First Impressions: DOOM

Doom 4 DOOM [official site] is out in most places as of this morning, but I managed to squeeze in a few hours of Bethesda’s demon-botherer last night by catching a private jet to New Zealand, where it had launched a little earlier. Naturally, I flew straight home afterwards to write the following thoughts.

It’s early doors of course, so anything I say below may well become incorrect depending on how things shake out later on. I also haven’t dabbled in multiplayer yet, but will go hang my hide out for an online beating a little later today.

The overriding thought I’d had while playing DOOM is “this is a very pointed “screw you” to Doom 3.” Its straight to business attitude and snarling aggression – Doomguy even punches away upgrade terminals after using them – speak to an absolute determination to waste no time. The gloomy industrial environments and colourlessly fleshy enemies almost trick me into thinking I am playing Doom 3, but every time I start cautiously creeping along I pay for it: this is absolutely a game about movement.

Though every modern shooter owes a debt to the original Doom, so few took its speed: that slip-slidey momentum that makes a game which seemed pacey and menacing at the time now feel like riding a banana skin along a rollercoaster track. DOOM does feel like that, which brought an immediate grin to my suspicious face, but it doesn’t stop short at retro-evocation.

DOOM’s smartest trick (that I’ve seen so far) is to think about what that speed can mean, beyond navigation and strafing, then run with it. What I’ve played has been about near-constant forward momentum: mantling rapidly to higher places with one tap on the spacebar at the end of a jump, and this satisfying one-two beat of shoot then punch an enemy; by the time the shot lands, my run has taken me right up to the thing’s face, so the punch can land too. It feels damn good, even though I’ve done it hundreds of times now.

A ‘Glory Kill’ system which doles out bonus health when a sufficiently wounded enemy is meleed creates a punding sense of flow: dodge, shoot, dodge, shoot, thump, repeat. This is a game with a beat. It feels good. Speed is everything, but it doesn’t feel frenzied so much as it does rhythmic.

The weapons feel tight: you get the shotgun almost right away, and it’s a good one, with both punch and reasonable range. The pistol’s there as an infinite ammo backup capable of headshot insta-kills against weaker foes, while the chainsaw is carefully fuel-limited because it is gloriously lethal. The only other gun I’ve found so far is the Heavy Assault Rifle, and that feels a bit off: somehow too lightweight, not quite as much sense of destruction. I haven’t found a good reason to use it over the shotgun. But it can be upgraded, so perhaps it’ll come into its own later. There’s always the shotgun, anyway: I have no problem whatsoever with a DOOM played with a shotgun throughout, I assure you.

But if the merry dance of combat is pushing my buttons, I’m feeling less keen on the aesthetics. While there’s been a clear attempt to include both the dark mechanical look that characterised post-Quake id games and the red airlessness of a Mars setting, it winds up looking pretty bland.

Dim green lights throughout hint at the route to take (though there’s a compass arrow at the top of the screen too), and I wonder if they’re there not simply to make navigation easier for the inattentive, but rather because otherwise the look of levels is so homogeneous that we can’t subconsciously absorb where all the exits are and what’s somewhere we’ve already been, as we do in most other shooters.

I felt a sort of low level confusion about where to go, because everything I’ve seen looks so samey. I even got hit by a cargo train a few times, purely because it was so hard to notice: just another gloomy piece of metal. I’m at a loss for why DOOM would so lovingly revisit Doom’s speed, but not its vibrancy.

Enemies have a similar issue: I’ve met five kinds of monster so far, and the only one which looks meaningfully different is the one that carries a brightly-coloured energy shield. Without that, he’d look the same as the rest: i.e. brownish and hunched. It really doesn’t take long to learn the silhouettes and the movement, so I have no issue whatsoever distinguishing between my foes, but again I’m perplexed as to why Doom’s memorably distinctive bestiary has been devolved into a few variants of Mr Hanky. It’s a colour problem not a model problem though – I’m looking forwards to the inevitable graphics mods which amp up the colour palette, put it that way.

