Yes, Doom is back, and it’s back with a vengeance, a never before seen ferocity that makes most other shooters pale in comparison. I picked it up during a sale late last year, so I was a bit late in joining the fray, but I finished it a while back, and so now it’s time to write about it. Doom’s soundtrack playing in the background full blast, fingers off of WASD for once and in typing mode. Let’s do this.
Where it started
Doom is special to me. Always has been, because it was the very first FPS I played. However Doom is not the oldest FPS I played. That honor goes to Wolfenstein 3D, id Software’s second IP after Commander Keen, a game I only heard about, but never really got into. Let me start by admitting something that in hindsight I’m ashamed about: I cheated my way through Doom on my first playthrough. But hey, I was 8, so moral schmoral. Git gud was not in my vocabulary back then. Of course, after realizing how boring that was, I gave the proper way a go, but never got past “Hey not too rough” as a difficulty setting, the only difficulty I was able to finish the game in. Don’t know if I’d manage higher now, maybe I’ll try that some time.
Where it continued
Fast forward 23 years. Ouch, talk about feeling old. I have not played any of the successors of the original Doom, so it’s been a long time since I last ventured to Mars’ UAC (Union Aerospace Corporation) base. I had no real expectations going in other than that it was brutal as hell. I watched some trailers, that’s it.
The first thing I noticed: the deep, juicy bassline in the menu. That was promising. I like a meaty soundtrack, and boy is this one. More about that later. The first dilemma: will I play on ‘Hurt Me Plenty’, or will I nose dive into ‘Ultra Violence’… I picked the former. Again, Doom scares me enough difficulty-wise to be wary, I’ll see where I get and I’ll no doubt play it again someday anyway.
Let me start by saying that this iteration of Doom, although it’s full of references to the original Doom in music, graphics, enemies, etc, has very little to do with its ancestor. It’s far more brutal, making it more related to one of the later created mods for Doom, Brutal Doom, which also included melee finishers, just like this one does. You have an absolutely bonkers arsenal of weapons to your disposal, ranging from a Combat Shotgun, a Heavy Assault Rifle, a Rocket Launcher, the infamous Chainsaw, and my absolute favorite with which I killed most enemies: the Super Shotgun. Two sawed off barrels of mayhem that annihilate whatever comes too close. This means it’s not suited for all enemies, but for the ones that want to come up in your face: their loss. Of limbs. Combined with the necessary buffs that you can pick up in just about every fight, you feel invincible, running around, shooting things and finishing them off with a Glory Kill.
And that brings me to what is probably my favorite part of Doom, the Glory Kill. The first hours I was playing, I was constantly laughing. Caeda didn’t understand, I was playing a game full of gore and nasty stuff, and I was giggling like a five year old. It first appears in the tutorial, where you shoot an enemy, and it glows blue. That means you can run towards them until they turn orange, and orange is basically the equivalent of FINISH HIM. You press the melee button and presto skull smash. Or break neck. Or tear off limb and smash to death. Or my favorite: break off huge fang tooth and jam in skull. Because of this mechanic, finding a Gore Nest quickly became my favorite thing. Basically you rip out its heart, which obviously the surrounding demons do not appreciate. They proceed to come at you with everything they got. You start jumping around, sometimes frantically looking for health or armor, but you do not relent. You do not break. You keep going until every last of them is gone. And that, is the true god mode. No code required.
Let me tell you, that feeling alone makes Doom an excellent stress reliever. You come home from a long day at work, grab an energy drink, boot up your PC, put on headphones, crank every possible thing up to eleven and start smashing things to bits. Wonderful. It’s so fast, so brutal, so insane that I honestly could not play it for more than two hours. After that I was drained, exhausted, my brain could do no more. Could mean I’m getting old, but I have read from multiple people that I am definitely not alone in this. The funny thing about that: I also felt relaxed, relieved, and absolutely satisfied. Huh. How about that?!
