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Doom (2016) Review - Normally, I wouldn't use the chaingun for this, but it looks badass for a screenshot.

Doom (2016) Review

Rating: 5,2
An intense, fast-paced shooter rewarding fast aim, effective crowd-control, and comes with an easy-to-use level editor.
Developer:id Software
Publisher:Bethesda Softworks

Background

I played a lot of the Quake and Unreal Tournament games in my youth. Old-school shooters aren't just a nostalgia thing, they are a different kind of game to all the "realistic" tactical shooters today. Fast movement and the ability to carry and quickly switch between ten different weapons is all about being aggressive, picking the right gun for the right job, and noticing and exploiting opportunities within seconds to deal massive damage. While such shooters have a wider margin of error between life and death compared to tactical shooters, they still reward smart play.

I watched Markiplier's playthrough of Doom and it looked pretty exciting, but I never buy games at full price. Eventually, I tried the demo for Doom, but I wasn't too impressed. The pistol and shotgun felt weak, movement wasn't as fast as I would like, and glory kills felt repetitive. Finding secrets was also a pain because I didn't remember there were secret levers and they aren't marked on the map. So, I was left scratching my head at an inaccessible area on the map, which led to a lot of running around an empty map and getting bored. When Doom appeared on sale, I decided to re-watch videos of some of the later levels and I became convinced that the game gets better. The problem with the demo was that it limited your options with only the pistol and shotgun while showing off a very limited subset of enemies. It was just the full game chopped-off at the beginning, which poorly represented the entire experience.

Gameplay

Weapons

Combat is simple point and shoot. Every weapon is useful in its own way and it is best to switch weapons depending on the situation. You can carry and quickly switch between ten weapons, but early on you will have a limited arsenal and will have to use less-than-optimal weapons against the enemies you face, which makes finding new weapons and trying them out rewarding. The general rule of combat is use lighter weapons against human-sized enemies and heavier weapons against anything larger. Weapons don't use magazines and just draw from your ammo pool, so there's no awkward pauses to reload, but it somewhat takes away from tactical planning and the need to improvise. However, the heavier weapons share ammo with their lighter counterparts, so you have to pick the right weapon for the job to reduce waste or prioritize kills. Switching weapons is fast, so an effective trick is to alternate between slow-firing weapons like the two shotguns to increase your damage output. However, you can't override a single gun's rate of fire with quick-switching.

You can unlock weapon modifications by finding weapon upgrade drones in each level. Weapon mods enable powerful alternate fires or expands weapon functionality, but they are often restricted by cooldowns. Each weapon has two mods to unlock and you can pick one mod to unlock at each upgrade drone. Each weapon can use only one mod at a time, but you can swap between them at any time if you have both mods, which takes a few seconds to do. But because mod swapping is slow and that weapon upgrade drones need to be used wisely, it is best to stick to one mod on each weapon rather than buying both mods and swapping situationally. It would be better if both mods could be attached at the same time with a toggle switch to instantly change between them.

As you find secrets and complete level-specific grinding challenges you will be rewarded with weapon upgrade points that let you upgrade your mods. Most mod upgrades reduce delays and cooldowns, but some add additional properties like penetrating shots. Once you purchased all upgrades for a mod, it will unlock a powerful, final upgrade that requires you to complete a grinding challenge to actually get. Upgrades for a single mod get more expensive as you upgrade, but you will not be able to make progress towards the final upgrade challenge until you buy them all so you have to decide whether you should focus on a single weapon or get useful upgrades for other weapons. I consider grinding challenges an artificial way to discourage you from playing the way you want because you have to deliberately change your play style to accommodate them. Some challenges require you to kill enemies a certain way, so if you don't keep an eye out for opportunities, you will run out of enemies and you may have to restart the level, so it can lead to tedium.