Unfortunately the presentation of the environment has presented a few slow-downs to progress, especially now the levels are growing a little larger, but even if I’m occasionally not sure where the next exit is, a quickly-learned rule of thumb is that if you’re not fighting, you’re in the wrong place. It’s all go all the time, bar a smattering of brief, glowering cutscenes starring completely forgettable characters with silly voices.

I had a sense that the game almost regretted including even those, but felt it had to: I could feel its impatience to get on with things, and its silent, punchy protagonist is very much the avatar of that. He wants to get back to the blasting. Finally, a shooter hero I can truly empathise with.

If this had been a conventionally-paced game that looked this homogeneous, I’d be thinking it was a total damp squib, but the forward momentum and the rhythm means that, so far, it’s getting away with it. Hell, even the weapon upgrade system plays into the urgency: tech points are gained by completing challenges as you play, such as kill two guys with one shot, and then the pay-off isn’t just a bit more ammo but a significant extra ability such as explosive shotgun shells. I imagine that later branches on their tech trees will be less dramatic, but so far it plays into that Everything Big All The Time Ethos.

By God it needs more colour, though. Getting to any new place has not been interesting. Let’s hope that later levels change up the look some more.

DOOM is out now. We didn’t receive pre-release code, but a full review will follow as soon as possible.

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86 Comments

  1. SirSnake says:

    Fuel limited chainsaw? No!!!

    • asphaltcowboy says:

      It’s fuel-limited for very good reason – whilst the glory kills spit out extra health drops – encouraging you to get in their face and get your HP topped up, the chainsaw causes enemies to drop huge amount of ammo. So basically, if you run out of ammo for your guns, you charge in with your chainsaw, hoover up all the ammo and get back to blasting. It’s a really great system. I’ve managed to put about an hour in thus far and it feels absolutely fantastic.

      • GWOP says:

        That actually sounds like a thoughtful design.

        • ZippyLemon says:

          I’m sure the developers are cheering and crying and back slapping around the office computer right now at the generosity of your words.

      • SirSnake says:

        Well that does seem like a good system. I really do need to find the time to get this!

  2. Gribbstar says:

    I’m a fair way into the game, having also got a quick flight to Melbourne yesterday ;)

    The bestiary does diversify quite a lot later on and the 1-2 shot/punch combos of the beginning are rapidly replaced by cat and mouse chases punctuated by some circle strafing and gunfire. This is certainly true for nightmare setting… which IMO is the only way to play.

    [Minor Spoiler] The scenery gets a lot more interesting when you go to Hell but still a similar drab pallette.

    You don’t mention the secret hunting which I’m having a real blast with and was one of the things that kept me going back to the original Doom games in the 90s.

    Really enjoying the game so far and am also planning to get my arse handed to me online later.

    Hope to see you all in Hell!

    • Rumpelstiltskin says:

      Just to be clear, you didn’t fly to .au just to be able to play Doom earlier, did you? Same question to Alec. Or is “quick flight to au/nz” some sort of a euphemism?

      • Gribbstar says:

        Yeah I often fly to the other side of the world just to say “I played it first!”

        Some folks with less time/money on their hands just use a VPN to unlock it earlier but not me. ;)

  3. VladimirSputnik says:

    Good article and the Game looks very nice.
    I wish I can play it but my machine its not much powerful.
    I have an i5 3470, 8GB DDR3 and a radeon 5750 1GB, kinda sucky but its the best I can afford right now. :)

    • Det. Bullock says:

      I think the problem is mostly the video card, the rest you can get away with.

    • fabronaut says:

      It’s your video card. Really.

      I have an older version of a similar-ish system — i5 2500K, not yet overclocked because I am lazy, paired with 8 GB of DDR3 @ 1600 MHz, and an AMD HD 7950 ti… I think there’s a TI on the end there? it’s an MSI card with TwinFrozr cooler.

