Reviews

DOOM. PS4. “Defining Hell.” A Review.

Doom. Think about the word, or rather the concept, and how it is defined. Doom is death, destruction, and an otherwise terrible fate. Nothing complex about that.

Doom, the video game, likewise chooses simplicity over complexity: a move that strengthens its portrayal of death and destruction. Hell erupts out of man-made technology and ravages all humankind in sight while attempting to swallow any survivor whole. You control a marine who happens to be that one soldier out of a thousand that possesses the ability to melt every demon in his way into a bloody pile of refuse. The demons bring doom, and you bring it back to them.

But none of this matters because we’re talking about Doom! Doom was the first FPS that built an entire culture, and each and every FPS since has built upon its hollow grounds–so much so, that for years after its original release in 1993, any FPS game to come out was known as a “doom-clone.” Since then there have been few attempts to build upon the game’s mechanics and lore, and some of those attempts have failed. Last year’s incarnation of Doom, released May 13, 2016, not only builds upon Doom’s legacy successfully, but it manages to define what Doom means as a video game franchise.

Speed. Brutality. Power.

It also manages to reteach the world how to make a single player FPS proper.

doom_alt_boxart.0.0

Doom does many things right. And that’s crazy. The game spent a long time in development, originally announced as Doom 4 in 2008, it originally showed behind close doors to a private audience which is highly suspicious, and the game’s only demo focused on the game’s lackluster multiplayer component. Press release media seemed interested with the multiplayer such that the single player was going to be a throw away experience with multiplayer being the sole focus. Then the game came out and everyone was screaming “how is this so good!?”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say you should completely ignore the multiplayer. It’s fun for a few matches. I will say that these days, which is close to a full year since the game’s original launch, it is next to impossible to find a server that is full of players on the Playstation 4, which is the version of this game that I played.

What does this game do right? Well–that’s what I’m here to tell you!

To start: Doom manages to get Doom right in such a way that it actually comes to define what Doom means. Before, if you were to go off the original trilogy, one would think that Doom started a marine on mars who has to fight back a demon invasion. Those demons are made up of specific types exclusive to the Doom fiction, and the marine’s arsenal of weapons are also unique and specific to Doom as a video game franchise. You’re a marine sent to Mars to deal with a issue in which demons pour through portals from hell. You should at some point visit hell to take the battle to them. There are big bosses. There are health packs, ammo packs, you can hold more than two weapons at a time (in fact you hold the entire arsenal), and there are secrets.

Doom has a tone that is expressed through the atmosphere and visual design of the game as well as the gameplay mechanics and general game feel. What does game feel mean? Well Stephen–game feel refers to how the game feels.

Never ask another question ever again Stephen. You’re an embarrassment to your father and your brothers are ashamed to share DNA.

In Doom 3, the tone is horror. The atmosphere is meant to scare the player–to isolate the player, and create intense dread that comes from a feeling of vulnerability and helplessness. Then the game issues an arsenal that would make The Punisher blush and empowers the character to kill everything that moves.

Or rather jumps out at you.

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SPOOKY

Doom 3 likes to submerge the player in shadow while the game dumps enemy after enemy into other shadows so that they can jump out and roar. They want to scare the player in Doom 3. This makes the gameplay reactionary, for the player is meant to shoot at something they can see or hear after it has jumped out of that dark corner, or after they have teleported into the level. Doom 3 also wants to invest the player in a story by offering environmental exploration and narritive audio logs. It’s somewhat interesting for a while, but the whole thing becomes very dull very quick, and the ending was absolutely boring and tedious. I remember feeling ready to end Doom 3 when I was fighting the final boss rather than feeling excited to be fighting the final boss of a video game. That’s a bad sign, isn’t it?

