are all that interesting.
MULTIPLAYER IS A GENERIC LET DOWN, WITH LITTLE INNOVATION TO BE SEEN
Catering towards a competitive crowd, Doom’s primary multiplayer offering is jumbled, uneventful, and tirelessly mediocre. Unlike the campaign, Doom’s multiplayer portion completely overlooks what makes the series somewhat unique. In a sea of similar multiplayer focused shooters, Doom does absolutely nothing to diversify itself from the pack. The reason the single-player section prevails for so long is due to its smart blend of old school inspiration and modern design practices. With multiplayer, Doom leans far too heavily on the latter, inevitably feeling like a more graphic carbon copy of its competition. Repetitive, unmemorable, and extremely convoluted in terms of layout, the maps clash drastically with the playable modes offered. Perhaps if the gameplay felt different or the weapons worked in stronger cohesion with the verticality presented in each arena, Doom’s multiplayer would be a more enjoyable venture. However, these traits, especially the mechanics, are all the game has going for it when transitioning out of the campaign. Speed, momentum, and old school values are Doom’s most dominant positives, none of which survive the shift into multiplayer, completely intact. Attempts at variety are practiced by way of customizable loadouts, perks, and powerful pickups that grant players special abilities, health, and ammo, strewn haphazardly throughout the map. These additions come with the illusion of working at first, manifesting into a frantic pace that keeps things constantly tense.With that said, once a few matches were on the books, Doom’s competitive multiplayer began to crumble, revealing severe flaws in map design, mode objectives, and leveling. Worst of all, Doom suffers from a lack of refined structure and balance in its multiplayer. Certain mechanics simply don’t operate as they should, such as glory kills which leave you vulnerable to attacks when initiated. On top of that, possibly Doom’s biggest blunder in regards to balance, lies within the Demon Rune pickup, which spawns throughout a match. When activated, you’ll transform into a demon of choice with the capability to slaughter the entire battlefield with relative ease. While enjoyable when in the possession of the rune, its a frustrating, unfair ordeal to the rest of the normally outfitted players. Similar annoyances work their way into the experience as well, creating for what is in the fullness of time, a subpar addition to a promising piece of single-player content. Beyond Doom’s competitive scene, the project comes with an obtuse, if not admirable level editor, known as SnapMap. With a handful of basic tools and a desire to create, SnapMap can provide a welcome distraction from laying waste to a group of demons. Coupled with the ability to share levels and participate in others’ creations, SnapMap is surprisingly fully featured. It’s not a highlight of the overall experience, but its inclusion is innocuous in the grand scope of things–something that can’t be said for Doom’s other multiplayer portion.Conclusion: Doom manages to be ridiculous, repetitive, and fascinating all at the same time. id Software’s greatest achievement tucked away with reviving Doom from the dead, is how it marries the old with the new. Doom feels very much like a game of the past, with various interjections of modernity, keeping matters engaging for a newer audience. In a sense, Doom is one of the braver games I’ve played in recent memory. There aren’t any concessions to be found during the single-player campaign, for each chapter remains firmly footed in its predetermined vision. It’s a creative decision that eventually comes back to bite it, but the sheer display of daring self-assurance shouldn’t go unnoticed. Although, for as confident as Doom’s reentry into an environment with FPS aplenty is, a lackluster multiplayer mode and a few poorly structured hours from the campaign, knock it off the pedestal it could have been on. Doom’s gory revival is an honorable and flawed reimagining of the greatness it comes from. Ultimately arising from the mediocrity that follows it through the desolate caverns of Hell, Doom stands as a respectable undertaking, if not one that leaves more to be desired.
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