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Doom 2016 Retrospective

BrendawnoftheDead gets sentimental… over big freaking guns and gruesome demon murder

From May of 2016 to March of 2020, Doom (2016) was my favorite game. Something about it just kept my attention and kept me engaged start to finish. Most shooting games at the time could impress me visually, but all played the same and got boring well before the credits rolled. Shoot, duck for cover, move to different cover, repeat, blah blah blah yawn. In truth, I thought first-person shooters just weren’t meant for me anymore, I was over it. Wolfenstein was a glimmer of light in this dark time, but it did not compare to what Doom brought to the table. I hadn’t played too much classic Doom prior to 2016’s offering, I had beat Doom 3 on pc twice and an additional time years later with the BFG edition console release. But Doom 3 plays very differently to classic Doom. Classic Doom is all about speed, Doom 3 is a horror focused and slower paced shooter. When 2016 was released, I had no idea what to expect. It was advertised as a return to classic form and my memories of classic Doom all come from watching my Dad play back in the early 90’s using only the keyboard (absolute legend) when I was probably too young to be watching it. Well boys and girls, you find out in the first room that this game is all about: speed, player agency, and brutality. By the second room, I discovered that this is exactly what I wanted in a first-person shooter.

But how does it hold up seven years later? Are my feelings toward this game seen purely out of rose-tinted nostalgia glasses? Is it still fun now after playing its bombastic sequel? I had so many questions and felt like getting some easy achievements, so why not boot it up? I’ve never played on Xbox and it is free on game pass, that was the only justification I needed. I was never as good at 2016 as I am at Eternal but there was no easing into it, we’re taking the fight to the demons on nightmare difficulty.

What is Doom and why did I like it so much?

To avoid getting too far ahead of myself, I’ll briefly summarize what Doom is. Doom 2016 is a single player focused first-person shooter where you play as Jesus Christ himself on a crusade to rid the universe of Hell-spawn once and for all. That’s a joke but not too far from the truth. You play as the Doom Slayer, and you awaken at the conclusion of the carnage too angry to die. As far as you can tell, there are 2 surviving humans on the base other than you and one is the main antagonist and the other appears to have ulterior motives. The rest died from the Hell wave, were converted into demons, were sacrificed in the name of the demons, or were ripped apart by said demons. In case you never picked up a bible or attended Sunday school, demons are bad. From jump street (not 21, sorry), your only concern is playing holy exterminator and killing them all. This is made clear by the Slayer outwardly not giving a sh*t about anything the other survivor says unless it is going to directly help stop the demonic invasion (throwing computer monitors to shut him up, smashing expensive equipment to permanently stop Hell energy production rather than carefully shutting the machines down, etc).

Doom is fast and asks a lot of the player. To avoid damage, you must move not hide. To regain health, you must be aggressive and literally rip it from the demons, it does not regenerate if you sit and wait. You do not have enough resources to rely on a single weapon, you must learn to efficiently use your entire arsenal. Doom has a high skill ceiling, there are a lot of tricks that can be learned to make you a more efficient Slayer that are hinted at, but never directly told to the player. ID (the genius developers behind the series) wants you to figure them out for yourself. Some of these include quick swapping weapons for higher damage per second, reload animation canceling, faltering demons to provide openings to deal damage and avoid incoming damage, enemy specific weaknesses, and using friendly fire. Point being, there are several ways to get good that don’t just involve better aim.

To summarize, I love Doom because there is a reason to play it more than once. Most other first-person shooters of the time couldn’t say the same. I hate to pick on Call of Duty’s single player because I have enjoyed some of them (World at War is the greatest WWII game ever made), but once you have experienced the story there is no real reason to play it again. Most guns principally do the same thing and are effective against every enemy, which all look and behave similarly. It is hard to improve at waiting for your health to regenerate while hiding behind cover and frankly that is 90% of what you do when playing on higher difficulties (plus avoiding spammed grenades). Unless you adore a particular year’s story and need to experience it again, it is hard to justify replaying any of the campaigns. Every time you play Doom, you will probably pick up on something you weren’t aware of on your previous play through and adding that trick to your tool kit can drastically change your playstyle should you choose to incorporate it. My first-time playing doom (on I’m too young to die), I abused the super shotgun and used the lock on burst modification for the rocket launcher on big guys. The second time I played (on hurt me plenty), I discovered the siege mode mod on the gauss cannon, which I didn’t even unlock the first time around. The third time I booted Doom up (ultra-violence), I figured out quick swapping and faltering. By the time I got to nightmare, I was researching strategies from all corners of the internet to become a demon slaying machine. This last go around I was more efficient than ever, but I still met my demise on a handful of occasions. As good as I am at Doom, there is always room for improvement.

