Unless you're one of those smug bastards who wasn't born until this millennium you will probably have heard of the 1993 PC game DOOM. Any self-respecting PC owner back then would have at least given it a go, and forced all of their friends to have a go, and showered pitying looks upon anyone who hadn't given it a go. Hell, Chandler Bing even mentions it in an episode of Friends (and for you pre-millennial types, you should know that it didn't get much more mainstream than that in the nineties).
In short, it was everywhere, and much beloved by PC owners who were developing a taste for these new-fangled sort-of-3D shoot'em-up games. And understandably so: how could you not love a big, colourful, light-hearted, fast-paced romp through the halls of Hell while blasting adorably drawn demons with a range of powerful and noisy weapons while enjoying music that sounded suspiciously similar to certain heavy metal anthems?
The year after saw the release of the sequel DOOM II: Hell On Earth, which was even more fun in my opinion, introducing a greater variety of demons, and bigger, more striking level design. I spent many hours playing both games, and even created my own DOOM level using a fiddly but impressive graphical level editor. (The level was, of course, named The Temple Of Doom, and only I ever got to play it because almost no one had home internet in 1995 so there was no easy way to distribute such trinkets.)
Ten years later came DOOM3 which was playable but so drab, boring and disappointing that the thought of it still puts a grimace on my face. Endless dark, cramped, repetitive passageways which were totally bereft of the fun of the original.
Rumours started a few years later about DOOM 4, then dragged on for years, eventually hinting that the next instalment would be as poor as the third. A sudden reboot saw the new title renamed (a little confusingly) as DOOM, and gameplay footage released at gaming conventions suddenly promised great things. Nearly a quarter of a century after the franchise began, could this fourth instalment bring back the fun of the original pair?
Yes. DOOM  restores the rampaging fun of DOOM . The endless dark, cramped, sparsely-populated tunnels of DOOM3 are replaced with bright, colourful, spacious arenas in which you can literally run rings around storming hordes of demons, leap up and grab at ledges to pull yourself out of trouble just before a denizen of Hell closes the distance, double-jump from platform to platform to give yourself breathing space while you wait for a weapon mod to recharge, then turn around to shower the horde with blasts from all manner of devastating weaponry. A brief gameplay clip is the easiest way to show this, so here's one I recorded earlier:
And that clip shows but a minor skirmish with a few select guests. The demon house party really blows up in later parts of that level when the big beasts join the dance floor.
Compared to the mind-numbing slog of DOOM3, this fourth DOOM makes you feel like a superhero. Which is fitting because this time round you step into the boots of The Doom Slayer, an ancient veteran who has fought the ravages of Hell over centuries. Gone is the hilarious but implausible story about your being the sole surviving marine of a platoon ambushed by a demon invasion, who somehow single-handedly bests all the forces of Hell. Now it seems that you are of an other-worldly race, stronger and less corruptible than humans, furiously dedicated to destroying the demons who have laid waste to your world. Wearing the Praetor Suit armour specifically forged for your quest of vengeance, you alone are capable of crushing the demonic invasion which is infesting the Union Aerospace Corporation facilities on Mars. And you make crushing demons look easy.
Initially armed with only a weedy pistol (albeit one which never runs out of ammo) you at first encounter only the weedy Possessed: UAC workers who have been corrupted into walking corpses. Pop a few rounds into a Possessed foe and they'll shimmer blue to indicate that you've staggered them. Get close enough and they'll shimmer orange to indicate that you can execute a Glory Kill: with one button press you leap at them and tear them apart. As a reward for this ostentatious slaughter you'll probably be showered with health pickups and perhaps ammo or armour. If you'd prefer a quick kill you can use the Charged Energy Shot weapon mod of the pistol to charge up a more powerful shot which will kill a Possessed with a single headshot.