Light weapons

Heavy weapons

You also get grenades that you can quick-throw. These are unlimited, but have a lengthy cooldown after each use, so you should only use them when it gets thick. But because of their lengthy cooldown, you can't rely on them, so it is easy to forget about them. There are two other types of grenade you can switch between if you have them: decoy and health siphon, which can be used to distract enemies and recover health respectively. Environments have explosive barrels you can shoot for quick, coincidental damage, but enemies can hit them with stray fire as well, so you need to be careful.

Glory kills

You also have a melee attack that also allows you to perform a finishing animation on an enemy that has been staggered from enough damage. These glory kills magically spawn some health as well, but not enough that it will make you invincible, so you will need to supplement it with health and armour pickups. You are invincible during the animation, but you become vulnerable immediately after, so there is some risk of pursuing glory kills near other enemies. If there are multiple enemies, try to stagger all of them before glory killing because the stagger lasts for several seconds, which will allow you to do one glory kill after another. If you don't kill staggered enemies in time, they will recover some health and you have to waste time and ammo trying again. If you can't reach a glory kill, just shoot them dead so you don't have to worry about them later. To reduce repetition, you can perform different kill animations depending on which side of the enemy you initiate the glory kill from and whether you're aiming high or low.

Stagger.jpg
When you damage an enemy enough, he will glow. That is when he is staggered and can be glory killed.
Grab.jpg
You are invincible while performing a glory kill, but you are locked in place, which gives enemies the opportunity to surround you and hit you when you're done.

Character upgrades

There are various types of personal upgrades. Upgrade tokens from finding fallen Elite Guard soldiers allow you to upgrade your character's suit to protect yourself from environmental damage, make it easier to find secrets, enhance power-ups, and improve the speed of your actions like switching weapons. Argent Cells let you increase maximum health, armour, or ammo. Functionally, armour just acts as extra health. Since health is more common than armour, upgrading health is more useful early on. Runes give you passive abilities, such as being able to perform glory kills from farther away and get armour in addition to health when you perform a glory kill. All acquired weapons and upgrades are global, so you can replay previous levels with all of your new stuff. Anything you missed and went back for will carry over to your current campaign progress.

While you have to find runes like any other secret, they send you to special challenge levels you have to complete to be rewarded with the rune. These levels require you to do things under certain conditions, like kill all enemies within a time limit or run through an obstacle course. You can equip up to three runes at a time with the ability to swap between unlocked runes at any time. It is useful to switch runes depending on the situation, but doing so requires you to pause the action to click through menus, which makes it cumbersome. You can also upgrade your runes by equipping them and completing the described grinding challenge.

Power-ups

Some areas have power-ups that grant you a powerful buff for a limited time, so it's best to save them for when you need them most. There's Haste, which lets you run and shoot faster, Quad Damage, which quadruples your weapon damage, Berserk, which forces you into melee, but lets you glory kill any enemy in one shot, and Invulnerability, which makes you immune to damage. When it comes to using Quad Damage, it is generally better to use rapid weapons like the heavy assault rifle, plasma rifle, or chaingun because it ensures you are not overkilling, but sometimes you do want to remove a tough threat quickly, so you can switch to a powerful weapon, blast an enemy, then switch back. Berserk stacks well with runes that improve glory kills like increased speed after glory kills and increased glory kill distance, which allows you to zoom from enemy to enemy and potentially clear an entire arena with your fists.

Enemies

You fight a wide variety of demons all having their own attacks, hitpoints, movement ability, and behaviours to keep battles dynamic. Most enemies are straightforward to kill, but it is important to divide and conquer crowds to survive, so you need to keep moving around and picking off targets of opportunity. Enemies will spawn-in as you enter new areas or when you interact with a gore nest to trigger an arena battle. Battles are wave-based with waves marked by stronger enemies appearing, but there are no breaks between waves, making battles seem like a continuous stream of increasingly powerful enemies. There are five difficulty levels and they affect how much damage you take and how much health and armour pickups heal you, so mistakes are punished harder on higher difficulties.

