I’m not very good at playing the latest titles as soon as they come out. Only when Doom Eternal was released, I remembered that I had completely forgotten about Doom (2016). With some encouragement from the COVID-19 lockdown, I dedicated a few weeks (playing for an hour or two here and there, as I usually do) to finish the campaign. This review attempts to capture my personal experience, while the memories are still fresh. I may draw some parallels to original DOOM games, as well as Doom 3; less to other first person shooters, since I really have not played many of them (especially modern ones).
Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way first.
Not much to say about them; they are very good. The environments and actors (monsters, mostly) are very well drawn. Every monster is distinct and easily recognizable. Items you pick up along the way are bright and have clear visual cues: health items are highlighted in blue, armor in green and ammo in yellow; power-ups are glowing orbs (not unlike the classic games). The visuals are realistic yet cartoonish at the same time, so folks sensitive to graphical violence should be able to stomach it.
The sound effects are also top notch. Weapon sounds are satisfying, monsters’ screams and growls are ominous without being annoying. Exceptions are the former humans, who are a bit too loud and irritating as hell. Compared to DOOM / DOOM II, there are fewer distinct monsters voices, and most of them do not have obvious roaming sounds. The ones that do are usually those you want to be most aware of (Pinkies, Summoners).
Not every FPS has background music at all times. Doom 3 for instance, has no background music, only ambient sounds (which goes well with the entire horror theme). Doom (2016) takes a different approach: every level has an ambient track that plays during exploration moments, while different, much more upbeat tracks kick in during the large-scale arena fights, or during boss battles. The music style matches the style of the levels, with considerable differences between the high-tech UAC bases and the caverns of Hell. Overall, I felt it was well done and really fit the game. Each of the Classic Maps plays whatever track was originally assigned to it in DOOM / DOOM II, faithful to the original.
WARNING: PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
If the choice of name didn’t convince you that Doom (2016) is a “reboot” and not a sequel, then the fact that it essentially tells the same story for the 3rd time (after DOOM and Doom 3) should make it clear. UAC is on Mars, something triggers Hell invasion, and a lone warrior has to stop it all. There is a bunch of standard clichés, such as Being-A-Slave-In-Our-Corporation-Is-The-Meaning-Of-Your-Life, Lets-Suck-Energy-From-Evil-Dimension-What-Could-Go-Wrong, Chief-Scientist-Becomes-Corrupted-Establishes-Cult, and Protagonist-Turns-Out-To-Be-An-Ancient-Chosen-Warrior. The last one is particularly important as it provides important background to the Doom Marine (now – Doom Slayer ™) , previously seen as just some random dude, and also explains his tremendous prowess against the forces of Hell.
Three things I liked: (1) There is no overload of pointless NPCs, whose only purpose seems to be to scream in terror and die a horrible death (a la Doom 3). (2) The game avoids the predictable and overused “twist”, where the character helping you throughout the game turns out to be a villain that you have to fight in the end. (3) The protagonist still never utters a single word.
This is where everything either comes together or falls apart, and in my opinion it comes together rather well. The “tech horror” style of Doom 3, with dark corridors and frequent jump scares, did not sit well with many fans of the original DOOM, and it looks like the designers tried to appeal more to the “oldschool” crowd in this reboot. However, it still plays very different from the originals.
The game is distinctly partitioned into segments of exploration and segments of combat. Combat segments are scripted battles in large arenas, with waves of enemies spawning until you defeat them all. During the exploration segments you may encounter an enemy or a small group, but mostly it is a good time to enjoy the scenery as you try to get to the next objective. It is also the time to look for secrets, of which there is a healthy amount in every level.
One thing uncharacteristic of a Doom game (and most first person shooters I’ve played) is the amount of “platforming” that has to be done. The Slayer can jump (and after acquiring the Delta-V boots also “double-jump”), grab on to ledges and climb up. Combined, these abilities allow you to jump very high and very far, and the game uses this mechanic frequently. This is most noticeable in the Argent Energy Tower (the level where you acquire the boots), where I actually felt that combat played second chair to jumping and climbing. Players that have an aversion to platforming elements in first person shooters, worry not: it is quite forgiving, not “clunky” at all, does not require frustrating crazy precision, and generally feels good.
