In the simplest way of saying it, which is perhaps the best way of saying anything related to this franchise of games, DOOM 2016 is a game about excessive violence. And yet, contrary to what you may have heard countless others say about this game, that isn’t the best part about it.
I propose that the best thing about DOOM 2016 is its self awareness. The game released in a time where the first person genre had grown stale. Call of Duty games had seen a big drop-off in quality, by offering repeated experiences of listening to characters brag about honour, loyalty and peace only for it to end with you violently murdering the main villain in an over-the-top fist fight. Halo, likewise, had fallen from a first person shooter renowned for balancing gameplay with a relatively well told story, to a a first person shooter that was so painfully written that the entire fanbase seemed to turn on itself and the developers. And while there were titles of note in the modern era of FPS cover-shooters – be it the teamwork of Battlefield or the versatile sandbox of Crysis, it was hard to deny that most entries in the genre only seemed to grow more and more generic as time went on. Enter DOOM 2016.
This is a game that opens with someone telling you that:
1. You are trapped on the planet Mars.
2. There is a demonic invasion from hell on the planet.
3. Only one person remains alive and in control who can help you defeat the demons.
And your character’s response to this is to throw the device giving you all this exposition against a wall before it can be fully explained, and immediately thereafter tutorialising glory kills – a hyperviolent way of killing demons by ripping their limbs off and beating them to death with what remains in order to regain health. In a lesser game, there would be some five minute cutscene breaking the pace of the gameplay in order to establish everything, only for the player to promptly skip it because the FPS genre was hardly in a good place at the time of this game’s release. However, in DOOM 2016, the game itself skips the boring stuff for you by having the Doom Slayer – your in-game character – break anything trying to relay him this nonsense boredom nobody cares about. In my favourite scene of the game, a character explains to you that you need to carefully remove highly dangerous batteries filled with the most powerful energy in the known universe in order to open a portal to hell, only for the Doom Slayer to close his fist a punch straight through them, thus rendering the facility on Mars you are presumably trying to save obsolete. It is a especially funny when you realise that the first real interaction you have with a non-hostile NPC only occurs because he literally locks you in a room you can’t escape from so he can bribe you into listening to him by offering you combat upgrades, in the second or third mission of the game. This happens after he has already made multiple failed attempts to get you to listen to him already, as well as after the point you have access to almost all of the upgrade systems you need to properly progress through the game aside from that which he gives you in the scene.
The Doom Slayer knows you don’t give a crap about whatever the hell is happening on Mars beyond the fact there are things for you to kill on it, so he thusly ignores anything non-essential. And by non-essential I mean anything that doesn’t directly improve your combat capabilities. What makes this work so well is that the only other one or two characters in the whole game who talk to you are actually relatively well written and voice acted, with a considerable amount of lore and backstory. The developers didn’t have to go to the effort to make this the case, given their bias approach to gameplay over story, and yet they still did for no other reason than to make the game world feel more real and substantial.
You might now be asking yourself what motivation you have, as a player, to finish a game that is disengaging you from its own narrative. To which I answer that all the motivation you need is in the gameplay: It is addictively fun and was, at the time, quite an unconventional form of gameplay that harkened back to more classic shooters. In short if you stand still during combat you will always be killed, but you can live almost indefinitely if you refuse to stop moving. And whereas most games advise you to take cover when you’re hurt, DOOM 2016 encourages you to double down on your aggressive behaviour when you’re hurt since the only way to regain health outside of pickups is to perform the previously mentioned glory kills, and using the close quarters chainsaw is the only way to replenish ammo. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t sound all that unique, but really feels like it when you realise 90% of the shooters you’ve ever player involve you sitting behind a chest-high wall firing at blips in the distance, and hiding in a corner like a baby until the red at the corner of the screen finally disappears.