Trash enemies

Tough enemies

Almost all ranged enemies use projectile attacks, allowing you to see and evade shots as they come to skillfully avoid damage. However, they will try to lead their shots, so mix up your movements. Most enemies aren't a major threat as long as you keep moving, which encourages you to run and gun instead of cower behind cover. However, I wish there were enemies that use assault rifles because bullets are much more intimidating than slow, bright projectiles. Their presence would require you to balance cover and open strafing while influencing your target priority.

3D levels

Most levels are linearly connected arenas and corridors with alternate paths that lead to secrets, but there are a few levels that are open-ended to allow you to tackle multiple objectives. The arenas have plenty of room to maneuver with open spaces, side areas, multiple floors and platforms for vertical evasion, and various walls and obstacles to divide and conquer enemies, but they will often enter lockdown when you trigger a battle, which means you can't drag out enemies across the whole level. You need to keep moving around to avoid getting hit, but you must also watch where you are going or else you risk getting cornered, falling into a death pit, or running out of supplies. The arenas offer plenty of possibilities to change your approach and ways for enemies to surprise you, so there is a good amount of replayability. However, many of the early levels will be underwhelming once you are used to fighting crowds of tough enemies. The better you get at the game, the quicker the encounters will end, and the levels will no longer satisfy.

Treasure map

You have an intuitive 3D auto-map that reveals itself as you proceed and it shows which areas you've been to. You can also find a map terminal to acquire the whole map, making secrets easier to find. Secrets can be found by looking for map icons that are revealed when you are near them or noticing areas that don't have obvious entrances. If there's an area on your map that doesn't have an entrance where it should, it's a secret area that must be opened by finding a floor-mounted lever hidden somewhere. While upgrades and collectibles have map icons, levers don't, so you have to do some searching. Some levels have long drops or sealing doors that prevent you from going back, so don't proceed too far from a secret hoping you will unlock it at the end of the level. If you do, you will have to restart the level. Finding secret areas may give you weapons earlier than you would normally find them, so definitely explore.

Arcade mode

Also included is an arcade mode where you can play any single player level for score and your performance is ranked on a leaderboard. You gain score by killing enemies, getting medals for killing in specific ways, and picking up score bonus items. There's a score multiplier that is increased as you damage, kill enemies, and pick up items, but it is decreased if you take damage and will decrease over time by not doing anything. It's a good idea to increase your multiplier to a maximum of 32x on weaker enemies and then kill stronger enemies with the high multiplier to get the most score. Also, getting lots of medals quickly creates a medal streak that gives you bonus score. At the end, you are given a rating of Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Slayer depending on how well you did. It adds some replayability, but in the end, it's still the same levels and enemy encounters as the single player campaign.

Controls

Ten weapon keys

You can rebind almost all the keys. The Tab key is reserved for the map and the ` key is reserved for the developer console that you can use to enter specific tweaks. By default, the weapons are bound to the number keys, but given the number of weapons, it is unergonomic to reach beyond the 5 key to select weapons. You can use a weapon wheel menu to select a weapon, but this breaks the flow of the game. I recommend binding weapons to 12345 and ZXCV keys instead. It's also a good idea to group weapons that swap well with each other. For example, I put the combat shotgun and super shotgun on 3 and 4, which are easy to press. I also bind the gauss cannon and rocket launcher to X and C.

I do wish the ` key could be bound to act as an easy to reach 0 key. There's no need for such quick access to the console and it is easy to accidentally press it when reaching for the 1 key. Opening the console doesn't pause the game and it prevents you from controlling your character, so it is a bit of an annoyance.

Slow running

Movement speed and acceleration is just good enough for evading most projectiles and enemies, but I feel that it could be a bit faster. Running around the spacious environments is somewhat plodding, shotgun rushes feel awkward, and it is hard to dodge on reaction (i.e. you have to see it coming ahead of time). While you can crouch, there's very little reason to in combat, so it's only used when exploring secrets. Jumping is useful for tricking enemies to shoot up because of their linear prediction, giving you an opening at ground level to keep moving, so jump often. Partway through the game, you gain the ability to double-jump, allowing you to reach higher ledges. You also have the ability to catch and pull yourself up ledges by just jumping into the ledge while holding forward.

