I finished DOOM (2016) sometime ago, however i’ve lately been going back to it again, thus racking up nearly 30 hours with the game so far. Sadly it is highly unusual for me to invest so much time into an FPS title in recent years, so that naturally brings up the question of: why?
In examining that question i came to quite a lot of reasons that i didn’t cover in my review of the title, and more interestingly enough it revealed how deep DOOM is despite its seemingly mindless presentation.
So the first place to start in unpacking why DOOM is such a great game we have to look at the most obvious of its traits: the violence.
IT IS 100% GUILT FREE
One of the last AAA FPS titles that i paid a full price for was Call of Duty: World at War*, and towards the end of the incredibly short single player campaign you participate in the Battle of Berlin. The video below is from the level’s opening seconds:
As Dave Grossman points out in his book On Killing (great book by the way i highly recommend) one of the ways that countries train their armed forces to kill effectively is to dehumanise the enemy, and for the scene above to work you have to view that soldier they shot in the head as not a human (obviously he isn’t he is a CGI animation but bear with me). This works and has worked in the past, as its very easy to dehumanise Nazi’s on the basis that they’re Nazis. But as a child playing Medal of Honor: Allied Assault i was ignorant of the broader picture.
By the time of the Battle of Berlin, Nazi Germany was beat. It was a pile of rubble that only the most deluded of their leadership believed could be saved, i’m willing to say that most of the soldiers fighting in the ruined streets of Berlin weren’t fighting for their vile ideology and failed racist policies. They were likely fighting to just to make it to the next day, or the next hour, or even just the next few seconds. They were fighting for their lives, and if i were in their situation i would do the same. So seeing that man beg for his life and being shot, while Gary Oldman proclaims: “This is how you win a war!” doesn’t elicit the expected result.
DOOM does the same thing, opening with this speech:
The game tells you that the enemies you will fight are without pity or remorse and it implores you to be worse, and it works.
It works because you’re literally fighting evil. So by the nature of their design when you do this to one of them:
You are making the world an objectively better place, despite (and in fact because) of its sadism. Despite having killed thousands of them, not a single bit of remorse or guilt crosses my mind.
The game actively rewards aggression by design, it genuinely encourages me to get as intimate as possible with the various screeching monstrosities it throws at me. It does this by giving the players 2 flavors of shotgun that remain viable weapon choices throughout the game, by dishing out health in using the glory kill mechanic, and by making the use of the chainsaw instantly refill your ammo.
It involves me effectively in dishing out savage carnage, which brings us to the most important point.
IT IS HIGHLY INTERACTIVE
When you look at different forms of media/art you can see that there are defining characteristics that make it unique. Paintings have their stillness, books and poetry have their diction and descriptions, and movies have their picture and sound editing. The defining trait of video games is unsurprisingly their interactivity, and the core of interactivity is the ability to make choices.
AAA FPS games lost me because (as i pointed out earlier) they limited player choice in a number of crucial ways. One of them as TotalBiscuit points out in this video is the linearity of MMS campaigns. Now you may cry foul that DOOM’s campaign is linear in design, and you would be right. All narrative games are by the very nature linear, as stories all have a beginning, middle and end (though not necessarily in that order). But if you watch TotalBiscuit’s video, and if you play FPS games like World at War, Modern Warfare 2, Killzone 2** you will hopefully see that their linearity has been taken to the absolute extreme.
The most obvious of which is forcing the player to use a limited amount of guns, Killzone 2 for example only allows you the option to carry one type of gun at any one time. This drastically limits player choice options, and thus limits interactivity. It forces certain weapons upon the player by cutting off supplies of ammunition, or designing large parts of the level purposefully for a single type of weapon.
DOOM doesn’t bother with any of that, the weapons you gather throughout the campaign you keep with you and in a master stroke you keep all of your current weapons even when replaying older levels. It doesn’t trouble with trying to answer the “realistic” question of where the Doom Marine keeps his 14 different weapons of varying sizes, because that shit doesn’t matter. What matters is that the player has varied choices, and it’s a winning combination.
DOOM’s more relaxed linearity is carried over to its narrative, tutorials, and game/level design.
DOOM’s level of narrative (aside from some mandatory cut scenes) involvement is based heavily on player choice. As much of the back story and motivations of the supporting characters are elaborated on in well written codex entries. You’re free to read and explore the origins and motivations of the Doom Marine, or you can read up on how detestable Olivia Pierce truly is, or you can completely ignore all of that at your leisure. I naturally like to explore and look around the environments i get plopped in thus it took me about 15-20 hours to get through the campaign, but speed runners (without glitches) have been able to blaze through it in less than 5.
Another shocking thing was how i didn’t know how to switch out weapon modifications after i first purchased two for the combat shotgun. As tutorials aren’t forced upon the player, you can ignore them and use the base weapons (as they are highly effective without enhancements) or you can swap them out on the fly. I ignored the tutorial until i was curious enough to try using some different weapon modification, so i clicked tab and read on my own initiative.
