Wot I Think: DOOM Multiplayer

DOOM [official site]’s singleplayer campaign was so surprisingly strong that I no longer object to writing the name in capital letters. Of course, it has a multiplayer mode too – as important a part of the Doom heritage as is speed and shotguns – and, were you to believe the marketing, this was the most important element of the new id shooter. With the legions of Hell all defeated, I now turn my attention to real hell: other people.

Note: I’ll be writing separately about the SnapMap level design/sharing tool, once I’ve had a chance to burrow into it properly.

DOOM multiplayer was, I think, inevitably going to differ from the singleplayer in profound ways. For a start, single is all about a powertrip of movement and resilience, whereas no multiplayer game can realistically support every player being on an incessant kill rampage. So the formula instantly changes from Schwarzenegger In Hell to Space Marines Chasing Each Other. This instantly, inescapably renders DOOM’s multi more familiar than its singleplayer. Halo wouldn’t be an unfair touchstone, although the maps are smaller and more maze-like. Actually, as sacrilegious as this sounds, it feels more like Unreal than Quake.

Even the arsenal departs from the id norm to some degree, with some new specialist shooters that don’t fit easy archetypes and don’t feel as satisfying for it. The mainstays of rocket launcher, railgun (though sadly renamed) and shotgun abide, however, and the BFG even puts in sporadic appearances.

Unfortunately sniper weapons have already seized control of the game, so don’t expect an easy ride if you’re a novice, but balancing that out somewhat is that the speed and mobility (yay doublejump) afforded to every player thanks to DOOM’s wonderful movement means you can close the gap on a camper within moments. You really will need to familiarise yourself with the lightspeed headshot if you want to go far in this, though.

This speaks to another major change from singleplayer, which is that the multiple and delightfully overpowered alt-fire modes for the weapons have been all but stripped away in favour of the most vanilla options – there’s not much more going on than scopes and premature rocket detonations. Whether this is because, for instance, locking three rockets onto three people simultaneously was deemed to be brutally unfair or because the netcode could not realistically support it I don’t know, but it does mean that multiplayer lacks the bug-eyed insanity of singleplayer, and instead forces players into more tried and tested behaviours.

However, it also lacks the purity of traditional Doom or Quake multiplayer, partly because the array of weapons is muddier, partly because timed pick-ups temporarily turn the first player to grab them into a demon (more on that shortly) but mostly because it’s hung around the now-traditional experience and unlock system.

This ringfences a few weapons until you level up a dozen or so times (just a couple of hours’ play, really) but in the longer-term randomly doles about new character customisation options and one-shot power-ups, such as bonus XP for assist kills or temporary tracking of your most recent killer’s location. Everything does something very similar now, and I’m an old man if I begrudge it, but it does rankle to see something with so much competitive heritage hitched up to a Skinner box. Can’t it be enough to just want to win? Young people today, etc.

Doesn’t help that the armour options (purely aesthetic) are so ugly. A lumpy grab-bag of styles, criss-crossing Master Chiefly powersuits, sub-Geiger demon fare and early Quake crusader helmets, most commonly seen in gruesome boy racer cod-metallic hues – it’s visual noise. The occasional player pulls off something more sedate and subdued, usually involving trying to look a bit like a Dark Souls character, and I quite like the 80s robot-y Fractal set, but sadly the net effect is that everyone looks like a nebulous shiny splodge. It quickly becomes hard to care about a new armour piece unlock, because no-one you encounter will think, even for a second, ‘woah, that guy looks cool.’ Like so much about DOOM multiplayer, there’s a sense that this stuff was made by a completely different team to that on singleplayer.

All that said, I was delighted when I unlocked tiny Quake logos for my armour:

Then there’s these demon transformations I mentioned. It’s not a novel concept to have one monstrous player on the map, who the entire opposing team then makes a beeline for, but it does fold in some of DOOM’s great bestiary, as well as affording a rare opportunity to actually be a Revenant, Baron of Hell or Mancubus. Each has their own powers and movement, and all are giant hitpoint sponges, far more so than their singleplayer incarnations.

It’s a hoot to be one, and it’s frightening to face one, but it can disrupt the flow of a match, as suddenly the entire fight is about taking Big Bad down. What DOOM multiplayer sorely lacks is server options: not just the increasingly common forced matchmaking structure, but also deciding that a match should be without demons, or railguns, or power-ups, or people above a certain level.