But none of this is to say that there isn’t a story to DOOM 2016. Obviously it isn’t prioritised or presented with any amount of real importance, but it is there for players who would prefer a littler more depth in that area. The story is that you – the Doom Slayer – spent god knows how long in hell killing demons so often and with such efficiency that they became afraid of you. One demon priest even betrayed his kind to give you the Praetor Suit, which allows you to regenerate health by killing demons, and thus continue your conquest. However you are eventually lured into a trap and buried under a collapsed building by some more crafty demons. One day some humans create a portal to hell, accidently stumble across your body and bring it back to Mars. A couple of those humans become tempted by the demons, form a cult and open the portal in such a way that triggers a demonic invasion of the planet. The game picks up with you awakening in the Mars facility after this event.
While a lot of the backstory can be accessed via the in-game codex which updates whenever you interact with a person, enemy or location of importance, you don’t really learn anything about who the Doom Slayer is and what he’s been up to until you enter the final few levels of the game through entirely optional-to-listen-to recordings of the Dark Lord’s exposition – The Dark Lord being the ruler of Hell. All in all the story is nothing special, but is just substantial enough to satisfy those who crave that extra bit of context for why they’re doing what they’re doing.
The highlights of the campaign, however, are the three unique boss fights against enemies with proper cheesy health bars. About half way through the game you’ll encounter the Cyber-Demon who is initially quite difficult because he catches you off-guard and you’ve not really been expecting that kind of arcade-like thing to happen in a modern FPS. Ultimately he is the easiest of the bosses though and is more than manageable once you get to grips with it. Secondly are the Hell Guards. You fight three of these across two phases and what makes them challenging is that they are almost as agile as you and can only be attacked, at least effectively, during openings you’ll have to be vigilant of. Finally is the Spider Mastermind who is the final fight of the game. While slow, this enemy has a variety of abilities that give it range and control over the entire arena you fight it in, as well as having a variety of abilities that range from entirely ineffective against you to ones that will threaten your life if even a single hit is landed. Learning it’s skill set and when it uses specific attacks is they key to defeating this one.
Other than a campaign, this game also shipped with a PvP multiplayer that was overwhelmingly panned and disliked by most, with only a small part of the community at the time having an appreciation for it. I personally enjoyed it because of how unique it was compared to its contemporaries, with players running around at the speed of light and bouncing off of walls with completely unbalanced weapons to kill each other with. Being able to turn into a demon as a powerup was the best addition to the multiplayer, since nothing says badass like becoming a Baron of Hell, picking up pint-sized players and ripping them in two with your bare hands. For all the fun it was, there was a lot of merit to the criticisms thrown at it too, however. Primarily, using anything other than the plasma rifle with the stun attachment was to actively put yourself at a disadvantage since being able to freeze people in place in a game about movement is sort of broken. Carrying anything other than the super shotgun as your secondary was also to disadvantage yourself since the damage it is capable of dealing is ludicrous-on-toast. Other complaints include a lack of maps and variety between the different maps, as well as the fact that the player base for the multiplayer died relatively quickly and that matches became increasingly harder and harder to find despite the community being alive and well in the single player spheres.
The final mode in DOOM 2016 was Snap Maps, which was map editor rivalled only by Halo’s Forge mode in the FPS genre. It allowed for the creation of both single player and multiplayer maps that could be either designed for PvP or PvE. You could create anything from highly scripted custom campaign levels to more freeform wave defence modes. If you just wanted to make a simple map to 1v1 your buddies on, you could also do that too. The community got really creative with this and made some fun maps that gave me a lot of enjoyment when I was done with the campaign. However, as I understand it, the Snap Map community died almost as quickly as the multiplayer community. But it wasn’t from a lack of people playing maps, rather from a lack of new maps being created. I remember whenever I would check for new maps most would be ones I had already played and that had been universally highly rated a long, long time ago.
All in all I think the outcome of this review is very obvious. DOOM 2016 is a very unique and high-octane game that works simply because it is so unapologetically willing to indulge in the player’s most violent desires. Simply put, I don’t know what else there is to say for it’s merits besides that since even the detractors of the game’s multiplayer modes seem to agree that the single player experience is incredible. I would highly recommend playing DOOM 2016.