This is what Doom is all about – isn’t it? Before I played Doom (2016), a friend commented that it feels a lot like classic DOOM. Well, that’s not quite true. It does capture the essence of DOOM‘s fast-paced combat, against large groups of varying monsters, but most of the encounters are much more structured and scripted. Key battles take place in specific arenas, which resemble classic deathmatch arenas – multiple passages (often including teleporters and jump pads), stashes of health, armor and ammunition, usually a power-up or two. Monsters spawn in waves, triggered by some combination of time passed and monsters killed. It’s all quite fun; although the monster spawning is scripted, the battles themselves are not – there is lots of freedom to run around and multiple strategies can be applied to any battle. Well, besides the strategy of running out of the arena, since it is either locked for the duration of the battle or built in a way that only allows progression once all monsters are killed.
The encounters feel intense and open at the same time, very different from Doom 3, where you were usually put against small groups of monsters in confined spaces. If in Doom 3 your primary goal was to avoid taking damage (especially due to the super-annoying and disorienting jolts you got even from the smallest hit), here the goal is to dish as much damage as possible. The glory kill system rewards you with extra health, so you can always replenish what you lost if you are efficient at slaughtering demons.
As each level has several such arenas (which you quickly learn to recognize before the battle starts), it does begin to feel repetitive towards the end of the game. Fortunately, most levels also features smaller encounters during the exploration segments, to keep the game from feeling like a one-trick pony.
Most of the monsters of DOOM II make a comeback, usually with the same names and often similar looks (there are exceptions). Their behavior, however, is quite different in most cases, and the threat level of each demon is not always the classics. It won’t take long to learn the patterns, though. For example: Cacodemons‘ pathfinding sucks in closed quarters – they tend to get stuck in walls and around corners a lot (this is frequently evident in Classic Maps).
One thing that is fundamentally different is the vertical mobility of the monsters – even those that do not fly, can jump and climb. Without these changes, the demons would not be able to give chase to the Doom Slayer with his extreme jumping abilities. Also, most of the beasts are much faster than in their original incarnations, while the player is slower: there is no ‘Run’ button – only a temporary “Haste” power-up present in some battles. This also serves to level the battleground and make the encounters more challenging.
Monster still engage in infighting, but it is frequently scripted rather than spontaneous. You often see it happen from afar in specific locations, but it is a rare occurrence during battles. It plays a far smaller role in combat than it did in DOOM/DOOM II and seems to exist mostly for a theatrical effect.
Secrets and Exploration
As in previous games, many of the secrets contain useful items that will make the game much easier – health/armor boosts, weapons and ammo, as well as special items to upgrade your abilities. Others are “Doomguy” collectibles (which unlock monster/weapon models) and “Classic Map” secret levers. Even if you are not into such bonus content, it may be a worthwhile pursuit for the campaign, as visiting a certain number of secret areas in a level gives you additional upgrade points.
During the first few levels I was quite excited at how non-linear and exploration-inviting the maps felt. This was most noticeable in Foundry and Argent Facility. The design of these maps reminded me a lot of the classic DOOM – central areas connected by many passages, with multiple routes from places to place and objectives that can be accomplished in different order. To an extent this open, sprawling design is also noticeable in Kadingir Sanctum. Unfortunately, as the game went on, the progression became more and more linear: get to an area, fight demons, unlock next area, proceed to next area (often past points-of-no-return). This disappointed me a bit.
Character Development and Upgrades
The number and variety of upgrades is enormous for a traditional shooter. First you have Argent Cells (boost maximum health, armor and ammo capacity) and Combat Support Drones (weapon mods that offer enhanced abilities). Some of these are in plain sight, others are hidden away in secrets. Both are very important for survival later on, so I recommend searching for them. Then you have weapon upgrade points (gained by basically everything from slaughtering monsters to finding secrets) and Praetor tokens (picked up from dead Elite guards, which are usually hidden). These you can spend to upgrade the effectiveness of your weapon mods (faster fire, more damage) and the Praetor suit (things like blast damage resistance, effectiveness of power-ups and equipment items, faster movement / weapon switching). The order of upgrades is completely up to you, so you can tailor it to your preferred weapons / style of play (if you diligently look for secrets, you will have maxed out all upgrades by the end of the game).
It feels a bit like an RPG, although not as elaborate, which to me is a good thing as I don’t really have patience for complex RPG character development, and it’s definitely not what I have in mind when playing a shooter. At least, the game does a good job of not shoving it in your face and not distracting you from the action – you decide when you want to pause, go through the upgrade menu to learn about the different options and make a choice.