As nice as it is to have an infinite-ammo pistol handy, once the sprightly Imp shows up you'll be glad to get your hands on the Combat Shotgun. The Imp is fast, climbs walls, and has a nasty habit of hurling fireballs at you with impressive accuracy. Even if you run in a straight line the Imp will work out where to throw the fireball to hit your predicted position, so you'll only be safe if you make sure you stop, start, dodge, and jump frequently to avoid being an easy target. Get nice and close with the Combat Shotgun and you'll shatter the Imp with one accurate blast.
Not long later you'll be facing Possessed Soldiers, Possessed Engineers, Possessed Security, all fairly weak. More trouble are the Hell Razers, the raging Hell Knights, troublesome Summoners, hardy Mancubi, and furious Revenants. To balance things up you're soon equipped with the Chainsaw, which has the interesting model of being able to instantly kill any (non-boss) demon so long as it has enough fuel, bigger demons requiring more units of fuel. Killing a demon with the Chainsaw guarantees to shower you with ammo pickups (not fuel), which is vital if your other weapons are running low. The Chainsaw is great, though it is embarrassing when you dodge your way right up to an enemy and hit the trigger button only to see a message telling you that you don't have enough fuel to carve up a demon of this size. The Heavy Assault Rifle follows, an excellent weapon at all ranges for wearing down a target, and its gradual damage output means that it's great if you want to stagger an enemy for a Glory Kill to recover some much-needed health. And the Plasma Rifle, which doles out decent damage at a fast rate of fire.
As you make your way through the UAC base on Mars, guided by the cyborg reincarnation of the UAC's leader Samuel Hayden, you find your way barred by Gore Nests which must be destroyed before the facility security systems will allow you to pass. Smashing a Gore Nest will unleash an immediate spawning of numerous demons, just like those times in the original DOOM when you knew that picking up that keycard would cause all Hell to break loose. These battles are great fun: you circle the Gore Nest picking off the puny Possessed that are worshipping it, pick up any health and armour you need, ready your weapons and then tear the heart out of the Gore Nest and fight the unleashed waves of demons. It's very satisfying when you lay waste to the final foe and see the security doors unlock.
In the original DOOM you could not jump. This time round you can not only jump but, thanks to Delta-V Jump Boots which you find a few levels in, you can double-jump. This gives you a lot more reach and, with the right rune selected, a ridiculous level of mid-air manoeuvrability. Combine this with the fact that you can throw yourself at a high ledge and, catching the edge with just your hands, pull yourself up onto it and suddenly you're an extremely nimble fighter. This allows secrets to be very well hidden on ledges which are in fact in plain sight, and it means that during arena battles you can escape demons by leaping over chasms, throwing yourself up onto ledges to take the height advantage, and jumping left and then right to shake off incoming pursuers and projectiles. All the while circling around your quarry and punishing them with everything you have.
Despite your best efforts the Mars base inevitably goes to Hell, and you are flung from the high-tech UAC facilities into the scorched, rocky landscapes of realms already conquered by the dominion of Hell. Here you encounter the Cacodemon, Lost Souls, and the formidable Baron Of Hell. The bizarre Cyber-Mancubus (looking a lot like an obese shut-in wearing paintballing armour and a VR headset) and the Pinky/Spectre demons (very tough from the front, very weak in the flanks and rear) eventually join the line up. To keep you in the running your arsenal is filled out with the awesome Super Shotgun (a double-barrel beauty which is devastating at very close range but useless at much of a distance), the Rocket Launcher, the Gauss Cannon (which can be switched between a sniper rifle and an ion cannon depending on which mod you select), the Chaingun (which I found very difficult to use because it takes so long to spin up), and the BFG (which will, if aimed carefully, vaporise a room full of even the biggest non-boss demons).
And you acquire equipment items: the frag grenade, the hologram (which can distract pursuing demons briefly), and the syphon grenade (which steals health from enemies and gives it to you). Even though you have an effectively infinite supply of these items, simply requiring that you wait for a recharge timer to deplete before you can next use equipment, I didn't find any role for equipment throughout my entire first playthrough. As always, grenades never seem to land where you want, and activating the hologram never came to mind while I was in the midst of a rampaging horde. In theory these items could be invaluable, but it is entirely possible to complete the game without using them even once.
