I hadn’t even finished downloading the beta on Friday when the first messages began flooding in. “If the campaign for the new Doom is anywhere near the quality of the multiplayer beta, then that’s the franchise over,” the most scathing take read.
It wasn’t that bad. But after spending some time over the weekend with the two modes and maps available in the new DOOM, it’s hard to shake the feeling that something’s not quite right.
I’ve been pretty vocal over the last few years about how happy I am to see the rise and return of the arena shooter. For a little while the closest thing we had to the speed and intensity of Quake 3 was, well, Call of Duty deathmatch. It was that era of forgettable modern military shooters, and if you weren’t a fan of Halo or Gears of War, it was a sad time.
But as nice as it is to have progressed from those few years of gun-barrel grey and bogwater brown, there’s a uncomfortable reality. Most of the modern takes on arena shooters aren’t popular. In fact, they’re basically failures.
Dirty Bomb has a few thousand players on average at any one time. Quake Live? Several hundred. The Melbourne-made Reflex? Just enough for a small LAN party. Shootmania Storm has well and truly vanished, and indie efforts such as Toxikk have failed to gain any traction whatsoever.
Inspired by the great shooters of the 90’s sounds like a great feature. But so far it hasn’t worked. Even the new Unreal Tournament is struggling to find the right formula.
Gamers, it seems, are crying out for something new. Problem is, DOOM doesn’t do that.
Borderlands-style damage numbers. Two weapons, plus one item, per class. An entire server of people running around with a rocket launcher — as a secondary weapon — that takes at least two or three good shots for a kill. Which doesn’t launch people a great height.
The super shotgun feels like a misnomer, too. It’s less of a show-stopper and more like the starting shotgun from the original Quake. Good in a pinch, and capable of finishing an opponent off when they’re low. But super? Hardly.
And if you can’t one shot things, don’t worry: there’s the Gauss Cannon. It’s basically a minigun that fires like a railgun, with the power of a fully charged sniper rifle.
The same goes for much of the basic elements. It’s a godsend that every player can double-jump and climb walls with aplomb, because the default movement speed feels incredibly stodgy. It’s not a slow shooter, but it’s not that manic combination of speed, shotguns and severed limbs flying off the walls either.
And there’s stuff that doesn’t quite fit. There’s ammo, health and armour strewn throughout the map, but not extra weapons. Except for the Gauss Cannon. And then there’s Modern Warfare-esque matchmaking lobbies, which are fine provided there’s enough online playing the mode you like.
On PC that was Team Deathmatch, and only Team Deathmatch. I got about two games of Warpath the entire weekend. It’s Battlefront all over again: the majority camps in one or two game modes, while the more adventurous gamers die a slow death in the matchmaking queue.
And while I know it’s still a beta, DOOM’s raw mechanics need a tune-up. I couldn’t get the game to consistently run at 60fps, and the advanced video settings being disabled didn’t help. The servers weren’t fantastic, with 60ms being the best ping I got at any point.
Even something as simple as turning the mouse felt a little off. It’s almost like mouse acceleration was hard-coded into the game, or that there was a fraction of input lag. It’s possible the below-average frame rate is to blame, although hardly ideal (especially for those playing on consoles).
For people who grew up playing Quake and Counter-Strike, that’s unacceptable. It’s almost scandalous given how much influence DOOM and Quake had over the standardisation of controls in first-person shooters. Part of their appeal was that the controls were tight and the movement was fast and crisp.
This new DOOM is neither.
But those are elements that can be fixed before release — or, God forbid, shortly thereafter. And it’s not as if iD and Bethesda didn’t get the most crucial part right: the game, problems withstanding, is fun.
Shooting someone is still fun. Ramming a rocket up someone’s rear and watching their remains colour the walls is still fun. Double-jumping into the air and climbing up a wall before pumping someone in the back of the head with a super shotgun is still fun.
But the biggest problem is that none of this feels like a DOOM game, or an iD game. A friend of mine was right when he warned that the game feels — and plays — like one of those indie shooters “inspired by the greats of the 1990’s”.
So far, this DOOM doesn’t feel like one of the greats. It feels like a pretender. And with just over a month until release, I’m crossing my fingers in the hope that there’s something I haven’t seen that changes that.