DOOM – Furious, Flow-Focused, Fast FPS
Is finely-tuned and single-centric gunplay enough to obscure a barren narrative and a minimal gameplay variety? The 2016 DOOM game asks players to evaluate what they want out of an FPS game, and for a great many players it seems to be a breath of fresh air. After cranking through the Xbox One version of campaign and a couple hours of the multiplayer via a rental the weekend it was released… I’ll preemptively say that my experience with DOOM was rewarding and mostly enjoyable, despite the game’s glaring faults.
If you like videogames, you should know DOOM has a legacy. You probably have heard its name before, and may know it as one of the “first videogames”. Side-stepping the impact the original DOOM games had on gaming, this new 2016 DOOM has had a tumultuous PR experience leading up to its release. A hard-hitting trailer showcased fast movement speed and aggressive gunplay that whet the appetites of old-school DOOM fans, but frequent execution animations and a bland tint of brown over the visuals had gamers concerned. It seemed that the developers and design team were listening in as they claimed to have sped up the executions and brightened up the colors in a subsequent trailer release. That positivity didn’t last long as the MP Beta appeared to be held in a negative light for a great many players, and a day-of embargo for reviews of the final game prevented early impressions and increased cynicism. The culmination of these PR fumbles appeared to be leading to low-level expectations for DOOM, yet against apparent odds the internet is beaming with positivity towards DOOM’s fast-paced, fluid Single Player campaign. Almost like a breath of vintage, crisp, recycled AC, gamers came out in droves online to elevate the campaign while demonizing the MP. The loudest voices don’t always paint an accurate picture, but many echoes of the same sentiment must mean it can’t be all bad, right?
What this game IS NOT:
Sometimes it’s most beneficial to start with the ‘bad’. Or rather, with what this game definitely is NOT. It’s not a narrative driven game. You can have just as much fun by not listening to a single word of dialogue as none of it is well crafted or inspiring, and DOOM almost certainly seems to know that. Go into this game expecting a narrative, brain scratching puzzles, any degree of cerebral provocation, or a huge variety of gameplay, and you’re going to be disappointed. This game is not a puzzler. It has environmental secrets you can obtain, but it’s basically a ten speed bike stuck in one gear the whole time. For the most part, DOOM seems to have its philosophy squarely affirmed as a run ‘n’ gunner. I say ‘mostly’ simply because the game still bakes in a half-assed narrative, despite DOOM Guy’s finesse for talking being about as elegant as his handling of levers, switches, doors, and Hell Knight craniums. There are even several moments that break up my momentum and forced me to wait and listen to uninspired dialogue from Dr. Robot. It feels very clear the story is there just to thread the levels together. Similar in philosophy, though with a much better handle on incorporating minimal story into a gameplay-focused game, SUPERHOT’s weaving of story and gameplay worked to actually charm the player, and provoke much more thought. DOOM doesn’t provoke, but it certainly stimulates. Non-existent story is somewhat of a low point for the game, especially as the visuals and different angles for the visceral combat would have made for some fun cutscenes.
In many ways DOOM (2016) is a reboot and homage to the older DOOMs, and gamers that wanted a spiritual continuation in the franchise should be delighted. DOOM is fast, aggressive, and very, very simple. Fortunately, DOOM hits the right notes that it tried to hit. If you’re a fan of Bioshock, Half-Life, Halo, or even COD, DOOM’s simplistic, repetitive gameplay without much semblance of any narrative will make it one to pass over.
In many ways DOOM (2016) is a reboot and homage to the older DOOMs, and gamers that wanted a spiritual continuation in the franchise should be delighted.
Simple, focused gameplay:
There are tons of FPS games that feel great, but DOOM does a phenomenal job of making movement and aiming of the weapons fast and fluid. If you’re the type of gamer that enjoys fluid movement mechanics and feeling connected to your controller, engaging in a dance of the fingers with response gunplay, then you should peep DOOM. Its simplicity, speed, and progressive challenge and enemy numbers make for a very Zen-like gaming experience. I’m a major fan of games that allow players to lock into a Flow state and DOOM is probably the best FPS campaign I’ve played in a couple years that hits that high note so well. It’s escapism through gibbing Hell beasts.
