To hell with horror—for DOOM, Bethesda Studios eschews the terrifying jump-scare tactics of 2004’s awesome series reboot Doom 3, instead opting to go back to its original roots (1993’s Doom and 1994’s Doom II: Hell on Earth) to deliver a balls to the wall first-person-shooter extravaganza. It’s a retro-reinvention that marries the best of all worlds, providing incessant, chaotic old-school combat with the graphics and controls that only a modern console (or PC) can afford. Think of it as the franchise’s Aliens to Doom 3’s Alien. And prepare to be wracked with all-out anarchic anxiety.
The path to brutal satanic triumph wasn’t always preordained for DOOM, which endured a rocky path to store shelves.
Initial production began all the way back in 2008, and first produced a game that developer Id Software and publisher Bethesda Softworks decided, in 2011, wasn’t up to snuff—leading them to start again from scratch. Considering this troubled history, it’s no surprise the title has been awaited with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, which is why the kick-ass quality of the game is a revelation and, also, something of a welcome relief.
On a narrative and aesthetic level, DOOM is both familiar and unique. As in its prior iterations, its story is simple: you’re a faceless, nameless supersuited soldier who’s tasked with closing a portal to Hell on Mars that, it turns out, was opened—in order to harness the Devil’s unlimited power—by evil scientists working for intergalactic terraforming conglomerate Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC). At least until it inevitably sends you to Hades itself, the action primarily takes place in and directly outside UAC’s Red Planet loading docks, laboratories, medical stations, and control bases. These locales have been ravaged by hordes of invading demons, and thus recall the style of the Alien quadrilogy and its legion of sci-fi imitators: dark corridors marked by fire, steam, and flickering lights; steel rooms full of grated staircases, giant crates, and explosive canisters; industrial doorways locked by translucent keypads; and floors, walls, and ceilings coated in blood and guts.
Awakening on a stone tablet that’s been the recent site of a satanic ritual (the giveaway: the candles and pentagrams embellishing the floor), your protagonist is immediately thrust into demon-killing duty, along the way acquiring ancient armor and a host of weapons that include not only standard firearms (pistol, shotgun, assault rifle) but also the series’ favorite tools of choice, a chainsaw and the BFG (i.e. the ‘Big Fucking Gun’). Like your suit, these armaments can be upgraded along the way, though DOOM keeps that easy and intuitive—as it does a new melee system that allows players to dispatch stunned enemies with close-range finishing moves that produce extra health rewards, and are (in keeping with DOOM’s trademark gruesomeness) extremely graphic in nature.
More Halo than Call of Duty in its emphasis on simple gameplay over upgrade customization and tactical warfare strategy, DOOM is a gleeful kill-‘em-saga whose attitude is epitomized by recurring one-against-dozens skirmishes whose pace is as blistering as the speed-metal guitars and bass that begin to blare when things get truly hectic. In that regard, the game deliberately targets fans of its first two seminal outings—the veritable godfathers of first-person shooters, thanks to then-cutting-edge visuals and an action-horror attitude that helped push games into Mortal Kombat-and-beyond ultra-violence.
DOOM superbly channels its predecessors’ chainsaw-crazy spirit throughout its lengthy campaign, which keeps things fresh by shrewdly doling out enhanced abilities, and pitting one against more fearsome foes (fireball-hurling Imps, gargantuan Hell Knights, levitating Summoners’ dual-cannoned Revenants) in wave after exhausting, nerve-fraying wave. The title’s frantic pace also benefits its multiplayer, where solo deathmatches and team-based competitions—again, resembling the look and feel of Halo’s fantastic online modes—become blistering free-for-alls. Id and Bethesda have put considerable effort into making the game feel simultaneously fleet and muscular, and the brisk, unpredictable craziness of its large-scale battles (including timed campaign-interlude challenges in which you have to use a single weapon to slaughter foes) makes up for any minor AI shortcomings.
All of this insanity does come at a price: namely, actual horror, which is in woefully short supply throughout DOOM’s single-player storyline. Doom 3’s central flashlight mechanic—in which you could either illuminate an area, or ready your weapon (but not at the same time)—may have been a vexing gimmick, but it also created an amazing amount of suspense by forcing one to navigate corpse-lined, scream-echoing corridors at a fearfully deliberate pace. That, in turn, made its jolt-scares all the more effective. Though it was full of pulse-pounding conflict, Doom 3 placed a premium on generating dread and distress through canny use of shadows and well-timed noises, striking a careful balance between demon-encountering anticipation and payoff.
While, on a visual and aural level, DOOM is akin to a next-gen version of Doom 3, its fundamental design is radically different. To a slight extent, the new course it charts is a bit of a letdown, if only because horror games like Doom 3 boast an unparalleled capacity to scare; the sense of interactive involvement in their unholy situations leaves one wracked with constant I-don’t-want-to-go-in-there trepidation, and makes one exceedingly vulnerable to scream-out-loud surprises. Whether in first- or third-person, survival-horror titles provide such immersive you-are-at-risk experiences that, at their finest, outpace all but the very best of their cinematic counterparts, compelling one to endure their shocks with the house lights turned on—if not during the sunshiny day, when their nightmares might seem slightly less nightmarish.
Like James Cameron’s gunfire-drenched sequel to Ridley Scott’s legendary outer space nightmare, DOOM accepts that it can’t completely duplicate, much less best, its ancestor’s most harrowing tricks, and thus opts to refashion its material as an intense gung-ho adventure. In doing so, it proves to be a companion piece of the most exhilarating order—one that’ll keep you up at night by keeping your aggro adrenaline at a hellishly fever pitch.