Reviewed by Doug Waters
Edited by Sam Hughes
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Composer: Mick Gordon
Sound Design: TBA
Reviewed on: Playstation 4
12 years after the release of Doom 3 back in 2004 comes Doom, a reboot of the classic first-person shooter series, that since 1994, has been considered one of the most influential game series in the FPS genre. It was a game that raised the bar for future game development to follow, with it’s at-the-time advanced 3D graphics and incredible game engine created by id Software’s then lead programmer, John Carmack.
A couple of weeks ago I was able to get to grips with the multiplayer aspect of this new installment in an open beta that ran from April 15th – 18th. Players were invited to try out the game for themselves, battling it out on two different maps in two different 6v6 game modes: team deathmatch and warpath, a variant on ‘king-of-the-hill’ which involved a moving area players must capture and hold. Featured also were a plethora of weapons and power ups, as well as being able to play as the Revenant demon from Doom II and Doom 3, shown in the gameplay reveal video at E3 last year.
Upon firing up the open beta the first thing that came to my attention was the music. Going into this game, I genuinely had no idea who the composer was, but upon hearing the main menu and customization music, only one name sprang to mind, Mick Gordon (Wolfenstein: The Old Blood & Killer Instinct). Mick’s unique style of music really comes to bear in what I’ve heard of the soundtrack for Doom so far; in parts very much reminding me of his work on Wolfenstein: The New Order back in 2014. Heavy guitars, gritty synths and punch drums are combined in ways that perfectly match the speed and intensity of gameplay in Doom. Suffice to say that Mick is the perfect choice to score the game!
At least, that’s what we saw during the gameplay reveal video at E3, the beta was a different story. I was gravely disappointed at the lack of music present during matches in the beta, in fact there was nearly no music at all during matches! Gone were the emotional impacts of engaging in combat that I felt whilst watching the E3 video, so heightened by the heavy and pulsing music. Instead the only music featured were short stingers, played at the very start and end of matches and whenever a player achieved a certain achievement, such as a ‘comeback kill’ or when their kill caused their team to take the lead. A great shame, given how well the music system appeared to work at E3.
Aside from the voice of the announcer, there was no other dialogue at all. The aim of such dialogue was to provide extra feedback to the player, either to congratulate them on an achievement or something that was happening globally, such as the spawning of an enemy Revenant demon.
Whilst the voice worked well in delivering these and although the dialogue was clear, easily understandable and obviously well recorded, there was no emotional depth to it. Having played a lot of multiplayer in the Halo series of first person shooter games, especially 343 Industries’ Halo 4, I’ve become accustomed to announcers (such as the Halo series Jeff Steitzer) having more emotional responses to actions in the game. Jeff’s performance as an announcer in that game works to both give players a sense of empowerment when they do something incredible and berate them when they fail. It’s that sort of depth, emotion and sense of enthusiasm to an announcer that gives players a further sense of their own worth in a game, in many situations it acts as a reward or confirmation of a reward.
Yet, Doom’s announcer sounds flat and indifferent towards a player’s actions, he almost gives the impression that he would cower if he came face to face with a Revenant, rather than encouraging players to defeat this terrifying demon.
When compared with the campaign gameplay videos from last year’s E3, the beta gives the impression there’s a bit to be done in terms of sound design in multiplayer to bring it up to the same level. Upon starting a match in either of the two available locations, ‘Infernal’ a cavernous demonic world or ‘Heatwave’ a map that looks like an industrial smelting facility, I was greeted by a distinct lack of ambience. Anyone might expect either of these locations to be incredibly noisy environments, and it’s understandable that id Software wouldn’t want environment sound to drown out other more important sounds, but it was a shame that there weren’t the sounds to go with the incredible looking maps. That’s not to say there weren’t sounds there, when standing near pouring molten rock/metal, the flowing blood on ‘Infernal’ or god-forbid jumping straight into the lava on ‘Heatwave’ you could hear bubbling fiery sounds. There just wasn’t enough of it. This felt like a stark comparison to the E3 videos, in which the ambience made the environments seem so believable.
