Knee-deep in the dead, boot stuck in demon-skull mush, this constant flow of death and mayhem has only two possible outcomes: the demise of 50+ demons in a single room or the demise of the player. So it was back in 1993 with the original Doom game and so it is in 2017 (or 2016 if you played it back when it was first released) with Doom 4.
In the quest for an alternative energy source, humans screwed all of it up again. We opened a portal to Hell on Mars to extract so-called “argent energy” — the best alternative to whatever the hell it is we used to successfully colonize Mars in the first place, all while escaping the dreadful inevitability of global warming back on Earth. The year is … eh, who the hell knows? Who the hell cares about the story, really? It’s a Doom game — the only thing that really matters is that we know it’s now up to some voiceless guy dressed in green armor (what’s his name?) to save the day, yet again.
Diving right into the latest Doom game, vets of the previous games have at least one expectation for the impossible mission ahead — buckets of blood and mountains of gore shall be shed upon the battlefields of Hell. Oh, and we also expect to wield a “Big F***ing Gun” to help with the carnage.
Given that short list of expectations, Bethesda Studios certainly delivers the blood-soaked goods in devilishly impressive fashion with Doom 4.
A Bloody-Good Brew of Endless Destruction
A mixture of old and new, the gameplay in Doom 4 reigns supreme above all other modern shooters and even usurps many first-person shooters of old. After reading that, you might be surprised to hear that Doom 4 doesn’t do anything particularly innovative gameplay-wise. Instead, it’s the combination of preexisting gameplay styles from other shooters and genres that make the Doom 4 formula so damn unique and addictive.
The first hour of the game can be difficult to digest, even for those well-adjusted to old-school shooters. Amid the somewhat satiating pseudo-metal riffs blistering in the background and the cat-like agility of the Doom marine, dispatching the numerous enemies, which constantly spawn and attack from every direction, can be a nauseating affair. But after the initial shellshock (I’m playing a FPS game in 2017 that gets my blood pumping?!), and adjusting to the combination of RPG-upgrade, kill-everything-in-the-room-to-progress, and “glory kill”, smash-demons’-faces-with-your-fists styles of gameplay, this bloody-good brew of endless destruction becomes as smooth as a cold pint of Guinness on a dreary day.
Doom 4 brings the fun back into the FPS genre and abandons modern (e.g., player can only carry two weapons at a time/effortless health regeneration) gameplay elements for an emphasis on a brutal, take no-prisoners style of gameplay. Does it make sense that only when you chop a demon down with the chainsaw, a surplus of ammo spills from its mutilated corpse? No. Does it make sense that the demons drop health and armor after you kill them? No. Do these elements add a tactical layer to the seemingly straightforward mix of running and gunning? Yes.
More importantly, it’s a helluva lot of fun.
The game distinguishes itself from most modern and old-school FPS games by essentially forcing the player to use the melee aspect for survival. Near death? Throw a demon against the wall and see your health replenish as its guts slide to the floor. In this way, Doom 4’s gameplay not only develops a thin layer of strategy, but it simultaneously establishes a bone-shattering, relentless pace that few other shooters can replicate. The player needs to constantly kill things with skill in order to survive. This mechanic takes a whirling chainsaw blade to the health regeneration elements that are prominent in most other modern shooter games, as it embodies the pure-action essence of old.
There Are A Few Blemishes
However, to say that the game is perfect would be an exaggeration. Is this the most amped up I’ve been playing through a modern FPS game? Without a doubt. This was the first game I played in ages that I actually got lost for a bit while navigating the levels (much like you’d expect in older FPS games). Is this game insanely gorgeous and well optimized? Yes — it’s probably the best-looking game I’ve played on my new PC so far and it runs at 170 fps on Ultra at 1080p.
But, with all the visual, auditory and ultra-violent gameplay luster, there are a few blemishes on this otherwise immaculate game.
For example, despite all the fast-paced, demon-killing glory, there are some minor pacing issues scattered throughout. What’s to blame? Several short but sometimes annoying platforming sequences.
Although the platforming in the Hell-based missions feels natural (jumping from floating rock to floating rock is something you’d expect to do if you went to Hell, after all), in the human research labs, the platforming design often feels contrived and nonsensical. Instead of adding to the gameplay experience, these moments just make the overall flow stutter between the impressive, high-intensity action sequences.
Throwing a bit more salt in the wound, as fantastic as the gameplay is, some of the upgrades seem unnecessary and in ways, detrimental to the otherwise relentless gameplay.
For example, having to upgrade your ammo capacity as you progress rather than having all the ammo you need at the beginning seems counterintuitive to the balls-to-the-wall style of gameplay established in the first level. The running and gunning in Doom 4 is balanced well enough that it isn’t a true problem, but Bethesda’s design choice here likely molded the overall gameplay and level design in a way that could have prevented it from reaching its true and most ruthless potential.
Furthermore, although “Rune Trials” (sequences where the player is forced to complete an odd feat to unlock additional powers) are not an explicit hindrance to the gameplay experience because they are not required, they do feel contrived and unnecessary. Instead of adhering to a more old-school approach, forcing the player to discover these upgrades in a secret level or secret area, Bethesda decided to have us endure ridiculous shooting- and jumping-based challenges, which again, distort the congruence of the otherwise action-packed experience.
Finally, some of the boss fights are laughably bad and they also affect the pacing by forcing the player to try and dodge several progressively difficult but predictable attacks. Oddly, I found that it was easier to run up to some of the bosses and plant hundreds of rockets into their faces rather than try and dodge their attacks and adhere to “traditional” boss fight tactics. Perhaps this was Bethesda’s intention, but given the “video-gamey” aspects of the encounters, it makes for an odd match with the rest of the experience, which is seamless.
Bottom Line on Doom 4
Doom 4 is a game that both longtime FPS aficionados and genre newbies need to play. The game embodies a familiar, shoot-everything-that-moves-and-ask-no-questions style of action that made many old-school shooters timeless gems. It accomplishes this all while peppering the genre with its own fist-to-skull, in-your-face take on shooting. In this way, the game successfully meshes the old school with the new school, all while creating a fresh and seemingly unmatchable pace of destruction that all FPS gamers are likely to enjoy.