Nostalgia is a funny thing. All too often, we look back on experiences we had as kids, and, rightly or wrongly, we overlook their flaws, our rose-tinted glasses absolving them of all blemishes. Video games are anything but immune to this kind of thing, as many games that weren’t anything stellar are held up by those of us who grew up alongside them as some kind of bastion of the way “things used to be.” The original Doom is somewhat of an exception here, though, being a rare case of an old game that’s still just as fun to play today as it was back then. So, the question then is, could id Software possibly do one of gaming’s best and most beloved franchises justice, especially considering the missteps taken with Doom 3?
The answer, it turns out, is a resounding yes. We’ve seen countless games that play to our sense of nostalgia come out in recent years, and honestly, Doom is easily one of the best.
It doesn’t take very long for Doom to kick things into high gear. Within seconds of loading the game up, you’re treated to frantic blast beats as a cacophony of noise accompanies rivers of blood, guts, and gore. Doom grabs you by the proverbial balls immediately, and rarely lets go over the course of its roughly nine hour long campaign. I typically find the FPS genre to be a samey trudge through repetitive set-pieces, but in Doom’s case, I found myself hardly able to put the controller down for the vast majority.
The key to Doom’s success is its gameplay- which is almost perfect. It’s fast, frantic, and frenetic, with a core gameplay loop that emphasizes speed and chaos above all else. In essence, it’s the antithesis of games like Battlefield or Call of Duty, and that’s what makes it so damn appealing. You deal damage to hordes of enemies, manage to stagger one, rush in and perform a “Glory Kill,” a context sensitive execution that results in the downed enemy dropping health. Glory Kills are integral to the survival of the Doom Marine; enemies come at you so hard and heavy that your health can go from a hundred to zero in a matter of seconds, so constantly topping it up is vital.
Likewise, if you manage to execute an enemy using your chainsaw- for which you’re rewarded with some real gruesome visuals- you’ll get back a decent supply of ammo. This isn’t as important, of course, because ammo is literally scattered everywhere, but boy is it satisfying to run out of shotgun shells, slice a cacodemon in two, and be fully restocked to take down some revenants.
When it’s at its best, Doom is pure anarchy, visceral in a way most games wouldn’t dare to even attempt to be in 2016, and for that, it should be celebrated. Doom keeps new weapons flowing throughout, all of which feel unique and possess different strengths and weaknesses- but most importantly, all feel incredibly good to use. id should also be praised for the optimization work that’s been put into Doom– despite the sheer scale of the pandemonium on screen, the game looks beautiful, and never once dropped below 60fps for me.
Doom also has a tremendous sense of humor, and a degree of self-awareness that other nostalgia grabs, like Bombshell for example, really could have benefitted from. The story is totally bonkers- even implying that the Doom Marine is, in fact, the same one from the original Doom– and there’s tons of little nods and easter eggs lurking around the levels. Some of the exposition is genuinely funny too, like when you need a way into a room with a retinal scanner, find the upper torso of a deceased scientist, and shove it into the scanner. Or when you’re advised to “carefully” remove some power cells to shut a portal to Hell… only to decide, screw it, I’m gonna put my foot through it instead. Doom is referential in a way that feels sincere and genuinely funny – it’s not simply pointing at something you recognize and saying something along the lines of, I dunno, “power armour is for pussies.”
While Doom is a genuine blast, I do have a couple issues with it. Sure, retro shooters had somewhat of a fascination with platforming sections, but boy oh boy, could this revamp have done without ‘em. There’s sections of the game that rely incredibly heavily on platforming, and it feels really, really half-hearted, even forced, as if someone at id said “this is the way these games used to be, so we have to include it!”. That’s not to say that these sections are downright terrible or completely ruinous of the experience, but they do tend to drag on way too long, and the platforming is more Duke Nukem Forever than it is Mirror’s Edge. The only time first-person games have ever done platforming well is when it’s been built in as a core mechanic, and including it otherwise is honestly kind of a drag.
Things also get a little monotonous toward the end, too. The story drags on for far too long- each of the last three or four missions easily feels like it could be the last from a writing standpoint, as you flit between Mars and Hell repeatedly. Level design takes somewhat of a beating late on too; the game takes away most of your opportunities to explore in favor of shepherding you between single, multi-leveled battle arenas that feel more like multiplayer maps populated by a couple hundred bots than actual single-player levels. It’s a shame, too, because if it weren’t for the fairly uninspired and protracted final quarter of the game, Doom could have been a genuine classic.
Of course, Doom is hardly a bad game. In fact, it’s pretty damn good. It’s funny, anarchic, nostalgic, and for the most part, just some damn good wholesome demon-killin’ fun. It’s the most death metal of love letters, not just to a bygone era of gaming, but also to its own franchise, as well as being somewhat of an apology for the lackluster Doom 3 or the, quite frankly, depressing early Doom 4 concept art that leaked a couple years ago. Doom isn’t perfect, but it’s still the most fun I’ve had with a shooter in quite a long time, and for that, it deserves praise.
Doom is a brutal, incredibly fun love letter to gaming's past, stopped just short of classic status due to poor platforming and an uncreative endgame.