The story in the new Doom game is noticeably underwhelming. A nondescript marine is resurrected by a robot scientist to close the portal to Hell opened by a different experimental scientist. Now demons run rampant across the research facility on Mars, and the Doom Marine must vanquish his foes in hopes of saving the universe from being overrun by blood-thirsty creatures. In the end, after picking up recordings and watching holograms discuss crucial occurrences, the robot, Samuel Hayden, insists that he needs to continue his research to solve Earth’s energy crisis.
While some may consider the whole experience as a comment on alternative energy, climate change, and our looming day of reckoning for countless years of wastefulness and general disregard for the planet we inhabit, many more will likely view their time with Doom in a considerably different light.
Instead of forging onward with accepted conventions of modern video games (especially shooters), the developers over at id Software have taken a bloody moment to look through the rearview mirror to a different time—an era where the story world of games was not an attempt at high art, but merely a serviceable addition to an experience that held the ultimate goal of being, well, fun.
Doom is a ‘90s first person shooter rewrapped with ornate graphics, furnished with high frame rates and decked out with a robust inventory system. At its core, Doom catapults players back to the fast and frenetic days of shooters that preached quickness and on-the-spot scheming over the cover-to-cover, strategically oriented nature that has consumed the genre today.
The original Doom came out in 1993, and in the world of video games that is practically prehistoric. Yet if the tech of today was available in the early ‘90s, I’d say that Doom 2016 is a near-perfect representation of what the original would have resembled. First person shooters didn’t really reach their heyday until the early 2000s with games like Halo, Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Medal of Honor. Each of these well-regarded franchises owes a lot to Doom, even though they changed the genre significantly.
Still, it’s not a total surprise that Doom plays like a game built when Bill Clinton was in office, given who made it. The legendary studio behind all Doom games, id Software, is essentially the godfather of shooters. Starting with Wolfenstein 3D in 1992, the then new and unproven development studio introduced video game fans to a new perspective where a player sees only the barrel of a gun. Although the initial first person shooter didn’t take itself too seriously, its followup, the original Doom, was anything but parody. Dark and forbidding, eery and compulsively violent, id Software tapped into a type of game that would eventually become one of the de facto genres for massive hits. During the ramp up, games like Unreal, Quake, Duke Nukem, Half Life, and System Shock tweaked the formula of Doom in an attempt to make it their own, a new experience for fans of the bullet spraying, balls to walls firepower crescendo.
BIG FUCKING GUN IN ACTION
No one game has truly defined and mastered the “shooter” genre. But Doom 2016, a game that has no business being as good as it is, is the closest rendition of unfiltered, gruesome madness that exists in shooters today.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a fan of modern first person shooters with their pleasing aesthetics, intuitive and well-thought out controls, and enemy intelligence that rightly forces you into cover to strategically plan your next discharged clip. I can agree that with the growth of any vibrant industry, better things come along (with any luck), and that, in art especially, more cleverly wrought offerings are almost always signs of learning and maturation.
Doom, in all of its unbridled chaos, hasn’t really learned anything in the near quarter century since it made its initial mark, and that alone paints a staggering portrait of the genre it inhabits. If we follow the singular glaring reason to center a game around putting a gun at the forefront of player vision, that the gun is there to shoot, then Doom is once again king among first person shooters.
There are five difficulty levels in Doom: “I’m Too Young to Die,” “Hurt Me Plenty,” “Ultra-Violence,” “Nightmare,” and “Ultra-Nightmare.” Within the first four specifically (Ultra-Nightmare is a permanent death variant where if you die once, that’s it), the upward trend of the scale defies common logic. In nearly all modern shooters, the harder the game gets, the more careful a player must be with movements. In Doom, the higher the challenge, the quicker and more fearless a player must be to succeed. The game teaches players that what they thought they knew about shooters is useless here and in the process brings an old-but-new promise to a genre that has become stale in many respects. A proverbial contract with the player is created—rooted in buried ’90s nostalgia and revolutionary gameplay.
Doom settles into its stride with an intoxicating heavy metal score and swarms of fiery demons with the conviction to bring the marine to his knees, and the only way to stave off death is to be constantly moving and shooting. Compared to today’s norm, Doom is on speed. It’s as if the game is constantly on turbo, hyper-accelerated by a ‘90s style cheat code. Despite its many similarities to another age of gaming, Doom largely benefits from today’s hardware, which allows for such a rapid pace. From eviscerating hoards of enemies to jumping across platforms in search of scarce ammo and health pickups, Doom amplifies the journey to Hell and back.
After a few of the opening missions, I became oddly enamored with the level design. At the top of the screen there is a compass dictating the distance to the next objective, but other than that, Doom doesn’t hold your hand. Opposed to falling into what is now considered to most as good level design within the genre, the sort that conveniently reveals paths and nudges players forward by highlighting avenues of progression, Doom demands that players find their own way. At times, it seems like moving forward is impossible, until you find a jutted out rock that can be used as a transition to reaching a severed metal bridge that can then be used as a means to leaping through a doorway. Doom’s broken and battered environments possess subtleties that are actually more realistic than the perfectly placed structures of today’s refined and “hyper-realistic” shooters.
The rebirth of Doom serves as an excellent throwback to a different time in gaming, an arguably more glorious period of innovation and discovery, when risks were taken in hopes of unearthing something to build off of. More importantly, Doom is a reminder that sometimes things are actually just right the first time around. If video games were originally conceived as pure entertainment, and entertainment is supposed to be, above all else, fun and engaging, Doom is an unapologetic, wicked ode to what we have lost since the turn of the century.
Steven Petite attempts to divide his time between freelance and fiction writing, reading far too many novels, and playing half a dozen games simultaneously. He is a lifelong Cleveland native, and consequently a tortured sports enthusiast. He is a staff writer for Fiction Southeast and The Rock Office. He has frequently written for The Huffington Post and his fiction has appeared in Cigale Literary Magazine.
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