Doom is an excellent game. Easily one of the top two contenders for FPS of the year, if not game of the year overall. A huge, imaginative, brutally clever and endlessly evolving campaign, a raft of multiplayer modes, and the SnapMap level editor, added up to a very generous offering indeed. But you know what? Doom is even bigger now. And it’s better, and even more complete. In fact, it’s on the verge of tipping over from ‘furiously recommended FPS’ to ‘full-blown, persistent platform of ever-evolving fun’. I’ve been playing Doom regularly since launch, in a whole bunch of different ways, and I’ve never for a second, in six months, thought I might be getting ready to stop.
And now there are new things. New modes, new options, new helpings of what we most hatefully and generically refer to as ‘content’. So it’s time to revisit, reappraise, and re-recommend. Because I feel it most necessary to explain exactly why you should still be playing Doom if you’ve stopped, and why you really, really need to get in now if you haven’t played it at all. Here’s why I’m still playing Doom, and here’s why you should be too.
Here’s the most basic level of Doom longevity. If you’ve only finished the campaign once, you haven’t finished with the campaign. Trust me. Yes, it’s long, and yes, it’s increasingly intense, to the point that the last few hours feel a bit like a marathon from which you just cannot step away, and yes, by the time those – very cool – credits roll you’ll likely be curled into a giddy, foetal lump, sweating adrenaline and gurgling what feels like your last. But trust me, when you’re physically and emotionally capable, you will want to do another play-through.
Because there are three wonderful, deceptively clever design elements at play in Doom’s campaign. First up, there’s the sheer unpredictability of it. However many times you play them, no encounter in Doom will play out the same way twice. The purely systemic cause-and-effect of Doom’s combat, driven entirely by AI, weapon and movement choice, and spiralling, unfettered causality effectively makes the campaign an infinite Doom generator. There’s no ‘seen it before’ here. There’s no ‘I know exactly how to handle this’. There’s just whatever’s going to happen this time.
Secondly, there’s the pitch-perfect difficulty curve. You might think a play-through on Hurt Me Plenty is more than enough, but don’t be intimidated. You see, the thing is, Doom’s difficulty settings – bar the ludicrously punishing gimmick of Ultra Nightmare – are tuned up to seamlessly follow on from each other. Finish the campaign on HMP, and you’ll find that you’ve calibrated yourself perfectly for Ultra Violence. And that won’t mean a simple rinse-and-repeat. Because the increased difficulty – by way of cranked up enemy damage and decreased pick-up values – combined with the entirely systemic way that Doom’s campaign combat plays out, means that you will get an even more intense, focused, demanding and rewarding flavour of Doom, ie. The Doom things you loved about Doom will be even more Doom. It just won’t be anything like as punishing as you imagine it will be.
And finally, there’s the complete gameplay change afforded by different weapon load-outs. However hard you hunt for all of the upgrade droids in your first play-through, the chances are that you won’t unlock all of the secondary fire options on offer. And however many you do get, you’ll very probably spend the full campaign devising and honing particular weapon strategies for particular monsters and situations out of your immediate favourites, eking fathoms of depth out of effectively just half of the arsenal. This is fine. Because it means that when you do a second play-through, and switch to the other set, you’ll find that they’re a literal game-changer. You’ll be playing a whole different version of Doom, with different demands, different tactical options, and whole new kinds of fun. These things aren’t just tweaks. They’re a completely new dictionary of combat to use during your heated conversations with the slavering forces of Hell. So get back in there and use them. It’ll be great.
And you know what? There’s another way to play Doom’s campaign. Recently added as a free update, Arcade Mode completely changes the way Doom is played, delivering a streamlined version of the whole campaign – unlocking all weapons and Rune abilities from the start – with the only goal being to rampage through as fast, creatively, and destructively as possible, with medals, score multipliers, and leaderboard high-scores showering down upon you like the shiny golden rain inside Scrooge McDuck’s money bin (because come on, that thing has to have evolved its own water cycle by now).
It’s Doom distilled. It’s Doom amplified. It’s the essence of Doom reworked and refocused into an even more pure, direct, and no-nonsense form. And it’s really fun, and you can rub your friends’ faces in it when you dismember the great big monster faster and better than they do. So that’s good.