The demons you encounter later in the game are far tougher than those in the early levels, so throughout each level can be found upgrades for your weapons, your Praetor Suit, and your core stats (health, armour, ammo capacity). These upgrades are straightforward and fit very nicely into the game, giving you a real boost without taking away from the focus on action.
Finding a Field Drone allows you to choose a weapon mod for one of your weapons. These mods are very powerful, such as the Stun Bomb mod for the Plasma Rifle which allows you to stun enemies for several seconds, which is extremely useful for getting around the frustrating shield of the Possessed Security, or pinning down the very slippery Summoner before it can teleport away, or freezing a Baron Of Hell just before he batters the life out of you. And the Lock-On Burst for the rocket launcher is excellent for hammering Cacodemons even while they float about in their pursuit of you. Each weapon mod can be further upgraded by spending weapon points which you accrue as you destroy demons, find secrets, and complete mission challenges. Once you've purchased all of the upgrades for a weapon mod you can work towards mastery of that mod by completing a challenge. All combined, each mod and mastery can turn a powerful weapon into a devastating tool of demon annihilation.
Finding a fallen Elite Guard soldier allows you to extract a chip from their armour which gives you one Praetor Token. These tokens can be spent on upgrading your Praetor Suit to enhance your capabilities such as improved awareness of items and secrets hidden around the map, better dexterity for weapon switching and ledge-grabbing, better environmental damage resistance, and more effective powerups or equipment.
Finding an Argent Cell allows you to permanently increase the upper limit of your health, armour, or ammo capacity. These upgrades are vital because they eventually double your maximum health and armour and allow you to carry enough ammo to take on the sizeable hordes of powerful demons which you encounter later in the game.
Hidden in many of the maps are Rune Trials. These give you the option to complete a challenge in order to win a rune which will give you new abilities. For example, the first Rune Trial requires you to kill fifteen Imps (in the trial arena) within ten seconds, equipped with only a Combat Shotgun, adding two seconds to the clock for each kill (four seconds for a Glory Kill). If you can complete this (in any number of tries) you are awarded with Vacuum, a rune which increases the radius within which demon-dropped health, armour, and ammo pickups will be drawn to you (which is more useful than it sounds, especially during boss battles). There are twelve Rune Trials throughout the game, and eventually you will be able to equip three runes at once. Furthermore, while you have a rune equipped you can work towards an Upgrade Challenge which, on completion, further enhances the power of that rune.
Choosing different combinations of runes allows you to opt for very different styles of gameplay. The fully upgraded In-Flight Mobility rune gives you so much manoeuvrability in the air (allowing mid-air change of direction before and after double-jumping) that you can not only run rings around demons but you can practically fly rings around them. And the Saving Throw rune gives you a chance of deflecting a fatal blow, slowing down time and giving you a chance to recover some health, sparing you from what would otherwise have killed you. Many runes enhance your ability to execute Glory Kills (staggering demons for longer, allowing you to launch at them from further away, performing the action faster, and so on). While the hilarious Rich Get Richer rune gives your conventional (non-BFG) weapons infinite ammo for so long as your armour level remains above 100 (or 75 if you upgrade the rune) which can be combined with the Bottomless Missiles mastery of the Heavy Assault Rifle to allow you to relentlessly shower your foes with an unlimited torrent of damaging Micro Missiles.
All of these elements work well together in terms of gameplay, and the game engine works beautifully in terms of presentation. My gaming rig was eighteen months old when DOOM launched in May 2016 and yet the NVIDIA GeForce Experience software advised that DOOM was not configured with optimal settings to match the capability of my PC. With one click it reconfigured DOOM to run with every setting in "Ultra" quality mode in my monitor's native 1920x1200 resolution. And the game ran perfectly smoothly with these settings in all but one or two spots in the game.
