Thoughts on, “Doom” (2016)

There is a great, sick, brilliant 1/3 that is within, “Doom”, with the rest being either mere promises (Snap Maps) or…well, less than great and yet having the guts to ask players to buy fucking Season Passes for DLC (Multiplayer). That should be a huge problem, especially in an age where games cost $59 at launch (even more if one lives in, say, Canada or Australia). But that 1/3 is so gory, so immature and so primal that it has to be experienced to be appreciated, and is well worth the price of admission alone. But, well, here I am writing stuff out about this game because this is my website and I feel like it, so here we go.

In a narrative sense, the single player is kind of a strange beast, for it mixes self-awareness with pretty detailed (for a first person shooter) lore that calls back to the earlier games. The game’s intro pretty much tells the player from the beginning that one should not expect pretensions to grand themes/politics like one sees in the later, “Call of Duty” games or, “Homefront”, and yet the game expects you to collect logs and stuff, filling in on the game’s environments, monsters and even characters. While one doesn’t have to necessarily READ these things, the problem is that when the game gives you the scoop, “Half-Life” style, things can be vague at best. So the game winds up making a similar mistake, “Doom 3” made some time ago in regards to storytelling, but this time around it succeeds in giving the player enough distance to enjoy the game’s gory excesses while also being able to laugh along with the games incessant player worship.

And make no mistake, for all of it’s frantic pacing and gore, the game really is pandering to the player. Don’t get me wrong, it feels GREAT: not since, “Serious Sam” have we received a first person shooter that is so unashamed of itself and that also tests the player’s reflexes. It also helps that the soundtrack and visuals are kickass, even if the color palette is very limited (I recall even, “Doom 3” having a bit more color variety than this, and that game is set in some of the most narrow corridors of the series). The issue is that the game is selling the idea of you, the player, as an unstoppable force fighting the forces of Hell…and then it takes that idea to ridiculous conclusions. It’s all in the details: from the way you can dispose of demons with just the push of a button (all of which can vary based on your position relative to the demon and with your weapon of choice), to even how your player avatar emotes with just simple movements of their fists (Doom Guy punches things A LOT, even when they are giving them powerups). It’s a power fantasy, but there are details from within the game world showcasing you as something of an uncivilized brute in a relatively civilized corporation that just so happened to have unleashed something VERY BAD. So while on one hand the game is really effective at making you feel AMAZING, pay attention and you’ll find that the game may be laughing at you for it.

Which is not to say the game is some grand deconstruction of first person shooters that happens to call back to the past, and not that the game doesn’t allow you to feel good for murdering demons. The game’s clunky narrative somehow manages to succeed at giving the player just enough distance to allow oneself to murder with glee while also having some detail and subtle nods to the lore of previous, “Doom” games to give a little weight (it even uses the character design of the Hell Knight from, “Doom 3”, which is telling considering how that game is considered the series’ black sheep). It’s unapologetic, but also calls attention to itself. It’s a retro-callback that is also not afraid of cribbing a few things from modern game design (weapon upgrades, albeit ones that one has to earn with skill-based challenges) that makes it fast yet accessible even to those who haven’t played a, “Doom” game in their life (confession time: I’ve played, “Doom”, but only in bits and spurts, and I’ve only recently decided to play the older games to get some appreciation for the series as a whole). It’s not, “Dark Souls” where one can beat a few areas and then become insufferable and smug about it, but nor is it the watered-down, generic, “Call of Duty” clone mixed with bits of, “Mortal Kombat” that some players feared it would be  when footage for the game surfaced at gaming conventions. It’s just, “Doom”, unashamed, but also self-aware.

Which brings us to the 2/3rds that are not so amazing. First there is, “Snap Maps” which is actually pretty robust, allowing one to create maps and even make entire game modes. There is a pretty damn cool creation named, “Imp Rebellion” by rupert_345, for example, that showcases the potential for creativity within the confines of the mode. But it also highlights a current issue with whether or not the game allows for mod support, a staple of the, “Doom” games on PC and one for which people have made a petition for. At it’s best, “Snap Maps” is robust, deep and filled with potential, but the problem is that if one is not creatively inclined and/or are concerned about ID/Bethseda’s, “Walled Garden” approached to gamer mods, one may would not want to touch this until either the mode is more fleshed out or until one is able to truly mod the game to their hearts content like one could with the older titles (provided one has the inclination and persistence to begin with).

But the real bone to pick with this game turns out to be the multiplayer. There is a chasm in mechanics between the single player and the multiplayer, so not only is the game very slow, it’s the one that turns out to be the worst victim of, “Call of Duty”-style mechanic tinkering everyone feared the campaign mode would have. As of this writing, the mode just feels very unsatisfying. I understand that most video games are little more than hamster wheels mixed with (and this is cliche, I know) Pavlovian awards, but the Multiplayer feels like work, with one having to juggle weapon loadouts, winning avatar customization options one match at a time (unless one has shelled out extra money for DLC) and playing through maps that have a, “Quake” design philosophy to them. Which is fine…it just is not, “Doom”. That, and the game is hosted on dedicated servers, meaning that one cannot host the game on their own server, which means that when one decides to play the game, they will have to deal with bad connections and other issues when playing. Things become even worse if one lives in territories that are not near major cities in the United States or other major areas. It’s sad that PC games have to be saddled with such nonsense when the very point of a PC game is allowing the player the choice to do what they wish, with their copy of the game…but all the better to hand out those armor/weapon upgrades, I guess.

“Doom” is, at it’s very best, a throwback with a bit of irony. At it’s worst, it’s a showcase of mere locked down potential and bad design decisions that make it piggyback onto aging trends. But goddamn, does that little bit of the game WORK. After sinking over 20 hours into game (I…uh, died a lot) I’m now playing through the campaign in higher difficulty, challenging myself on trying to get all of the secrets on one go. I am even thinking about getting into SnapMaps and showcasing some of my creations to the world, even though I have a million other creative things to do, which are not under proprietary standards and licenses. If there is one thing, “Doom” is good for, is for reminding us that sometimes it’s ok to indulge with our inner monster for a while.

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