The levels are masterfully designed to reward player exploration, player choice, and player re-visitation. As poking around allowed me to acquire powerful weapons (notably i got the Super Shotgun and Plasma Gun) earlier than their mandatory first appearances (and ammo is also included in the level as well). Revisiting The Foundry specifically with the double jump unlocked will allow you to progress through it faster. The many Shootouts in DOOM usually occur in multi tiered and expansive levels, where a player is presented with multiple options of running circles, zig zagging, or jumping over the various forms of baddies sent to kill you.
The end result is that despite having played the opening shoot out in Kadingir Sanctum at least a half-dozen times, and every one of those experiences has been different. I can choose to use a combination of weapons, or try to stick with one. I can use the verticality of the level and mobility of the Doom Marine to run circles around my enemies, or i can charge straight at them and give them a chainsaw enema. You can watch videos of people fighting the last boss and see that different players use different methods (weapons) to kill it, and all methods are effective.
As who would have thought that when you increase player choice in a video game, as opposed to taking it away via limited combat options and forced pacing, you would get a fantastic interactive experience. Its down right shocking and depressing that DOOM feels as refreshing as it does, as nothing it does is really new. All of the interactivity listed above (except jumping) was present in the original DooM, and that was released in 1993!
IT WORKS AS ADVERTISED
I was taught many years ago that all commercials are lies. I learned the truth of that while i worked as and worked alongside sales people. Selling anything requires a bit of lying, or to put it less harshly: a bending of the truth, or an embellishment of some facts.
I’m sure that people around me are sick to death of me bringing up this trailer but i do it because i feel this is a commercial that lies the least:
While some minor details are embellished the commercial doesn’t lie about the experience. It is really that intense, violent, and glorious. None of the promotional material that i saw lied about the game (i don’t rule out there was some though, but again none of what i saw did so), and in this day and age where Aliens: Colonial Marines released a trailer like this:
and players ended up with a game like this:
Also when taken into account that most recently No Man’s Sky also released to massive hype and equally massive disappointment due to its creator spouting out lie after lie after lie, DOOM being honest about its features is sadly highly commendable.
IT IS FUCKING METAL
There is no other satisfactory description to describe a game when the denizens of Hell come screeching out of the walls, floors, and ceilings. While you’re hurling them back with bullets, plasma, satisfying explosions, and your own bare hands, all the while tracks like this are blaring in the background:
DOOM is indeed Fucking. Metal.
And that’s awesome and satisfying in the way that only hard metal is.
IT IS FUCKING INCLUSIVE
It annoys me when all of these critics that bang on their pots and pans about gender inclusivity and neutrality miss a gem like DOOM. The various possessed humans in DOOM are deformed to the point of being unrecognisable husks or meat wads, with gender identifying traits like breast plates, feminine walking or sitting animations, large hips, or chain mail bikinis thrown to the wind. You the player can imprint them with any gender you want:
Look to Olivia Pierce for an example of a strong female character, she survived a terminal illness by making a tough decision, she climbed the corporate ladder, she orchestrated and planned and aided Hell’s invasion of our dimension, and lastly she gets turned into the monstrous and prophesied final boss who is as large, tough, and contemptibly ugly as all of the rest of hordes of Hell you blast back into the abyss.
She displays through her actions, and quotes from her codex entries that she can be as calculating, ambitious, ruthless, and down right evil as any one could hope to be. All of this in spite of her gender and physical disabilities.
It doesn’t stop there, The Revenant is a shining example of gender neutrality in design and lore; as UAC operatives and volunteers are encouraged to join the Revenant program where all identifying features are melted off or covered up with various electronics. To top that off the Revenant features heavily into DOOM’s marketing and promoted images.
While i’m not remotely interested in the subject to do some real digging, i haven’t found or heard of anyone shouting loud and enthusiastically from the roof tops that DOOM is a game for everyone. They haven’t said we need more games like DOOM, and while many of their demands are unreasonable and conflicting i have to agree to their unstated point that we do indeed need more games like DOOM in this world (you know… good ones).
IS IT ART THOUGH?
I think this is a fair question, considering that DOOM fulfills just about all of my requirements for what art should be (as explained here).
But i’m going to say: No.
No i don’t consider DOOM to be a work of art, not because it doesn’t offer insight into the creators or myself (it does, i now know without a shadow of a doubt why i left behind FPS games) and it offers more than just visceral emotion (as displayed above). The chief reason for this is that DOOM didn’t surprise me, as i think any great work of art will give that little exclamation of: Oh…
When various voices raised questions about the game’s level of violence i knew the game was on the right track. When i saw the trailers and gameplay footage i knew that i would love DOOM, and i did.
No surprises to be had, just quality fun and plain old good times.