Bethesda knows it is up against it with Doom, the fourth in the venerated series that’s scheduled to release next month. For starters, the game was announced all the way back in 2008, when most of us were still spilling suspiciously yellow liquid food on our bibs and having our minds blown by the appearance of literally anything in our field of vision. Only Duke Nukem Forever makes Doom's protracted development cycle look modest.
Secondly, in 2013 it was revealed that three years of progress on the game – which at the time resembled a Call of Duty title – had been discarded in 2011 because it wasn’t fun to play.
On top of that, the game is a reboot of a franchise that last appeared in 2004, a time when dinosaurs walked the earth and many of Doom’s potential customers didn’t know their ABC’s, let alone their FPS’s. It’s possible Doom doesn’t mean much to these people, and if it does, it maybe means “game in which you can’t shine a flashlight and point a gun simultaneously”.
"We are going to have to prove that this is something that's going to be fun and different that you need to pay attention to,” the company’s marketing VP Pete Hines said in 2014. “That has to be our default position, we can't be: 'It's Doom, of course you're going to play it'.”
Fortunately, since E3 last year, things have been looking up. The first footage of Doom No Subtitle Because We Hate Journos looked like it had been made by people that knew why the first two games were so good: it was violent, silly, fast, and awesome. The game would have badass demons and “big effing guns”, said id Software executive producer Marty Stratton. Hey, this guy gets it.
Having played the closed beta for a few hours, I’m happy to report that things do indeed seem to be well on track. Last weekend I spent time dying horribly in Doom's multiplayer modes, but I died with a grin on my face, dammit.
At 60fps in full HD on console, the game is indeed pleasingly fluid, double jumps and a smooth mantle/clamber system allowing rapid traversal of its maps. There is no regenerating health, but instead health and armour pickups keep you pressing forward, and the time to kill feels just right for me, striking a nice middle ground between Call of Duty and Halo.
One shot kills with standard weapons aren’t possible except using the Vortex (sniper) rifle or super shottie, but power weapons like the Gauss Cannon spawn around the map and allow you to stroll around and liquidate foes with a single blast. As my aim is terrible, my favourite weapon was the rocket launcher, whose rockets can be detonated at any time, negating the need to aim at the floor beneath an opponent. However, plenty of players were proficient with the lightning gun and super shotgun.
Two weapons and one item (grenade or teleporter in the beta) are allowed per loadout, but the point of difference here is the Hack module – a single use perk that lasts anywhere from 30-90 seconds (across multiple deaths, if necessary). Earned via XP, Hack Modules do things like show the location of your last killer and his or her health, show cooldowns on armour and health pickups, or show the location and timer on the map’s Demon Rune.
The latter adds a nice wrinkle into an otherwise slick but fairly stock standard multiplayer experience. Those lucky enough to acquire the run when it spawned in the beta were transformed into the skeletal Revenant demon for a minute or so, at which time they were nigh invincible one-on-one. Only the Revenant’s glitchy blood red HUD and usage timer stop it from being completely overpowered, as its rockets kill in a single shot, and its (destructible) jetpack allows it to fly across levels or hover and rain death from above. Running away is basically the only option here, but killing a demonised player leaves the rune sitting on the floor, ripe for the taking.
Two of the full game’s six modes were available in the beta, team deathmatch and warzone. Both were six-on-six affairs (and that felt fine), the latter an enjoyable king of the hill variant where the hill moves steadily through the level on a predetermined path.
Two of the game’s nine maps were playable. The hellish Infernal is an open map that tempts rushed players with jump shortcuts and powerups over molten lava, while Heatwave felt like a tighter level in a somewhat nondescript factory full of vats of boiling steel. I preferred battling it out in hell, but Heatwave had some cool elevators at least.
So Doom's multiplayer is shaping up well at least. I can’t wait to see how the other demons play, I’m looking forward to seeing the other game modes and weapons, and I’m also keen to trial SnapMap to see how fiddly it is on console. The beta also gave me some confidence that the campaign – the big draw for many – will like feel weighty and ultraviolent at least. Fingers crossed that its map are as sprawling and non-linear as those of ‘90s Doom, and that there will be saome console equivalent for IDKFA. For others, obviously – I'm aces at this game.
◆ An open beta featuring the same content I played will be available from April 15-17 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC.