Bethesda and Twitch recently streamed an hour of the Doom 4 campaign, switching between a few different areas and showing quite a bit. I’ve got a variety of impressions from what was shown there.
This is borderline a stream of consciousness, I don’t have much good to say, and without that I often struggle to find a writing rhythm. I try to explain a little, and why I don’t like it.
The levels appear to function very much in the same vein as Painkiller, in that you progress from arena to arena, though there is a tiny bit more fighting in the between spaces – though those are mostly hallways. I didn’t notice if you are confined to the arena during the fight, but progress appears to be tethered to killing everyone in the area. The arenas themselves appear interesting, usually with three different combat heights and about a 40-60% overlap in pathways, and some connecting intermediary heights using geometry like crates, but the combat itself doesn’t seem to make much use of the third dimension. Monsters pursue you, and seem to favor close range attacks, in such a way that all of the fighting happens on the same level as you. I did see a little vertical combat where Cacodemons were involved, but not much. From what id has chosen to show, the combat is functionally a 2d affair, where you are concerned with what can walk to you.
On the subject of combat, it isn’t slow, but fast isn’t likely to come up either. It is a very even tempo, and one that will keep most people from getting bored. Due to the level design, it doesn’t seem the combat ever pushes you back to a previous area, or forward into further danger. It is all very… I don’t want to say scripted, but, foreseeable. The only real variance seems to be the meta layer the player can engage with, which is that of weapon upgrades, suit upgrades, and which runes they are using. Now they didn’t go into depth as to the various ways to get weapon upgrades, but it seems they can be tied to level challenges, and kiosks, and concerns unlocking found weapon mods. Suit upgrades appear to be based on finding tokens of a sort on a type of guard in the UAC? And runes are unlocked by completing isolated challenges, triggered by finding rune stations, and upgraded by using them in certain ways.
So you can make your shotgun a cooler shotgun, but also less of a shotgun and more of a rocket launcher, so you don’t have to switch weapons. You can make your suit all the more capable, in ways that are… Well they’re practically all CoD perks, broken down in such a way that they most resemble the Ghosts perks. The runes seem to be a mix of minor boosts around Glory Kills, and the incredibly Diablo 3 feeling Vacuum, which increases your item pickup radius.
All of this amounts to what feels like in the feedback, killing monsters for the sake of the upgrades, rather than because they’re monsters. It gamifies the game itself, and gives us a CoD like treadmill, in the campaign. Something CoD itself doesn’t do.
The biggest example of this to me is in the Glory Kills, and the Chainsaw. The Chainsaw is literally a resource consumer which, through a canned animation, converts any monster into an equivalent amount of ammo for other weapons. Chainsaw an Imp, that takes one block of gasoline, and drops some ammo. Chainsaw a Mancubus or Baron of Hell – takes as long as an Imp, you’ll consume four blocks of gasoline, and you get a floor covered in ammo. It’s like an in-game microtransaction.
Glory Kills are kind of cool looking, but despite their speed (which is, of course, able to be upgraded), they disrupt the flow and get tiresome. But the game encourages them. Glory Killed monsters drop more resources, and they’ve said previously that the game is built around Push Through mechanics, where you continually engage. The same mechanic loop behind Ryse, though Ryse had two target execution animations, which were much more satisfying to watch (Disclosure: I was on Ryse). Doom 4 seems to be repeatedly focused on the Cool and keeping the player on the conveyor belt, than just providing a great game.
Back to the monsters and thus the story, it is a familiar enough list. The Hell Knight uses the Doom 3 style, where the Baron of Hell is actually very faithful (I like that they’re this way, the Doom 3 Hell Knight design was decent, and it distinguishes them without being a color shift like in the originals – this is the rare unequivocally Good Thing in Doom 4), but the Pinky is more dinosaur like, with a swinging tail, and instead of being constant aggression, he lumbers and charges, like the Sirian Werebull of Serious Sam, but more subdued. And without directly stating the insult via analogy, let us shift to what we know of the story.
The story is “tongue in cheek”, which… No. It can be simple, it can be silly, but tongue in cheek is lazy unless you’re making an actual satire. But no matter what, it should jive with the mechanics. What we can overhear from NPCs in the stream, what id says, and what can be read in the visible shot of the Codex is that the UAC is now a cult. They hold cosmological presuppositions within their corporate structure. “Please save your work and report to the chapel for [unintelligible] demon weaponization.” In Doom and Doom 3, they experimented with teleporters, accidentally opening a portal to Hell. Hell does what Hell does and that’s how you get demons. In Doom 4, you’re a member of an organization actively making contact with Hell and trying to utilize the demons as a resource. This in and of itself makes everyone involved a non-innocent party, and it gives justification to some of the demon behavior. You even encounter a UAC created Cyber Mancubus (which next to Ultra Nightmare is the winner for ridiculous name in an actual game (EDIT: Apparently Ultra Nightmare comes from the RAGE DLC changes)). Did they not see what this does? It removes the simple good-evil dichotomy of Doom, and replaces it with “Kill stuff for stuff to kill stuff”. Congratulations, you’ve got Diablo 3, with the story framework of Jurassic Park. Which kind of explains the dinosaur look.
But, the story is from the freelance writer Adam Gascoine, the man behind the brainwash plot twist in Black Ops (who also described Black Ops as Go Shoot the Arabs in a game about Russian experiments that takes place in Asia and Cuba…). He also says he is bitter about shooters, and names their only redeeming attribute as venting adolescent anger. So, it doesn’t surprise me that his contribution to Doom 4 is to remove the moral value of the actions and pull everyone down into just violence.
I don’t think I’ll be getting Doom 4. It relies on completionist upgrade cycles and novelty over scalable gameplay loops, the gameplay boils down two dimensionally, they made the Chainsaw a token, and, well, you’re not even the hero from what I can tell. Go vent your adolescent anger in a better game. Like, say, Doom.