      Throw in a halfway decent card from the last two or three generations with at least 2 – 3 GB of RAM, and you’ll be able to crank up the texture sizes and settings on a bunch of things with minimal performance hits, I think.

      I play at 1080p on most games (since I got a 144Hz second / third gen monitor on sale before a refresh), other monitor is 1920 x 1200.

      Kinda wondering how good the asynchronous monitor tech is (Gsync / freesync), but I don’t have a compatible card or monitor, so I’m just gonna wait for the 144Hz panels to catch up in a size / resolution that I actually want to run :3

    • phylum sinter says:

      Prices on some really good video cards should be tumbling soon, with the introduction of both Nvidia and AMD’s latest cards. Take a peek around July, I bet you’ll be able to find a 4gb card of some type for under $200.

  4. derbefrier says:

    Sounds great. Can’t wait to get this work day over with so I can play it.

  5. BooleanBob says:

    Can we talk to the monsters yet?

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      Well, you can, but they usually respond with GRARGAAH or by biting your face.

    • Ross Angus says:

      It’s a form of talking. A bit like Morse code, BUT WITH BULLETS.

      • Horg says:

        BANG BANG pop – pop pop – BANG / BANG BANG pop – BANG pop pop

        • thelastpointer says:

          pop pop BANG / pop pop pop pop pop BANG BANG pop BANG pop pop pop pop pop BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG pop / pop pop BANG BANG pop BANG BANG pop

          • Horg says:

            Your under-barrel punctuater appears to be jammed.

          • thelastpointer says:

            pop pop BANG pop – pop pop – BANG pop pop BANG – pop – BANG pop pop / pop pop – BANG / BANG – pop pop pop pop – pop BANG – BANG pop – BANG pop BANG – pop pop pop

          • Ross Angus says:

            This is lovely. Well worth the time translating.

  6. Kefren says:

    My worry is that I hate achievements and things that feel gamey like that – they pull me out of immersion.

    “tech points are gained by completing challenges as you play, such as kill two guys with one shot, and then the pay-off isn’t just a bit more ammo but a significant extra ability such as explosive shotgun shells”

    This makes no sense to me, unless it is explained in-game as someone watching you who gives you greater rewards for entertaining them – which then becomes silly if this is about a life-and-death battle. Doom didn’t have anything like that. If I kill two people with one shot that should be the reward in itself – make me say “Wow!” and smile a bit and move on. As soon as as it translates as mysterious gold coins dropping from the sky it takes away the intrinsic reward by externalising it. I suspect I would probably just get annoyed playing this new version.

    • Crane says:

      Did you also hate the mysterious hovering helmets with glowing green eyes and blue flasks which were arbitrarily scattered around in the original doom?

      • Kefren says:

        You know what, that is a valid point. They were very silly. I think I stopped noticing them much after a while, and removing them from the game wouldn’t have been any loss. Maybe the “items popping out of bodies” in the new Doom is an unwelcome reminder of a game element I once learnt to ignore.

        • ScubaMonster says:

          And as fish99 pointed out, those are completely different than skill challenges that pop up taking you out of the game.

        • ScubaMonster says:

          Darn it, that wasn’t meant for you, it was meant for Crane. I hate how you can’t edit or delete posts.

        • phylum sinter says:

          This is like the most arcadey style horror shooter of all time still though, and like it mentions it’s really about momentum and rhythm of battle, but the other bits of the game have all come from different ideas too, not from Doom, like the upgrade system and whatnot. Thankfully the in-game cutscenes are rather sparse if you don’t want to muck it up that way, and honestly you don’t even have to notice those challenges if you don’t want to do them. I’m finding it to be a nice mix overall, and during the heat of those battles where you are dashing around and whatnot, you definitely do feel into it – i found myself ducking and bobbing in my chair a bit haha… good time, really. worth a try, remember Steam has a refund policy now – 2 hour demo.

