Doom PC Open Beta Impressions: Hybrid Theory

Do you remember the heyday of Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament? The arena shooter wars, with fans fighting to determine which was better? In an era of Backstreet Boys, Survivor, Harry Potter novels, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and the Sopranos, we were treated to some of the best shooters ever. It's a style of shooter that fell off the radar since then.

Doom multiplayer wants to be a time machine back to that era.

It's not perfectly in touch with those roots, but it definitely feels like a successor to Quake III Arena. Bringing the original Doom's multiplayer into the modern era is would probably be rather difficult, given the intense speed that game required and this title's expanded console focus. If id Software is going to mine its past for multiplayer action, it's better to use Quake III Arena than something say, Rage.

Jumping into the game again over the course of the weekend, I had fun. I settled right into the pace of the game: always moving, frequently strafing or taking to the air. I tend to play most modern shooters from the sniper role, but Doom wants you to keep moving. Don't stop. Frag or be fragged. You're dead? Respawn fool!

The movement and speed of the game is slightly slower than the Quake III Arena that lives in my head - nostalgia is a horrible drug - and the double jump could be a touch higher, but the combined with the design of the two levels in the beta, it works for what id is trying to pull off here. The levels are built for the new mantling move, with your character pulling themselves up if they catch the edge an object. Once you get a solid feel for when you'll mantle, you'll start incorporating that into your general movement. By the end of the weekend, my movement was smooth and getting around was a flawless experience. I assume there will be some Q3A purists who miss the rocket jump or the ability to change direction on double jump, but I can survive the lack of those options.

Unlike those classic shooters though, Doom leans on a weapon loadout mechanic instead of having in-level weapon pick ups. Learning all of the weapons and where they were in each level was part of the fun and strategy in those old days: do you go for the Rocket Launcher knowing it's out in the open and everyone else is too? It also pushed you to explore the level a bit more. This is probably the area that new Doom is going to get hit the hardest in and I'm suprised id went with this system.

Instead, you always starts you off with two weapons and an accessory. Everytime you die, you can choose to respawn with the same weapon loadout, or choose a new one. As part of the progression system, you'll start off with three developer-set loadouts: Assault, Sniper, and Ambusher. At level 2 you unlock the first two custom loadouts and the last is at level 10.

The weapons need another pass too; some for balance, others for general feedback. The Super Shotgun and Vortex Rifle currently strong as hell, which is surprising considering you'd think the Rocket Launcher would be in that league. In contrast, the Heavy Assault Rifle doesn't feel heavy at all and could do with a meatier sound to it. The Plasma Rifle and Lightning Gun feel light as well, but I assume that's supposed to be the case. Regardless, the Plasma Rifle could use a boost in damage. When it comes to accessories, the Frag Grenade is fine, but I found the Personal Teleporter to be a much better weapon, recalling Unreal Tournament's Translocator.

If any weapon or item brings Doom's multiplayer down, it's the Demon Rune. This spawns on the map and turns the player who picks it up into the Revenant. The problem is the Revenant is way too powerful, destroying most players in a single shot, even if they have armor. A Revenant can wildly alter the trajectory of a game in Team Deathmatch and this is with players who are just getting used to the game. The Demon Rune just hurts arena balance and there needs to be an option to turn it off on servers.

The open beta was split between two game types: Team Deathmatch and Warpath. Team Deathmatch is self-explanatory, but Warpath is a twist on the familiar Domination mechanic, in which both teams have to hold a specific area for points. In Warpath, the region you have to control is constantly moving on a set path; you can always see where it's going and where it is. That actually changes the Domination strategy a bit, because your best bet is to stay just outside of the Domination zone once you control it, but you can't stop moving. Sometimes, if you're trying to take the zone, it's best to let it come to you and blow up everyone who's escorting the zone along. It's the kind of evolution of the concept that I'd like to see used elsewhere.

I touched on the weapon audio earlier, but the audio is also lacking for the announcer. Compared to the deep growl of classic Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament announcers, the guy they have in Doom seems bored. It's just so soft that you never really feel the killstreak callouts. At some point, I simply stopped hearing the announcer completely during a match.

I liked what I played of Doom's multiplayer. Does it have issues? Sure, but a few tweaks here and id Software could have something interesting on its hands. The major issue Doom multiplayer has is going up against Epic Games' current reboot of Unreal Tournament, which is much closer to those classic 99-2000 era shooters, but is also free to boot. As a taste of the full game though, I think Doom is headed in the right direction and I'm hoping that single-player builds on what's found here. The future of multiplayer though? I had fun with it, but even with the progression system, it's been a long time since I've played MP on a regular basis and I'm not sure the purists will be completely happy with this, considering it's carrying the Doom name. You mileage may vary though.

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