DOOM [official site], in singleplayer at least, is probably the biggest surprise of the year to date. But just what is it about id's rebooted demon-botherer which feels so damn good? Alec 'Mancubus' Meer and Adam 'Shotgun' Smith gathered to discuss their unexpected love of double-jumping, melee kills and exposed Pinky Demon bottoms.
N.B. includes SPOILERS for the plot, such as it is.
Adam: DOOM is my favourite Doom game, I think. It feels wrong to write that because I am an old man and hell’s own ichor was like mother’s milk to me back in the early nineties, but this DOOM…
Alec: Woah, woah, steady on. It’s a helluva thing, but old DOOM tweaked slightly for modern controls is riot from a minute one. This has a slow start and a story that makes me wish I could go all Romero’s Hidden Head on whoever’s responsible. But by God, it is a proper DOOM game and then its own thing too, which is more than I ever believed possible.
Adam: I replay original Doom (and I still kind of hate having to specify which one I’m referring to - like X-COM and XCOM, I go Doom and DOOM) from time to time, but I haven’t made it through Inferno for more than a decade. It’s probably familiarity with the first two episodes that makes me love them so much, but I’m not a huge fan of the level design in some of the late stages. NEW DOOM is almost the opposite - like you, I’m not keen on the opening but it does escalation so well.
My favourite thing might be the way enemies move though, which I just want to talk about briefly. People have written lots, before and after release, about how important the player’s movement is in DOOM, and I think the game gets that just about spot on. But so many of the monsters have these really clever quirks to their motion, most obviously with the Pinkies and the way they bullrush you and expose their unarmoured arses, but with the imps clambering on walls and leaping around corners, and the way that cacodemons are so deceptively fast. There’s all these different parts in play and they all seem utterly predictable but convincingly solid and momentum-based at the same time.
DOOM IS BALLET. Or something. I mean, it isn’t, it’s an abbattoir in there. Bloodier than Black Swan.
Alec: Yeah, it completely messes with years of established wisdom about how to survive a bloody great fight. Running into a corner is death. Taking a breath is death. You have to accept that you have to keep moving, and part of that is understanding how the enemies move and where they’re likely to come from in order that you can second guess them. It really is this breathless dance; I’m not even sure I think of it as combat. Certainly I am not thinking “kill kill kill” but more how do I make this space work for me, how do I maintain a rhythm and a flow. Other games might cheat and dole out points for chain kills, but this understands so well that if it feels good, if it gets your blood up, none of that trickery is needed: just the dance itself.
I’ve got to say, this is the first shooter in way too many years that I even considered a second playthrough for. But here I am, doing it all again on Nightmare (which is very Oof).
Adam: It’s interesting that you say it doesn’t feel exactly like combat or “kill kill kill” because I’m in the same boat. There was a point when I’d just torn out an eyeball, chopped off a head and turned an imp into gravy when I stopped and just thought to myself, “this is a very violent game”. Of course it is. It’s ridiculously, relentlessly gory, but I’m usually so focused on how to get through a room that I’m not really thinking about the aftermath. It’s very mechanical, the process of killing all these demons.
Alec: A friend of mine was telling me that she hasn’t been able to play much of it - even though she loves shooters - because she finds it just so damn gory. And I was all “it is? Huh. I suppose so.” I really did stop seeing all the gruesome stuff too, because every Glory Kill for me was just about topping up my health without missing a beat. It’s crazy that these artists and sound people have put so much effort into this lurid stuff that somehow fades into the background entirely.
Adam: It seems about as gory as Brutal Legend to me, which clearly isn’t true. But it’s the same aesthetic really. Big Skulls and Spines. Some chains maybe. I don’t enjoy heavy metal music at all but if DOOM is heavy metal, I’m somewhat converted. Old Doom never felt like heavy metal to me because midi couldn’t really do the sounds properly. I thought it was supposed to be a bit bleepy and bloopy!
