Before Call of Duty, Counter-Strike or Halo, there was Doom. For a whole generation of gamers, the pioneering shooter delivered a first taste of the online multiplayer experience.
It was crude by today’s standards: Gamers on PCs used dial-up modems to connect and compete head-to-head. Though basic, the deathmatch (as id Software dubbed it), offered the kind of intensity and visceral action that enthralled gamers.
Since then, other shooters have come and gone, improving on the foundation laid by id Software, but Doom still holds a special place with fans.
Now, more than 20 years after its arrival, id Software has updated the venerable first-person shooter—and in the right way. The new incarnation isn’t strictly a sequel or an outright remake. It’s more a re-imagining of Doom, with a heavy dose of nostalgia thrown in.
Like earlier incarnations, it begins with the Union Aerospace Corporation, which has found a solution to Earth’s energy crisis. In public, the company says it has tapped into a power resource found only on Mars. But what it actually has done is open an interdimensional portal to hell, and started siphoning energy from there.
As demonic components are wont to do, the portal’s technology goes awry, and monsters start taking over the Union Aerospace facilities, producing massive casualties.
That’s where players come in. They control the legendary unnamed space marine of the earlier games, but in this iteration, he has some unfamiliar capabilities. Part of the joy of this adventure is figuring out where this uber marine fits in the game mythology.
More fun comes in seeing how id Software has updated the gameplay. When Doom arrived in 1993, the controls were so primitive the space marine couldn’t even jump. Now he not only can leap and clamber up ledges, but can draw upon a slew of mechanics to help. And thankfully the design team has done a masterful job of easing players into these new features.
One novel wrinkle is the importance of the Melee button during combat. Players can damage a demon until it’s stunned, and then go in for a Glory Kill—where the monsters’ arms are severed, their jaws are ripped apart and sometime they are beaten with their own legs. It’s the kind of gruesome chaos fans would expect to find in Mortal Kombat except the execution meshes with the id Software model.
In the spirit of the original’s fast pace, the new Doom pushes players to quickly and efficiently eliminate hordes of demons with the arsenal of deadly weapons available. The majority are old favorites, but two new alternate firing modes have been added.
Those turn a room-clearing battle into a bullet ballet, as players outmaneuver demons with superior speed. They can empty shotgun rounds into a stunned imp, dodge a blast from a Hell Razer and finish off a wounded monster with a Glory Kill—all in just a few seconds.
The action is so addictively fast that it feels as if players are combining separate moves into just one. The FPS gunplay is elevated nearly to the heights of Bayonetta’s fluid combat.
What’s great is that id Software complements the skill-based combat modes with layers of customization. Players can make the space marine’s armor and equipment more effective by finding Praetor tokens and Argent units while exploring Doom’s mazelike levels.
Finally, id Software has added a Rune system that passively upgrades some of the space marine’s capabilities. To earn upgrades, players must submit to a short test of their FPS skills. The runes can be difficult to uncover, but they enable faster Glory Kills and more extreme jumps.
Once the campaign is finished, players can take their skills to the multiplayer arena. Again, it’s more highly developed than in the original, but unlike the single-player campaign, it doesn’t push the genre in a new direction.
Though the multiplayer possibilities can have the frenetic pace of Doom matches, they stop short of rewriting how online players compete.
One clever addition is a SnapMap feature, which adds a bit of the user-generated content for which the original was known.
Most of Doom’s magic comes in ingenious id Software updates that retain the identity of the original. Achieving that goal must have been a tough balancing act, but the team truly has pulled it off.