Responsive mouse

Mouse control is linear and responsive, making aiming feel satisfying. However, the game lowers your sensitivity with the plasma rifle and chaingun while firing, and the gauss cannon when using the zoom mod with no way to disable this behaviour, which makes using those weapons annoying. You can access the developer console with the ` key and you can type "m_sensitivity x" to enter a precise number for x, allowing you to set a perfect sensitivity for optimal control while using high mouse DPI.

Using most weapon mods requires you to hold down the right mouse button and then left-click to shoot, which I find annoying because it's slower and more awkward than just clicking the right-mouse. Certain mods have a delay before you are allowed to shoot, which you then reduce by upgrading the mod, which I find to be a superfluous form of balancing when there's also a cooldown after use. Also, the lack of toggling is uncomfortable for aiming because constantly exerting pressure on the right mouse button is fatiguing and unbalances my grip. This is a problem with the chaingun because pre-spinning the barrels requires holding down right-mouse all the time. The gauss cannon's zoom mod is also annoying to use because of this.

Big crosshairs

There are two crosshair types you can select. The default changes depending on your weapon and it shows the cooldown status of your current weapon mod, which is useful. Most of the crosshairs are some type of circle and they work well enough. However, I find that the grey colour for some weapons blends in easily and makes it hard to see sometimes. This is especially true with the heavy assault rifle as it has the smallest and faintest crosshair of all the weapons. I also think most crosshairs are too big, especially with the gauss cannon because it gives you an empty circle despite it being a precision weapon. The other crosshair type you can select is a simple white dot. However, I find it even harder to see in a crowd of visual effects and it doesn't show cooldown information.

SnapMap

Long loading

The game features a map editor that lets you build and share your own levels to further increase the longevity of the game. There's also a hub that lets you browse, play, and rate custom maps made by the community. Right off the bat, the first and biggest problem is the long loading time just to get to it. User-created levels are typically short and ideal for quick gaming sessions, but the loading time kills it. Loading times in general are pretty awful. First time loading of the game can take about 1.5 minutes just to get to the main menu on a hard disk, but it gets cut down to about 30 seconds with subsequent launches. Going into the SnapMap hub adds more loading and it takes around 1.5 minutes with no subsequent launch speed-up.

As simple as point-and-click

The editor gives you a lot of pre-made arenas, rooms, and hallways as modules that you can snap together by the doors, assets you can decorate the rooms with, object properties you can modify, and a wide variety of triggers you can apply by pointing and clicking. All the room pieces have standard grid sizing, so you can create interconnected areas without worrying about being one pixel off, but you do have to account for spacing or else you might end up creating awkward and ugly corridors. Most modules have doors on different levels, so you have to think in three dimensions to snap everything together properly.

The various logic objects that you physically place in the map allow you to visually create your own puzzles, story events, and arena battles by connecting the cause and effect. Everything you can place on the map has a bunch of built-in actions that can be executed in response to something else happening and all you need to do is select the object you want triggered and drag a connection to the object you want as the cause, selecting the appropriate action/reaction. You can place variables, logical operators, and loops, and connect them to stuff you place in the level to create whatever behaviour you want. There are tutorials and reference maps included to show you how they work and you can do quite a lot with it, but you will need a logical imagination to create anything worthwhile. SnapMap makes it fun to create new levels for the game and it provides all the tools needed to make a Doom-style level of push buttons, find keycards, and kill lots of enemies.

Limitations

Simplicity comes at the cost of flexibility. You can only work with what you are given and SnapMap has significant limitations. For example,

There is also no panel for tracking and managing all of your variables in one place. If there's a variable you don't need anymore, you have to find every instance of that variable in the map to delete the variable. There are specialized objects to help you organize your connections, but when and where to use them is something you have to figure out for yourself. The tutorials only teach the absolute basics and don't teach you how to structure complex algorithms and stay organized. In fact, the tutorials teach you the wrong way to place and spawn enemies since directly placing enemies and disabling them until they are needed contributes to resource usage much more than placing spawners for those enemies.