A rare thing in modern FPS games, the map makes a full comeback here. Because of the full 3D world, it’s not as easy to read and navigate as in DOOM, but thankfully not as difficult as in, let’s say, Descent. It is not really needed for normal play, since the next objective is usually pretty clear (and the direction and distance to it are displayed on the radar which is part of the HUD); however it is useful for looking for secrets, especially if you upgrade your Praetor suit to automatically display exploration items, or find the Automap station (present in most levels).
I didn’t really care about the level achievement challenges (of which you get 2-3 per level) – kill certain enemies in specific ways, find a certain number of secrets, etc. Some of them are trivial, others require planning. I was able to pick up most of them during the campaign playthrough to get whatever weapon upgrade points they give, but I didn’t bother much with the specialized glory kills.
The 12 Rune Trials, which are scattered throughout levels 4-9 (two per level) are more interesting. These are mini-games held in specific arenas with varying goals, such as: eliminating a certain number of monsters with a specific weapon, reaching an objective, or avoiding damage while killing demons. They are all timed, which is the main challenge. Most of them are not too difficult, and can be completed within a few attempts. One that I found particularly annoying is “Seek and Destroy” where you have to do a “Death from Above” glory kill on 3 Hell Knights, while fighting against the clock and the Unwilling that bother you and deplete your health. It was extremely frustrating to miss the correct position and execute the wrong glory kill, until I found that the best approach is to take a running leap with a double-jump, and hit the melee button while flying over the staggered Hell Knight.
The Runes give you a wide range of abilities, such as increasing the speed and effectiveness of glory kills, better air movement control. There is even one that gives you infinite ammo, as long as your armor is over a certain level. In total there are 12 runes, but only up to 3 can be equipped at the same time, introducing yet another RPG-like element (Runes can be switched out any time, even in the middle of battle).
All three battles (against the Cyberdemon, the Hell Guard trio and the Spider Mastermind) take place in the final third of the game, and are reasonably challenging. The bosses are more than just bullet sponges (although that too) – they have special attacks that test your dodging skills (strafing, jumping, crouching) to the max. It may take a few rounds to figure out their patterns, but most of their attacks are not immediately lethal, so there is some margin for error. The BFG helps a lot, but even on maximum ammo, it won’t be enough to kill a boss, so you’ll have to rely on other weapons as well. Generally, those that stun (Chaingun in Mobile Turret mode, Gauss Cannon, BFG) work best, because they also cause the bosses to drop health and ammo, which is very important for survival. The pair of Hell Guards in the second phase of the Necropolis battle seemed particularly susceptible to repeated stuns with the Gauss cannon; once I got the rhythm right, the battle was over in no time, with them hardly moving or attacking.
The Checkpoint System
FPS games with a checkpoint system, and inability to freely save the game are generally frowned upon, but in Doom (2016) it has a surprisingly small effect. There are usually checkpoints before/after big battles, and enough health/ammo pickups in between, it is unlikely that you will lose significant progress or enter a predicament such as “autosaved with 1% health before 10 monsters teleported in at the same time”. Only one checkpoint is active at a time, though, so it is possible to miss secrets or items, by triggering a checkpoint past a point of no-return (the only solution at this point would be to restart the level).
Mid-level checkpoints are saved across game sessions during the campaign playthrough, but when replaying, checkpoints are only active within the session: quit the level in the middle, and you will have to start it from the beginning next time.
Once a map is beaten, all secrets, exploration items, weapon mods and upgrades, suit upgrades and completed challenges are permanently added to your game profile; in subsequent replays you will only have to pick up those you missed. A corollary is that after a map is completed in the campaign, any upgrade choices you made are permanent, so choose wisely (if you really don’t like a choice you made, you can restart the mission, at the cost of losing all progress in it).
The checkpoint system can be abused for faster achievement of Rune upgrades and weapon Mastery elements, as well as for easier completion of many level-specific challenges. This is because monsters, items and your inventory are reset when you reload a checkpoint, but Rune/Mastery/Challenge counters are not. So if you have a specific task you need to perform (for example – collect a certain number of ammo items or kill monsters in a certain way) – find a place where it’s convenient, right after a checkpoint, get as much as you can, and if it is still not enough – reload, and repeat.
I consider my FPS skills to be only average, and decided to play the campaign on the default “Hurt Me Plenty” difficulty, so I could spend less time grinding, and just enjoy the game. It provided a balanced experience without excessive frustration, and maybe a tad on the easy side. After learning the basic mechanics, I was winning most of the battles (excluding bosses) in a single attempt. Sometimes I decided to replay battles even if it looked like I was going to survive, if I thought I had done badly, or if I wanted to complete a certain challenge that I missed. At the same time it was not too easy to be boring: playing carelessly, too slowly, or not having a proper battle plan can get one killed quite easily. What I liked, however, is that there is always a fair chance on the first try – the game does not put you into unfair situations where you lose just because you did know in advance what demons are going to attack, where and when.