Another sound that felt particularly weak were the footsteps, and with them that fact that other player’s footsteps sounded often louder than those of your own character. The sounds produced when jumping or landing from a height, just didn’t have enough of an impact to feel believable, it would’ve been nice to have increasingly impactful sounds dependent on fall distance as is done in other games. As well as this and at times sounding too repetitive they just didn’t give a sense of the player character’s weight and the customizable armor they’re wearing, the only time the player character sounds like they’re wearing armour at all is whilst climbing and changing weapons.
It was a shame that too much feedback was seemingly given to the player purely through visuals without and auditory accompaniment. Often I was killed from not looking at my health bar too often to check when I needed a top-up, something which is normally brought to my attention through the introduction of a heartbeat or the use of a low pass filter. Similarly, the only indication that a player was given that they’d scored a successful hit with some of the guns, such as the shotgun, were the numbers that popped up above an enemies head. Although not wishing to completely copy the sounds of FPS’s of the past number of years, I couldn’t help but feel that a bullet impact sound might’ve been helpful in letting a player know they were successful, rather than have them just having shoot wildly at their enemy, only knowing they’ve hit their target through visual feedback alone. It was little things like this that just sometimes made the experience of playing the Doom beta a little less enjoyable.
But this is of course not to say that all the sounds in the beta were bad! There were some great and particularly enjoyable moments achieved through the use of brilliant sound design. One specific favourite of mine was the sound of the Siphon Grenade; the grainy synthetic implosion was something that greatly reminded me of the biotic powers in the Mass Effect series. It worked particularly well against a backdrop of what was mostly otherwise your typical machine gun and shotgun sounds; which is probably another reason why I liked the sounds of the Plasma Rifle so much as well!
For all that has been mentioned already about the ambient sounds in each environment, the sounds that were present were really good and added what little they could to the thematic setting of each map. The furnace sounds mentioned previously were good, there just need to be more of them and louder, but on the ‘Infernal’ map were flowing rivers of blood that were really brought to life by the sounds associated with them. They’re sounds that I can imagine sounding even better when placed alongside and mixed with other aspects in the environment as well as better general ambience.
Similarly there were other sounds that just felt a little, well… unfinished. Prominently some of the gore related sounds for player melee takedowns. At times these sounds just didn’t seem to have a lot of depth to them, what was there sounded well produced and designed, it just needed more layers. The player death/body disintegration sounds were too squishy with no thump as parts hit the floor and the breaking of an opponents neck was more ‘snap’ than ‘crrrraaaaaccck’. Sometimes they sounded great and felt like they perfectly matched the visuals, but this didn’t happen often.
Perhaps the most notable and memorable sounds however are those accompanying the presence of the horrifying Revenant demon. Whilst playing, you hear these sounds before you ever see the enemy’s Revenant, that coupled with the harshness of the screeching, designed in such a way to almost sound like they’re peaking the headset in your character’s helmet, make you feel fearful and on edge. Often when hearing those piercing shrieks I noticed both myself and my teammates spinning frantically to see where the Revenant might be coming from!
All in all the experience of playing the Doom beta was enjoyable, especially since I was in the mood for an intense fast paced shooter! Yet when compared with the audio featured in the E3 videos, it just doesn’t seem to match up.
Yet despite mentioned above, this is obviously not the final game, but a teaser. We never know how much content might’ve been cut out of the beta to make it a suitable size for people to download, let alone the fact it’s still in development. The audio quite obviously needs some more attention, as there are some aspects that at the moment are just glaring players in the face. But if id Software can create in multiplayer what has been shown for campaign mode, then I have no doubt it’ll be on my purchase list, if only for the Siphon Grenade and Revenant sounds and Mick Gordon’s music!
Doom releases worldwide for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC on May 13th
If you managed to play the open beta for Doom or even the closed beta before that, let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!
The Sound Architect