I’m a major fan of games that allow players to lock into a Flow state and DOOM is probably the best FPS campaign I’ve played in a couple years that hits that high note so well.
The flow-based gameplay also makes DOOM a blast to power through in just a couple of sittings because your body becomes an automaton, switching weapons and adapting to the new enemies you encounter along the way. The caveat to this is that if you’re not a gamer that feels adept at FPS shooting or reflexes, there isn’t going to be much in DOOM that feels rewarding to you. It’s not so often that reviews or even gamers themselves talk about the gap in skill levels that can dramatically alter one’s enjoyment of a game. For my tastes, DOOM on the “Hurt me Plenty” difficulty on the Xbox One was satisfyingly challenging. Never too hard for me, and never too easy. It kept me locked in that flow state in order to progress. DOOM’s combat structure of locking the player into a Kill Room to vanquish every enemy before proceeding gives clear, repetitive goals throughout the campaign. Those rewarded enough for completing progressively harder onslaughts of demons will likely find the repetitiveness very tolerable.
Map structure and challenge:
The 3D mini-map helps immensely with navigation, and a good chunk of the levels have a good bit of architectural distinction which helps set up the variety of Kill Rooms you’ll fight through. These Kill Rooms always have the same objective of killing every demon before the door will unlock, and each one is set up like a mini-arena. Elevation changes, varying timed powerups (Quad damage, Haste, Berserk and Invincibility), and walls/rooms make up these arenas. I can’t say that they’re incredibly diverse, but they feel sufficient enough to keep a gamer engaged and strafe-dodging fireballs instinctively. There’s not much if you’re looking for FPS gameplay variety like sniping corridors, escape missions, or enemy types invulnerable to specific weapons.
Now don’t get me wrong, ‘cause there is a decent amount of learning to be had in the campaign regarding what weapons work best for each enemy. However, you can also succeed with just about every weapon. The game’s simplicity lends itself to a well-crafted pace for challenge and difficulty. The game feels like a fairly linear challenge ramp, though how long one spends on upgrading health/weapon mods will obviously impact this. A golden path gamer like myself might have a great time running and gunning and overcoming the many Kill Rooms and occasional boss battle precisely because the game had a hefty amount of challenge. It felt rewarding to overcome the masses of enemies, so the accomplishment helped propel me through to the end of the game, despite conscious awareness that the gameplay was more of the same over and over.
My biggest gripe with these Kill Rooms is that there were numerous moments my Flow State was destroyed because one final enemy was hiding somewhere in the area. I spent 5 minutes on 2 separate occasions running around looking for one enemy, which is just incongruent with the gameplay philosophy.
The Feel of Gameplay :
This joy in completing a repetitive, yet progressively harder series of arenas all works because of the fundamental mechanics that feel so crisp. It’s entertaining to do essentially the same thing for hours due to the rewarding gore and visceral carnage, the multitude of guns, and the agile movement. The movement speed assists with the ease of tapping into a Flow state as strafing, double-jumping, and avoiding enemy projectiles feels great. If DOOM’s legacy continues because of this game, the one resurgence I would gladly see in forthcoming FPS games is a higher movement speed. This plus the attempts at agility the game provides with platforming and clambering/mantling is pretty great, though the mantling isn’t always responsive and resulted in several clunky deaths (and the animation where DOOM Guy’s arms reach way higher than the ledge is goofy, if mostly non-offensive).
It’s entertaining to do essentially the same thing for hours due to the rewarding gore and visceral carnage, the multitude of guns, and the agile movement.
As I said, the game shines in its fundamentals, and the gunplay is buttery smooth. Even the pace at which weapons are unlocked is well calculated. I’m not sure what it is, but the zoomed in Assault Rifle feels like the best aiming of any zoomed in weapon I’ve ever tried in a game. It’s remarkably smooth. The Super Shotgun, the Gauss Rifle, the Rocket Launcher, well hell, basically every gun feels great in the campaign. It’s likely because of the focus on Glory Kill executions that makes regular melee feel so wimpy, which is a shame since it’s could have sharpened up a great golden triangle of fun/grenade/melee that Halo so long ago perfected.
