After a long, bloody fight, DOOM has emerged from development hell.
I’ve been playing DOOM for quite a bit of my time on this Earth, first firing up the game when I was about 10, and every now and again in the time since I’ve blasted away the odd demon or two, playing around with the seemingly endless supply of maps and mods from a community that still manages to bring out some great content even today, 21 years after DOOM first released.
I’d started to lose hope of the new DOOM (in the interests of clarity I’ll refer to the new game as “DOOM 4” from here on out) being any sort of good.
id had been so secretive about it over the years, there had been no news about it apart from the fact it was still in development until very recently and the revelations brought by an id ex-employee on the game’s previous incarnations didn’t help matters at all – knowing the sheer level of development turmoil this game had gone through wasn’t exactly comforting.
With that said, DOOM 4 finally got shown at Bethesda’s E3 conference and I was pleasantly surprised to see it looks like it could be a really good game. Whilst there were definitely some things I liked, there were a few things I took issue with, though of course most of my potential criticisms can’t really be substantiated until we’ve either seen more or actually played the game.
What did I like?
DOOM Snapmap was a definite plus – a surprisingly well featured built-in map/mission editor that allowed you to snap together various room pieces to create levels in a similar manner to the map editor in the Timesplitters series. It seems as though players will be able to create maps for a variety of gameplay modes including Deathmatch and Co-op and create some intricate scripting for those maps using a LittleBigPlanet style in-game logic system. After the initial single-player reveal, this is what brought me fully back on board. I only hope we’ll be able to make maps with different overall themes (e.g. Hell) as well, as I can imagine the UAC-themed room pieces getting old after a while.
I did like Doomguy’s wider range of movement options – it seems that DOOM 4 will have double-jumps and some light parkour features (based on seeing Doomguy pulling himself up onto a platform if he didn’t quite make the jump), which I think will open up some great new avenues for some Dying Light-style platforming in addition to the run-and-gun action.
I didn’t mind the first-person executions too much – I thought it fit the “go forth, kill everything” style of the older DOOM games fairly well, even if it is more reminiscent of Brutal Doom than the vanilla game.
The graphics for (what we could see of) the player character, the weapons and the environments looked amazing, really demonstrating what id Tech 6 will be capable of – I was mildly freaking out at that Star Citizen-esque “putting helmet on” scene at the start. The overall visual style seems to hearken back to DOOM 3 more than the first two games, a choice I liked overall but still had some mixed feelings over.
Whilst the areas did look really well designed, I thought that a larger and more varied colour palette would have been great to make some areas of the game look a bit more unique – particularly the section in Hell, which I actually thought was a bit of a step down from the superb Hell section from DOOM 3 in terms of visual design. It might also have been interesting to see some more abstract facility designs like those from the first DOOM’s initial episode realised in the glories of id Tech 6.
What didn’t I like?
One thing I took issue with was the seemingly similar designs and colour schemes of some of the demon types shown. In the first two DOOMs, every monster type had a distinct design and set of colours – zombiemen were grey and green, shotgunners were red and black and the Imps had the classic spikes and dark brown skin.
DOOM 3 still had some distinct design and colour variations – the Imps had loads of eyes and were grey-skinned on Mars but brown-skinned in Hell (a little detail I really liked) and zombies were universally grey-skinned but wore different coloured jumpsuits or had distinct body or armour variations.
Granted, there were some similar colours between the later demons – DOOM 3’s Cacodemon lost its red skin and green eye from the earlier games, instead keeping the beige seen in a number of other monsters, but the Hellknight’s different yet still iconic DOOM 3 design still differentiated itself by its huge, imposing stature and skin coloured a deep shade of green few of the other demons shared.
From what I could tell from DOOM 4, most of the zombies and demons save for the Revenant shown tearing the player apart at the end of the first demo as well as the Hellknight and Mancubus seen during the Hell level (Okay, that bit where a door raised revealing the new id Tech 6 Mancubus was great, calling back to a similar sequence from DOOM 3) had a fairly similar design – generally grotesque, fleshy and beige-coloured with a big, teethy mouth, a very pronounced skull and no visible eyes, similar to the Lickers from Resident Evil.
To me, this made the enemies as a whole look a lot less distinctive both compared with each other and enemies from other games, and occasionally made it harder to distinguish between them at a glance – I had no idea that some of the creatures attacking the player were meant to be Imps and not unarmoured zombies until they started throwing fireballs, nor was I sure if the creatures getting chainsawed towards the end of the first demo were unarmoured zombies or Imps at first glance just because everyone had that similar body type, colour and head design – even the Hellknight, excluded from this due to its distinctly bulky frame clearly separating it from the Imps, still had that same head design.
Maybe this is just me – after all, this is the very first we’ve seen of the game and I’d dare say my thoughts might change once I’ve either seen more or actually played it.
Another thing I found was that there seemed to be a weirdly small number of enemies attacking the player at once. The original DOOMs didn’t throw hordes of monsters at you constantly Serious Sam style, but a big room usually meant a big number of demons were coming for you. From what was shown of DOOM 4 thus far, there seemed to be this awkward contrast between showing off these gigantic refinery rooms and hellish pits, but only having about four or five demons coming after you at once.
It reminded me more of DOOM 3’s somewhat more restrained approach to enemy spawns, though there I personally didn’t have an issue with it as there weren’t really any huge, open rooms like those displayed in the DOOM 4 demo – DOOM 3’s corridors and rooms all seemed to be designed to be intimate and cramped, with even the more spacious rooms still managing to keep a slight sense of claustrophobia, necessitating the fewer enemies attacking the player at once – there were less of them, but it was a bigger deal to encounter them. For DOOM 4 to have these gigantic spaces with only a few demons coming after the player just seemed a bit odd to me.
Another point for me was that the game’s pace seemed a little too slow. I’m not saying that we outright need the breakneck pace you could move at in DOOM 1 & 2 (a fan calculated that Doomguy runs at about 57mph in those games), but everything seemed a little too leisurely. This wasn’t helped by the seemingly small number of enemies attacking the player at once – there was a section in the Hell demo where the player gets attacked by a Mancubus, numerous Hellknights and an Imp throwing fireballs from a raised platform, but didn’t really need to move about at all that much speed in order to avoid their individual attacks, with the exception of the player jumping away onto a rock to escape the Mancubus’ shots at one point.
Then again, pretty much all of these notes can be countered – this was, after all, an E3 demo. Maybe the player was on an easier difficulty, maybe they weren’t running all that much so they could take their time showing off the levels, maybe the spawns will be tweaked during development or perhaps there are just less enemies on the easier difficulties and so on.
Taking all of these things into account, these criticisms have to come with a big asterisk – “based on what we’ve seen thus far”. The game’s still in development and this is the first we’ve really seen of it – anything could change up until release. Despite my criticisms, I really hope DOOM 4 will turn out to be an exceedingly enjoyable game, potentially given some real longevity by the DOOM Snapmap feature. I’ll most definitely be buying it when it comes out, but at the moment I can’t see The Ultimate DOOM being dethroned as my favourite of the franchise just yet.
DOOM is set for release on Xbox One, PS4 and PC during Spring 2016.