Friday, May 20, 2016

Doom (2016): worthy of the name

Doom (2016) is a game worthy of the title.

It doesn't waste time telling a story we already know, as was the problem with Doom 3. All that tedious buildup to a revelation we saw coming before we got to the checkout line. There is a story in the new game, and it is different from the original Doom's setup, but not by much. Instead of experiments with teleportation opening a portal to Hell, Doom (2016) has the UAC building a power plant to harvest energy from another dimension (which happens to be Hell) and convert it to limitless power for humanity. Naturally, something has gone wrong, and demons are loose on the base. It's similar, but just different enough to need to know what's going on.



Doom 3 tried to be suspenseful and scary, and the whole thing takes place in dark, cramped corridors. You almost never go outside, and when you do, your oxygen supply depletes so fast you can't even look around. Doom 2016 is vast and open, much of the game takes place outdoors, there is no air limit, and the game doesn't try to be dark and scary. It opts to be an action shooter, and it works so much better.

The "slow and scary" method might have worked for Doom 3 had it been a new story, but since it was the same as the original games, it became tedious. Too much buildup for a revelation that wasn't a surprise. Doom 2016 doesn't fall into that trap. The original 1993 game got away with being slower and suspenseful because the graphics were so groundbreaking at the time. Nobody had made a game world look so real before, and it stood out. Doom 2016 does not give us anything new in the visual sense, so it was wise to emphasize the action instead of trying to be creepy.

Movement in Doom 3 was like walking with a ball and chain around your ankle. Doom 2016 features fluid movement, making combat feel silky smooth and beautiful. It does kinda succumb to the trap of modern gaming in that everything is built around waves. You come to an area that's obviously an arena, you fight a few waves of demons, the wave ends, and you are free to explore until you come to the next arena, where a new wave begins. Rinse and repeat. You find very few enemies between waves, and this becomes predictable and routine quick. The format still works because the battles are oh so satisfying, but Id missed the chance to create dread by putting more demons around the world who aren't in an obvious arena. It means you know when you are safe, and you know when you need to gear up for a fight. This works against what Doom was all about--you should never know you're safe!

I also wish the dossiers and the elements of the thin story were delivered more in-world. Much of the story is in written documents that appear in your inventory after you fight an enemy for the first time, or visit a location for the first time, etc. It comes across as infodump rather than progression. The developers went out of their way to scientifically justify everything in the game with Star-Trek-style technobabble, so why didn't they make acquiring this information part of the world as well? Can't these things be downloaded at story-appropriate moments instead of simply appearing after demon fights or visiting a location?



Otherwise, it's very good. Combat is exciting, challenging, and diverse. The enemies move in so many different ways they always keep you guessing. The Glory Kills are a nice touch, and they are context sensitive, so there are a lot of different ways to tear a demon apart with your bare hands. (I think they're obviously a nod to the "executions" in the Brutal Doom mod. There's even an achievement called "Rip & Tear.") I was thrilled to see the return of the Barons, and the Cyberdemon is badass this time. He was a disappointing final boss in Doom 3, but he's an intimidating mid-game boss here. The final boss is worthy of being the final boss, too!

And the chainsaw is awesome!

It changes the identity of the player from an ordinary marine caught in an invasion to a clone of Master Chief, essentially. It seems inappropriate to follow in the footsteps of Halo, but it does provide a story-based reason for you and you alone to be able to gain health from the demons you kill. It leaves a lot of room open for more interesting follow-ups. Maybe the next Doom game will take place entirely in Hell. Since you are not a marine, you are not tethered to Earth, so it's possible!

This is everything a game bearing the name "Doom" should be. The story is basically the same, but just different enough to avoid a complete repeat of what was already done before. It has surprising moments of humor in it, a nice reward for the players who take a break from fighting to read the documents that appear in the inventory. The combat is beautifully done, even if the game broadcasts when it's safe to explore and when it's time to fight a few waves of demons. I will be playing this more than once!


PS--I'm disappointed we didn't get to see Super Turbo Turkey Puncher 4! I've been waiting for the next installment for over a decade!!!!!

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