DOOM – The Halo Game That We All Wanted

“Finish the Fight…like Hell”

DOOM released last year to critical acclaim and became one of the standout titles of the year – a reboot of a classic game geared towards modern fans of the FPS genre. While this game certainly didn’t go under my radar, it wasn’t something that initially appealed to me because I don’t usually go for graphic titles with a lot of gore in them. For this reason, I didn’t get my hands on DOOM until recently. A friend picked it up for me and so I had to at least try this thing that I had already decided wasn’t for me.

Hell, was I wrong (“hell” being the optimal word). Put simply, DOOM (2016) is a modern gaming masterpiece and manages to right a lot of things that recent FPS games have gotten wrong. One comparison that I want to focus on today is between DOOM and Halo 5: Guardians, which was released only a year before in 2015 and shares a lot of similarities – not just because they both have silent, green power-armour clad protagonists. In a way, the DOOM reboot could be seen as a long-lost game in the Halo series. If Halo 5 suffered from many problems, then DOOM is its better half.

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DOOM’s campaign begins as you wake up on a research facility on Mars inside some sort of sarcophagus, blood splattered across the stone, with two demons instantly coming for you. After getting your bearings, you come across your suit and find the head of the facility, who you promptly ignore to beat up more demons. This interaction gives the player the sense that they are there simply to rip and tear through the hordes of Hell. A strong opening gives a clear focus to the narrative that almost never wavers throughout the experience. While it lacks depth, it is perfect as the groundwork for a story about journeying to Hell and back…twice.

The meatier chunks of lore are presented as in-universe text logs that are unlocked as you discover data chips throughout the missions. This is similar to how Halo 5 handles its in-game lore, but those were in the form of audio-logs which often overlapped with the dialogue of the actual missions. By implementing DOOM’s system of text logs, Halo could appeal to both types of players: those who actively seek out and digest the deeper narrative of the story, and those who simply want to experience the campaign on its own. By delivering a wealth of information to players who need it, there would be no confusion on elements of the story, and no need to explain complex concepts of the Halo universe outside of the games themselves.

Halo 5: Guardians starts much like DOOM as the player is tasked with running and gunning the moment they get control of their Spartan, however the how, when, why and where of the situation is all explained in the opening cutscene of the mission (one of the best cutscenes of the entire game, mind you). The theme of mystery that the Halo series used to have is present throughout DOOM’s story, yet lacking in many parts of Halo 5. While the scale of the story’s conflict is shown much better in Halo 5, DOOM gives you the sense that you never know what is around the corner, as the player is constantly learning new weapons and enemies – but we’ll get to that later. This suspense adds tension to one of the most heart-racing slaughter-fests of a game I’ve ever played.

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When it comes to gameplay, DOOM is a non-stop action ride that will have you tearing apart demons with your fists and a whole cavalcade of weapons – giving you freedom of how you want to deal with each encounter, and a sense of satisfaction when you barely claw your way to survival using the method of your choice. However, these intense moments are balanced with quiet, platformer-style exploration to find a host of weapon upgrade kits, secret items, rune trials where you can unlock passive abilities in the campaign, and arcade power-ups for short boosts of strength and speed. This break from the action is ideal in that it gives the player time to catch their breath and offers them a lot of collectibles to hunt down.

In comparison, the Halo series has always had strong gameplay which balances the three core aspects of the game: guns, grenades, and melee. When facing an onslaught of Covenant forces, these elements have been essential to creating fun and unique encounters throughout the campaigns. Although, some of this balance has been jeopardised with the inclusion of Spartan abilities in Halo 5. Now players must be aware of thrusters, ground pound, slide, clamber, and hover, on top of the core aspects. As you can probably guess, this doesn’t work to create as many fun experiences as with previous Halo games, and the enemy encounters of Halo 5’s campaign are always the most fun when left to guns, grenades, and melee – proving that the formula still works all these years later.

As far as collectibles go, the game has its own array of skulls and terminals/datapads to locate which are usually well hidden and a challenge to reach, that unlock either a new gameplay option when activated, or in-universe information to add further context to missions. While these are satisfying to find, I believe adding further secrets – such as the hidden dolls in Halo 2: Anniversary – can add a new flavour to the collectible hunt, offering a level of replayability for collectors and hardcore Halo fans. This is important to ensure the latest Halo game keeps the player’s interest for as long as possible, plus it gives a bit more fun to exploring the levels of the game.

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But just how do you decimate the legions of Hell? I’m glad you asked. You move your one-man-army with controls that are always tight and responsive, which is important considering the constant action the player faces. Each action is perfectly tuned to the controller so you never feel like the controller is to blame for your crushing defeat. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see how DOOM fares when using the Nintendo Switch JoyCon controllers. DOOM coming to the Switch is an interesting move in and of itself, but time will tell whether the game truly shines on that console.