That’s it really. You gradually make your way through the game level after level, enemies get bigger and more brutal (looking at you, Baron Of Hell), and weapons get stronger and stronger, just like in any other game. You also get the ability to upgrade your suit and weapons, which allows you to go for a little bit more passive and defensive playstyle, aka the wrong playstyle, or a more aggressive, high risk, high gain playstyle. Now we’re talking. I will of course not spoil anything, but one thing I would like to mention: I was very pleasantly surprised to see something I didn’t remember from the original Doom games, because it was so long ago, but Doom has actual boss fights with actual boss mechanics. If you’ve played the original game, you might already know what I’m talking about. This, as a fan of Bloodborne and Dark Souls, of course was right up my alley. They were actually pretty tough too, which only made it more fun!
For what it’s worth, because for me that’s not what this game was about, Doom does have a story. You wake up in a room, tied down. You free yourself from your shackles just in time to grab the zombie-like, slowly walking towards you, Possessed by its head, and smash its skull on the stone tablet you’re lying on. Oh boy. Dis gun b gud. You grab a handgun, headshot the rest of the slowpokes, and walk out of the room. And there she is. Your Praetor Suit, the infamous suit on the cover art of the original game, albeit a bit more advanced. You suit up, and talk to Dr. Samuel Hayden. He tells you he can help you find out what is going in the UAC station you woke up in, which becomes your first mission: repair the satellite uplink that shows the status of the entire station, and wakes up the AI brain of the station: VEGA. This is all pretty straightforward, but from then on there’s a spiral like you’ve never seen before. It’s so ridiculously farfetched it becomes interesting, and you actually become invested a bit in finding out what’s happened to make things go so completely excremental. Eventually finding out who you are, what caused Hell to stretch its legs and visit Mars, and who’s behind all of it, was pretty fun.
I have a pretty decent PC, so with maxed out settings I had no problem getting up to the 200fps cap. But if you look at how absolutely beautiful Doom is, I find it quite impressive how they managed to pull that off. Even in heavily loaded scenes with lots of flint floating around, fire all over the place, dozens of angry demons jumping at me and shooting stuff at me, and fast paced action combined with all sorts of lighting effects, I never went below 120fps. If you take the time to stop and smell the sulfur (because there are actually moments you’re not slaying demons) and have a look at the amount of detail the designers and artists put in every single level, object and texture, you’ll be amazed.
Last, but definitely, definitely not least, the soundtrack. Oh boy the soundtrack. Press play, and read on.
As it’s blasting through my (and maybe your) headphones as we speak, a thick, juicy bassline is making its way into my ears, making my entire body feel like it’s being jolted by a nuclear power plant. It got the award for best music and sound, which technically includes every breaking bone, every shotgun blast, every plasma bolt and, of course, every bit of bass, guitar and drum. Without its soundtrack, Doom is just another shooter.
I just recently watched a short Youtube video titled “The Brilliance of Doom’s Soundtrack”, where they talk about different games and their soundtracks, and how Doom distinguishes itself from all of them by taking quite a unique approach. It’s a pretty long game compared to the original one, yet in fact only a handful of tracks are in its playlist. However each and every track is broken down into segments (verse, chorus, etc) and thrown into one big container. Depending on your actions, the game picks something from the container and starts playing it. This creates an endless variation of the same couple of songs, thus creating an infinite amount of music available to provide any given situation a matching soundtrack. And the beauty of it: as a player you have no idea that that is happening. Mick Gordon really hit a homerun for me with Doom’s soundtrack, and deserves every bit of merit he’s gotten for it.
If I’m not counting Overwatch (I’ll be writing a GWD on that as well), Doom definitely was my favorite game of 2016. It had everything. It was the perfect game to pick up even for just half an hour, slay some demons, delete all frustrations and feel relaxed and satisfied after. It looks gorgeous, is absolutely brutal, and it had the perfect soundtrack to match. Doom is not a game. It’s an experience, and one you should have for yourself, if you have the stomach for it. Well done id Software, you guys can still deliver.