Doom’s multiplayer is good, I promise. I know it’s come in for a lot of flack since the game’s launch, and I know the fashionable opinion is that it’s rubbish, but it’s not. Honestly. I’ve put in dozens of hours on it already, triple-prestiged with minimal fuss and even less compulsion to stop, and I’m not even a big online multiplayer guy. A bit of Halo, a fair old dash of Crucible, and that’s it. I do not get dragged into online shooters. Yet I’ve put more time into Doom’s multiplayer than I have a lot of whole games this year.
I think, possibly, part of the reason for the naysaying is that while Doom’s multiplayer looks a bit superficially Quake-like, it doesn’t deliver a full Quake experience. I think that threw a lot of people off. And that’s understandable. After all, there’s nothing more jarring than something being almost like something you recognise, but not quite. And while Doom launched as a fast, anarchic, aerial-focused shooter with a recognisable weapon-set, it definitely is not the same as Quake. Its maps are more cramped, as much the product of choke-points and corridor stand-offs as wide, open, sky-high battlefields. But play for a bit longer, and let go your preconceptions, and Doom has a hell of a lot going for it in its own right.
It’s the weapon load-outs that do it as much as anything. I know that many balked at the lack of a full, 12-gun set-up and multifarious timed weapon drops, but Doom’s load-out system, taking in two weapons (free choice), a grenade, and a power-up, brings a whole different type of depth all of its own. It’s ostensibly a big, broad arena shooter, but really it’s a much more intricate game of lightning-fast micro-strategy. With every FPS weapon archetype available, here’s a hell of a lot to think about in Doom, and with only two weapons to play with at any given time, there’s a hell of a lot of fun to be had in just experimenting to work out a favoured system. It looks brash and bombastic, but it’s an complex, and eminently player-driven game.
And with Id taking over multiplayer design from Certain Affinity now, Doom is actually finding a far clearer identity of its own. Newer maps are significantly more intricate, strategic affairs, the new weapons play beautifully and incisively into the layered, strategic meta-game, and the new Demon transformation abilities give the whole ecosystem a huge amount of new challenges to focus around. Trust me. It’s fun. Give it another go.
As well as the campaign and multiplayer, there’s yet another wave of constantly generating, fresh new Doom coming out of the SnapMap community daily. Doom’s replacement for modding, the SnapMap level building tools have only expanded, improved, and become more powerful (and fun) since the game’s launch.
As a result, there is now a constant feed of new chunks of Doom, new spins on Doom, and whole new ways of playing Doom on the SnapMap suite’s community portal. You’ll find plenty of new, traditional Doom levels. You’ll find plenty of new co-op and vs. modes. You’ll find plenty of entirely new game ideas, built around Doom’s systems but offering completely fresh experiences. Interactive, action-sitcoms? Yes. Farming simulators with roguelike dungeon sections? Oh yes. Narrative walking-simulator RPGs? Plenty of those too. SnapMap is brilliant. You’re not going to find absolute gold every time you go in there, but over there long-term, there’s plenty of new stuff to play.
And it’s not just about playing either. There’s building to be done too. Doom’s campaign takes about 15 hours to finish. I’ve spent at least that long working on one SnapMap level. And I loved every minute of it. Forget that the simple act of making things is always fun (actually, don’t, because that’s always vitally important). The sheer process of learning and understanding, reworking and breaking Doom’s SnapMap tool rules is a game in itself. There is some seriously powerful stuff to be done here even on the most basic level, but once you get into the deeper, more complex – but still surprisingly accessible – stuff, SnapMap will become a rabbit hole of creative discovery from which you might never escape.
If you need convincing, just play through the SnapMap tutorial challenges. No dry, how-to presentations, these are a full-blown – and ingeniously designed - puzzle game. Offering a series of combat and traversal challenge rooms with ‘broken’ task criteria, they ask you to drop into the level’s editor mode – a simple button press from immediate gameplay – survey how the room is built, how its rules work, and how its AI will respond to various different scenarios, and then rework it to make the challenge possible. Part instruction manual, part practical tuition, part shooter and part Portal-style action puzzle, there’s enough fun in the challenge tutorials to keep you going for a whole evening or more, not realising you’re learning a thing but feeling like a game design genius by the end. And with two new level-building room sets released since launch – adding outdoor, Hell-set environments and classic-Doom themed toys to play with - your creative options are now unfathomably greater than they were at launch.