The original two Doom games had fast, whiteknuckle speed which has the player sprinting like an olympian through labyrinth maze-like levels. Enemies do not spawn into the level as the player progresses. They wait for the player in the same spot every time–most of the time in plain view, and other times they wait behind walls that will open once the player activates them (usually by picking up an item or activating a switch). This means that every time the player replays a level, they grow to know it a little more: usually translating to the player speeding through familiar levels quicker and quicker unless they are hunting for secrets. This is good, because in the original Doom games the player wants to move fast so that they can dodge the enemies. If you stay in one place for too long, a horde of demons will easily overcome you. The game encourages speed such that the game tells you how long you took on each level after you beat it along with a par time that you are supposed to aim to beat if you want to be impressive. It’s nothing but a goal, but that goal is implemented into the very game for a reason. Id thinks you should go fast. Like Sanic the Hedgefrog.

sanic.png
he’s a frog right?

Horror is apart of the original two Dooms. Things jump out at you from shadows (yes, even these old ass games have a few shadows here and there). Yet horror is not a focus for these games. Empowerment is a focus. You play as a marine who can move at suicidal speeds with an arsenal that never ends, as well as abilities granted from powerups that make you into a god. You can become invulnerable for a short time. You can even supercharge your fists and punch everything to death. All of these features combine to form a game that feels very active, instead of reactionary. After a long combat encounter you see dozens of corpses surround you, and you feel like a badass. Doom wants you to feel like a badass.

Like Doom 3, Doom–that is the 2016 release–is a horror game. A horror game for the enemies, where the big bad monster is you. This idea is built up by the narritive which can mostly be ignored in true oldschool fashion if the player so chooses. The gameplay complements the narritive by equipping the player with fast movement that includes double jumping, powerful upgradable weapons including the Big Fucking Gun, and further upgradable abilities the player earns through the completion of trials. For example: you can earn the ability to control your characters jump with more fluidity, allowing the player to dodge enemy projectiles while soaring through the air.

There’s also that gruesome new mechanic influenced by the mod Brutal Doom–the Glory Kills–allowing players to end gunfights by ripping enemies into gorey bits.

These kills spit out health, which is the game’s way to encourage use of glory kills. In fact, use of this mechanic is vital being that demons hit hard. Your lovable space marine (newly called the Doom Slayer) has very limited health, and health packs are simply not plentiful enough to allow for error. Commonly I would find myself at low health, represented by red hud indicators and a loud beating heart, and instead of running away from an engagement I would find something to quickly glory kill. This design choice proves that Doom wants players to remain in combat and push forward, thus creating gameplay that is extremely active.

Doom also wishes to oppress the player in atmosphere. The old 90s games may seem archaic, but in their the visual design scared the fuck out of people. Corpses pinned to the wall, half torn apart and bleeding, amongst satanic imagery and impossible geometry. The hell levels always impressed me with how inventive the developers got with the idea of hell. This game is no different. You get most of the story through the environment–trails of blood leading to corpses of UAC employees who hold onto the key card you need to advance. Bodies lying in giant piles like refuse, their guts split open, exposed entrails slipping out and onto the floor. The game gets really gruesome and attempts to bare down on the player, and as the Doomslayer you just shrug that shit off because you know you’re going to extract revenge from hell itself.

The sound design in this game is especially effective at building a thick atmosphere. I found myself enjoying the game a little more once I began playing with headphones on. This tenses up the game a little bit, which meant I had to make sure I was in the right mindset to play, but the effect paid off by making me feel like a fucking stone cold killer once I survived combat engagements. The music pops in and makes each engagement feel vicious, and when out of combat the game lets atmosphere cake in with ambient noises and softer tunes. This is all especially great because, unlike Doom 3, there are no audio logs. Praise Satan!

The levels that take place in hell are easily my favorite. They feature the most insane visual level design I’ve seen in quite some time, making for the best video game hell I’ve experienced. One level features this arena surrounded by the skellington of a giant horned demon, and the path you enter is its giant mouth where inside, you slip down a long tunnel as though you’re entering the corpse of a beast. Platforms made of earth float in the air, giant chains link together the larger floating islands, great rivers of blood flow through fire crusted obsidian, and of course the walls, ceilings, and floors are decorated with guts, skin, and bone from humans unfortunate enough to not be Doomslayers.

