Game preview: Doom beta is back from development hell

The game that put first person shooters on the map finally returns, but is Doom still relevant in the modern game world?

It’s out in just over a month and we’ve still seen almost nothing of Doom’s story campaign, and have certainly never played it. We have had a go on its multiplayer mode before, during last year’s alpha, but along with everyone else we were forbidden from talking about it. As a result, you’d be forgiven for imagining that Bethesda had something to hide. But after the late reveal, and lack of previews, for Fallout 4 it seems this is how they want to play things now. Which makes it very hard to guess how the Doom reboot is going to turn out…

Almost everything we know about Doom’s campaign mode comes from what was demoed at E3 and in the new campaign trailer below. Doom’s back of a postage stamp storyline (demons from hell invade the moons of Mars, and then Earth itself) doesn’t require much in the way of exposition so that’s not the issue. But whether id Software can reinterpret the original gameplay for the modern era is not something that can be taken for granted.

As the game that popularised the concept of the first person shooter, the original Doom was almost more tech demo than game. It had some simple keycard-based puzzles but everything else revolved solely around gunning down the hordes of hell in as efficient a manner as possible. There were no cut scenes, no set pieces, and no characters – just rooms filled with demons and zombies and the ammo with which to explode, dismember, and otherwise destroy them.

Judging from the video footage of the campaign that seems to be what’s going on in this reboot too, albeit with a new emphasis on bloody finishing moves – which we’re a bit worried might spoil the flow of combat.

Without playing it ourselves though we can’t say for sure, and so all we can comment on is the multiplayer beta. Doom did always have a multiplayer mode, and in its way it was just as groundbreaking as the rest of the game. Played primarily by linking together PCs locally (the Internet wasn’t really up to such things back in 1993) there’s not really much of the original that can be usefully retained for a modern multiplayer game. So instead it takes as much influence from Quake as it does from Doom itself.

Apart from the fact that we’d like a proper Quake reboot (with the original Lovecraftian theme, please – not those stupid Strogg) that seems like a relatively sensible way to go about things. But if you’re also too young to know what Quake is, then what this amounts to is a complete lack of realism, fast movement, lots of jump pads, and using rocket launchers as both propulsion and a way to explode the face of your opponents.

Not only that but you have to collect armour, health power-ups, and damage multipliers manually like Wolfenstein: The New Order (so no regenerating health). Special weapons like the gauss gun and BFG (ask your grandad) also appear in specific locations after a set amount of time. Halo 5 borrowed a lot of these ideas, so if you really aren’t familiar with the original games then just imagine Halo 5’s multiplayer but faster and with more satanic imagery.

If you’re wondering why Bethesda didn’t just skip Doom and go ahead and reboot Quake first we have no good answer for you. Except that they presumably want both to be viable ongoing franchises at the same time. But if Doom’s multiplayer is really Quake, we have a hard time imagining that Quake is going to play more like Rage. We guess we’ll see how they cross that bridge when they come to it, but interestingly the biggest problems with Doom’s multiplayer are the bits that aren’t borrowed from the older games.

As it turns out the Doom reboot also has a modern loadout system, filled with customisation options, unlocks, and a levelling system that has to be fiddled about with before you start a game. But that’s decidedly un-Doomy, where normally you’d just run around the map picking up guns from the ground and using them straight away. There’s the aforementioned special weapons, but the regular stuff is all dependent on what you bring with you into a game.

It’s a particularly odd decision because everyone, quite rightly, always choses the rocket launcher and there seems little obvious reason to use anything else. The weirdest thing though is that despite Doom being the game that invented the word ‘gib’ shooting opponents results in only a modest shower of gore, accompanied by… a bunch of numbers. As if this was some action role-player like Destiny or The Division. It very clearly isn’t, so why id Software didn’t realise that a picture (of an exploding carcass) paints a thousand words we can’t imagine.

There’s a lot of these odd decisions in the game, as if it’s being pulled awkwardly in two directions by traditionalist and those that would turn the game into a more modern shooter. For example, there’s also ‘hack modules’, which, inspired by Titanfall, seem to be the new fad in shooters at the moment, and work by giving you a special ability or buff for just one round. That’s fine and all but it just doesn’t seem to match the old school feel that most of the rest of the game is going for.

Between the new and the old the only thing that comes close to an original idea is the chance to transform into a demon for a short period of time – specifically the Revenant with his jetpack and shoulder-mounted rocket launchers. This is a lot of fun, and, since the person that shoots you then gets a go themselves, a little more nuanced than the hero characters in Star Wars: Battlefront.

There were only two modes in the beta: Team Deathmatch and a variant of King of the Hill called Warpath. The final game does have more imaginative modes planned, but for whatever reason that’s all that was in the beta. There were only two maps as well, which also doesn’t give you much to go on. In fact, the beta really wasn’t very different to the alpha, and given how soon the final game is out we feel less able than ever to guess at how it’s all going to turn out.

The fact that the game is out so soon means that guessing won’t be necessary for long, but whether this reboot is destined for success or doomed to failure we really couldn’t say.

Formats: Xbox One (previewed), PlayStation 4, and PC
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: id Software
Release Date: 13th May 2016

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