I would be doing Doom a great disservice if I didn’t mention the music and visual style. Doom 2016 has a soundtrack that reacts to player actions. In moments of heavy combat, heavy metal and electronic riffs play. In quieter moments, the soundtrack leans into more ambient noise. As for the tracks themselves… God Dayummm. Intense, in your face, at times abrasive, an unholy fusion of metal and electronic fury. It’s amazing in game, it’s just as good by itself. Chef’s kiss Mick Gordon, I salute you. Visually speaking, Doom looks so different than everything else on the market at that time. The weapons have personality, the monster visual design is so refreshing compared to generic soldier with gun, the enemies also display personality with their tactics and facial expressions before being glory killed, Hell appears to be the heavy metal interpretation rather than Dante’s Inferno, and finally gore has made a triumphant return in gaming. There is very little generic visuals in Doom, which really help it stick out in your gaming memory. And if you care (I do very much), it ran at 60fps on release on Xbox One & PS4. Doom sounds awesome, looks amazing, and is buttery smooth on all platforms (except the poor Switch).

What did Doom (2016) do for the genre?

Before getting into what I liked and what I didn’t, coming back to it seven years post release and 3 three years after my last playthrough, it would help to summarize what Doom 2016 did for first-person shooters. Doom 2016 was the turn of the tide. Prior to Doom, almost every first-person shooter that came out attempted to replicate the tired Call of Duty formula. Slow paced, militaristic, stop and pop shooters with big set pieces. There is nothing wrong with this style of game, but it feels like something has been lost. First-person shooters weren’t always like this and Doom emphatically shows there is another way to make an FPS. If Wolfenstein the New Order and the Old Blood were a proof of concept, Doom is the product proper. The Wolfenstein series showed that health and armor management could still work in a fast-paced first-person shooter, and that you do not need to be bound to a two-weapon carry limit. While Wolfenstein bridges the gap between modern and old-school design, Doom 2016 leans heavily toward old-school with very few concessions. Doom does everything in its power to keep the pace and adrenaline high. Reloading, cover, and aiming down sights might be realistic, but in terms of gameplay they simply slow things down. Doom doesn’t have time for that and neither do you! In fact, if you stand still you die (often horrifically). You have access to your full array of weaponry at any time, and each weapon has its own role in the combat puzzle. Enemies are aggressive and have varied tactics while being visually distinct. Doom isn’t bound by realism or immersion; it is more concerned with being fun and engaging.

Thankfully Doom was praised by players and critics (except for the ones that reviewed it without playing it) alike and was a financial success. Numerous video essays praised the old-school mentality and combat design of Doom were published on YouTube, gaining millions of views and likes. Doom proved that single player first-person shooters still have a place in gaming industry and was seen as a breath of fresh air and paved the way for “the boomer shooter.” Without Doom (2016), we wouldn’t have Dusk, Ion Fury, UltraKill, Project Warlock, Dread Templar, Prodeus, the Quake Remaster, Shadow Warrior 3, or the greatest of them all Doom Eternal.

What aged well and was it expanded upon in the sequel?

Spoiler alert, I had a lot of fun replaying Doom 2016. Eviscerating demons at breakneck speed is just as much fun now as it was back in the day. While it’s more simplistic and less refined than its sequel, much of what made 2016 great was expanded on to make Eternal even better. Let’s take a look at some of things that make 2016 special.