Again, Halo’s controls are upheld to an equally impressive standing and never feel sluggish when mowing down Grunts by the dozen. The option is there if you wish to change your control scheme to something more comfortable, which all feel perfectly tied to the Xbox controller (not surprising as Halo was the game that MADE the original Xbox). In comparison, both DOOM and Halo 5 make sure the player always has control of their situation…well, when the player actually does have agency during missions, scripted events be damned. Fluid and fast, both games hold out at the top of their genre.

Graphics-wise, DOOM is a beautiful game, full of gritty, realised settings that are polished with remarkable texture and shine. The same can be said for the enemy and player models, skyboxes, and details found throughout the campaign. There is a distinct visual style which gives both Mars and Hell a unique identity – the halls of the Argent facility are cold and smooth, while the plains of the Kadingir Sanctum are rocky and desolate. Halo 5 attempts this same level of graphical flair, but falls far from reaching the mark, as the lighting and polish on many aspects of the experience is not quite there. This makes the Spartan armour appear plastic and overly shiny, while the Praetor suit of the DOOM marine reflects a realistic glare and metallic exterior. Releasing only a year after Halo 5, its not as though DOOM had to take huge strides to get their graphical capabilities to these standards and it is a shame to see this visual treatment not be given to Xbox’s flagship title – the Halo series.

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One of the defining aspects of DOOM is its soundtrack, a hardcore, heart-pounding mix of tracks that range from calmly sinister to terrifyingly demonic. These tracks accompany you on your quest to the underworld and add the adrenaline rush needed to properly experience the campaign. I’m even listening to the soundtrack while writing this article, that’s how good it is. On a related note, the sound design of the game is equally phenomenal. Weapons feel weighty and pack a punch, while the shriek of hellspawn around a corner puts your primal fears into focus. Oh, and that demonic scream when you destroy a Gore Nest…say no more.

Modern Halo games have been a hit-and-miss when it comes to soundtracks. Ever since the legendary composer Marty O’Donnell left the series, the music hasn’t always been up to par with the older games – most noticeably in the controversy that surrounded the music of Halo 4. With Halo 5: Guardians, Japanese composer Kazuma Jinnouchi led the effort, and for the most part, produced an excellent Halo soundtrack. For the most part. The sound design also leaves something to be desired, yet it does do a good job of immersing you in the Halo universe, especially in regards to the sound design of the Prometheans. If both the soundtrack and the sound design were a little more meaty, it would go a long way to make the player feel more involved in the events of the story, as well as give me some more amazing Halo tracks to listen to outside of the game.

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DOOM utilises a weapon wheel where you can select from a large variety of weapons, with the ability to access the BFG and chainsaw with the press of a button. This retains the arcade-style choice from the older games of how you want to slay your enemies, as well as keeping everything at the player’s fingertips. The Halo series is renowned for having a two-weapon system which is more realistic but means that, although there is a similarly large variety of weapons to use in the games, they are spread out across maps and in the hands of your foes. While I am not suggesting that future Halo games should adopt DOOM’s multi-weapon system, I think it is prudent to compare the two systems in how they affect the player experience.

Halo 5 in particular makes it so you are regularly picking up new weapons and exploring the sandbox, even if the player doesn’t always have access to the more unique and powerful guns. Most, if not all of the weapons are available to the player after the first few missions, leaving little discovery in the later levels. In DOOM’s case, you find new weapons as the campaign progresses, with context behind where the weapons are located and why they are in that area. It feels as though there is a history to the events you don’t see before the player enters a mission. This is something that is lacking in Halo 5, with the Covenant controlling areas and having weapon crates scattered about randomly, or the Prometheans who spawn in (or the digital equivalent) with their weapons in-hand, or…face when it comes to Crawlers.

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Demons come in various shapes and sizes as you also meet more and more of them throughout the campaign, each being unique in their role, movement and abilities, as well as having vast sections of lore that make them feel realised and grounded. Well, as grounded as creatures from the darkest depths of Satan’s fiery pit can be. Occasionally, you are confronted with mini-bosses which actually pose a challenge and aren’t just versions of the demons you have already faced, on steroids. These bosses exist to push you beyond your limits and often have solutions beyond just running and gunning. Though don’t be surprised if you are tired of flame-wielding Imps by the end of the game – they get everywhere.

The Covenant and Prometheans also have a range of species and forms, yet they are mostly all discovered early on – a similar issue as with the weapons of the game. While it is refreshing to switch between fighting organic and metal enemies, it just isn’t fun punching generic robots (Prometheans) over and over again, and there is no chance to make these encounters stand out from one another because they simply spawn in and start shooting. As for the bosses, the one enemy with the most potential in the game, the Elite Leader Jul ‘Mdama, is killed off in a cutscene at the end of the first mission. The only playable “boss” you fight in the campaign is the Warden Eternal – a bigger, meaner Forerunner robot. But the best part is, you fight him at least half a dozen times with no variation. It’s like no effort was put into making the boss fights actually enjoyable, that just the idea of bringing this type of engagement back to Halo was cool in itself.