      • fish99 says:

        Those weren’t skill challenges though, and they didn’t take you out of the game to look at an upgrade tree. ‘Killing 2 enemies with one bullet to unlock a new ammo type’ (or whatever) sounds very gamey and immersion breaking to me.

        • thelastpointer says:

          Actually this whole “shooting monsters from hell on Mars with a BFG” sounds very gamey to me

        • jgthespy says:

          I also hate it when games are gamey. It’s so illogical.

          • int says:

            Games should never be too gamey, especially if a gamey game utilizes its gameyness to game gamey ungamey games’ gamey gameyness.

      • ScubaMonster says:

        That’s not really a fair comparison. The original Doom is downright ancient compared to modern games and gaming has evolved a lot since those days. Now they can practically be cinematic experiences. There’s lots of things that were perfectly fine back then that many people wouldn’t want in today’s games. I personally don’t have a problem with it myself, but I can totally understand his viewpoint.

        • MrUnimport says:

          Doom is one game that has aged much better than its contemporaries. I’d say it’s one of those situations where limitation has bred a kind of genius. I’m all aboard the atmosphere train in video gaming, but we seem to have an awful lot of cinematic experiences in video games these days, and it doesn’t quite seem like revivals of dawn-of-PC-gaming titles need to be them as well.

        • Tobberoth says:

          There are tons of FPS which do their damnest to keep you immersed, extremely heavy focus on story and not being gamey. Personally, I think one of the reasons the new Doom is so fun is exactly because it’s gamey. It’s a game. The focus is on gameplay and combat, not on fancy cutscenes or convoluted explanations trying to explain why a single dude is running around with 10 weapons blowing shit to pieces. Why do you shoot an enemy to stun it, jump up on a crate only to get an airborn glory kill? Because it’s fun and looks awesome, there’s no other explanation needed.

    • engion3 says:

      I don’t want a game to tell me how to play or have to open a wiki to see how to unlock all this shit in this type of game.

      • Premium User Badge

        Nauallis says:

        Or worse, have to look at a guide to figure out how to “play this character.” MOBAs can all go to hell.

    • Eclipse says:

      it’s explained, not that it’s less silly with an explanation really, but the game explains how everything works to you. Sadly, because really, it’s a fucking game about shooting demons, it’s really immersive. You chainsaw a demon and it spits out a fountain of yellow colored “ammo” icons that floats right to you and refill all your weapons. You don’t want explanations for fun game mechanics.

    • Bruski says:

      “unless it is explained in-game as someone watching you who gives you greater rewards for entertaining them ”

      It’s pretty much that, but slightly more logical. The AI computer is watching your combat, and upgrades your weapons to increase your combat abilities and it determines how you fight. It’s bullshit, but what do you want from DOOM lore? :P It’s fun, don’t worry about it. :D

  7. Geebs says:

    It’s pretty good so far. It kind of scratches the itch in the back of my head that tells me that Devil Daggers would be more fun with some actual levels. The aesthetic does seem to have been designed to appeal most to that one guy who likes Tool way, way too much.

    I’m having terrible trouble with my mouse “sticking”, though, which is spoiling it for me a bit; the proper way to play this game is to sprint around the room like a loony, and suddenly finding I can’t aim or fire for half a second means I’m not performing anywhere near my admittedly meagre potential. Either it’s because my mouse is terrible (which it is) or because my computer’s too old (which it is). Anybody else have the same problem?

    • anon459 says:

      No, but the weapon switching menu seems to be broken for me. Half the time it gets stuck on my screen and I can’t get back to the game. Hotkeys for weapon switching is better anyway though so it’s not a problem for me. That’s the only bug I’ve encountered so far(only played for about 30 minutes).

    • Stevostin says:

      If it’s an optical mouse, it usually means some dust in front of the captor, or a hair (well, eye hair, don’t know the word).

      • Premium User Badge

        DelrueOfDetroit says:

        An eyelash?

        I’ve also found that reinstalling the mouse driver can fix cursor wonkies.