All its modes bar one (essentially deathmatch except you have to pick up enemies’ ‘souls’ post-kill) are team-based, and standard fare. The standouts for me was the one which involved controlling a moving zone of the map, as it forces snipers out of comfort zones, and the team-based last man standing variant, in which every player has but one life and thus everyone exercises far more caution. The playing field feels more levelled when everyone’s mind is on staying alive rather than racking up the highest score, and the unpredictable nature of a multi-tier map which folk can double-jump around injects a great deal of tension into proceedings.

In short, don’t come to DOOM multiplayer looking for some kind of id heritage – it doesn’t pull off a smart rethink of early shooter values in the way the singleplayer does. Come to it for a solid but straightforward online mode in the modern paradigm, lifted higher by the wonderful bounciness of DOOM’s movement system: double-jump slips seamlessly into proceedings, so it’s never a matter of just running around the same paths, but instead hopping wildly across shortcuts or over people’s heads.

You will feel busy and active for every second you play, and there is a much to be said for that: far more thrilling, moment-to-moment, than the ground-rooted traipse of the military shooter. Though aesthetically rather dull, the structure of the maps is smartly designed in order to enable this constant momvement: learning them and picking up on the shortcuts and hiding places happens very naturally.

It feels as though an opportunity for something clean and Quake-y has been missed, and certainly the walled garden of its lobby system is a frustration. It’s true to say that I feel no great compulsion to return, but it isn’t true to say that DOOM is a case of singleplayer good/multiplayer bad. It’s singleplayer good/multiplayer adequate, which in fairness is probably not what people wanted from a game with ‘DOOM’ in the title.

From this site

41 Comments

  1. PancakeWizard says:

    “…whereas no multiplayer game can realistically support every player being on an incessant kill rampage.”

    The Jedi Knight games managed that feeling of power with multiple Jedi players. Just ‘sayin.

    It’s not inconceivable that they could’ve gone with a more classic id software multiplayer feel and kept the new melee insta-kills in. It would’ve been chaotic – but that sounds fun to me.

  2. mutanteggs says:

    The multiplayer WAS outsourced, wasn’t it?

    • funkstar says:

      Yup, Certain Affinity were responsible for the multiplayer, a team founded by ex-Bungie devs.
      This is where that comment was supposed to go :D

      • immaletufinishbut says:

        LMAO, this explains everything.

      • vorador says:

        Indeed that explains a lot.

        It completely misses what made Doom/Quake MP great, and becomes a fairly average Halo clone. From the cosmetic armor pieces to the loadouts.

        Is not terrible, but is not good enough. After a few months, it is likely servers will be barren and people will have moved on.

  3. FuriKuri says:

    which in fairness is probably not what people wanted from a game with ‘DOOM’ in the title.

    Not sure I’d agree with that personally. Quake, sure, but for me Doom has always been about blasting demons in the face rather than other players.

    • PancakeWizard says:

      Quake was when the multiplayer scene exploded, so it’s natural to assume that would be the influence for a new Doom multiplayer.

    • Gaycob says:

      Really? Because I’m pretty sure I can remember Doom MP back in the day would bring many university networks to their knees.

      Maybe you didn’t play MP but it was very much a thing that’s for sure.

      • pip3dream says:

        DOOM2 is when the MP really took off. I remember playing it to the wee hours.

  4. Weed says:

    Did I miss it in the article? Is there no Co-op play of the SP missions?

    I could have sworn I played through the original Doom levels in co-op way back when over a modem no less.

    • tattertech says:

      No co-op in new DOOM. You are correct about the originals though.

      • Weed says:

        Thanks for verifying.

        That is too bad that it is not included. I remember co-op being a really fun way to enjoy the game.

        • Premium User Badge

          gritz says:

          They demoed co-op at E3 last summer, but removed it at some point in the last 6 months.

          • Leonick says:

            The Co-Op demoed at E3 last year is still in the game, it’s part of SnapMap. That’s what they demoed.

  5. thekelvingreen says:

    I used to play Quake as a Dalek. It was very unofficial, but it was great fun, even more so when other players picked the same skin, and you’d see Daleks bouncing and rocket-jumping around everywhere, their electric cheesegrater voices shouting out in glee.

  6. Stevostin says:

    I don’t get that last line. Doom has always been the “single player” title. Don’t get me wrong, I had some of my first and most intense delight playing Doom vs my cousin on serial link back in the days, but it was mainly a case of “first and only”. It actually wasn’t that great. Neither were QI, II , III vanilla if you ask me. Except for CTF, it wasn’t that interesting until Rocket Arena or Team Fortress kicked in. Far more interesting rules. Doom/Quake type of game suffers imo from the whole concept of timed powerup. It’s just a bummer to win or loose because “timer skills”. And it was so important it really stood in the way of fun in anything else than raw deathmatch and CTF (where powerups aren’t as essential).