The arrival to hell is the first introduction to the name Doomslayer, and the hilarious mythos the demons created around the Doomslayer. In hell, he is a revered horror that almost destroyed the entirety of hell single handedly. So destructive Doomslayer was, and so impossible to kill, that the demons had to seal him away in a sarcophagus made of obsidian that was enchanted by the most powerful hell priests. He was only let out by the humans when the UAC facility was so overrun by demons that they saw no choice. I won’t dive deeper into the story, but their attempt at weaving together a mythos around the previously named “doom guy” paid off quite well to the game’s favor. I even enjoyed reading some of the collectable data files that dive deep into the game’s lore in some pretty interesting, and again hilarious ways.

The biggest complaint I have (other than the multiplayer and the horrendously large patch sizes that came out in support for what was quite easily a lackluster mode) is about the level exploration: in particular I felt secret hunting was dull and I hated how they pulled me away from the action. The game seemed conflicted with itself while I ran around levels, constantly on edge by the atmosphere and subdued music, hammering the interaction button every time I saw something that looked like a button, or a lever, or a computer screen, or a hidden wall. The original games had secrets–it was indeed one of the identifying features of Doom–and it felt ridiculous to me there too when I was running around hell listening to my character grunt as I mashed the interaction button on every single wall in the game.

Hidden are collectables (which are these fun little toys designed after the Doomslayer) as well as resources and items that level up the player’s abilities. Trials are mostly hidden too, and some of these trials are nearly required to enjoy the game’s movement system. Because of this you feel like you should be looking for secrets all the time, however once I stopped trying to find secrets I found that the game’s pacing worked a whole lot better. When I just focused on combat and progression, only dipping into secrets I accidently fell into, I had a whole lot more fun.

I have a similar problem with the game’s challenge system, which rewarded the player with weapon upgrades by completing specified tasks while playing the level. At first, I focused on trying to do these, but grew tired of approaching combat with these objectives in mind. Halfway through the game I began to ignore the challenges entirely and again had a hell of better time!

I recognize the existence of these features and I’m actually glad that they’re in the game. They provide a rewarding reason to return to each level, and anything that adds replay value is a plus for me. I’m sure they also add depth to the game that some players feel needs to exist to make the game enjoyable. I found that the game was way better when I pushed forward and engaged with the combat rather than spending so much extra time worrying about leveling my character’s abilities. Even after ignoring secrets and challenges, I found myself overflowing with upgrades by the last boss such that every weapon had at least one mod upgraded to its highest potential, so it’s nice that you don’t need to engage with these features in order to successfully beat the game.

As a quick side note before I give this game it’s highly important and definitive score the PS4 version of the game, which again was the version I played, performed great and looked just fine. The game runs at a solid 60 fps and I don’t remember any dips at all. Never did anything look surprisingly ugly by today’s graphical standards, although there are definitely some texture popping. The loading screens become quite long, especially after you die, however they did not take as long as Bloodborne’s abysmal loading screens. I did not play the Xbox One version of the game and I have no way of testing out the PC version, as my PC doesn’t nearly meet the minimum specifications. Playing with a controller felt a little awkward, but once I switched the control scheme to allow me to jump with the L1 button I had a much easier time with it. If you can, I recommend the PC version of this game because mouse and keyboard would really serve the fast and intense combat justice. The game does just fine on console, so if that’s your only option you should still definitely play this game.

If I had to give this game a score out of 5, because scores out of 10 are fucking stupid and utterly useless, then I’d give it a 9. That’s right–a 9/5. I would give it a 10 if the multiplayer interested me at all, or interested a community long enough for me to really play it. It’s a major shame that the game’s post release content was regulated to multiplayer, however this gives me hope that developers at id software are working on a sequel!

Doom II baby! Hell on Earth: Again!

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burritoslayer

03/01/2017

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