        • Geebs says:

          Thanks for the suggestions! Have tried a 360 pad and the problem went away, so it’s my crappy Apple mouse. Tell you what, though – they did a pretty good job with gamepads on this one, it feels surprisingly slick.

  8. Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

    Is “Flying a private jet to New Zealand” a euphemism for “I pirated it”? If so, for God’s sake don’t tell Graham, because he’ll have your guts for garters.

    • BobbyDylan says:

      I think it’s more about using a VPN to unlock the game early.

    • Gribbstar says:

      More likely a using Steam through a VPN to unlock early. Apparently Doom is using Denuvo protection which has so far proven pretty tough to crack.

      • GAmbrose says:

        Exactly this, you just use a VPN service to make it appear as though you are logging in from New Zealand (who are 11 hours ahead of us) and the game then unpacks and unlocks.

        After that you can disable the VPN and play in offline mode until it officially unlocks in your country.

        As long as you don’t use VPN to attempt to buy anything cheaper in the steam store, Steam won’t ban you.

        I also recently ‘travelled’ to South Africa to pre-order Battlefield 1 on Origin.

  9. aircool says:

    I’ve been reading a few of the negative reviews on Steam.

    Some say that it’s not enough like the original Doom.

    Some say it’s too much like the original Doom.

    That’s the Steam review system for you :)

  10. Layabout says:

    I haven’t really given a crap about any new games for about 5 years but im desperate to get this. I have bought new games, but it was more going through the motions than red mist need.

  11. Wadanny says:

    I respect the even-handedness of this review. What constitutes ‘drab’ I suppose is a relative issue, down to individual taste. I do agree to some extent that the multiplayer models needed the more ‘comic-book’ aesthetic quality that previous games had but then palettes evolve over time.

    See how it looks later game, Hells seemed very colourful in the campaign trailer; certainly I am very excited by what I have seen so far! (Still waiting for my pre-order!)

  12. salgado18 says:

    Call me a heretic, but can you disable gore? Or play without using chainsaw fatalities?

  13. Tease says:

    I saw the TB impression video. the Assault comes into its own after upgrades

  14. PancakeWizard says:

    I’m excited to play this because of the single player, but damn did they miss a trick with the art direction of the monsters. They’ve learned nothing in that regard after Doom 3. Where are the distinct designs from the original games? They’ve been watching too much horror, but not playing enough W40k, or looking at enough metal album covers. Everything’s got the same glowy-eyed no-face and shiny sinew.

  15. toastie says:

    Maybe it’s because my standards for “colorful” are pretty low these days, but I was actually pleasantly surprised by how colorful it was. Do agree on the monsters though, they all look the same so far.

  16. Blake Casimir says:

    TBs new video on the SP is convincing me I’ll enjoy this….

    But I don’t want to support a developer that uses Denuvo DRM. Ugh.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      What about one that supports Vulkan, OpenGL and user-generated content, though?

  17. Jane Doe says:

    I’m pleasantly surprised how this game turned out. After the multiplayer beta I was very sure that it would suck, but it doesen’t. Its pure mayhem and fun. Also fast.

    Still, Tracer is faster than Doomguy. Also has a LotR-level backstory compared to Doomguy.

  18. LintMan says:

    Is it still the old “find the red keycard” gameplay? Monster closets? “pick up the mega-armor and then get attacked by the 1000000 monsters that appear” traps?

  19. Sinjun says:

    I beat it last night after a marathon session. It’s utterly brilliant, one of the best first person shooters I’ve ever played. Easy top 5 material. The gameplay is just completely bonkers especially in the last 3 levels, unbelievably fun and rewarding on the highest difficulty. The story is hilarious as you start listening to the demons talk about how fucking terrified they are of Doom Guy, and the music is adrenaline pumping awesomeness. I really can’t think of anything bad to say about it other than echoing I too would have liked some more variation in the art style and colors. The actual level design is fantastic, but the look of the game got kind of same-y after a while. For the inevitable expansion or sequel I’d like a return to some of the H.R. Geiger-esque designs from Doom 1 and 2. Walls covered with moving organs and eyes, crazy stuff like that.

