It’s to my immense sadness that I must announce the gradual descending of the annual Gaming Drought. Yes, those months right before E3 when nothing huge is scheduled for release and nothing huge has been announced for the rest of the year. It’s a sad time for us all, and we have to make do with scavenging up what scraps we can find. Some brave publishers are sneaking out some games during the Drought, which is why we’re going to check out the multiplayer beta for DOOM, id Software’s upcoming reboot of the classic FPS series. This one releases in May, so one would assume it’s in pretty good shape and ready for prime time, right? Well…
We can easily summarize all the issues with DOOM’s multiplayer as it stands in a single line: a direct hit with the rocket launcher no longer kills people. Yes, that’s right – even if you land a rocket right on somebody’s face, they’re going to keep on keeping on. That’s not very DOOM, is it? It appears to take two super shotgun hits to kill someone as well, even from point blank range, which doesn’t feel especially authentic either.
“Not Very DOOM” can apply to many of the concepts we see here. They’re very Halo, but not very DOOM. You can only carry two weapons at a time, for instance, with seemingly no reasoning beyond Master Chief having those same limitations; certainly this was never a thing in DOOM, where Doomguy made a point of carting around an entire hyperspace arsenal. There’s a fairly high jump and accompanying boost, kind of like what we saw in Halo 5. Players can take a surprising amount of punishment as well, another nod to Halo, though I didn’t notice my armor regenerating or anything.
That’s not to say every aspect of the beta was seemingly ripped from Halo. There are fatalities, for instance. Yes, fatalities. If someone reaches low enough health, you can tap a key and do a sick badass Doritos-Mountain Dew cinematic fatality on them. If that sounds goofy and a little lame, you’ve nailed it. Another interesting feature is the ability to temporarily play as a demon with the help of a periodically-spawning pickup; this is probably the most entertaining aspect of DOOM’s multiplayer based on what I saw, since it briefly turns the game into the kind of carnage you’d expect from the franchise. The Revenant I was able to control, for instance, had a rocket launcher that actually killed on contact! It was very DOOM.
Even when you aren’t doing 360 noscope fatalities, you’re still unlikely to be inspired by the gunplay. The weapon options are fairly tepid (spammy and underpowered rocket launcher, slow and underpowered super shotgun, boring assault and plasma rifles, and the Sniper’s gun from Team Fortress 2) and combat tends to revolve around getting the jump on other players, ensuring a kill, or being surprised yourself and inevitably dying. The same could be said of most shooters these days, so DOOM would really need to work to stand out and that work just doesn’t seem to be there.
Beyond the fact that this doesn’t feel very much like DOOM, the gameplay in this beta wasn’t exactly offensive. It’s a largely serviceable first-person shooter. The graphics are very nice and it ran well. The game modes I tried – Team Deathmatch and Warpath, the latter of which was essentially King of the Hill – worked for what they are. Lag didn’t seem like much of an issue and I had no trouble getting the hang of the controls. Once I’d played a couple of matches I was regularly placing toward the top of the leaderboards, so the modern FPS trend of a couple players standing out while everyone else is there to be meat for the grinder remains accounted for.
The issue is that based on the beta, DOOM isn’t doing much to set itself apart from the endless sea of shooters. The setting and aesthetic aren’t going to do it, since who’s not familiar with space marines running around firing rocket launchers at each other by now? The me-too Halo gameplay isn’t going to do it, since we’ve got Halo…unless you’re playing on PC, in which case Team Fortress 2 is free, so why aren’t you looking at that for your multiplayer blasting action? It’s not going to draw in DOOM fans beyond anyone who still pre-orders games or buys things based on their title; the changes to the formula are too numerous and too overpowering for this to still be anything but DOOM in name only.
The bottom line: if you’re planning on buying the 2016 iteration of DOOM, you’re buying it for the singleplayer…which was conspicuously absent from this beta. In an industry landscape that’s steadily moving past shoehorning questionable multiplayer into everything, the gameplay on display here simply doesn’t match up. The ironic thing is that so far, Bioware have been great at making us rethink this practice with the excellent multiplayer modes in Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition; that expertise doesn’t appear to have carried over to DOOM, however, and without some significant changes it’s difficult to see the game garnering much of a community.