This sort of performance is hilarious to anyone who remembers how demanding the original DOOM was; almost everyone, even those with new, high-end PCs, had to run DOOM so that its "3D" rendered view was shrunk down to take up far less than the native resolution of the (already low-resolution) screen. The first time I was able to play DOOM was at a friend's house, on a PC which was fairly new and yet could only run DOOM if the display area was shrunk down to the size of a postage stamp. (To be fair, you could still sort of tell what was going on and actually play the game.) And back then an eighteen-month-old PC would have been useful only as, in Weird Al Yankovic's words, a nice, heavy paperweight.
I suspect that it was graphics hardware limitations which hobbled DOOM3, forcing the level design to use tight corridors with limited draw distances which were easy to render on the hardware at the time. In other words, gameplay was sacrificed for graphical richness, which was a very poor trade.
No such problem now. DOOM 2016 is full of big open spaces such as the strangely picturesque molten vats of the foundry, the long span of the shattered bridge before the Argent Tower, and the rocky, amphitheatrical arenas of Hell. And the environments are richly rendered with detailed textures, subtle and garish lighting effects, and scenic decorations. The demon and player model animations are varied and extremely smooth, even for trivial moments such as punching open the lock on a sealed door or pulling a suit upgrade token from a fallen soldier. Now both gameplay and graphics excel.
To be fair, this game does owe DOOM3 a lot in terms of motif. Just like the third instalment, the game is set on Mars (not on the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos as in the original), so both games share familiar vistas of an industrial base set against an orange desert. Both show evidence everywhere that corrupted UAC staff have been worshipping the demons, with crude altars of heaped bodies, blood, and candles. Both feature a monorail, which begs the questions: why do so many of these base-invasion games feature a monorail, and why do the invaders never think to put it out of service before you make use of it? And in both games the trouble is caused by the extraction of ancient artefacts from a demonic realm. As if to acknowledge these similarities, DOOM does tip its hat to its predecessor: if you look carefully you'll spot the Soul Cube sat on a shelf in a research lab, and you'll be able to reacquaint yourself with the bizarre video arcade game that is Super Turbo Turkey Puncher.
The only thing which occasionally spoils the fun is the odd serious glitch. Three or four times the game crashed on launch or in-game, and one time the crash was so bad that I couldn't get back to the Windows desktop and had to hard reset the machine. And right at end of the Vega Central Processing level the game slowed to less than a crawl. It suddenly dropped to two or three frames per second, which made for an interesting slow-motion dance but somehow did not make that intense battle any easier to complete. Online tips suggested that reducing shadow detail from "Ultra" to "Medium" ought to work around the problem in this stage, and after that things went fine (and I was able to put shadows back to "Ultra" as soon as that level was finished).
Equally serious are the design glitches which force you to restart the level. On the Argent D'Nur level I found a level design bug which meant that crossing an invisible boundary (a second way into an arena I'd already cleared of demons) caused the arena to partially reset, blocking the doors which I'd just fought to open. And there was no way to open them (because all the demons had already been wiped out) so a level restart was required. And if you look online you can see videos of players demonstrating that in rare cases it's possible to fall through walls which are supposed to be solid, dropping you into an undeserved death. Problems like these are especially serious for those crazy bastards who are trying to complete the game on "Ultra Nightmare" difficulty, where death means total failure and forces you to restart the single-player campaign again from the start.
Far less serious are the minor cases where sometimes a level sub-mission achievement does not register. On the Argent D'Nur level I carefully waited for two Barons Of Hell to appear, ran them a merry dance until they were just metres apart from each other, then fired the BFG between them and vaporised the pair with one shot. That should have triggered the "Hold Still" mission objective, but nothing happened. Not a major deal, but it does deprive you of a weapon upgrade token, making it harder to enhance your weapons fully. If missing out is not acceptable then you're forced to reload the previous checkpoint (if your BFG shot hasn't cleared the arena and caused a new checkpoint to overwrite it) or replay the entire level.
