Doom (2016) – A Great Throwback Reboot

One of the curious behaviors I’ve had with recent Steam sales is buying games and actually playing them right away, and even finishing several!

First Gris, soon Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, but today, we’re here to talk about Doom (2016).

Doom ’16 is an interesting product in a sea of reboots and throwbacks – it is an attempt at modernizing and bringing forward the infamous iD Software hit Doom, but unlike a lot of other such reboots, the game has a respect for its own lineage and continuity and serves more as a storyline continuation, tying in the original Doom games as a sort of lore that creates an interesting universe.

Now, at this point, it also must be said that Doom 2016 doesn’t pretend that the franchise is super deep or needs a 300 page treatment with factions and a large roster of characters. It basically appends the original Doom games with a simple, easy message – Doom Guy (now called the Doom Slayer) is a prophesied bringer of destruction, the only person able to pass to and from Hell intact. The Doom Slayer was entombed in his last trip to Hell, and sealed into a sarcophagus to ensure he could not wreak destruction on the demons. That is where the other lore comes in, as the UAC (a massive corporation) becomes curious in Hell, using their base on Mars as an entry point, sending in a team of troopers alongside UAC leader Dr. Samuel Hayden (a robot, and also, S. Hayden? Do you get it?! Say it fast enough!) who learn to harness the energy of Hell (Argent Energy, it is called) and Hayden, as a robot, brings back the research on this energy but also the sarcophagus of the Doom Slayer. The UAC’s research into Argent Energy is done as means to find a limitless source of renewable energy – but is also being used by Olivia Pearce of the UAC as the means for her to gain the power the demons of Hell have been promising her.

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The story is basic but enjoyable and fun, as it keeps to very basic themes – the UAC is a stereotypical modern corporation, two-faced, slimy, willing to exploit any and all people for a buck, and unwilling to accept the negative consequences for their actions. The Doom Slayer is a voiceless protagonist, but what works so well here is that while he does not speak, through emotes, animations, and actions he takes in cutscenes, you can tell he is very much not sold on the UAC’s “mission.” His first interaction with Hayden has Hayden monologuing about how the UAC is doing what is best for humanity, and as he says this, the POV of the Doom Slayer shifts to show a mutiliated human corpse next to him, the effect of the UAC’s attempt at doing its “best” for humanity.

This creates a fun interaction, as Hayden needs the Doom Slayer to act on the various objectives in the world in order to stop the flow of demons from Hell, but while Hayden would obviously like the DS to do these things in a way that maintains the UAC’s projects, the Doom Slayer is decidedly less reserved, frequently destroying machines Hayden wants to keep intact and leading to tense dialog from the robot CEO as the Doom Slayer follows his own internal sense of order.

Gameplay-wise, the game is an excellent shooter of the modern era – combining Doom staples like key cards with modern gameplay like weapon mods, armor upgrades, and more. Even better yet, in a shocking departure from modern games business practices, the game has no single-player DLC. Only the multiplayer mode has DLC, and even then, after a year of release, the DLC was made free to all – no need to purchase a Game of the Year edition or buy discounted packs. Everyone gets it, no matter what. What I like the most about this is that unlike a lot of AAA single-player titles, the story is complete and whole from the beginning, with no patchwork story elements, no incomplete sections to serve as story hooks, and no compromises. The story is complete and ready from the beginning, and it allows a tighter narrative cohesion.

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The actual combat, though, is the real joy of the game. Doom was considered somewhat gory for its time – in the early 90s, with low amounts of pixelated violence, the blood of Doom was groundbreaking in a way. Doom 2016, in a similar vein to the modern Mortal Kombat titles, takes this crown in modern times by dialing up the gore and violence substantially. Fights consist of hordes of demons, growing in size and variety by the end of the story, and the limited ammo supplies in the game encourage the use of the Glory Kill system. GKs basically take a weakened enemy and obliterate them by getting in close, focusing the camera even tighter on the enemy as the Doom Slayer does something unspeakably horrible to demon. Small enemies will get their necks broken, jaws ripped off, arms torn loose and used to club the demon to death. Large demons will have horns ripped off and used to slit their throats, brain casings smashed in with fists, or their still-beating demon hearts torn out and placed in their mouths, which makes them explode somehow?

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It is stupid, but fun – it’s visceral, imaginative, and characterizes the Doom Slayer as an immensely cruel instrument of demonic destruction – the very reason they write prophecies about him in Hell.

Artistically, the game is stunning – well-rendered demons, desolate environments, and copious amounts of the color red all paint a picture, but the game’s use of color goes beyond red to deliver different tones. Hell has a darker quality compared to the reds of Mars, and there are even gloomy spots in Hell with no red that serves to make them more unsettling. The UAC bases contrast clean white sealed rooms with the gore of the massacred employees, the red of the demons, and the similar red of the Martian landscape.The game paces itself in such a way that you do get reprieve from the red tones at the moments you might get fatigued from it – having said that, it is still very red and you may find yourself not being a fan of that, which is understandable!

Overall, as a package, Doom 2016 definitely delivers a fun experience. At around 8 hours of campaign time, it felt like a sufficiently fun romp for me, especially when considering that I bought it via Steam sale for $6. At that price, the game is a steal, and I would highly recommend it if you enjoy the genre. On the other hand, while I like it a lot, it would be a harder sell at $60. It is fine, and adopts a much friendlier business model than almost anything else – all DLC included in the base purchase and no single-player DLC makes for a better-feeling game, in my opinion. Having said that, I generally dislike the modern game trend of having single-digit hours of content for a full sticker price of $60 – but, if the choice is a focused, fun 8 hours of Doom or a game that sells me half of the additional story content via DLC, Doom wins handily.

While the Steam Winter Sale is on, the game remains at the low cost I paid for it, and at that price, it is a no-brainer if you have even a slight affinity for shooters. I played it on “I’m Too Young to Die” difficulty (aka Easy) and it felt very enjoyable and still ratcheted up the challenge in appropriate ways that never felt unfair. Navigating the game world is intuitive and simple enough to play through without a walkthrough or guide, and the whole package presents a great experience.

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I still have questions about how viable the franchise is going forward, as Bethesda is very good at messing up a good thing, but overall, this first in a new lineage of Doom is great, even as I am 3 years late to the party.

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