Hitbox Review: Doom — Become a force of nature

Doom’s success is built on its ability to empower the player by making them feel unstoppable. Perhaps that’s why its 2016 reboot begins and ends without ever switching perspectives. A first-person perspective lets you see through the eyes of the protagonist, the demon-massacring machine known as the Doom Slayer (his friends call him the Doomguy). You may think it’s tough to get into the mindset of an unstoppable demon killer, but it turns out that demons want to wipe out humanity and the only thing standing in their way is the Doom Slayer. It’s an ideal opportunity for the player to release any pent-up anger upon the forces of Hell.

Artwork courtesy of IGDB.com.

Developer: id Software

Initial release date: May 13, 2016

Platforms: PC [played], PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch

Price: $19.99

The first 15 minutes of Doom perfectly encapsulate who the Doom Slayer is. The player wakes up in a sarcophagus surrounded by the zombie-like “Possessed” and proceeds to crush one’s head against the solid rock surface. You see swirling runes painted in blood and lit candles on every surface, before activating a hologram recording of several lab researchers kneeling towards your closed sarcophagus and praying. Shortly after reclaiming the Doom Slayer’s armor from another sarcophagus, you pry a shotgun from the desperate clutching grasp of the upper half of a soldier.

Fast forward a few minutes and you’re on an elevator to the surface of the Mars UAC research facility while it’s director, Samuel Hayden, is trying to excuse the risk of a demonic invasion and the beat of industrial metal music increases. The Doom Slayer isn’t interested in excuses; he cracks his knuckles and smashes the computer interface Hayden is speaking through and the title screen appears. Just as the metal beat ends, the Doom Slayer cocks his shotgun and the player ventures out to the surface to teach these demons a lesson. The Doom Slayer has spent countless eons battling the forces of Hell, so he must be pretty good at it. His proven capability and eagerness to rip and tear is contagious. Each time the player encounters a demon is a welcome opportunity for more gloriously gory carnage.

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The driving force behind Doom’s empowering gameplay is its unrelenting combat. Combat arenas can throw up to around a dozen demons at the player at once, so it’s critical to prioritize enemies that pose the most immediate threat. For example, an agile Imp throwing fireballs from a wall is less of a concern than a charging rhino-like Pinky. Where it gets tricky, however, is juggling multiple major threats: like a Summoner living up to its name by summoning lesser demons, while a rocket-launcher-and-jetpack equipped Revenant is raining down rockets, and two tanky Hell Knights charge and claw at you. The best counter is always to speedily move and double jump around the area. It’s a harmonious combination of hectic pacing and careful planning with the player dodging projectiles, managing their health and ammo and taking out demons one by one.

Screenshot courtesy of IGDB.com.

The demanding combat works in concert with the industrial metal soundtrack to put the player “in the zone.” Any incoming stimuli that aren’t essential to kicking demon ass fade into the background. It’s just you and the demons battling it out until there’s only one left standing.

When a demon is low on health, they’ll begin to flash blue and then orange, prompting you to take them out with one of several unique (and demon-contextual) “Glory Kill” finishers. One execution for the floating balloon-like Cacodemon has the Doom Slayer rip out its singular massive eye and shove it in the demon’s mouth (this somehow causes the entire enemy to explode). One glory kill on a Possessed sees the Doom Slayer sweep its legs and punch its head so hard that it explodes. But the best glory kill is saved for the last enemy you fight. Doomguy forces its mouth open, aims the most powerful weapon in the game, the BFG 9000, and fires. Glory kills make for great spectacle, but they also provide the player with a choice besides which gun to use.

What really brings the Doom experience together is the campy story. Every sentence of lore I read about Doom brings a smile to my face. Here’s an excerpt from one of the codex entries titled UAC Report File I3S5A9XB talking about the Doom Slayer:

“The age of his reckoning was uncounted. The scribes carved his name deep in the tablets of Hell across eons, and each battle etched terror in the hearts of the demons. They knew he would come, as he always had, as he always will, to feast on the blood of the wicked. For he alone could draw strength from his fallen foes, and ever his power grew, swift and unrelenting.”

Oh yeah, did I mention all the Slayer Testament codex entries are narrated by a demonic voice?

That entry didn’t even mention the Hell priests or the Blood Temples! I can’t even begin to list all the absurd lore Doom has to offer, but it’s all fantastic. Pre-recorded hologram recordings of a UAC Spokesperson can be found throughout several levels of Doom spouting gems such as “welcome to the UAC, opening the gates of Hell with the key to the future.”

The campy aspects of Doom provide moments of levity during an otherwise seriously intense environment that in combination with the fast-paced combat, make Doom a mandatory gaming experience for first-person shooter enthusiasts.