The original Doom games were similar to their so-called daddy, Wolfenstein: run-and-gun corridor shooters, where exploration was limited to secret stashes and multi-coloured key cards. Doom 3, an intended reboot of the original Doom, had tacked-on survival elements and one hell of an artificial difficulty booster, by way of a flashlight that couldn’t be held at the same time as a weapon.
Reportedly a technical limitation, according to ex-id Software guru John Carmack, this mechanic faux pas was later corrected for Doom 3: BFG Edition, which illuminated the corridor-shooting tendencies of the series, albeit at a much slower pace than the preceding titles. Now, with the unveiling of Doom, the franchise is set to return to its roots in an even bigger way.
The executive producer of all things Doom, Marty Stratton, was on hand to offer context to the live singleplayer demonstration in what he described as an “origin game, [a] reimagining of everything that made those original [Doom] games great. The game is called Doom; not 'Doom 4', and not something like 'Enemy Territory: Doom Wars'.” The latter tongue-in-cheek reference is a dig at the strange naming conventions that have been used in the past for Doom’s sibling series, Quake.
Fast-paced run-and-gun combat was the focus of the demo, except a more accurate description would be ‘sprint-and-gun gameplay’. Similar to what Sledgehammer Games is doing with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, movement and combat possibilities in Doom are augmented by a powered exoskeleton, albeit to a less extreme. Sprinting appears to be offered in unlimited doses, jumping height/distance is boosted, while level design embraces a fluidity motif where players never have to worry about reloading guns or limited weapon slots when selecting from an expansive arsenal.
“In Doom, you get to carry all of those guns with you,” said Stratton. As for the type of guns on offer, the demonstration was firmly focused on fan service, with every showcased weapon a familiar piece. Hell, outside of a visual overhaul and some mechanical tweaks, the demons on the receiving end of said weapons were all familiar, too. There was evidence of secondary-fire modes, though, with the standard pump-action shotgun able to store up to four shells (much like Unreal Tournament’s rocket launcher) and fire them simultaneously for gib-tastic results.
This was less exciting to the 3,000+ attendees than the presence of the super shotgun, plasma rifle, rocket launcher and the devastating chainsaw. Stratton also teased that Doom would include “big guns”, which ticks all of the right boxes for essential classic weapon inclusions. The weapons appeared to have a satisfying weight when fired, thanks to booming sound design, complemented by a bass-driven soundtrack that was pitch perfect for the onscreen orchestra of destruction.
Save for the hefty damage the demons inflicted when they landed a hit, they were seemingly there to act as meat puppets for all of the high-fidelity glorified dismemberment that would make Soldier of Fortune’s gory gameplay blush. Limbs are effortlessly removed by well-placed shotgun shells, while an all-new melee system supplements ranged combat with point-blank takedowns. And they are brutal. Necks can be torn open, legs can be snapped and used to kick the same enemy in its own face, while heads can be smashed into a bloody pulp.
It feels incredibly organic with the fast-paced movement and run-and-gun mechanics, but it also highlights the unintelligent AI that mostly stands around waiting to die. While the killing-blow damage modelling was spot on, there were instances of larger demons not registering hits in a visually communicated way. There were also different-coloured hues around enemies that initially appeared to be a shield, but later seemed to be indicative of when an execution could be performed. To further illustrate the love of gore, one mini-boss demon had an organ ripped out its guts and shoved into its mouth before it eventually exploded.
It’s not just demons that receive the gory treatment, either. Instead of hunting for a red key card to open a locked area, the player activates a hand scanner by first breaking and tearing off the arm of a dead human. It’s funny, in a twisted kind of way. What’s more, much like the fatality-esque deaths of the Dead Space series, one section of the demo ended with the demonstrator’s arms being torn off, then used as clubs to crack the glass on his helmet before a final hellish right hook that cut to black, all portrayed in the intimate first-person perspective.
“Doom is not about taking cover,” said Stratton. “It’s not about finding a place to hide and let your health regenerate. It’s about fast, fluid combat, dodging projectiles, finding the next target and charging forward.” There was certainly an abundance of evidence for this at play in the demo. Both health and ammunition are collected by killing demons, which leaves little time to stop and catch your breath and offers little incentive to hang back and pick off foes from afar. That being said, the play-through did feature one slower-paced section, which was oozing with horrific atmosphere and showcased that the invading demonic horde is acting as an organised army, more so than the randomly spawning grunts of previous outings.
No Doom reimagining would be complete without a Mars setting, which was confirmed by Stratton, but reading into particular phrasing and certain concept art suggests that Earth, or at least another planet that isn’t Mars, may also be a locale. While Stratton didn’t have much to say about the narrative outside of the storyline beginning “on the surface of Mars being invaded by the forces of hell”, there were hints of a stronger focus on narrative than preceding titles. The meddling Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC) has created demon/mechanical hybrids, there was the fleeting appearance of one other human character, and there was an instance of what appeared to be demon in-fighting, which could make for a nice twist on the formula.
In terms of the visual presentation, the pre-alpha code was sufficiently attractive without screaming eye candy, and Stratton confirmed the game is being built on id Tech 6. While Stratton confessed he wasn’t the right person to talk in-depth about the engine, he did stress the importance of achieving 1080p presentation at 60 frames per second, across platforms. As for the all-important topic of multiplayer, there wasn’t a lot on offer outside of official confirmation of its inclusion. “I can confirm fast-paced, competitive multiplayer, just like you’d expect it in Doom,” said Stratton. “We’re already playing it at the office; it’s a tonne of fun.”
It may be early days yet for this reimagining of a classic FPS franchise—and it would be nice to see some more gameplay diversity and genre-changing mechanics — but id Software showed off the perfect slice of old-school shooter mayhem to a hungry QuakeCon audience that was met with thunderous applause.