One of my favorite games of the past few years was Sunset Overdrive. If you haven’t played it, this is a bright, colorful open-world shooter that disguises some solid game design under a glossy layer of anti-intellectualism. It’s that last bit that really does it for me; the supposed enlightenment of the hobby in the modern age has created a lot of games without necessarily creating a lot of good games, so when something like Sunset Overdrive comes around that really blows my mind with great gameplay, that’s worth taking notice. Put simply, for a number of reasons in 2016 it’s much harder to make a praiseworthy video game than a praiseworthy “interactive expeience.”
That’s why we’re looking at DOOM today. Not the 1993 DOOM, but the recent reboot from Bethesda Softworks. The game’s hilariously hamfisted marketing efforts suggested that there’s no way it could ever be good. You’ll be surprised to hear that it actually is; this is one of the best straight-up first-person shooters since the Serious Sam games.
Why? Well, DOOM doesn’t change the conversation about gaming. It doesn’t disrupt anything. It’s not an Issues Game, no scripts are flipped and nothing is added to the cultural landscape. Playing DOOM won’t make you a better person, regardless of whose metric we’re basing that on today. If there’s a buzzword associated with pulling games further and further away from gameplay, then DOOM doesn’t do it. This is, if anything, a direct assault on the idea that video games can be art.
Instead, DOOM is all about shooting bad guys using giant guns. Yes, there was a time when a first-person shooter had to have shooting instead of just looking at things that are trying to make you feel something, and this is the period that DOOM draws from. The guns make big, impressive noises and whatever you shoot with them tends to explode into bunches of tiny bits and chunks.
You’ve got a vast and impressive arsenal of guns to choose from, most of which are updated versions of classics from the original DOOM games; this is easily the greatest rendition of the double-barreled Super Shotgun we’ve seen, for instance. There’s also the odd newcomer as well, like the mighty Gauss Cannon. All of these weapons can be upgraded in a variety of ways through a simple and rewarding point-based system. Your guns are what will make you feel something in DOOM. Your guns are what will make you a better person.
That’s not all, of course. Sometimes you can shoot a bad guy just enough to throw him off balance, then run up and rip his jaw off in a little fatality animation that takes a second or so. You get bonus health for doing this, so there’s a balance to strive for between blasting baddies and running up to do these Glory Kill fatalities. A lot of noise was made by Discerning Gamers about how these might damage the “flow” of the game. Discerning Gamers were wrong, as they usually are, and Glory Kills end up adding a nice dimension of risk and reward to the combat without harming any ambiguous “flow”; you can also turn them off.
As for the bad guys themselves, they’re the usual crew we know and love from previous DOOM games. This is 2016, of course, so they look a little nicer and they do a little more. Imps acrobatically crawl up walls to get a better angle on you for fireball spam, for instance, while Cacodemons actually use their aerial capabilities to their plumpy advantage. Even your average zombie is worth a second look, since some of them are fused with explosive canisters and can be used as impromptu missiles.
It cannot be understated how nice this game feels in action. On both PC and console, DOOM is graphically impressive and runs smooth as silk. Your weapons have a rhythm all their own. Combat feels almost choreographed as you dodge enemy projectiles and dish out destruction. It’s not the kind of thing that can really be expressed in a gameplay video or a review, but I assure you that DOOM’s gameplay is top notch.
You’ll grab guns and shoot baddies through the course of a single-player campaign that lasts around six to eight hours. There’s ostensibly a plot but it largely points you to the next roomful of demons to shoot and you can ignore it should you choose; you can also choose to read up on little lore blurbs strewn throughout the game that cover weapons, monsters and locations you encounter. There are also loads of secrets to find that offer weapon and suit upgrades as well as ammo, health and armor caches. You spend much more time shooting than reading or looking at things, which is great not just as a full-fledged DOOM game but as a video game fullstop.
The overall feel of the campaign teeters between Troma films and sci-fi schlock – the good kind of schlock, of course. It’s great. You’ll enjoy it if you enjoy fun and have a sense of humor. There’s even a mode offering permanent death if you’re into that.
Oh, and it must be said that there’s also a multiplayer mode. I wrote up a preview on DOOM’s multiplayer beta a little while ago. It’s was kind of dull then, it’s kind of dull now, and definitely not why you should check this game out. Maybe play a match or two if you’re bored. You shouldn’t be bored; you’ve got the single-player campaign to play.
For some time now there’s been an impromptu campaign against games like DOOM. They’re dumb. They don’t add anything to the conversation, whatever that might be. They’re too violent. They’re not culturally relevant enough for modern gamers. Even if all of that were true, DOOM remains amazing, striking right to the heart of what makes a video game fun by offering the one thing that only a video game can offer: gameplay. Check it out.