In news no gamer saw coming, the new Doom game is actually really good. Currently it’s hovering at an overall score of 85 on Metacritic which, considering its turbulent development history and the series of forgettable attempts to reboot the franchise over the last two decades, is amazing. We actually spent most of our Memorial Day holiday weekend rampaging through hell and, while the game does deserve much of the praise it’s getting, we can’t help but notice the missed potential of this game. Doom obstinately refuses to step out of its predecessors’ shadows.
Considering the devoted support the new Doom is getting from the gamer community, we feel like we should offer a few disclaimers before we open up the critique. First, Id Software has done something amazing with this game in particular regarding the highly-tuned mechanics around its arena combat. Manage to pull off a glory-kill? You’ll get some health and armor back. Running low on ammo? Pull out the chainsaw for the next demon who will explode into ammo packs. Id’s landed on an invigorating formula for replayable arena combat that doesn’t rely on rechargeable health (that requires you to hide out slowing down the action) or mindless long-distance sniping (we’ll never forget you Icebreaker!) to survive. Even better, incorporating the staple weapons of Doom in this manner somehow makes the 20 year old franchise feel fresh again. The game is at its best when you get into a rhythm during another hectic combat sequence when you mix parkour, glory-kill finishing moves, close ranged ballistics, and the occasional tide-changing powerup or BFG9000 shot. You move from one enemy to the next without breaking stride painting the walls with gore and debris. It’s stunningly well designed at times.
But with that said we can’t help but recognize the limitations of this game. Again, there is so much potential here as with the recent relaunch of Wolfenstein done masterfully by Machine Games. We thought Id Software would fumble the ball so the initial impressions you get when playing the new Doom are remarkable. It’s actually fun to play. (Imagine that?) You’ll grin as they line up the shotgun cocking sound perfectly with the Doom song in the intro sequence. I couldn’t care less for the story and thankfully my marine agrees as he shoves away the expositional monitor. Unfortunately the ceiling here is the constraint of the original Doom. Fans, like us, will be pleased to see their versions of pinkie (even the invisible variety), cyber demons, cacodemons, and even most weaponry including the iconic BFG900. Just don’t expect it to go anywhere else after that.
Last week we wrote about the need for games to evolve beyond insane body counts as we saw in Uncharted 4. To review core gaming mechanics and evolve them is an insanely difficult challenge for developers. After all why revisit a formula that worked before? The notoriously risk-adverse Hollywood notably works the very same way. Nintendo did a great job evolving Mario into a 3d world and a relatively good job with the Mario Galaxy formula but has since yet to find a way to make those games stand out anymore. Bioshock Infinite is very different than the original and, therefore, very compelling to play. Valve vastly expanded the world in Half Life 2, created some unforgettable action set pieces, and gave us the damn gravity gun (we kinda get why it’s been hard to top that with a full sequel ever since).
This is Doom’s biggest sin. It refuses to challenge its origins in any substantive way. The recent Wolfenstein told a story of revisionist history laying the groundwork for you to lead an uprising to stop a modern day Nazi party which was vastly different than the POW story of the originals. Here you’re back on Mars when an experiment goes awry and you need to close the hell portal again (just like Doom or even Quake). Far Cry 3 took the outstanding improvisational combat of the previous games and included an open, unlockable world of outposts and wildlife and some incredible performances especially from Michael Mando’s Vas to make a very memorable game. You could write a book about all of the changes of Hideo Kojima’s surreal and often fantastic Metal Gear games as they evolved significantly in each entry while still paying respects to the earlier titles.
Doom doesn’t do this. It instead plays all of the cards from the original Doom 1 and 2 and refuses to offer up anything new to the table. Late in the game there is a boss fight with a few Hell Guards. The fight is rather inconsequential and their moveset (which includes spinning like a top) is a bit silly, but the moment stood out to us as we can’t recall that enemy being in the original games. “At least Id’s trying something new here,” we thought.
It’s a shame because the rest of the game fantastic. Not since the original Halo have we seen the “thirty seconds of fun” idea executed so well in a FPS title. The tone is perfect for this franchise and the graphics are among the best we’ve seen in a game. With everything going so well for this title, it’s disappointing Id Software stayed so close to their comfort zone and refused tread any new ground. Yes, even the last boss is exactly what you think it’s going to be…