Author: Lee Levine
Image credit: iD Software
Doom‘s 2016 revival must surely be in the running for biggest surprise of the year. At one stage, id Software’s long-overdue shooter seemed like it was walking the same path as Duke Nukem Forever, a vapourware project that felt more like a myth than a game you could actually sit down and play with your hands one day.
Yet like a shotgun blast to the gut it exploded out of nowhere, soaking wet with gore; it was gloriously fast-pace, but with such tangible heft you could really feel each of its jaw-snapping, arm-breaking glory kills resonate through the pores of your sweating palms.
In short, it’s the Doom sequel the majority of us wanted and while it chucked a load of new tricks into the arsenal, such as executions, upgrade systems and the SnapMap creator, it really did feel like id’s 1993 original in many ways. That’s not a small achievement either, considering how many reboots just can’t help but piss all over the legacy of their source material. One of the game’s best victories might not appear so obvious at first, but I’ll do my best to explain:
It’s that Doomguy is the perfect video game hero, and here’s why.
Who is Doomguy, really?
Now before you start going nuts and trying to glory kill your PC screen or rip your phone in half, hear me out. I’m talking about Doomguy as a concept, because let’s face it, he really doesn’t have what you’d call a character – in fact, he’s as shallow as a paddling pool that’s been left to melt in the summer heat.
What do you think of when you remember back to why the original Doom got so many people pumped up? Was it long drawn out cut scenes explaining every little detail of the game world’s lore? How about protection missions, like when you have to safeguard an AI chum who takes forever to hack a door open (they’re not getting boring at all, huh)? Perhaps it was QTEs, dialogue trees or karma systems?
Well obviously it’s none of those.
The original Doom was built on a few simple ideas: kill everything in sight, sprint around at lightning pace, and become the ultimate badass – the manifesto according to Carmack and Romero, the three commandments of id Software. Simple. Fun.
So who is Doomguy 2016 really? He’s a representation of the old-school Doom fan, the ones who just want to get their hands bloody and tear shit up with the super shotgun while exploring every inch of map for secrets.
I’ve not gone mental, and here’s why this is the case.
Don’t need no stinking tropes
Doom 2016 opens with our new Doomguy chained to a table, seconds away from having his face gnashed off by a possessed UAC soldier. Within moments you’ve wrenched yourself free thanks to your unexplained strength and you’re running about ripping freaking demons in half with your bare hands.
Is any of it explained? Well…yeah kind of, but not until much later on in the 10-12+ hours campaign, but even then it’s pretty weak story-telling, and I also think the wafer thin narrative is absolutely intentional, because who cares about plot really? It’s Doom for goodness sake.
Many would argue that this is no excuse for a lackluster plot, and that perhaps id Software is being lazy, but then again there are plenty of story codex items to pick up throughout the campaign. So if you’d rather be reading instead of, you know, wrenching off a Baron of Hell’s horns and jamming them up through its own eye sockets, then be our guest – it’s a free country after all.
You can sum up the story in 17 words – scientist on Mars open a portal to Hell, it literally breaks loose, you win, the end – OK that was only 16, so here’s another one at random – strawberries. This nonchalant approach to the story behind the events of Doom is reflected in Doomguy, and I’d place cash that many of you rolled your eyes whenever the plot kicked in.
I’m guessing you just wanted to get through the cut scenes quickly so you could start tearing shit up again. I did the same to be honest, and to see Doomguy get visibly impatient made me laugh on a few occasions. There’s a particularly telling section where you have to shut down several Argent generators to try and close the portal to Hell.
When faced with these devices, scientist Samuel Hayden starts explaining the delicate process of shutting them down, and mid-sentence Doomguy just starts kicking the crap out of them until they break. Of course Hayden is distraught because you’re destroying his life’s work, but you ignore him and take the other machines out the same way.
There’s no time for hacking mini-games or bloated sequences where your character somehow knows how to shut down complex machinery, despite showing no prior technical intellect. He just kicks the crap out of the thing to shut down the other thing and then go kill some more things.
If id Software made Half-Life…
You’re probably all getting a little bored by people saying that Half-Life‘s Gordon Freeman is the best game character ever because he never speaks and that enables players to imprint their own personality, emotion and plot theories onto him – like some kind of crowbar wielding mannequin.
But this isn’t really new or unique anymore, as there’s loads of instances where this happens, such as fellow 2016 juggernaut Dark Souls 3 where your character never utters a single word. But rewind a moment; the original 1993 Doomguy never spoke either, so technically the same rings true in that release as well?
Well of course it does. When you really think back to when you were a kid playing Doom for the first time, that first playthrough was genuinely scary. You also have to understand that while the 1993 game feels very primitive and totally non-threatening today, it really was properly creepy back then.
There was a sustained sense of dread smothered across each claustrophobic corridor and chamber, where there could be a horde of Cacodemons or Pinkys ready to charge around the next corner. But besides his face at the bottom of the screen, Doomguy never told you that he was afraid or explained his thoughts through internal monologue. He was you, and you were him, plain and simple.
The same goes for a repeating scene in Doom 2016 that plays out whenever you encounter a flying upgrade drone. You quickly approach it, choose the upgrade you want and then punch the crap out of the robot to get what you need to increase your killing power. It’s almost the game’s way of saying, “Yeah we know you think these upgrades are tedious; go on, punch the thing to get the thing and go kill more things.”
This is the vibe running throughout the whole campaign, and it works because Doom‘s unrelenting pace and challenge keeps you so utterly locked in the moment, demanding of every shred of your attention, that you really do start getting tuned into it, like a symbiosis that’s hard to explain.
But when you’re chaining glory kills in a small arena full of about 30 demons all screaming and baying for your blood, you’ll get that feeling too. There’s been nothing quite like it – or Doomguy – this year so far, and that’s testament to just how well id Software has knocked it out of the park.
So thanks for being badass Doomguy, and giving us a blank slate to imprint our own lust for carnage and simple gameplay onto. If only other games and their protagonists managed to keep their core values this simple and fluid instead of overdoing it…