Do you have a favourite monster? I’ve always been an imp fan because they creeped me out when I was a relative youngster. This time round, the revenants are my favourites though. Properly spiteful with their bony little fists. Blasting them out of the air is undoubtedly the hell aristocrat’s version of clay pigeon shooting. Daft skellingtons.
Alec: I like to think that I’m a famed connoisseur of Cacodemons, and they’re OK here but maybe a little bit too fragile and nowhere near silly enough. Taking the shotgun to them at close quarters is irresistible but it doesn’t get my blood up in the way a stand-up fight with a Hellknight does. Or the Mancubii too: because they’re so enormous, fleshy and armoured scoring a glory kill on always seems so beautifully ridiculous, a well-earned coup de grace. I’m also impressed by how Imps never get old; they’re so fast and tricksy throughout that they’re always a threat when thrown into the mix with all the bigger stuff.
Not sure about the Pinkies and their sensitive bottoms, mind you. Disrupted flow a little as much as anything else.
Adam: Mancubii seem like pretty important people this time around. I use the term ‘people’ very loosely. They barely registered for me in Doom II but they’re everywhere, in a couple of variants, this time around. A Hell army really does march on its stomach.
I like the Pinkies! Not so much when they get thrown at me in big groups, but they properly panic me whenever they show up in the middle of a gang of imps or Hell Knights. Like a wildcard thrown in that I either have to eliminate as quickly as possible or risk getting thrown off balance and chomped when I’m not watching my back.
Monsters are important though. But you can’t have DOOM without guns. I thought the selection was a bit of a mixed bag myself but I’ve spoken to a few people who found guns I’d ignored really useful and were shocked I’d stuck with my chosen loadout. That’s a good sign, I’d say. Like you, I’m playing through on Nightmare now and I’ve changed my Big Two completely. I’ll spill on what my picks are when I’ve heard yours.
Alec: I only use the pistol.
I was waiting for you to say something, but you’re calling my bluff, aren’t you? Yeah, yeah, I get it. My big two are the assault rifle and rocket launcher, I think, but it’s really a big four, with shotgun and minigun in the mix just as much. I don’t like the Super Shotgun much, oddly, and my aim’s off with the plasma rifle. And, if I’m honest, the triple shot of the rocket launcher and shotgun with the right mods is too much of a hoot and I probably use them as a crutch.
I suspect the real remix for me as I get deeper into my second play is the weapon mods - I found favourites very fast and never really bothered with the alternatives, such as the shotgun’s explosive shot or the option to detonate rockets in mid-air. Whole new layers of strategy, I suspect.
Adam: Yeah, I think it’s natural to settle on something that works and stick with it. My big two are the Gauss Cannon and Super Shotgun, with rockets and minigun as backup. I hated the Gauss Cannon until I got the sniper-style upgrade for it and now it’s that for range and Super Shotgun up close. I haven’t fired a single shell from the original shotgun since I found the Super Shotgun. I figured Doomguy had just melted it down and turned it into a shoulder pad or something.
I kind of want to do a pistol only playthrough because I’m an idiot.
I’d still be allowed to use the chainsaw though because it’s basically a magical ability rather than a weapon. And that’s really clever, how the glory kills make health spew out and the chainsaw makes ammo spew out, and the whole conservation of resources is directly about killing things. It’s not loot or experience or anything that might SLOW THINGS DOWN, it’s just a natural result of murdering things in specific ways.
Alec: It’s enormously clever design, because it’s also secretly training you to keep moving in order that you can then cope with the later levels. To start with you keep running and glory-killing because it releases the goodies you need to survive, then after a few hours’ of practice dancing the endless dance is second nature, but no longer about the replenishment of health to the same extent - it’s about pure avoidance and crowd control. For such a dumb game, it’s ridiculously clever.
Here’s a thing: why was it that so many of us simply presumed this game would be no good?