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That’s enough comparison of the elements of each game’s campaigns; what about the multiplayer? The online experience presented throughout DOOM’s various multiplayer modes is equally as fast-paced, fluid and fun as the campaign, with even more new content thrown in to spice up the gameplay. Although it boasts your basic fare of objective and deathmatch modes from an FPS, it throws in the ability to spawn as Demons. DEMONS. Not just the ones from the campaign, but others designed specifically for multiplayer. Kill the current Demon running around on the map or stand in a Demon Rune to instantly transform into an unlocked nightmare creature of your choice. This is a unique addition that adds a new dimension to encounters, while giving players the incentive to hunt down Demons and rip and tear their way through the enemy team.

On the other side of the blood-stained fence, Halo 5 has more of a generic shooter multiplayer, with the various Warzone and Warzone Firefight modes being the only thing to make it stand out on its own. These arcade-style objective-based player vs player and player vs enemy modes offer a good few games of fun combat encounters with unique AI bosses and enemies and, while predictable, serve to present some of the only replayability in the entirety of the game. If Halo 5 had an online feature that really made it unique while offering something the fans have been asking for, (like, I don’t know…playable elites) then the game would have more people coming back to experience a feature limited only to this instalment of the series. I shouldn’t have to explain why that is important for any game’s longevity and playerbase.

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Now we get to the reason that sparked this entire article in the first place – customisation. This is not only limited to the loadouts, emotes and armour selection, but unlockable armour textures, patterns, and the ability to manipulate sliders to make your multiplayer character as gritty or polished as you want. There is so much depth to the options for customising your character in DOOM that it honestly baffles me how Halo 5 – a game that released only a year before – has less customisation options than DOOM and what it does have is clunky and unrefined. Instead of choosing between a dirty, Reach-style aesthetic or a shiny exterior for your Spartan, Halo 5 offers a plastic-looking, sterile finish that looks unrealistic and is only worsened by the vast amount of unnecessary and ugly helmet and armour variants you can choose from.

While everything can be unlocked through both games using an in-game progression/credit system, Halo 5 introduced REQ packs – virtual card packs that cost real world money if you want to speed the progression along. Microtransactions in Halo? Now you know there is something wrong with the attitude of the modern game industry towards AAA games, and how this business practice has seeped into nearly every spotlighted game coming out this year. Although that is a different cesspit entirely, it is surprising to see that DOOM wasn’t made to include microtransactions, putting the gameplay before any profit. In this respect, the level of customisation available in the game without having to resort to underhanded money-making tactics not only shows the level of confidence Bethesda had in rebooting this property, but also is a shining example of how to make a good game and still make money, without treating your fanbase like disgusting consumer worms.

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Both games have dedicated sandbox modes, in the form of DOOM’s Snapmap level creator, and Halo 5’s Forge mode. While each serves a different purpose, they are similar enough to compare to each other in how they work and the options that are given to the player when making their own content.

Snapmap is a level editor where you connect different sections inspired by areas of the campaign to create an entirely unique experience, that you then get to play and test out. There are several tutorials on how to operate more advanced mechanics such as scripting on almost any object, as well as the ability to place enemy AI inside of these levels. This instantly gives life to any area that you make, while showing how easy it is to have a working campaign level of your own after just a few hours of tinkering with the editor. Switching between the camera and the player to test out maps isn’t as instant as it is with Halo 5, yet it is never long enough to become an annoyance. While there are a few inconveniences and limits to the amount you can hold in one level, Snapmap does boast a large selection of objects, encounters, rooms, and many more customisable details. It is an experience that is an effective way to introduce anyone to game design and retains the arcade fun of the single-player campaign.

Forge has been around since the early days of Halo 3, and has since improved upon a basic formula of placing objects and vehicles around pre-made maps. Now with the updated version in Halo 5, the system has had a major rehaul to become a more complex creation tool with a larger scope and near-limitless potential in what can be made. Despite how far Forge has come in the Halo series, it has never implemented spawnable AI so that your player can have offline combat encounters straight from their imagination. This is a major step back from the potential that is seen in DOOM’s Snapmap, as it leaves many Forge maps feeling lonely and empty. Not only would the ability to place squads of Grunts or a pack of Brutes be an exciting addition to the mode, but it would open up a whole new dimension of possibilities for the dozens of amazing forgers already present within the Halo community. Only time will tell whether future instalments in the series can learn from some of the lessons put forward by DOOM’s Snapmap and truly expand upon the hidden potential of Forge.

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That wraps up my comparison of these two shooters and why DOOM could be considered to be the Halo game that we all wanted. It is evident that DOOM has a lot to say for itself and this needs to be heard by Halo 6 and beyond if the flagship of the Xbox wants to stay afloat. While no game is perfect, DOOM is perhaps the best example of what a modern Halo game should be and this is true throughout the entire package. From the moment I picked up the controller to the moment I put it down, this game challenged me both in terms of my skill with FPS games and my view on what similar games in the genre could learn from this gritty reboot that I had no interest in to begin with.

I think it is safe to say that DOOM has quickly become one of my favourite gaming experiences in recent memory – I say experience because this game really is more than that – and now I hope that the improvements on aspects of Halo 5 that I saw in this game inspire the future of the franchise that I have loved for years. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more demons to slay…

 

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