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‘Doom’ a triumphant return to the classic first-person shooter

Players battle relentless demon hordes through the depths of hell in “Doom,” a reboot of the horror first-person shooter series.

BETHESDA SOFTWORKS

By MICHAEL S. DARNELL | Stars and Stripes | Published: May 27, 2016

Once upon a time, first-person shooters were simple affairs; full of guns, explosions, blood and not much else.

That’s not to say they weren’t fun. The fast-paced twitch gunplay found in titles such as “Unreal” and “Quake” entertained an entire generation of gamers long before the cinematic “Call of Duty” formula became the default FPS framework.

Even id Software’s “Doom” fell victim to what has become the modern FPS game structure. “Doom 3,” in stark contrast to its predecessors, was full of unnecessary cutscenes, exposition and overly linear level design. Worst of all, it was just boring.

It seemed that the days of AAA twitch shooters was well and truly dead, at that point. For if “Doom,” the father of the genre, fell to the horrors of dull game design, what hope would there be for the rest of its children?

Well, not unlike the plot of the series, it was the unnamed “Doom Guy” that has metaphorically rescued humanity from that hell on earth. The recently released “Doom” soft reboot is not only a return to form for one of the pioneers of the FPS genre, but a return to a way of designing a game that has long been missing from AAA gaming.

“Doom” sheds all the bloat that has infected FPSs for more than a decade. There is no super-involved plot, no lengthy cutscenes dumping loads of unnecessary exposition on bored players and no ambiguity about the game’s primary purpose. “Doom’s” job is to be a shooter, and it does that better than anybody else.

The game opens with the protagonist trapped by demonic forces. Within seconds, he is given all the motivation needed to begin a bloody rampage that will take him from Mars to Hell and back again. Each of the levels along the way (and they are levels in the traditional sense, not modern linear set pieces), are a treat to explore, thanks to excellent level design that uses vertical spacing to maximum effect.

Levels are usually set up like arenas interconnected by passageways. This makes it clear when combat is about to begin, but when the final monster in any given area is obliterated, there are plenty of nooks and crannies to poke around in and tons of secrets to be found.

The openness of each level seems to be dictated by the way the incredibly fast-paced combat was designed. Staying still is a sure-fire way to die. Not only will players have to dust off forgotten skills like strafing and bunny-hopping, they’re going to have to get used to enemies that don’t stay in place.

Imps jump from platform to platform, gripping onto the sides of pillars before chucking a searing fireball. Cacodemons bob and weave in the air; hell knights pursue the player relentlessly, leaping up to smash slow-moving players to bloody particles.

Players more familiar with the duck-and-cover gunplay mechanics most commonly used in modern game design will find themselves having to learn a new way of approaching combat. For veterans of “Unreal Tournament” and the like, playing “Doom” is like returning home.

That being said, there are some noticeable additions to the ancient “Doom” formula. Of those, the most prominent is the new “glory kill” system.

Once an enemy has taken a certain amount of damage, they’ll begin to glow for a short period of time. Performing a melee strike on them will then trigger a bloody execution that will restore some health — and, later on, other power-ups.

There are health packs and ammo strewn across the levels, but the primary path to staying alive is to kill more bad guys. It’s an ingenious gameplay addition that communicates how the game should be played without having to say a word.

In fact, id packed that type of subtle instruction into every facet of the game. That includes the expansive arsenal.

Players are once again allowed to carry with them enough guns to arm a small militia. There are the standard-issue “Doom” shotguns, plasma rifles and rocket launchers. The famous BFG makes a glorious return as well, as does the chainsaw — which now can kill almost every enemy in the game with one hit.

Each gun can also be modified to add new firing modes that can be swapped out on the fly. What that means in practice is that players are able to create their own favorite weapons, upgrade them however they see fit and then ride them to victory. It’s an incredibly satisfying mechanic that I’d love to see other shooters adopt more frequently.

The campaign itself doesn’t generally take too long to beat, but I felt I got my money’s worth. The multiplayer options right now are relatively sparse — with standard death match being the mode most often populated with players. There is one new feature that has added a ton of replayability for me, though your mileage may vary.

Id has added a level creator mode outside of the main content. Unlike similar modes in other games, the “SnapMap” feature is both intuitive and fully fleshed out. Within minutes, players will be able to create intricate, explorable maps.

There are some frustrating limitations of the map — namely, that there is a hard limit to how many monsters that can be used — but after a bit of tinkering, I was able to create a really complex world in about 30 minutes. If a patch removes that restriction — put into place, I assume, by the need to keep the maps easily sharable even on slower internet connections — this is a mode I can see myself putting a ton of hours into.

That’s not the only knock against “Doom,” though. As of the writing of this article, the game is a technical mess on the PC. I’ve run across frequent crash-to-desktop bugs, and there is an omnipresent bug that causes textures to not load. One stage early on caused such severe slowdown that I thought the game was broken. Four restarts “fixed” that bug, but it was annoying nonetheless.

Id did release a patch that fixed some earlier bugs, so hopefully in time those issues will be ironed out. Something to keep in mind. I really loved the game, but the amount of bugs I came across was frankly a bit beyond what I’d normally just overlook.

Other than that, though, the game is absolutely sublime. I was a fan of FPSs for a while, until “Call of Duty” and its ilk became too enamored with its high-priced voice actors and barely-interactive set pieces. I thought I had just outgrown the genre. Turns out, I hadn’t. I was just waiting for the right shooter to come along. “Doom” is that shooter.

Bottom line: B+ “Doom” is a triumphant return to the classic first-person shooter, with enough new tricks to melt the heart of even the most jaded old-school gamer. There are some technical issues to be aware of, but otherwise this is an easy must-buy.
Rating: M for mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)
Platform: PC (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Official website: Doom.com

darnell.michael@stripes.com

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