Unlike classic DOOM, the monster counts are the same in all skill levels. The difficulty is due you taking extra damage from hit, and receiving less health/armor from pickups. Considering that on “Hurt Me Plenty” I frequently had significant health/ammo left over after battles, and barely used my equipment items (Hologram / Grenade / Siphon Grenade), I think I will give “Ultra Violence” a try at one point. I expect it will be reasonably harder, but fun. As far as Nightmare and Ultra-Nightmare – no, I don’t think I will ever try those.
Some basic combat tips
Other than the standard “Never stop moving” tip, these are the things I found important for survival:
- Take it out the Summoner ASAP to avoid being overwhelmed by the demons it will summon (d’uh). A few battles even have two at the same time, so pay attention.
- If low on health, go for glory kills. The dropped health is significantly higher if yours is very low.
- Use the chainsaw whenever your ammo is low to get as much benefit as possible from the dropped ammo (as it disappears after a while).
- The best time to grab a power-up for an arena battle is usually not at the start, but towards the middle, since this is when most stronger demons will spawn, and you are also more likely to benefit from the restoration of your health to the max (if you upgraded that aspect of the Praetor suit).
Missions beaten in the campaign can be replayed at any time, in any order. They play exactly the same, except you start with all gear, health, armor, weapons and upgrades acquired so far, which makes the early levels much easier. Replaying lets you discover missed secrets, complete skipped challenges and grind towards maximizing your upgrades.
Then, there is Arcade mode, which is a way to play the same maps, but in a different way: you have all power-ups from the get-go, and the goal is to earn a high score, by doing everything fast (slaughtering demons, picking up items, exploding special bombs). There is no time limit, but the faster you act (and the less damage you take), the higher the bonus multiplier is. Additional bonuses are given for headshots, glory kills and whatnot. Some swear by this mode and say that it captures the true essence of “Doom”, but I somehow never found hunting for point and time records appealing in FPS games. The interesting thing about Arcade mode (which was added in a post-release patch) is that it is available from the beginning, regardless of campaign progress, so it is not even required to play through to unlock all the maps and upgrades.
Finally, there are the SnapMap and multiplayer modes. SnapMap is a built-in level creation system; levels are not created from scratch, but through tying some basic building blocks together, and setting up custom events and game rules. You can upload your own levels and play levels created by others through an online repository. The variety that can be achieved through this is far higher than what is available in the built-in modes, and there are also some specific items and weapons that appear only in SnapMap and multiplayer games. One such item is the Demon rune that turns you into a specific demons for a limited period of time, for a vastly different gaming experience.
Overall, the game offers enough varying content that can appeal to those looking for a little more game than just the campaign (which, with just 13 levels total, is not very long), and to players who generally dislike the “locked arena combat”, which is common in the campaign missions.
The only thing I wish for is that there was a way to warp straight to the boss fights, but there isn’t – you have to play through the rather long maps preceding the encounters.
Each of the 13 levels has a special secret lever that unlocks a Classic Map. Once you find it, the map becomes permanently available to play from the main menu. There are a total of 11 levels from DOOM (none of them from Episode 4) and 2 from DOOM II (MAP01 and MAP02). The maps look pretty much exactly like their original incarnations in terms of textures and flats, but rendered at higher resolution. The object sprites also look like the classics, but work similarly to Doom (2016). Monsters look and act like in Doom (2016).
The experience is refreshing, very different from the main game. You don’t get any of the weapon mods / suit / Argent cell upgrades, so you are much more vulnerable. You can still jump, which makes shortcuts possible in some levels, but does not break them completely, from what I’ve seen. For instance, an invisible wall was put in front of the exit room in “Command Control”, to prevent you from jumping to it, skipping most of the level.
The Classic Maps play a lot like the original DOOM, but not quite, due to the differences in monster properties: two of the most common enemies – Possessed Soldiers and Pinky Demons are much tougher in Doom (2016), whereas they were mostly cannon fodder in the original levels. Therefore, playing these maps now requires much more planning and tighter combat for survival, especially since there are no checkpoints and no saves. “Phobos Lab” and “Halls of the Damned” tend to be the hardest, due to the sheer amount of Pinkies, often in very narrow corridors. Fortunately, the glory kill mechanic, which rewards you with extra health, still works.