Adam: For me, it was the multiplayer beta. I’d been hoping for good things until then but it really soured me on the whole game, which was foolish. It wasn’t just that I didn’t have a particularly good time with it (though not a particularly bad time either), I was underwhelmed into submission. But I started to get this horrible feeling that the multiplayer was the thing, that the singleplayer would be the tacked-on bit, and even if it were going to be a big solid mode, I couldn’t see the floaty bullet-soaky combat in the multiplayer translating into a decent singleplayer DOOM game.
That, along with a tendency to put doubts before hype when it comes to Big Name Revivals probably accounted for a lot of my personal wariness. There’s probably something to be said for the fact that - and this sounds a bit wanky but I’m sticking with it - the kind of FPS design I wanted from a new Doom seemed like a bit of a lost art. Wolfenstein came back strong with The New Order, but it was a total reinvention, a big narrative singleplayer FPS with loads of environments and a big sad man as the hero. Shadow Warrior worked for me, but that didn’t feel like a huge statement - it was a silly reboot of a very silly game.
DOOM had to be something special. The original is so many things to so many people and Doom 3 tried to be some of those things. It succeeded in some cases, I reckon, but it was trying to be a very specific small part of Doom that didn’t need to be stretched out over however many hours it lasted.
This DOOM feels like the most important bits with the fat boiled off. Doom broth. I bet there are people who don’t recognise what they loved of the original in it though.
Alec: Some people are pretty pissed about the chainsaw and the glory kills. Which I get, particularly the former as you never get to go on a rampage with it, but the latter is crucial to what makes DOOM sing and feel so damn fast. Something I’m surprised to have not heard any griping about is the double-jump. I mean, DOOM didn’t even have jump and now it’s got something traditionally associated with platformers. But again, it’s absolutely crucial to the game, and to making it feel like a full 3D space rather than a nest of corridors. You’re always up and down and over and around and it’s so instinctive, in a way that even standard jumping in a convential shooter is not. I never once thought “oh god, can I make it, or I am going to jump and fail then sit and wait through another damn loading screen”, but instead “yeah, that’s where I’m going next.” I knew from sight what was and wasn’t possible - with the exception of a few secrets that required more precision or leftfield thinking.
The reason I thought DOOM was going to be gloom, by the way, was the rather dour screenshots. While obviously very high-tech they’re very much in the modern id idiom - the idiom, if you will - of bleak’n’gruesome rather than bright and colourful, and that had me presuming it just hadn’t learned the lessons of Quake IV and Doom III. I’m so happy to have been wrong, even if I still mourn cherry-red Cacodemons.
Adam: Earth is a bit more colourful. They should bring Hell there. I’d definitely be up for more, whether it’s an expansion or a sequel.
Alec: I’ve got an awful feeling they’ve only planned a bunch of multiplayer DLC no-one wants as that seemed to be the side of the game they were pushing hardest. We’ll probably get an Old Blood-style new standalone game next year, though. Which - and getting into spoilers here- could either be Earlier Adventures Of The Mythic Doom Marine or he gets taken out the box by Robodoc to do a bit more demon-bothering. They’ve definitely set it up for the latter, in a sort of shitty co-opting of the original Half-Life’s ending.
I wish so, so much that the story had ended with Doomguy simply punching Robobore’s face right off. It was such a bummer to become god of war and then just get put in a box by the least interesting robot ever created. Especially as Doomguy had done so well at solving every other plot problem with punching up until that point.
Adam: When you say Earlier Adventures Of The Mythic Doom Marine, I’m going to assume you mean one expansion set in the 1970s and one in the 1980s. Good. I agree. And I suspect that is where we should leave our Doom Marine for now - basking in the glory of his kills and his critical adoration, while waiting to see which decade he shall conquer next.
Wait, do you think they’d actually do Doom Vs The Army Of Darkness? They probably should.
Alec: Send him in to Fallout 4. The bloody Institute wouldn’t last five minutes.