Weaponising Demons. For a Brighter Tomorrow.
DOOM (2016) is a wild ride. It’s straightforward, it’s a thrill, it’s a rollercoaster that only shoots forwards and only goes fast. From second one to the very last, you kill demons. Simply. Kill. Demons.
I finished DOOM (2016) a little under a year ago and I’ve been meaning to write about it since then. I want to praise how it was both completely bonkers while never falling out of control, both wonderfully clichéd and utterly fresh and both how simple it seemed in its construction but how nuanced it was beneath the surface. DOOM (2016) was the winner of my coveted “‘Game of Last Year’ of the Year” Award for 2017 Screenies we never held.
The story of the game’s development as explored by the illustrious noclip is mandatory viewing. You see how passion and inspiration took what could have been yet another joyless reboot, shackled to current trends, and instead unleashed the freshest, most satisfying shooter I’ve played in years. Set aside an hour, grab a drink and watch the noclip documentary and get ready to buy this game.
I loved DOOM (2016) and had I written sooner I’d have gushed happily for many hundreds of words on its hundreds of merits. In honour of the game’s charmingly direct approach to storytelling I am going to lay out my every thought in a no-nonsense list of bullets, thereby honouring the gun-toting action too. I too will forego convention in the interest of satisfaction, even if I am the only one satisfied. Some bullets will be weighty, some will be swift. Take cover:
- No frills story telling: The introduction is ruthlessly efficient. You are the Doom Slayer and hell is so afraid of you they locked you up in a tomb and pray you never escape. Arrogant humans, in the form of the UAC corporation are mining Mars, and by extension Hell itself, for its endless supply of Argent energy, repercussions be damned. And so they are all damned. The legendary Doom Slayer, you, awakes in a UAC facility chained to your excavated tomb and after killing your first demons, you toss aside a screen displaying “demonic invasion in progress” ignoring the voice on the radio that in any other game would guide/narrate you through the story. The Doom Slayer cares not for triviality. They care only about killing demons. The character’s purpose in the game and my purpose for playing the game are aligned perfectly in a way unmatched since Portal: Rip and tear, rip and tear.
- All frills world building: The established canon of Doom could have been a burden. But id Software pick only what lore they need from the previous three official releases and weave together choice elements to create a vivid world that is rich in detail when you stop dancing around demons with a shotgun to notice. The environments should be cheesy because they have been done to death: industrial environment, red desert environment, Hell environment. There is great skill in taking old subject matter and painting new life into them. My screenshots folder was full of stunning vistas and gory tableaus.
- Come and Work At The UAC Facility on Mars:
- Come Visit The Depths of Hell:
- Codex Collectables: While the story is still told through first-person cutscenes a la Half Life at key moments in the plot they are kept brisk. The detail is to be found in the collectable pages of the Codex which forms the database/encyclopaedia to the environments, items and monsters. The Codex takes the form of an UAC Employee manual that escalates from benign corporate information (Tier 1) to the insane machinations of the UAC executive inner circle where demonic sacrifices are to be expected. I sought them out. Hunting for collectables breaks up fire fights and by the end I was genuinely invested in the Codex and read all the entries I missed in my playthrough online. Here’s a taster:
- “Argent Facility: Should you find yourself caught in a level 3 demon contamination event, it is important that you remain clam. A Tier 3 advocate wouldn’t panic, and neither should you. We have a saying here in the Lazarus Labs – “if you want the job, act as if.” So, stop, think, and act as if you are a Tier 3 advocate. here are the steps you should follow: 1. Attempt to reach an emergency force field safety zone or a bulkhead door. Do not run as some of our transdimensional visitors are sensitive to movement; 2. Shut down any volatile equipment you may be using. Should you be unable to escape from the demons, it is important that you don’t leave that plasma cutter running where it could damage an important piece of machinery; 3. If there is no obvious escape route and you have powered down your equipment, give yourself over to the demon willingly. Studies have shown that infuriating a demon by running away can cause additional frustration in the predator, and that may result in your body being too badly mutilated for useful post mortem study. Simply kneel down, close your eyes, and wait. Remember you can be as useful in death as you are in life.“
- Corporate Banter: As you fight your way through the demonic hordes that have infested the UAC Facility you are under constant barrage from their corporate slogans. Maybe it’s the years I’ve spent working in such companies (minus the overt devotion to Hell) but I found the extolling of their policies and procedures and visitor greetings hilarious. Here are some of my favourite quotes and environmental jokes:
- “A Step Above The Rest. Building A Better World. All Hail The Dark Lord.”
- Is this the most subtle conference room joke in a videogame ever?
