To call id Software’s Doom a reboot would imply the original game had a strong narrative emphasis. The truth is, it didn’t. With no numeral attached to the end of the latest iteration of Doom, it slots more into reimagining territory than reboot. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when you’re toying with the unholiest of unholies – trying to attract new fans and respect the expectations of old-school fans – it’s a hell of a fine line to walk.
Last year, id Software chose QuakeCon to show off a secret screening for Doom single-player. This year, id chose QuakeCon to let fans and media play pre-alpha multiplayer. During the Doom stage panel, no-one from id was hiding from the fact that Doom isn’t remembered for its nuanced storytelling. Instead, unlike the slower-pace and heightened scares of Doom 3, this newer Doom may look like a shiny new id Tech 6-powered beast, but it sure as hell plays like the daddy of shooters that hell-spawned it.
Many of you will have seen the single-player content from E3. While the core pillars from that carry over into multiplayer, there’s also some QuakeControversial
choices thrown into the mix, at least for fans hoping for a pure old-school experience. But first, the parity. Doom is all about fast pace, forward momentum and big fucking guns. This is as true of multiplayer as it is of what’s been shown of the solo stuff, to date.
There’s a crouch button, but even chief tech officer Robert Duffy laughed at its inclusion. He offered an anecdote that described E3 judges, clearly from the newer-school of shooters, whose first instinct when playing Doom was to stop, duck, back up… and proceed to get annihilated. Moving backwards in multiplayer, even jumping backwards, isn’t just ill advised, it goes against the grain of how Doom’s been designed.
Forward momentum is incentivised by the health drops that come from slain opponents. Get closer and eviscerate them with a glory kill (when they’re on low health), and you’re rewarded with more health. The 6v6 team deathmatch mode we played forced even the most cautious of players to move, lest they die from accurate rocket fire. And it was clear in my handful of matches that the rocket launcher was the go-to arsenal choice.
But this is where some of that controversy kicks in. The rocket launcher weapon description reads, “Fires rockets that explode on impact and deals damage over a large area.” While the first part of that phrase is true, the latter is less so. Splash damage is seriously underpowered compared to what id veterans are used to from the likes of Quake. Direct hits to the torso reap the most damage, but the numerical damage counters showed that anything outside of this did not afford the kind of explosive feedback one would expect from such a weapon.
This is obviously a work in progress, and even Duffy flat out admitted, in its current form, “the rocket launcher is a little nerfed.” Executive producer Marty Stratton seemed to disagree with Duffy’s assertion (or, at least, his choice of raising it during the panel), which showed that it’s a contested topic at id Software. The jaded Quake-loving old-school gamer in me hated the lack of damage while I was playing but, upon reflection, I developed an appreciation for how the requirement for rocket precision further raises the already high skill cap.
Keen eyes will have noticed that’s the second time I’ve referenced Quake when talking about Doom’s multiplayer, and that’s because it feels a lot like Quake III (in a good way). Doom has jump-pads, railgun-like weapons, an announcer, quad damage (seriously), and a rocket launcher that feels like it was ripped out of Quake III, with the exception of the damage output. Spamming an entranceway with anticipatory rockets, or pounding the wall next to a retreating enemy isn’t an effective tactic here.
The forward momentum and pace is complemented by some more contemporary mechanics. A double jump makes mini-rocket jumps a reality (without the associated self-inflicted splash damage), while vaulting provides new ways to get around the map and avoid choke points. To further incentivise players to stay on the move, a Revenant power-up randomly spawns at one of five locations around the map, while an alternating invisibility/quad-damage power-up appears in the same spot.
There’s an announcement before the Revenant power-up drops, and a countdown before it spawns, which had both teams rushing to secure the area. One player gets to temporarily upgrade to a jet-pack wearing, double-rocket firing demon, and that thing wrecks. I’d go so far to say that it’s overpowered at this point, but that may be because id wants the enemy team to work together to take it down. Well, that or collecting the gauss rifle drop that allows you to track enemies via heat signature and drop them with a single shot (possibly more for the Revenant).
The trick is that the friendly team tends to follow in the trail of this particular devil, mopping up what it doesn’t destroy in its path. Kill the Revenant, though, and there’s a short countdown where the power-up is reserved for you; miss that window, though, and the enemy team can collect it again. While kills with the Revenant were tallied at the end of the round, in a scoreboard system that very much favoured KDR and killstreaks, it didn’t appear to count towards a player’s end-of-match score.
In our interview, Stratton mentioned that the Revenant isn’t the only demon in the game, so you can expect to see more. As for whether there will be classic modes that don’t include such power-ups, Stratton admitted that “right now there are some kind of modes that we’re playing with that don’t include the demon.” Old-school fans are more likely to get upset about the inclusion of loadouts, which limits a player to two weapons and one piece of equipment.
There were three default loadouts – sniper, assault and ambusher, with different weapon/equipment combinations – while two custom slots let me customise between two equipment items (grenades or personal teleporter) and five weapons. Expect both of those numbers to rise for the final product. This may fly in the face of old-school expectations and the full-arsenal mentality of Doom’s single-player, but it also makes a lot of sense.
Stratton talked about the design logic as wanting players to have “an ability to be competitive right from their spawn”, and it really works. There is a killcam, but you can respawn almost instantly by pressing ‘R’. That’s the only use for ‘R’, though, as there’s absolutely no manual reloading in Doom, both in single-player and multiplayer. Ammunition is scattered around the map, but you spawn with enough to feel equipped for the duration of your (usually short) life.
Despite the tight map design, the inevitability of the respawning Revenant power-up meant that teams tended to stick together, which led to stretches of no enemy contact, at times, particularly when lone-wolfing. Given the lower weapon damage, playing it alone in this mode is ill advised, as engaging multiple players tends to result in a visit to the respawn screen.
If you pre-ordered Wolfenstein: The New Order, you’ll automatically be part of the beta, which Stratton confirmed will launch in 2016, closer to the autumn release window. Lucky players will be randomly pulled from that group of beta participants and invited into various stages of alpha testing, with enough time for player feedback to be incorporated into the beta and final launch. Stratton said it was too early to comment on LAN support, but confirmed “the infrastructure is dedicated server-based”.
As a fan of old-school arena-style shooters, I’ve laboured some of the negatives, but it’s worth highlighting that what I played of Doom was a hell of a lot of fun. It’s wickedly fast. It rewards aggressive tactics. It actively deters the viability of camping. Basically, it ticks a lot of the right boxes for me to be looking forward to sinking some serious hours into the online component.