Out of all the 90’s born, controversy courting, violent video game phenomena that wormed their way into my young heart as a lad, from Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat to Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid, the one blank spot on my nerd resume has always been Doom. We never had a PC in my house growing up, and console ports of the game were notoriously incomplete. By the time decent console versions did show up in the 32/64 bit era more contemporary monster killing simulators had captured gamers’ imaginations (again, Resident Evil), and Doom fell by the wayside like so many early 90’s icons in the wake of the PlayStation age.
But Doom so infiltrated nerd culture at the time of its heyday that it’s charms were far from alien even to the uninitiated. A lone space marine armed to the teeth, Mars, Hell, demons, the chainsaw, the BFG, got it. But even if you’ve never even heard of Doom, Bethesda’s new remake/reboot/sequel will make you feel right at home, one of the most satisfyingly innovative yet beautifully reverent slam dunks of a franchise update since 2011’s Mortal Kombat 9. You’ll feel like you never left, even if you were never there in the first place.
Shortly being reawakened from his ritualistic tomb, our intrepid hero (known only as Doomguy, or Doom Slayer if the cryptic late game prophecies gleaned from mysterious oracles in Hell are to be believed) runs afoul of Samuel Hayden, our resident “asshole robot” who sounds and behaves like a cross between Ultron and Lance Henriksen’s Bishop from the Alien films, and he’s cooked up a plan that would make even Weyland-Yutani blush.
You see, Hayden thought it would be a great idea to harness the power of Hell itself to power his research facility on Mars, but his colleague Olivia decided to make a pact with the underworld behind his back and open a portal directly to the dank pit itself, which has worked out about as well as you could imagine. Needless to say, it’s up to you to “rip and tear” through the demonic hordes and seal the portal before all of humanity is consumed.
Yup, that’s all kind of dumb, but Doom revels in this tongue in cheek, gives no fucks tone and is all the better for it, laying the wrong headed survival horror tropes and dour seriousness of the near universally reviled Doom 3 to rest like so many slaughtered Cacodemons. No sneaking or stealth here, this Doom is fast, to the point where you don’t have to reload or look for cover, there is no escape from the demonic threat aside from staying one step ahead.
The main gameplay innovation here is the “Glory Kill” system, which offers brutally gory melee finishers and minimal health regeneration to those brave enough to get up close and personal with their demonic assailants rather than pick them off from afar. It’s incredibly satisfying to sprint into a group of enemies, rip apart the staggered, glowing, instant kill-able one and then bounce back and spray his friends until they’re ready to be busted open too, and even more so once you obtain the chainsaw, though limited fuel for the ungodly weapon keeps things balanced.
Graphics keep right up with the break neck pace of the gameplay, serving up deviously disgusting updates on the classic Doom monsters at a solid 60 FPS with no screen tearing or slowdown to speak of, no matter how hectic the onscreen action gets. And the music… Ohhhhhh the music. Mick Gordon of Killer Instinct fame lays down even more sinister sounding industrial tinged metal stompers here, both as re-imaginings of the classic Doom soundtracks and all new and original blood and fist pumping scorchers. And as you’d expect, the music gets even better once you get to Hell. The hard hitting tracks and hellish imagery line up to make this what is sure to be, hands down, the most metal game of the year. Your move, Guilty Gear.
The elephant in the room here is of course the multiplayer aspect. Doom offers rudimentary online options and a simple level editor, which were the only contents of the game that Bethesda gave players a taste of prior to release, and the underwhelming response to that admittedly anemic seeming suite of features almost killed this new Doom dead in the water before anyone had the chance to discover it’s true grandeur, the nearly 12 hour one player campaign.
True, Doom was where the online deathmatch was born but but the “one man against an army of demons in hell” aesthetic is the franchise’s true legacy, and this game does just that, and does it near perfectly, giving players an amazingly violent demonic sandbox to play and slay around in during an incredibly satisfying and meaty single player FPS romp in which to do so. Highly recommended.