...It would have perhaps scared her moral crusade into submission – playing the latest Doom is like taking a shower at a demonic abattoir. Had the media standards campaigner Mary Whitehouse lived long enough to have seen video games enter the near-photoreal generation we now all enjoy, you can bet your life she’d have had something to say about Doom. It is quite possibly the most blood-thirsty game I’ve ever played, and (for the most part) I’m loving it.
While I’ve not had enough time to play the game in terms of giving a full review verdict (publishers Bethesda only released code of the game to the press on Friday, the same day it went on general sale), my time with it so far suggests it’s a fitting update to the classic series.
It’s easy to trace the lineage of the Doom of 2016 back to that of the 1993 original, and so this quote from Doom co-creator John Carmack from the Masters of Doom book seems particularly fitting: “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It's expected to be there, but it's not that important.”
And certainly, Doom wastes no time with story that could be better spent indulging its gore-porn. Rather than some long expository opening cut scene, within seconds of waking up on a sacrificial altar the Doom marine has already blown chunks out of three demons without breaking a sweat. Sure, there are codex entries to be unlocked, and lengthy descriptions attached to each weapon in your armoury, but Doom’s single-player campaign has a singular focus – putting as many hellspawn at the business end of the barrel of your shotgun as possible.
It is relentless. Crafty enemy AI sees demons scaling walls, chasing you down and laying suppressing fire on the Doom Marine as he fights his way across the bleak bases and barren landscape of Mars. It’s fast-paced in the way that classic 90s shooters were – you tear through refineries, strafing as if your spine could take a 90-degree rotation of your hips, backpedalling down corridors to lure a train of enemies into your gunfire before running down the stragglers. Map design is labyrinthine, just like the original, but an increased focus on verticality means a threat (or a counter-attack) can come from all angles. It is gunplay dreamt up on a cocktail of Red Bull, Haribo and amphetamines.
And it’s just as stomach-churning as that cocktail sounds, too. Whitehouse, her progeny MediaWatch and US counterpart Tipper Gore would probably have DEFCON 5 END TIMES crisis talks if they caught sight of Doom’s “Glory Kill” system. Here, weakened enemies can be caught in up-close melee finisher kills, which reward the player with a health drop, ammo packs and a canned animation that sees the Doom Marine eviscerate his foes. Limbs are ripped off, brains crushed, torsos twain in two with a chainsaw. As well as exercising the series penchant for bloodlust, it introduces a risk-reward element to gameplay, forcing a face-to-face showdown with baddies in order to get those much-needed item drops.
I fear that the Glory Kill system may be papering over a few cracks though. Doom’s insistence to sticking to the 1993 blueprint means that it does become somewhat repetitive – corridor shootouts roll into lock-down arena shootouts, punctuated by some (admittedly top-notch) boss fights. But punchy and satisfying as the core shooting is, there’s little else to Doom aside from some rough platforming-focussed collectible hunts. Purity comes at the expense of variety.
I’ve spent less time with the multiplayer section of the game, but that seems more problematic, lacking the identity that the focussed-if-repetitive single player offers. Developers iD software have fused Call of Duty style levelling and loadouts with Doom’s fast-paced, teleporting classic multiplayer, and the two just don’t gel well. Throw in perks that turn players into overpowered demons, and multiplayer quickly becomes very unbalanced.
Which is a shame, as the SnapMap make-your-own-map editor is excellent. A simple system belies the depth of the potential for creation here, letting you go to town with madcap levels of your own design. These are community curated, and the cream is already rising to the top, with inventive maps sure to extend the otherwise currently limited appeal of multiplayer.
A game that lets you smash Hell’s brains in with your bare hands was never going to be subtle, and Doom gleefully revels in the sort of visceral violence that would have decency campaigners spewing righteous indignation. It’s not perfect, but it is bloody, and sometimes that’s bloody good enough.