As is tradition, DOOM is stuffed full of hidden rooms and niches which reward the explorer with goodies. Along with the usual weapons caches and health and armour pickups, each map now hides two UAC Marineguy collectibles (miniature DOOM Marine figurines) and entices you to hunt down the entire set of twenty-six throughout the game. More amusingly, each level hides a lever which will open a hidden room in the style of a classic DOOM or DOOM II map. Finding and pulling the lever, and then finding and entering this secret room will unlock that classic level, allowing you to select it from the main menu and play it wholly separate from the main campaign.
Playing these classic levels is odd: the demons, your player model, and your weapons are all from the new game engine, but the environment textures and rendering are all exactly as they were from the 1993/4 games, giving a weird mix of old and new. And these classic levels feel much harder now than they used to be because you can't save your position (not even checkpoints) and the enemy seem tougher than in the old days. But best of all is the old, (ahem) original in-game music, and seeing the opening scenes which are so familiar that they feel like home.
Hunting down these secrets is fun, and upgrades to the Praetor Suit make it easier to find them by showing collectible locations on the automap even before you've downloaded the full map layout, and by causing the compass display to pulse when you are in the vicinity of a secret area. But, even if you're determined to find all of the secrets on your first run, you're bound to be scuppered by physical boundaries (dropping down into areas from which you cannot return) and by the checkpoint system.
Whereas I consider that a proper PC game lets you save your position whenever and wherever you like, the games console model of fixed checkpoints is used in this new DOOM. Worse, there is only one checkpoint slot, so if you accidentally cross an invisible line and trigger a checkpoint you have no way to load the previous one. This becomes a real nuisance if a door shuts behind you and you realise that you've forgotten one of the secrets on the other side of the door, or in the case of the Argent D'Nur glitch where a checkpoint is saved after a bug bars the doors, leaving you with no option but to restart the level.
If a game developer insists on forcing a checkpoint system on the player then the least they should do is keep the last two or three checkpoints available, to allow the player to jump back to a point before they hit a problem. Having only the most recent checkpoint can be infuriating.
With regards to the secrets, however, you do get a second chance. Once you've completed the single-player campaign (and even mid-way through if you like) you can choose "Mission Select" from the menu, allowing you to replay that mission from the start with all of the weapons, upgrades, and runes that you've already acquired throughout the entire campaign. So you can grin your way through the early levels while hurling BFG shots and rockets and double-barrel shotgun blasts at the puny demons you meet. Plus, any secrets and mission challenges you've already completed on this level are already recorded, so you don't need to work for them again. This is a very nice way to allow you to go back and find the secrets and tick off the mission objectives you didn't acquire the first time around, and so far as secrets are concerned this does make up for the frustrations of the single-checkpoint system.
The single-player campaign took me thirty-eight hours to complete (including a few unwanted level restarts) which is a very decent run time. But with demon crushing being such an enjoyable pastime, you're bound to want more. For fans of deathmatch there is of course a multiplayer option, though I've not played much of this as it doesn't really suit me (maps are small with only a few players on each team).
More interesting is the SnapMap suite which allows you to easily snap together your own maps for use as single-player/cooperative quests or multiplayer arenas, and publish them if you're happy with your design. You can also browse and play maps assembled by other people, and rate them up or down depending on how you like them. The SnapMap tutorials are excellently clear and allow you to rapidly assemble a sequence of rooms and then add demons, event triggers, pickups and victory/failure conditions.
All in, DOOM 2016 is better than I could ever have hoped. The gameplay is once again the circle-strafing demon horde safari that made the original so much fun, the graphics and visual design are excellent, the level design is full of interesting sights, secrets, and showdowns, the variety of demons is great, the boss fights (including old favourites the Cyberdemon and the Spider Mastermind) are just about right in terms of difficulty, and the additional interest added by the numerous upgrade options is very welcome.
I very much want to see more, and have my fingers crossed for a fully-fledged (not a DLC add-on) release of DOOM II  which brings the demonic horde to Earth. And next time I want to see the soul-chilling, Doomguy-hurling, corpse-reanimating Arch Vile stand menacingly amid the demon throng.