We've finally played the new Doom. id Software let its monster out into the wild for the first time today at QuakeCon in Dallas, and a steady stream of players has been filing into the expo hall to play the multiplayer alpha all afternoon.
The available level is recognizably Doom, and looks about like what we saw in the gameplay trailer shown at Bethesda’s E3 conference: the interior of a huge refinery, glowing rivers of molten metal painting everything with orange light. In two squads of six, we set about blasting the ever-loving crap out of each other in a classic team deathmatch.
Executive producer Marty Stratton said at E3 that Doom will focus on three things: "badass demons, big effing guns and moving really, really fast." The big guns and the hyper movement are givens. Everyone is packing shotguns, plasma rifles, and sniper cannons. The parkour-style double jumps and obstacle mantling mean that any defensive instincts I have are channeled into strafing and ducking around corners—there isn’t a single chest-high wall or other convenient piece of cover in sight.
But the “badass demons” also make an appearance in multiplayer. Periodically, a power-up would drop somewhere on the map. The first player to grab it would begin a demon possession, transforming into a rocket-launcher toting Revenant and throwing the entire arena into chaos. The same ferocious chokepoint that developed as both teams fought over the power-up turned into a cat-pouncing-on-chickens scramble as the losing team tried to escape the wrath of the Revenant. Transforming into the Revenant felt a little like taking the role of a Tank in the Left 4 Dead series, except with high explosives.
Everything about Doom feels designed to drive players toward a run-and-gun style of play. Two or three of the available weapons are lethal at short range, so a lot of my teammates seemed to focus on a headlong rush toward the enemy.
The most interesting weapon so far is the Static Cannon, a slow-firing beam rifle that recharges its batteries off of static generated by sprinting. In order to use the Static Cannon effectively, I had to sprint and aim for headshots at the same time. If you’re the type of player who uses a no-scoped sniper rifle as a crude one-shot-kill machine, the Static Cannon will be your kind of deal. Even worse, the Static Cannon slowly drains charge if you ever stand still. The message Doom sends to players is absolutely clear: this is not a game for stopping and thinking.
Melee executions, the anatomically terrifying encounters we’ve seen in Doom teasers, were very satisfying to pull off on opponents. Armed with a double-barreled shotgun, my get-up-close strategy usually ended with a melee grab and a shower of flesh. Several luckless marines lost their spleens, hearts, spines, and kneecaps to my grasping fists.
It was, in general, a great example of what twitch shooters like Counter-Strike or Quake might start to look like in the next few years. More verticality and more detailed environments are going to be dressing up the classic mechanics of the ‘90s, and I’m happy for it. There’s always going to be room for high-speed gore fests in online multiplayer, and based on my short time with it, Doom looks like it could be an extremely enjoyable entry in a very comfortable niche.
Bethesda announced today that players who beta tested Wolfenstein: The New Order will form the early access pool for a wider Doom alpha test planned for later this year. Everyone who pre-ordered Wolfenstein will be able to join in a beta test, currently scheduled for early 2016. Doom will be released in late spring, 2016.