It must be eternally tempting for games publishers to remake classics for which they hold the rights – but all too often, we end up wishing they hadn’t. However, publisher Bethesda Softworks and legendary developer id Software don’t do things by halves – not for them a quick-in, quick-out lazy graphical re-rub. Instead, when revisiting the king of first-person shooters, 1993’s Doom – the very game that drove the genre to the stratospheric heights it has occupied ever since – their strategy involved taking the gore-splattered essence of the original and seeing what modern technology could add to it. The result is a game that packs as much punch as the lumbering, grotesque demons which inhabit it.
There’s no mistaking the original Doom, and it has a number of fundamental elements which should never be tampered with. Such as frenetic gameplay which involves constant running-and-gunning, over-the-top weaponry (a ridiculously overpowered shotgun, a gore-factory of a chainsaw and of course the BFG – we all know what that stands for), a wide variety of fearsome demons with a vast array of attacks, secrets galore, and whole areas which can only be accessed with specific-coloured keys. All those constituents feature in the 2016 remake, along with plenty of new twists and enhancements.
Perhaps the best of which are Glory Kills. If you nail a few headshots (as important as they were in the original game) with a relatively weak weapon, say, you can stagger demons, which temporarily freeze in a vulnerable state. At which point you can move in and take them out with a Glory Kill, launching a demon-specific death-animation which, even by Doom’s gore-spattered standards, is deliciously over-the-top. You Glory-Kill a Pinky demon, for example, by ripping out a tusk and plunging it into its eye-socket.
There’s a brilliantly updated weapon-upgrade system, which really affects the gameplay since, in true Doom fashion, you always have to hunt around for ammo and at times, you will have to use your least favourite guns. Spectacular kills, though, earn weapon upgrade points, which can be employed (once you’ve unlocked specific upgrades by finding UAC field-drones) to make the crappier weaponry infinitely more appealing.
Rune Trails are among the many secrets to find, and are well worth delving into. They set you particular, timed challenges involving shooting or precision platforming, and when you overcome them, they yield really useful perks, which can be swapped around according to whatever situation you find yourself in.
Which – as in the original game – generally involves running around manically, covering every inch of whatever room you’re in as you seek out every last crate of ammo or shard of armour, while reducing all the demons present to quivering showers of viscera by shooting them in the face. Before looking for secrets in your immediate surroundings and discovering that you now have to go the farthest-flung part of whatever level you’re in, in order to progress. It ain’t sophisticated, but it is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. And technologically, Doom is very sophisticated indeed: it looks glorious, and runs with a level of smoothness that would make a sewing-machine resemble a tractor.
There is a storyline, of sorts. As before, you’re a space marine in a wrecked facility on Mars – where Argent Energy, which is crucial for life on Earth, is mined and refined – that has been invaded by demons after the crazed scientist Olivia Pierce opened up a portal to hell. Hence the action switches between Mars and hell, depicted in a manner of which Dante would have approved. You’re guided by the only other survivor, UAC boss Samuel Hayden, who turns out to be a 15-foot tall cyberman, and whose morals seem a tad questionable.
If you were feeling churlish, you might contend that it takes longer than it ought to before you encounter any real bosses. And there a couple of sops thrown, presumably, at millennials who weren’t even a glimmer in their parents’ eyes in 1993. Chief among which is a multiplayer mode which preserves the game’s run-and-gun blueprint and contains plenty of different game-modes, but feels thoroughly generic in comparison with the single-player game, and gives you little control over loadouts until you’ve levelled up. Plus there’s SnapMap, an exemplary map editor which should please ex-Minecrafters who have aged sufficiently to play 18-rated games.
Regarding the latter elements, Bethesda Softworks was guilty of an egregious act of sophistry which led many of us to fear that Doom would prove disappointing. The publisher refused to release review code until the day of launch, on the grounds that the single-player game was only one of three elements (the others being the multiplayer and SnapMap) that constitute an entity, and since the multiplayer and SnapMap wouldn’t be playable since launch, nobody could play the single-player game. Utter bullshit: you’d have to be certifiable to buy Doom for anything other than its single-player game, which merely happens to be one of the best single-player games ever, while the other two elements bring the word “meh” to mind. Arguably, Doom missed out on dislodging Uncharted 4 from number one in the UK games charts as a result.
Bethesda Softworks should have had more courage: Doom is so good that millennials raised on games that don’t actually contain anything even vaguely resembling gameplay (instead choosing to adopt the tropes of social networking) should be forced to play it – afterwards, they will feel as if they have undergone some sort of revelation. Doom is, quite simply, an object lesson in how to update a classic using modern technology. Other games publishers should take note.
• Game reviewed on Xbox One