The method for receiving health and ammo comes from Glory Kills and pick-ups on the map. This makes it a necessity to monitor what enemies you’ll want to save for health boosts (tiny Imps can provide a huge health boost in a pinch), while also maintaining chainsaw fuel in order to snag more of your favorite ammo from the belly of a beast. This is a fun gameplay mechanic that encourages proximity to enemies rather than cowering away from them and regenerating health. It’s a wonderful gameplay design that discourages camping (similar in spirit to the Dog Tags mode in recent COD games) or cover-based gameplay and gels exceptionally with the high-speed, fluid, gun-fu.
Atmosphere and aesthetic:
The end result of every death feels very punchy and jaw droppingly gore-geous. The character design is hellishly appropriate for DOOM and while I think it’s visually interesting to see Cyber versions of most enemies, they didn’t behave too differently apart from added corrosive damage and green decals.
The end result of every death feels very punchy and jaw droppingly gore-geous.
The visuals in general are fairly impressive, though the environment design is a bit on the weak side as most environments tend to blend together visually. There are really two aesthetics: yellow-tinted hell or blue hued Argent facilities. Computer consoles and steel grating line one, while the dried bones of decaying monster carcasses line the next. Unlike the colorful, varied, and visceral grotesqueries of the Dante’s Inferno game (2010), DOOM remains mostly monotone in its visual design. I can’t say how much of this was a constraint due to paying reverence to older DOOMs, but I do think there’s room for growth in the depictions of Hell for DOOM’s inevitable sequel.
Gameplay Design and Upgrades:
While repetitive Kill Rooms are somewhat broken up by exploration puzzles and platforming, I barely had the patience to roam around looking for secrets as my Flow state was locked into a blisteringly fast aim-n-shoot mentality. Some of the secrets are fantastic and increase the replay value of the game, but they side-step what makes the game fun for me, and I had little interest in scoping out the puzzles (even after I upgraded my map to show every single one of them for me). I much preferred to flow through the missions barely checking my Inventory.
I imagine that exploration and a demand for upgrades would be much more pivotal at Nightmare and Ultra Nightmare difficulties, and I very seldom think that optional tidbits in a game ever make it worse. Once I approached the half-way point for upgrades, however, my need for them diminished greatly. Regardless, the upgrade system had some intelligent structure that requires players to experience more variety of weapons. I appreciate this. We saw the same thing happen in Titanfall’s MP, with players having to target specific weapon challenges in order to move to the next level of ranks (called Generations). This meant players reaching Generation 10 had experienced proficiency in basically every single weapon and Titan available. I value the shit out of this design philosophy.
Obtaining upgrades that require using the weapon to progress is likely my favorite method for increasing variety through RPG-esque upgrades (for example, you’re forced to use the Super Shotgun to kill 2 enemies with one shot 30 times to upgrade it fully). This forced me to cycle between different weapons and also learn the enemy types that I was hunting. Once I fully upgraded the gauss cannon’s alternate fire, I was an unstoppable gibbing machine. And the Super Shotgun’s double shot made such quick work of Pinky’s tender backside that I couldn’t help but smile at my efficiency.
The per-mission Challenges worked in the same way to elevate variety in the game and change up my game style, which I absolutely adore in many games. In fact, this is another design tidbit I gotta advocate for that really prevents gamers from locking into the “most efficient tactic” we so often fall into. By forcing me to use every weapon, I began to learn where every single one excelled and where it stumbled, and was motivated by a clear-cut upgrade in the end. Each upgrade is visible before you unlock it, so you can plot out your tactics and purchases well in advance. This is a double-edged sword though, because showcasing the upgrades provides information and long-term goals, whilst also disincentivizing earning them if they don’t sound appealing. By the 70% point in campaign, I had 20 weapon mods saved up because remaining upgrades weren’t appealing.