    • Stevostin says:

      Actually you know what, there was one case of playing Doom in multi I found intense, and that I’d like to see coming back: 1vs1 in a level with monsters in nightmare (aka respawning) mode. Now that one was hot! ;)

    • aircool says:

      Back in the day you were lucky if you lived with someone who owned another PC. I remember routing those cables (what the hell were they called?) out of windows into other people’s flats.

      Even then you’d be lucky to get more than three people playing.

      I think Quake 2 was probably the point in which online gaming began to spread (at least in the UK). Mind you, it would cost you at least 1 pence a minute because there was no such thing as free phone calls (with a monthly tariff obviously).

    • Phasma Felis says:

      Doom multiplayer was an odd thing. On the one hand, it lit the fuse for the great online-gaming explosion. On the other hand…not many people actually got to play it. It was basically made for LAN parties–four-player deathmatch was a blast–but I don’t think the concept of “LAN party” actually existed yet, so.

  7. BooleanBob says:

    “With the legions of Hell all defeated, I now turn my attention to real hell: other people.”

    Pat yourself on the back for this one, Alec.

  8. Echo Black says:

    All that said, I was delighted when I unlocked tiny Quake logos for my armour:

    Unless I’m mistaken, the Quake pattern is not unlockable in-game, but a preorder bonus.

  9. Sinjun says:

    Too bad id outsourced it, the difference just in the actual feel and shooting of everything between SP and MP is obvious.

    But the game is still an easy 10/10 and worth $60 for the campaign alone. Every time I boot up MP or SnapMap I just ask myself “why?” and replay a campaign map on Nightmare instead. I really hope id puts out some SP content sooner rather than later, I don’t want to wait 2 or 3 years for a sequel.

    • Tekrunner says:

      They just need to tweak Snapmap to allow better single-player only maps. As in, let players have the single-player arsenal instead of the silly loadout system, and remove the irrelevant “network” ressource limitation that means that maps are currently very limited in size. If id does that we’ll be swimming in quality single-player maps in no time.

  10. aircool says:

    I have to keep googling Skinner Box whenever I see it and then forgetting.

    I keep thinking of ‘The Skinner’ by Neal Asher.

  11. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    “Unfortunately sniper weapons have already seized control of the game…”

    Ugh!

    Minor rant: Does every online shooter need to have snipers in it? There is nothing less fun than being in a firefight with another player only to be picked off by some jackass half-way across the map. I despised Halo for this reason.Hell, most of the time it seems like the snipers are off playing their own game while everybody else goes for the objectives. Why do they need to be in a game like Doom where the whole purpose is getting all up in people’s grill?

    /rant

    • Premium User Badge

      binarycrusader says:

      Ugh!

      Minor rant: Does every online shooter need to have snipers in it? There is nothing less fun than being in a firefight with another player only to be picked off by some jackass half-way across the map. I despised Halo for this reason.Hell, most of the time it seems like the snipers are off playing their own game while everybody else goes for the objectives. Why do they need to be in a game like Doom where the whole purpose is getting all up in people’s grill?

      There’s some precedent for it at least given Quake; in particular, I spent a great deal of time playing railgun sniping fests in Quake 2 :-)

  12. Sabertooth66 says:

    I have to agree with you here. I was having a great time in the new DOOM mp until i started getting sniped too much. Don’t get me wrong I actually still really like the mp, but it wouldn’t have hurt anyone’s feelings to leave the sniping out.

    I’m still having a ton of fun, especially when I track down those snipers and make them my bitch. It may have something to do with the fact that I haven’t played competitive fps in a long time, or maybe I’m already just amped because it’s doom, but I’m having lots of fun in mp and i’m a picky dude.

  13. immaletufinishbut says:

    “…but it does rankle to see something with so much competitive heritage hitched up to a Skinner box. Can’t it be enough to just want to win? Young people today, etc.”

    I get this feel with most games today, TBH. Playing games for fun is so last year, man.

  14. immaletufinishbut says:

    Also, regarding the final “It feels as though an opportunity for something clean and Quake-y has been missed”

    #Reflex

  15. barch88 says:

    I made an account just to post.

    DOOM Multiplayer is FUN…just pure joy. I’ve played everything from WoW, Gears, Halo, TF2, DOTA, LoL, CoD Blackops 3, the list goes on and on…you get the point. DOOM offers probably the most enjoyable multiplayer I have ran across in ages.

