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Review: Hell is hot, multiplayer's not in gloriously gory ‘Doom’

It’s been 12 years since the release of Doom 3. That’s more than a decade without chainsaws and miniguns and super shotguns and BFGs. Without Cyberdemons and Imps and Hell Knights and a solitary space marine with a nasty right hook.

God, I’ve missed it.

But it’s back. Doom has finally returned, and developer id Software has taken its latest entry in the infamous first-person franchise back to its roots. Hell, even the game’s title is a throwback. And it’s for the better, because for all its heavy-metal fury, Doom is flat-out fun.

Unlike 2004’s Doom 3, which focused heavily on foreboding atmosphere, jump scares, and the need to use a flashlight to see what was happening 95 percent of the time, the new Doom harkens back to the simple joy of battling wave after wave of demons and exploring hidden rooms — the stuff that made the original Doom and its sequel such beloved (and influential) shooters.

Indeed, this is a game out of time. It eschews the excessive narrative exposition or grandiose ruminations on the human condition you’ll see in many of today’s games. This is a game about cutting monsters in half with a goddamn chainsaw, and it makes no apologies for it.

As usual, you play as a nameless space marine whose goal is to blast armies of demons off of Mars and back to Hell. Why are demons invading Mars? Something, something, power source, something, something. It doesn’t matter. Doom lets you know its intentions from the very outset. The game’s first scene sees you chained to a sarcophagus, only to break free and smash a demon’s skull to bits with your bare hands.

And that’s pretty much the gist of Doom’s campaign. Through the first hour or so, you traverse nondescript hallways, blasting some easy demons while slipping around in the entrails of the employees of Union Aerospace Corporation, who made the unfortunate decision to solve Earth’s energy crisis by opening up a portal to Hell. That obviously didn’t work out too well.

Once you reach the Martian surface, the game really opens up. Each time Doom introduces a new type of enemy, you’ll think it’s some kind of intense boss battle. But after you finally kill your new foe, the game starts throwing them at you by the truckload. That wasn’t a boss battle, that was Doom’s way of letting you know that the party’s just getting started.

The first time this happened to me, I was battling a Revenant, a demon with giant guns on its shoulders. I pumped my entire payload into it before it fell. After regrouping for a second and moving into the next area, there were three more waiting for me. Doom is a cruel teacher, testing you over and over, and just before you break, it gives you a short breather before it throws even more your way.

Luckily, you’re capable of carrying an enormous weapons cache on your broad marine shoulders. Doom adds a good amount of upgrading and customizations to the mix, too. You can, for example, attach a scope to your heavy machine gun to pick off Imps from a distance, or slap on an attachment that fires six rockets in succession.

You earn weapon upgrade points by completing in-game challenges displayed in the pause menu. Unfortunately, the menu is a bit too cluttered and clunky, which makes finding the challenges a, well, challenge. Naturally, you can also upgrade your Praetor Suit to increase your health, armor, or ammo capacity.

And make no mistake — you’ll need to upgrade everything to keep up with Doom’s frenetic pace. This is a blazing fast shooter, and while armor and health pickups initially seem plentiful, they quickly vanish in the game’s many large-scale fights.

To make things a little easier, Doom introduces Glory Kills, melee attacks that yield Doom’s most brutal moments and, more pleasantly, a cache of health pickups. They’re gruesome, disgusting, and all too satisfying. Over time you start to depend on these up-close attacks to stay alive, turning even the most passive player into an aggressive, forward-charging maniac.

Eventually, however, the chaos wears a little thin. After fighting wave after wave of demons, battles start to blend together, making each fight feel less remarkable than the last. Doom always throws a new challenge at you before the game begins to feel rote, but the campaign’s later stages just aren’t as thrilling as they should be.

Doom is technically impressive as well, buttery smooth with nary a framerate hiccup. That said, the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which I reviewed, doesn’t offer nearly the graphical punch as the PC version. Textures occasionally pop in, and the outdoor scenery looks particularly bland. I get that I’m supposed to be looking at a desolate Martian landscape, but do the boulders have to look like blobs of orange Jell-O?

Doom also features a full-fledged multiplayer component, though it sadly can’t match the solo experience. You get six gameplay modes, including standard Team Deathmatch and Domination as well as offerings like Soul Harvest, which sees you collect the souls of your opponents for points. There are plenty of opportunities for character customization and upgrades, but the whole experience suffers from some particularly uninspired levels.

It’s partly by design — Doom embraces its old-school sensibilities everywhere – but compared to the exciting, dynamic levels in games like Call of Duty Black Ops 3 and Overwatch, Doom’s multiplayer just doesn’t hold up. Sure, if you’re playing with a group of friends, you’ll still have a good time with Doom, but you’ll likely find yourself tiring of it rather quickly.

There is hope for Doom’s multiplayer, though, in the form of SnapMap. A built-in multiplayer level editor, SnapMap lets you design your own hellish playground in which you and your friends can hunt demons and generally cause a ruckus. It’s called SnapMap because you literally snap chunks of the world together like giant blood-drenched puzzle pieces. 

It’s not just about slapping levels together, though. You can also add demons, in-game effects, weapon drops, anything you can see in the single-player campaign. It’s incredibly intuitive — you can put together a level in a few minutes and start playing right away.

So kudos to id and Bethesda for managing to make an old game feel new again. That’s not easy to do, and while its multiplayer stumbles, Doom will leave you exhausted from its intensity, sick from its brutality, and yearning for more when you complete its 13-hour campaign. If you like your shooters fast and deadly, Hell is pretty heavenly.

What’s hot: Ridiculously fast-paced combat; satisfying weapons upgrades; Glory Kills; CHAINSAWS!

What’s not: Mediocre multiplayer; occasionally bland graphics; battles can blend together

Platform reviewed: PS4

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.


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