The Doom closed multiplayer beta is underway. Right now thousands of helmeted space marines are spamming rockets at each other across rivers of blood and lava. Occasionally, one of them stands on a rune and turns into a hellbeast. It’s kinetic and bloody, but is it any good? Tom and Phil have put in a few hours, and return now with impressions from the front line.
Tom Senior: So Phil, did you like the year 1999, the year of Quake 3? A time of jump pads, fast movement and crunchy, satisfying rocket launchers?
Phil Savage: I was always an Unreal Tournament guy. But yes, this DOOM beta is very Quake, isn’t it? It’s certainly not that Doom 1 or 2, in that I don’t think it would work without a mouse. (I’ll admit, I didn’t play Doom 3).
Tom: It’s fast; there are armour power-ups everywhere; there’s a platform where a gauss cannon appears every few minutes. It’s all very nostalgic, which is fine. The problems I have are the elements it borrows from modern shooters, like a loadout system that lets you customise your weapon set with unlocks, which you gain by levelling up between rounds. I miss being able to pick up weapons from the environment. There’s a great rhythm to, say, Unreal Tournament, because one moment I’m making do with the Bio Rifle, and the next I get my hands on the almighty Flak Cannon and start wrecking. In Doom, everyone starts with the same rocket launcher.
Phil: Yeah, scouting the level for health and armour pickups is great, and it’s strange that doesn’t also apply to weapons. Pickups work well in arena deathmatches, because you can balance around how many are available on the map. But if everyone can start with a rocket launcher, why would you use anything else? I’ve only played for a couple of hours, but it feels like those situations where other weapons have the upper hand are so rare as to put other loadouts at a serious disadvantage. The other weapons seem weak—not just in terms of their lethality, but in their audio/visual feedback too.
Tom: I am also disappointed by the guns. They don’t feel as powerful and lethal as the new Unreal Tournament’s do, and I think that has a lot to do with the numbers that pop out of enemies’ heads when you shoot them. If I manage to hit someone in midair with a rocket, I expect them to explode into bloody chunks that bounce comically around the map. In Doom I get a bit of blood and a “10!” I have rocketed a player to the value of 10, but what does 10 mean in this world of bullets and flesh? If I zap a player little 2’s come out. In Borderlands the numbers tie into a huge loot-based progression system, but this is DOOM.
Phil: Yeah, in FPSRPGs numbers tend to mean the combat is a bit rubbish, but don’t worry because there’s statistics. DOOM should not be a game about statistics. I think the numbers are the amount of health you remove out of a total of 100, but I don’t know why I need to know that information. It’s a bit galling when a direct hit with a rocket launcher only does a maximum of 55, but it’s even worse to be told that a plasma shot does 6. That just makes me think it’s a bad gun that I don’t want to use. Incidentally, I had a fully charged rifle shot do about 127, and so it is numerically the best weapon, I guess. It’s all a bit weird. Have you had a chance to mutate into a big, rocket-powered demon yet?
Tom: I always seem to miss out on being the demon. However I have been killed a lot by the demon, who gets to roll around the map unstoppably rocketing people with his shoulder-mounted rockets, the cad.
Phil: I’ve been the demon once. It’s about as fun as you’d imagine being a jetpack using, rocket launcher wielding demon would be. Which is to say very. The appearance of the demon powerup is probably the most interesting part of each round, and sometimes results in some dramatic comebacks. In fact, I haven’t seen many one-sided matches. Most of the time, in Team Deathmatch, there have only ever been around five kills in it. I do wonder how that will change as people get good, and how high-level play will differ from Quake and UT. From what I’ve seen, motion is less skill-based. You move fast, but not ridiculously fast, and bunny-hopping and other cool but difficult to pull off tricks aren’t the focus. I do like the mantling, though. And I’m always happy when a game has double-jumping.
Tom: Double jumping and mantling both feel good. I was hopping between rocky platforms and clambering up to powerups quickly after about ten minutes. It’s likely not going to be enough to keep me playing, however. Things got a little worse when I moved away from team deathmatch into the capture point mode, which has you capturing an abstract moving outline to push it through the level. Even by the standards of a genre that’s obsessed with flags and bomb carts, it’s a bizarre objective that encourages players to bunch up and eat a lot of rockets. The levels don’t seem to be designed with the required flow of chokepoints and open areas to make the escort task fun. There’s no drama to it.
Phil: Yeah, you’re not moving towards anything. It might have made more sense if you were pushing this holographic blob shape towards an opposing home base—although, even then, to what end? Overall, there are things I like about DOOM, but much that I find off-putting. The levelling, the loadouts, the way that you earn temporary ‘hacks’ that work a bit like Titanfall’s Burn Cards. They’re all systems that can work in the right type of game, but I don’t think a Quake-style arena shooter is it. I’m not sure why I’d play this over the new Unreal Tournament. Which is fine, I think, because ultimately I’m more interested in nu-DOOM as a singleplayer campaign. I really hope that doesn’t have numbers.