This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Doom.
Doom, and I still hate the practice of sequels with identical names, so from now on I'll refer to it as 'Deum', was promising to be the kind of classic-style FPS that I enjoyed very much, which immediately made me suspicious. You're a hardcore retro shooter focusing on fast pace and mobility while fighting off hordes of monsters? Well it won't be truly retro unless it's level-based with open-ended maps and key hunting - oh it does have that. Alright then, bet you couldn't resist having weapon reloading. That's the one thing that shooter developers always put in these days without considering how it screws up the pace of - oh there's no reloading. Alright, what the fuck are you up to, Bethesda?
For me this is like when an attractive young woman comes up to me in a bar and says, 'You know, I'm so attracted to aging socially-awkward hairy men who play too many video games. Why not buy me a drink then perhaps a house?' Perhaps I've gotten too defensive and cynical from a lifetime of disappointment. But after playing through Deum I think I've come to realize that people who come on to me might not necessarily be gold-digging harlots. Some of them are just trying to get back at their dad.
I didn't know what to expect of Deum but did know what I didn't want. I didn't want Doom 3; the game that was 90% pitch blackness and 10% audio logs. So hopes weren't high when Deum opens with the protagonist having to listen to a voice on a computer screen, until 5 seconds into the speech our hero smashes the monitor like a confused gorilla then starts shooting zombies and never stops. Deum certainly seems to have firm understanding of its audience because while there is a plot going on, the player character couldn't give a half ounce of deep-fried shit. If you want to know the plot then pause the game and read all the fluff text in the character and location database, sipping daintily from your delicate pink teacup full of pussy juice while the game waits patiently for you to strap your bollocks back on and get back in the fray. Not the most organic way to bring story across but what the hell else could they have done? Have Jiminy fucking Cricket sitting on your shoulder whispering stories in the brief pauses between the sounds of partially muscled bone being crushed between your erect bullet-proof nipples?
For what it's worth, the plot is, stock amoral corporation sci-fi subcategory 9, Weyland-Yutani type, has stock evil science motivation subcategory 12, energy crisis, and they have found the fool-proof and completely-unlikely-to-backfire solution of extracting energy from the Christian afterlife. I don't know why they felt they had to stick to Hell. You would've thought a few solar panels around God's beard would've done the job. Sadly, not-Weyland-Yutani forgets to screen its employees for death metal fans and someone unleashes the hordes of Hell on the Mars base. You, meanwhile, are a mythical demon-slaying warrior who is being kept in hell's drunk tank after the last time you smashed the place up, awakened to once again show the demons what for, and dress up like a Lego astronaut.
Deum's gameplay is a surprisingly faithful update of the original Doom's. No you couldn't double-jump in the originals but you could move faster than a conservative political campaigner through a minority district, so it's still in the spirit of things. The combat is distinctly mechanics-focused. It doesn't make conventional sense that chainsaw murders make the victim burst into piles of ammunition or that smashing their head in makes them disgorge bandages and Mars bars, but it does from a mechanical perspective because the chainsaw's what you use when you're low on ammo and brutal murder is the game's intended solution for moments of high stress as well as moments of low stress and all the moments in between.
I wasn't sure about the whole 'glory' kill thing. They're called 'glory kills' for one thing, which sounds like what you call stabbing someone to death with your knob through a hole in a cubicle wall, but they're actually pre-animated takedown moves, the thing that modern action games persist in having that have a tendency to kill the pacing as assuredly as a passport checkpoint on a roller-coaster. To Deum's credit they are very quick: it's more like an Israeli passport checkpoint then an American one, but considering you can glory-kill every single fucking monster just by getting their health low, it gets repetitive. Maybe it should've been more of a reward like in Resident Evil 4 where you have to kneecap dudes before you can suplex them. It stops being memorable when I kill every single Baron of Hell by pulling their horn off and wimpily swiping their face with the wet end like I'm giving them a Dirty Sanchez.
Actually, before I continue with my list of whinging nitpicks, perhaps I should clarify that I do recommend Deum, and had more fun with it than I've had with most triple-A shooters lately. And that being the case, it would be remiss of me not to list what issues I did have, but none of them are deal breakers and it doesn't actually bother me that much that most of the NPC dialog sounds like they are trying to do an impression of Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget. Okay? Okay.
The loading times are a bit of an arse, and in levels with jumping puzzles over instant-kill death pits, they are a lot of an arse but they're triple-stacked arse with whipped butter on the side when the game was treating me hammering the ledge grab button as more of a blue-sky suggestion than a command. Relatedly, this is definitely a game that benefits from having the mouse and keyboard rather than the controller because the controller's best suited to wheeling yourself around an arena like a runaway dessert trolley on a chest-high wall safari - not so much for simultaneously jumping one way, looking at another, grabbing a ledge, shooting a dude and tying up your shoelaces.
The game's a little bit crazy with the upgrades. There's character upgrades, runes that give you passive buffs and the main currency is weapon upgrades. They give that shit away like condoms at a Planned Parenthood clinic. You killed all the monsters, weapon upgrade! You went into a secret, weapon upgrade! You came back out of the secret, weapon upgrade! Why the fuck not. Thing is though, you can only use them to upgrade the special alternate attacks each weapon has, a lot of which I didn't get much use out of when a good hard shotgun blast will answer most of a demon's probing interview questions. But hey, if the token's too easy to get but the upgrades are kind of shitty then I guess those issues cancel each other out.
And the upgrades must have been having some effect, 'cause I thought the game was a bit easy by the end, where I felt like it had no more tricks up its sleeve. "Oh goodness, I killed the entire wave of monsters and two Barons of Hell spawn. This will call upon all my training that I had 5 minutes ago the last time this happened." The monsters never took me by surprise, the way they'd always spawn in with the red glowy effect of shower of confetti and an English butler reading their names out loud. I don't want the Doom 3 thing where you pick up a small health pack and six hidden doors fly open to reveal hell's entire buggery squadron, but there's gotta be a middle ground. Oh yeah, and the grenades feel a bit wimpy. I throw it, there's a little 'pfutt' and all the zombies around it fall apart with embarrassment.
I think that's it. As I say my problems are mere flicked bogies sticking to the edges of a perfectly solid core. Maybe it's rather blatantly pandering to my generation of gamers but this is the good kind of pander; the kind who gets all the bamboo and has sex once in a while.
- Master of the raised eyebrow: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Mind you to hear people go on about this game you'd think Painkiller had stopped being a thing.
- Maybe next they could add a turbine to the Buddhist wheel of karmic rebirth.