- “The road to Hell is paved with Argent energy”
- “Unlike everything else in your life, your work here matters”
- “God rested on the seventh day. But imagine how much further along we would be if he hadn’t? The UAC is committed to excellence, that’s why we implemented the seven day work week. Now you can achieve greatness alongside your coworkers every day. Let’s never stop achieving”
- “Weaponising Demons. For a Brighter Tomorrow.”
- “UAC—opening the gates of Hell with the key to the future”
- A new way to look at the Doom Guy: In the original DOOM (1993) you have no name. The character later become known as the Doom Guy. In DOOM (2016), you can read the character of the Doom Slayer as being the constant that binds together all previous Doom games into a shockingly coherent narrative. You are the Doom Slayer and the previous series entries and every single Doom mod were are all past battles that have secured your legacy as Hell’s most fearsome warrior.
- Hellish combat…: The action formula is consistent throughout: You enter a large space, you punch a hellish portal-creature-thing that triggers waves of demons to spawn, you kill the demons, you exit the large space and set off toward the next. The large spaces take the shape of UAC facilities, Mars caverns and the pits of Hell but they are all terrific combat arenas to explore and reminded me of how much fun I had playing a good Team Fortress 2 map like Gravel Pit or CP_Steel. The moment to moment combat of DOOM (2016) keeps you constantly moving and evaluating, shooting and dodging, and the arenas are superbly staged. The action is paced superbly.
- …Heavenly pacing: the fights are frenetic but they are paced well with some navigation and exploration to break up the constant sound of gun fire. The original DOOM (1993) encouraged searching for secrets hidden behind walls and around corners and DOOM (2016) is no different. I upgraded my suit to flag Secrets on the Automap and while I didn’t go for a completionist run finding every one I enjoyed the change of pace and it is in these moments that I marvelled at the architecture and level design on display. Some of the secrets opened up snippets from the original DOOM (1993) in all its pixelated beauty.
- The Heaviest of Metal: The soundtrack is killer. Composer Mick Gordon explains his process in the following GDC video and, similar to the noclip doc, mandatory viewing especially if you are a musician. It’s a fascinating look at how to create something genuinely new while also paying homage to the past. The whole game shares many similarities to heavy metal: a genre all about heavy rhythmic sequences, music that is highly technical at times but accessible, and a die-hard community of fanatics that crosses generations.
Well this post has turned out to be more conventional than I thought. That’s what I thought about DOOM (2016). I bloody loved it. So much so that I ventured back to the original to see where man first shot a demon with a double-barrelled shotgun.
UAC- Opening the Gates of Hell with the Key to the Future
Where DOOM (2016) thrilled and engaged, the original surprised and delighted. There’s a category in my Steam library called “Gaming Literacy” and there sat The Ultimate DOOM (essentially a re-release of the original DOOM (1993) conversion to run on modern operating systems) waiting for me to play. I approach playing these games as a historical exercise. Along with the necessary interventions needed to make the game run (here I installed the ZDoom mod which ditched the 4:3 screen ratio in favour of a 16:9 upscaled version with many customisable options), I expect to need to overlook many archaic design choices that have aged poorly.
DOOM (1993) was not old. It was fast and fresh and a hell of a lot of fun to play.
I don’t hold myself to completing games in my “Gaming Literacy” list. The whole point is gain an appreciation for why the game is so influential but not to get bogged down too deep. I went deep on DOOM (1993). I completed the whole campaign (surprisingly spending half as much time in the original as I did in the 2016 reboot), and even replayed a few levels to beat the time trials and to hunt out secret areas.
Where the DOOM (2016) took combat to wide open arenas, DOOM (1993) started the combat in mazes of criss-crossing corridors and rooms. The level design is truly ground-breaking. I was regularly delighted to discover a new area only to open a door and have it return me to a previously visited room. With each discovery I could feel the map in my mind connecting together. The combat and movement are fluid, there’s just no better description. Fluid in a way that I causes me to physically sway in my chair when I think about it. It is perfection. I get it. I understand why this is one of the greatest videogames of all time. DOOM (1993) can have my vote too.
Here are my bumbling first twenty or so minutes playing the original. Watch it for that iconic E1M1 soundtrack:
I appreciated more now what DOOM (2016) achieved. It channelled the feel of the original but made it modern, made it new and different. There is a sequel DOOM: Eternal in the works which is already expanding on what they achieved with new ways to move and fight. I’m curious to see where they go next. Whether they pay more heed to the original or push forward in a new direction I’ll be there for sure.
One thing is true: killing demons never gets old.