By forcing me to use every weapon, I began to learn where every single one excelled and where it stumbled, and was motivated by a clear-cut upgrade in the end
The Runes challenges become the biggest culprit of this over-information, because I found my 2 favorite Runes before the half-way point in the game. Reading the other descriptions made me not care about any other Rune challenges. The moment I snagged the jumping agility Rune and upgraded it so I had full agility in the air was the moment I realized I didn’t need any other Rune upgrades at all. For the completionist gamer, this isn’t an issue, but for me, I likely would have spent time playing Rune challenges if the reward wasn’t presented ahead of time.
Multiplayer and Snapmap:
Having only played 3-4 hours of the MP, I can’t say my opinion is very thorough, but it’s difficult not to see commentary chastising the multiplayer by gamers online. Expectations really chiseled away folks’ ability to analyze this multiplayer, with gamers demanding a Quake-like MP experience and stirring up judgment before even playing the Beta. However, critiques of incompatible design decisions do hold some water. Fast paced movement + loadouts (which can increase variety or barrel gameplay down to a single weapon of most efficiency, depending on your perspective) + Power weapon management create a menagerie of MP styles in one game. It felt ok, but was not very enticing, despite my playing fairly well. The customization felt non-distinguishable in game and it wasn’t always clear why I was dying or how players outmaneuvered me. All in all, it is nice to have an MP in any game, but it didn’t have much staying power for me.
Snapmap sounds great on paper. A level editor that gets upvoted or downvoted by the community and there’s matchmaking for it. If this takes off, it could be HUGE. However, when I tried to search for a game, I couldn’t get into one for 5 minutes, and then just ended up playing on my own. No opinion on this actuality, but it sounds like a great way to increase replay value through user-generated content and continually fresh co-op/PVP levels.
Single Player TL;DR:
DOOM is a one-trick pony that does a damn fine trick. Gamers adept at shooter games and interested in a fairly mindless, high-speed, escapist FPSs will very likely enjoy the combat and fluidity of the campaign. The lack of narrative and story might be frustrating for some, but the game doesn’t try to position itself as having that in any capacity… so don’t get your hopes up. The challenges increase the likelihood you’ll experience the majority of weapons and increases your gameplay variety, which is good because the mission structure and enemy behavior aren’t too diverse on their own. All in all, it’s a fun FPS to blaze through and has some phenomenal combat, but it doesn’t leave the most lasting impression and isn’t forging any new ground. The fundamentals like stellar movement speed, gunplay feel, and continuation of a linage should make this a worthwhile experience for FPS fans.
Gameplay Design Worth Advocating For:
- More movement speed + better agility = more enjoyment existing in the world.
- Challenge focuses using particular weapons = more gameplay variety and skill development.
- Providing reward information well in advance can set long term goals if rewards are enticing, or de-motivate progress toward the upgrade if rewards are weak.
- Gameplay focused on speed should not have progress blockers where players are forced to play hide and seek with one last enemy. Highlight the last enemy to prevent this frustration.
- Gameplay focused on speed, close-quarters proximity to enemies, and lack of cover benefits greatly from having enemies drop health and ammo to be picked up. Use these tactics if wanting to prevent long-range combat.
Recommended for fans of this genre? Yes, with the caveat that they know it’s purely run-n-gun FPS stripped of a story. Its gameplay carries the experience through to the end, and its movement makes it stand fairly unique amongst this current generation of FPS games.
Recommended for non-fans of this genre? Nah. This game is an FPS haven for gamers that embrace the crosshair lifestyle. If you’re not about popping headshots, you’re not gonna embrace DOOM.
Recommend for non-gamers? Definitely not. DOOM’s reliance on a singular gameplay feel, lack of narrative, and high challenge makes it a poor candidate for non-gamers.
Semi-arbitrary score: 7.8/10
Post your commentary below, or check out the /r/Truegaming reddit thread dedicated to discussing this review: https://www.reddit.com/r/truegaming/comments/4l1q38/doom_taps_into_the_flowstate_better_than_most_fps/