The monster placement follows closely the original levels on “Hurt Me Plenty” skill (in some cases it seems that the count was slightly reduced, probably to keep the difficulty reasonable, given the above. Barons of Hell are replaced with Hell Knights in most places (except “Phobos Anomaly”, of course), and the Cyberdemon in “Tower of Babel” only attacks with rockets, like in DOOM, with none of the special attacks from the main campaign.
Here are some tips to make the Classic Maps a bit easier:
- Check which weapons you start with. It may look like you only have the pistol, but in many levels you will also have the Shotgun, Chaingun, Rocket Launcher, Plasma Rifle and Chainsaw from the beginning.
- Use the Chainsaw early (possibly multiple times) to get extra ammo.
- Take advantage of power-ups. Some levels have Berserk packs and Invulnerability spheres.
- Many levels have a Soul Sphere somewhere, which will boost your health/armor to 200/200 (normal maximum is 100/50). Pick it up early to give yourself a safety margin.
- The BFG can be found in “Pandemonium” and “House of Pain” (in the same locations as in the original levels) for extra fun.
I generally don’t do multiplayer and Doom (2016) was no exception. However, from what I read, it looks like multiplayer can be a lot of fun, with multiple modes, a lot of custom weapons, items and even monsters that are not available in single player (some not even in single player SnapMap).
Most of the bugs I’ve encountered have been noticed before. Although most are very minor, they are also easy to consistently reproduce, so I am surprised they have not been fixed yet. Some of them are UI bugs:
- Every time you load a checkpoint, the Codex entries for the last 3 Hell levels show “new info” notifications, even though there is no new info. This has been discussed here.
- When running in 3840×2160 resolution, the personnel/monsters images in the codex entries frequently exhibit scaling issues – the image is stretched and cropped. This has not been widely reported (so far the only reference I found is in this video), so it may be a glitch specific to a system configuration, video card or driver (I run with a GTX 1070 Ti on Windows 10; the bug was observed in both OpenGL and Vulkan modes).
- The Glory Kill count for the Spectre is wrong – it displays the same number as of the Pinky (as a result I have more Glory Kills than Kills). This has also been confirmed, e.g., here.
As far as actual game bugs:
- The last level has a “Hold Still” challenge where you must kill 2 Barons with one shot. This can be done in the last battle, but when I unleashed my BFG and killed both, it didn’t register. This challenge was reported as flaky by many players, so Bethesda even acknowledged this issue.
- During the first battle in Argent Energy Tower, somehow a Possessed Engineer got spawned in or pushed into the locked room (where the Delta-V Jump Boots are located). I could see and hear him, but could not kill him, since the door was locked, and because I did not kill him, the battle would not end and the door would not unlock! It happened during my first playthrough, and I spent a long time trying to figure out if I missed anything, before giving up and reloading the checkpoint. The glitch has never happened since. Imagine if it happened during your live-streamed Ultra Nightmare run. :O I haven’t seen this particular one reported, but there are various reports on “end of battle” triggers randomly not registering at different locations.
- (Probably the most game-breaking of all) A teleporter in Titan’s Realm sometimes does not unlock or re-locks if you backtrack, leaving you stuck. Apparently, this is a very common bug, and sometimes it persists across checkpoint and even game restarts, forcing you to play the level from the beginning, or cheat (see discussion).
- This one is more like a minor inconsistency: If you replay a mission to obtain some of the challenges you’ve missed, the challenge gets registered as soon as you complete it: you get the weapon upgrade point, and if you exit the map, the challenge will appear as completed on the mission selection screen. However, if you replay it again, it will still appear incomplete, until you actually finish the mission and save. You will not get extra weapon upgrade points this way, though.
Did I like Doom (2016)? You bet. Is it like classic DOOM? Not really, but more so than Doom 3, in any case. It can be made fun and challenging for various levels of players, by selecting the appropriate difficulty, and there is sufficient content outside the main campaign, and most importantly, a built-in edit system to generate additional content.
Is it the best First Person Shooter of all times? Probably not. Best in recent history? Depends on how you like your shooters. How do I feel it stands up in the series? Haven’t decided yet, but it was fun enough for sure. Will I play the sequel, Doom Eternal? Certainly.
You should definitely play it if you are either a fan of Doom, or a fan of fast-paced FPS action; definitely if you are both.