1. Arsenal & Weapon Mods: Shooters with boring weapon variety tend to stop being fun rather quickly, Doom does not suffer from this. Doom’s weapons are creatively designed, fun to use, and have modifications that change their utility. This is expanded on in Eternal by making weapons retain their usefulness throughout the campaign and making mods less redundant. The pistol is useless once you find any other weapon. Once you obtain the super shotgun and gauss cannon, there is little reason to use the combat shotgun and plasma gun. This is not the case in Eternal at all.

2. Enemy Chess Piece Design: Shooters with enemies that look and act the same are not memorable. Doom’s demon roster assigns enemies “roles on a chessboard.” You have enemies that pressure the player, enemies the sit back and attack at range, flying enemies, shielded enemies, tanks, and enemies that are the number one priority no matter what else is on the board. Eternal retains this system while adding more to the roster, ups their lethality, and gives most enemies specific weaknesses that can be exploited.

3. Falter System: If you couldn’t slow an enemy down or make them miss their attacks, Doom 2016 would be downright unfair. Thankfully, you can interrupt enemy attacks by doing enough damage. Faltering also works as an indicator to let you know when you’re doing damage. Eternal greatly expands on this concept, but that could be a blog on its own.

4. Anti-cover System/ Pace of Play: Hiding behind cover slows you down. Doom is fun because it requires you to think and play fast. Traditional cover does not work in Doom, not even a little bit. All enemies have the agency to traverse the environment at will. There is nowhere to hide, trying will get your cornered, getting cornered will get you swarmed, getting swarmed is a one-way trip to the shadow realm. To avoid damage, one must move. The more you stay on the move, the less accurate the enemy attacks. Running and gunning is fun. All of these principles apply in Eternal.

5. Resource Management & Player Empowerment: Doom encourages you to take what you need from the enemy. Glory kill for health and chainsaw for ammo. No need to scrounge the environment for health and ammo, Doom gives you everything you need to stay stocked up without slowing down. Eternal expands on this with the flame belch for armor, as well as the ice bomb and blood punch yielding health.

6. Runes: Runes are upgrades for the player. There is a rune for air control, ammo pickups, armor pickups, faster glory kills, etc. You can equip three at a time. This can absolutely be abused to make you unstoppable. Couple armored offensive (glory kills drop armor and health) with rich get richer (having 100 armor (75 is upgraded) grants the player unlimited ammo) and you are a Hell on wheels. While it is fun, it can trivialize some of the games most difficult encounters. Eternal balances the runes so you can’t break the game and removes the need for upgrades.

7. Art Design: Doom 2016 manages to look dark and menacing without going full horror like Doom 3. It expertly balances the art style of classic Doom and Doom 3. The art direction has aged like wine and the game looks fantastic 7 years later. Some of the textures quite hold up to today’s standards, but the game was developed for last generation hardware to run at 60fps so what do you want? Art is always more important than graphical fidelity. Eternal looks more like a heavy metal album and leans into an arcade aesthetic while reverting to classic Doom design almost entirely. It’s a matter of personal preference here.

8. Self-aware tone: Doom knows that its premise is ridiculous. Demons invade Mars and there is one really angry guy left to stop them. Doom isn’t about being trapped on Mars with demons, it is about demons being trapped on Mars with you. When you venture into Hell, this is made abundantly clear by the Slayer Testaments literally telling you how much the demons are afraid of you. At one point, the dark lord scolds the antagonist for letting you be found and awakened to continue your rampage. Doom is fully aware that the story doesn’t really matter and you’re here to kill demons, and that is made abundantly clear by the Doom Slayer not giving a sh*t about the bigger picture either. Without saying a single word, The Doom Slayer is characterized perfectly through his in-game actions, whether it be by smashing computers to shut Samuel Hayden up, destroying UAC property, and all the up-close brutal demon murder. Doom makes fun of itself on multiple occasions and has many subtle jokes if you pay attention. My favorite line is when the Mars base hologram tells you that “The blind council is always watching”. Eternal is less willing to make fun of itself, but it doubles down on Hell’s fear of you.