Messy Logic.jpg
The logic system lets you visualize the connection between cause and effect. However, if you don't establish your own method of modularizing logic, you're going to end up with a huge mess.

Different rules

SnapMap has gameplay differences compared to the campaign:

Multiplayer-only weapons are also included, but I don't see the point in them as they are largely redundant and generally less satisfying to use because they have weak sounds and ugly appearance as if they're rejected designs. They're mostly accurate, semi-auto weapons designed to be more skill-based, but you already have semi-auto, skill-based weapons: pistol and gauss cannon. But considering that there's auto-aim, it kind of renders the skill aspect moot and they just end up feeling like artificially gimped weapons. While you can carry every weapon, there are only ten weapon key bindings (but only nine are usable) and fifteen weapons, so the multiplayer weapons occupy the same slots and you have to clumsily switch weapons twice to get to them.

Character customization

A nice thing included is the ability to customize the appearance of your weapons and your character. Your character can be customized with different styles of armour and you can select from a range of colours and material effects like matte, glossy, and metallic. Colour regions on each item are preset and there are three regions you can choose colours and patterns for, although some areas cannot be customized. However, everything is locked behind a progression system. Playing maps rewards you with snap points, which you need to buy individual armour pieces, colours, and patterns. However, I consider the unlocking mechanics to be forced and pointless. It simply adds grinding, which is just mindless busywork keeping me from choosing the customization I want, and it is trivialized by the presence of user maps specifically for grinding snap points. There are also items that are unlocked randomly by completing challenges and it's a grind to get them. Tying colours to an unlocking system also gimps nuance in colour choices as you can only use the colours provided and not set your own colours through a colour wheel or RGB values.

Either-or voting system

The voting system nags you to vote on a level after you played it so that good maps get visibility. However, your choices are either to vote up, vote down, or report for offensive content. The lack of nuance means voting up is the default choice, which adds noise to whether each up-vote is well-deserved or just done out of pity. Pressing ESC allows you to abstain from voting, but it is not obvious. There's also no feedback system beyond votes, so there's no way of knowing why people voted you down and whether they were justified. A major problem with the voting system is that it creates a snowball effect where older, more popular maps get the most visibility, which leads to more people playing and voting on them to maintain that visibility. Good maps can get lost in the middle, where they are not popular enough to make it to the top of any category, but are not new enough to be seen in the newest maps category. Because you get an achievement for publishing a map and there is no moderation, the newest map list tends to get crowded with low-effort maps strictly for getting the achievement.

You are given two options when publishing a map. You can either publish normally, or publish for review. Publishing for review puts your map on a review queue, which is just a separate category of maps. Unlike normal publishing, you may publish only one map for review to give everyone an equal opportunity and your map will drop off the queue after a week. The review queue gives newer maps visibility by having maps nearing a week old get bumped to the top of the list, but the lack of a feedback system makes it not really for reviewing. It's basically an oldest-first list of the newest maps. However, if you're serious about getting visibility, you can stay on top of the newest map list by updating your map regularly.

Story

You play as the Doom Marine, who is a silent protagonist with great strength, speed, and hatred of demons that allow him to tear demons apart with his hands. He wakes up from a stone sarcophagus inside a high-tech science facility operated by the Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC) on Mars. However, the place has been overrun by demons. Using a computer to look for the source of the demonic invasion, he is interrupted by Samuel Hayden, the director of the facility. He introduces himself and offers help in a business-like manner only to be angrily cut off by the Doom Marine out of contempt for Samuel playing with forces obviously beyond his control. But despite the Doom Marine's attempts to work on his own, Samuel blocks his access to the facility's systems and requests that he co-operate to stop the invasion.

Hayden operated the facility to harvest Argent Energy from Hell to solve an energy crisis. Unfortunately, this means the Argent mining operation carries the risk of a demonic invasion. The invasion was caused by Olivia Pierce, a head scientist experimenting on demons and is a Hell-worshiping cult leader. She triggered an energy wave that swept across the UAC, turning everyone into demons. She intends to open a portal to Hell to start a full-scale invasion. But despite the Doom Marine's efforts, Olivia ultimately succeeds.