  20. rgbarton says:

    I think maybe your kind of over exagerating its aesthetic problems. I mean yes the UAC facility isn’t the most original portrayal of the future. But I think that aesthetically its as well put together a vision of the future as deadspace. Not to mention it technically does have bright yellow rivers of lava and bright red levels on the surface of mars.

    Not to mention that I don’t see how the imps you could possibly say the imps look brown and indistinguishable when they’re clearly more bright purple
    link to i67.tinypic.com

  21. noxohimoy says:

    On Doom II, each level is unique. It has his own style and feel, so you are curious, and want to know what else is around the corner.

    But on Doom 2006, all levels are the same. It gets repetitive. You know that around the corner is the same samey. Should be called “the chemical factory”.

    Destroying the gore nests would make sense on a tower defense gameplay. But in tower defense you design and set traps. The point is to test your strategy. On Doom, it is just a work. Shoot the bullet sponges until they die.

  22. Phasma Felis says:

    Can we please agree to call it Doom 4? We all know that it’s Doom 4. Just because id and the entire game industry have forgotten how to count doesn’t mean we have to ape them.

  23. samy says:

    The Campaign is absolutely fantastic , gory and hard just like you expect from Doom , the MP not a fan so can’t judge that one .

    Doom is 41$ right now link to tiny.cc

  24. duke_meister says:

    It’s early doors?

  25. phylum sinter says:

    I’m completely satisfied with my purchase, with a similar amount of time played so far (at 3 hours now). Very glad i didn’t let the sadness of the mp beta color my hope for the game overall, though maybe that has even been made palatable with a couple basic tweaks, either by the devs or soon to be implemented by a crafty snapmap creator.

    Like you, the first thing i noticed was the rhythm to combat (yes, movement feels much better in SP, speed seems tweaked, or maybe it’s simply that i’ve upped the fov to 120). It’s a skill-based run through hell, i’m playing on the highest difficulty that i can play too. To succeed at this game at this difficulty you really have to read the environment because as soon as these demons warp in they are on your location instantly & very good at predicting where you’re moving, too. So yes, Doom is this ballet of finding the safe spot to turn, jump down and crack a skull open, turn around toss a grenade as 3 laser-wielding demons spawn in, then dashing down a hall to pick up health before the next shot ends you… you get what i mean. Much of the level design is an alternating beat of an environment puzzle against an arena type lockdown area where the rifts between hell and our universe are overlapping, clearing a bunch of dudes before heading back to moderate platforming and searching.

    It runs better than it looks on my 970, the ultra-level details are decent enough but the texture work varies from just okay to really amazing, much like Rage before it. The texture (and shadows) setting beyond ultra is locked out by the game if it detects you have less than 5gb ram, so i guess i’ll have to wait til i get my new rig to see how good it can possibly look, but it does seem to run smoother than Rage ever did, and overall feels very polished.

    Can’t wait to see what the Vulkan patch brings as far as improved performance, too.

    The SP level design is much more varied too, it feels like an extension of Doom 3 in a couple ways, like the way computers work and have fully legible screens on them throughout the UAC complex. I haven’t written my review yet because i want to really get through the campaign at least before i do, but everything so far has been really entertaining, and I hope that the rest of the elements extend the experience, suppose this is the first draft as it is.

    Generally I do enjoy mp games, but i didn’t expect the MP to be the best part of this game. If Snapmap turns out to be versatile enough to make some new spots to fight through with some friends, then that’s good enough for me.

  26. Buggery says:

    Interesting… So it’s a walking simulator, but instead of examining the environment for storytelling or solving simple puzzles, you shoot the monsters in the face?

    Unique idea but I don’t really see it catching on.

    • fishyboy says:

      ahh, but what is a fight? when we dance the dance of death we open a dialogue, a dialogue of jumping and running and shooting and punching. in a way, we talk to the monsters