9. Approach to storytelling: If there is one part of 2016 that I prefer over Eternal, it is this. Doom 2016 doesn’t have an in-your-face approach to storytelling. It is purposefully vague and open to interpretation, much of the deeper lore is in codex entries that are completely optional reading. Most of what is happening is told to the player by the environment. Almost none of the deeper plot points are directly spoken. Eternal is a story about the slayer traveling through time and space on a demon murdering conquest. Because of the increase in scale, more emphasis is put on the story and what is directly told to the player. On the plus side, cutscenes can be skipped in Eternal where 2016’s few cutscenes cannot.

What didn’t work and was it improved in the sequel?

While fantastic, Doom 2016 isn’t without flaws. Here are a handful of elements that do not hold up well upon further review.

1. Grenades: unless you are using a fully upgraded equipment rune (which you won’t once you find armored offensive, air control, and rich get richer), grenades are underwhelming at best. They do some damage and cause a falter, but the blast radius is too small and the amount of damage done is rarely worth taking your finger off the trigger. Special grenades are gimmicky and I honestly forgot I had them. Eternal remedies this by first, giving you a shoulder mounted launcher so you can continue to fire while lobbing grenades. Second, grenades do more damage, are guaranteed to falter, and spawn multiple additional explosions when fully upgraded which doesn’t require a run. You only have 2 grenade types, the second being an ice bomb. The ice bomb is essentially the stun bomb modification for the plasma gun, but is always available and can freeze multiple enemies, can be upgraded to last longer and do damage, and provide health. It is extremely useful and you will not forget it exists.

2. Crouching: It has no utility in combat and is used sparingly in exploration. Eternal considered it a waste of a button and gives you a dash instead. Unless you like pain, you will use this all the time in combat and in platforming sequences.

3. Rune Trials: These aren’t hard but they don’t seem like they belong in this game. Eternal agrees and gives you fully upgraded runes when you find them.

4. Broken Weapons: Doom 2016 can be made trivial at times due to some unbalanced weapons. Frankly, the intended difficulty curve is ruined if you play the correct runes and use the overpowered weapons on offer. If you have a fully upgraded super shotgun, you can fire twice with no damage penalty prior to the reload animation. One shot can falter a hell knight, 2 can put it in a glory kill state if you land enough pellets, 3 is an instant bloody mess kill. With the upgraded reload time, you can solve just about every problem in Doom with the super shotgun. The gauss cannon is equally broken, specifically the siege mode mod. This is an overpowered railgun shot with very forgiving blast radius that one shots heavy hitters like hell knights, revenants, specters, and cacodemons… all at the same time if they are close together. The trade off is the lack of movement, which is mostly negated when fully upgraded. The rocket launcher remote detonation mod is also grossly overpowered and can make you virtually untouchable. Eternal refined the mod system to make every weapon useful throughout the campaign, at least situationally. The destroyer blade replaces siege mode and no longer breaks the game. The super shotgun now has a grappling hook attachment instead of being able to fire twice and reload at absurd speeds. Remote detonation is appropriately toned down. Couple this with the increased health and aggression of Eternals demons and you have a much more balanced and consistently challenging game.

Conclusion: How does it hold up and is it still fun?

Doom 2016 can be seen as a renaissance moment for the genre while Eternal is a revolution. Think of Doom 2016 as a boomer shooter made with modern graphical fidelity & rendering while adding a few modern-day quality of life improvements. Boomer shooters are fun and if viewed through that lens, Doom 2016 is the best one of them. However, it is unfair to only view it that way though, as it did so much more for the genre than just be a fun throwback shooter. Doom’s method of resource management and player empowerment make it far more than that. While Eternal usurped it from my top spot in the all-time greatest games, 2016 still retains a place in my personal Mount Rushmore of single player first-person shooters: Eternal, 2016, Quake 1, Halo Combat Evolved, Dusk and yes MY MOUNT RUSHMORE HAS 5! After time away and replaying it years later, Doom 2016 more than holds its own when compared to newer titles and is absolutely still worth playing again and again. It will forever Rip & Tear and I highly recommend you do the same. 10/10

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