Olivia made a deal with Hell for immortality in attempt to reach the kingdom of the gods called Argent D'Nur. However, she had failed to keep the Doom Marine from being found and revived by the UAC. The Doom Marine is referred to in Hell as the Doom Slayer, and he had gone on a violent rampage and spread fear among the demons until they managed to trap and seal him in a tomb. At one time, there was a realm called Argent D'Nur. This place was home to Elemental Wraiths, powerful beings who could be harnessed for energy. They were guarded by a holy order of warriors called the Night Sentinels, who protected Argent D'Nur from Hell using the power of the Wraiths. However, one of the Night Sentinels lost his son in battle and a Hell priest seduced him to betray his people in exchange for his son, which made him known as the Betrayer. The Hell priest corrupted the Wraiths, which allowed Argent D'Nur to be conquered and absorbed into Hell. However, the Betrayer's son was returned as a demon. Being betrayed by Hell, he set out on a path of vengeance, implying that the Doom Slayer is the Betrayer, which explains his motivation for fighting the demons and why he is such a badass.

From digging through Olivia's office, the only way to close the portal is by acquiring a device from Hell called the Crucible, which can be used to shut down The Well, the unlimited source of Argent Energy provided by the corrupted Wraiths in the ruins of Argent D'Nur. After destroying The Well, the Doom Slayer encounters Olivia, who has certainly reached Argent D'Nur, but realizes it is not what she expected and she is sacrificed to spawn a Spider Mastermind. After defeating the Spider Mastermind, the Doom Slayer is pulled back to Mars with an interdimensional tether. Hayden still wants to resume the facility and the Crucible is the key, so he takes the Crucible from the Doom Slayer while sending the Doom Slayer back to Hell to prevent him from interfering.

Betrayal and vengeance

Hell is the purest and most powerful of evil, you cannot out-evil Hell. There can be no mutually beneficial relationships with Hell nor can Hell be controlled for positive gain. If you succeed, they let you succeed so they can stamp on your ego later and take you for themselves. Both the Doom Slayer and the UAC learned this the hard way and the destruction of Argent D'Nur and the damage to the UAC facility both represent the end result of working with Hell. The only way to deal with Hell is to kill them all, but Hayden seems confident he can control it. Of course, confidence is a virtue for the naive.

You find data logs to unlock background codex entries and you have to manually bring up the codex to read what you found. A lot of the entries are glorified descriptions rather than plot-relevant information, which makes it easy to stop caring. There is little attempt to portray the emotions of betrayal and loss through in-game events, which means this is not really a story about betrayal and vengeance. Instead, the whole game is chasing after Olivia and stopping the demonic invasion while riding the roller coaster of complications. It's a good setting to portray a romantic (as in romanticism) struggle for righteousness, but the story doesn't even try to go there. There's no feeling of being wronged and taking revenge on the demons, so there's no emotional connection with the main character. All the people who died and all the destruction that happened is meaningless and just a backdrop to going with the flow.

On the flip side, it allows you to get to the action faster, which is fitting for the Doom Slayer. He doesn't care about the how or why, he just wants to kill demons, but it's not a good narrative style for telling a story to the player. You could say the Doom Slayer is so beyond living a normal life and so desensitized to violence that it doesn't affect him in the slightest. The ruins of civilization are just playgrounds to satisfy his passion for killing demons. Of course, the story doesn't specifically convey this and the result is a shallow story.

Final words

At the heart of first-person shooting is the feeling of being in control and being able to play to your limits. The simplicity of old-school shooters were not so much a matter of technological limitations as they were about creating a thrilling genre that throws realism out the window for badass dodging, trick shots, and violence that reinforces the feeling of ownage. But most importantly, these shooters require snap decision-making to optimize your killing power and survivability. Doom is a tribute to the design principle of elegance in simplicity.

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