    Amazing maps. Hands down the BEST part of multiplayer are the maps. The maps are a perfect size for this type of game IMO. They aren’t vast and open/huge, but they do have multiple levels and you can really go up, down, and around your opponents. The game really has the perfect DOOM feel and it carries it over to multiplayer. You can even do GLORY KILLS in MP (and it’s satisfying to watch, even when you’re on the receiving end).

    The armor and level ups come fast and the total customization of colors/patterns is a nice touch. The reviewer complained about the “unlock/level up system” – face it, that’s everything in life. You want better or cooler stuff, work for it. Stop complaining and asking for handouts…

    Lastly, the multiplayer is just simple. I mostly play Team Deathmatch so that’s all I’m speaking about…but the instant respawns and lighting people up with the railgun just doesn’t get better.

    TLDR- DOOM is amazing, the multiplayer is great if you’re looking for a multiplayer to chill out, listen to music and have fun. You don’t need too much focus or time to get in and have fun. The games are short but satisfying and the unlocks/level ups come fast and you can choose certain perks each spawn which also increase XP in some circumstances.

    • Alec Meer says:

      What I actually wrote was that “it does rankle to see something with so much competitive heritage hitched up to a Skinner box. Can’t it be enough to just want to win? Young people today, etc.” Thus, you are the one asking for handouts, friend.

    • Text_Fish says:

      I’m glad you enjoy it, but it’s rather telling that you didn’t include any previous Doom, Quake (or even Unreal) games in your “previously played” list. It’s likely that you’re not looking for the same thing as most people who flock to the Doom or ID brand.

      • The First Door says:

        Beaten to it, Text_Fish, this is exactly what I was about to say!

        Some people like XP and unlocks, some people like me just want to play a game occasionally, get better at it and not have stuff arbitrarily locked away because I’ve not played the requisite about of the multiplayer. It’s why I still play Quake 3/Quake Live and UT2K4 as my go to shooters when I get the chance: they feel good, have a ton of maps and game modes to play around in and learn, and I can just drop in to them whenever I want without having to worry about unnecessary progress fluff.

    • Cederic says:

      Work for it? I worked for the money used to pay for the game, when I play the game I want fun, not work.

      Forget that, no Doom multiplayer for me. I’ll play a game that wants me to enjoy it.

  16. Skeletor68 says:

    Hi Alec, one small typo above in ‘constant momvement’. (I’m an editor, so ain’t judging!) You can delete my comment once seen.

  17. Text_Fish says:

    It’s really crap. Servers will be empty in no time.
    My hope is that people will be able to make something better using snapmap, which seems fairly diverse.

  18. Jane Doe says:

    I so no way that Overwatch isn’t going to blow the DOOM MP away.

    Dull maps, nothing but neon-colored Doomguys all arround and staple weaponry only. I do like DOOM SP and I like that they went back to the roots with it, but the MP isn’t retro. Its stuck 20 years ago.

    Anyone remember Orbb from Quake 3 Arena? (link to quake.wikia.com)

  19. Wadanny says:

    I remember when the beta was released I was really worried, but not because I hated it, I actually loved it but everyone else seemed to hate it! Plus I come from the id ‘old school’ like Doom 2, Quake etc so felt very isolated in enjoying it.

    At first I thought people were being really harsh, but looking back I think it’s more that I sucked at traditional id multiplayer! The pacing and ease of access to weapons really help me in this game, I was always crap at map control, hoarding the weapons, guarding the armour etc. Loadouts really help me but I can see why so many multiplayer fans were annoyed.

    I’m really glad this game has done so well, it’s the most excited I’ve been for a game for a very long time, but when they released that beta I thought it was the beginning of the end!

  20. Vermintide says:

    MY KINGDOM FOR A SERVER BROWSER.

    Honestly this is fun, but I can tell I’m going to be a very grumpy old man in the future now that it’s become clear that the true ways of server browsers, mod compatability and generally player-supported FUN are dead, in exchange for the console baby Skinner boxes.

    I’m pretty sure a big reason I still play Battlefield, despite having become pretty bland and beset with bugs, is because it at least still lets you chose a server and the settings thereof. It’s still a PC game. Where are the others?

    DOOM doesn’t even let you say “GG” between matches for fuck’s sake. Seriously.

  21. Ragnar says:

    “singleplayer good/multiplayer adequate” is actually more than I expected from a new game with DOOM in the title.