This week, Morgan reviews the best-selling testosterone-ridden shoot ‘em up of 2016, in a misguided attempt to become the alpha male.
Imagine my disappointment, readers.
Okay, that’s enough imagining, now to put it into words.
Already I can feel the judgemental gaze of a few close associates on the back of my neck as I type this, so perhaps I ought to make my opinion as clear as possible before we continue: Doom is a game that I can definitely see appealing to a lot of people, just not to me. This is possibly a surprising change in course for a man who spends most of his life categorising things into the neat little boxes of “shit” and “basically okay” (and on very rare occasions, perhaps blowing the cobwebs off “good” for the kind of treasure that comes every once in a blue moon and has to be retrieved by the likes of Indiana Jones). Therefore, perhaps it is best that I start, as I always do, with the plot.
The plot is, demons from hell show up in a research facility on Mars.
“…sounds like there was going to be an “and” in there somewhere, Morgan.”
No, that’s about it. Demons from hell show up in a research facility on Mars. Doom takes the classic “alien invasion” story model and decides to hardcore it up a notch or thirty. Demons are generally bringing down the vibe of the place and you, the Doom Slayer, would rather they didn’t, thank you very much. And now you’re going to go out there and show them the error of their ways with the power of love, friendship, and an entire regiment’s worth of guns that you never have to reload.
How’s this for a quote to stick on the promotional material: Doom is a game so intense it physically assaults you. If I’m ever asked to describe this game in one word, chances are “loud” would be the first adjective to spring to mind. The music – and this is the point where I guarantee that the mob will soon be outside my window with their pitchforks and torches – is noisy and irritating, with electric guitars screeching to life the moment a solitary imp dares to put so much as a single toe in the same suburb as you.
I think my biggest personal issue with Doom is that I feel no real motivation to keep the blood-spattered parade going for very long because I don’t hate the enemies enough. I’m just some dickhead in a space suit destroying the nesting ground of some poor hell spawn, who’s clearly gone to a lot of effort enslaving enough human scientists to get it all built nice and tidy. Yes, I know that demons are meant to be so exaggeratedly evil that they can’t even have a boiled egg for breakfast without forcing the hen that laid it to watch, but it never feels like you’re thinning their ranks or making any sort of real progress. Contextually, your player character is the only human they’re scared of, but that still doesn’t stop them from charging you head-on with the same effectiveness one would expect from a new-born puppy attempting to headbutt the whirring blades of a combine harvester.
It may seem like I’m harbouring some sort of double standard once you consider the fact that Booker DeWitt (the main character from Bioshock Infinite) also suffered from a chronic case of bell end-itis and yet I gave that a good review. But the villain in that game was proven to be a self-centred prick who had brainwashed half an entire population and oppressed the other, all with a light smile on his face and the excuse that it was for religious reasons. He was smugly sure that no-one could topple him and you were by that point fully prepared to climb up his ivory tower and punch him so hard in the mouth he’d swallow his own teeth.
But Doom isn’t even set on Earth, for crying out loud. At least that might have proven to be some sort of motivation, even if in the most basic sense. I mean, we like Earth, all of our stuff is there. But Mars? Who gives a fuck? I think we’d better write this place off as a lost cause, lads, maybe move to Jupiter or Saturn or some place where mystical portals to hell aren’t conjured from the ether every half hour.
…what’s that? Gameplay? It’s fine. Again, that’s all I can say about it. It’s fine. Perfectly functional. Run into a room AKA a chamber AKA your own personal abattoir, kill all the demons that were up until this point minding their own business and then proceed to the next. Occasionally it’s broken up by what can only be described as some random attempt to give you an epileptic seizure, flashing pentagrams and occult symbols at you whilst something nondescript screeches in the background. Maybe that’s why so many people love this game; it spends its loading screens planting hypnotic suggestions into their heads.
There’s a frankly insane number of weapons you get to carry around: a pistol, a shotgun, a minigun, a plasma rifle, another shotgun, an assault rifle, a shotgun again…
To me, the best course of action was to take the super shotgun, which deals the largest amount of damage at close range, jump around like a caffeine-riddled grasshopper and hopefully kill the next enemy that came around the corner before they could kill me. It proved effective, but there was always this single lingering thought at the back of my mind:
You know, something is missing from this essential gameplay experience. Oh yes, that’s right. I’m not having any fun.
Cathartic though it is to slam a demon’s head into the ground with enough force for it to fly apart like a watermelon with polio, it does start to get a bit same-y after the first fifty billion times. It certainly didn’t help things when it also became apparent that the game’s idea of ramping up the difficulty was to just spawn stronger demons every three rooms, as well as the weaker ones in a larger quantity.
There’s never any real need for thoughtful planning when you’re built like a double-decker bus and can cause an imp’s stomach to burst up out of their chest cavity by glaring at them too hard. As far as strategy goes, you storm up to the nearest denizen of hell, say “hey, does the end of this shotgun smell like guts to you?” and decorate the workspace with a delightful burst of head-fetti. You shoot and shoot and shoot and then, if you really want to mix it up a bit, you go in for your thirty-fifth head-watermelon-smash of the hour or pull out the chainsaw so as to gain ammunition upon a successful kill. And no, it doesn’t make sense in context.
I’m aware of what the counter-arguments are likely to be: “Morgan, you mulchy sack of walrus cankers, it’s not trying to make sense! It’s a deliberate evocation of the arcade era, where the focus lay only in getting a high score and the opportunity to put a vulgar five-letter name at the top of the leaderboard!”
Look: if I’m not fond of a game, I don’t play it all the way to the end, but instead to the point where I know my opinion isn’t going to change. And it only took me roughly fifty minutes to decide that the amount of enjoyment you get out of Doom definitely relies on whether you’re ever going to get bored of running around blasting demons’ knickers off for eight hours. If you’re not bothered by a lack of context or storytelling then chances are you’ll love it. And I’m being serious here, too. Most of my bitterness comes from the fact that I didn’t enjoy it. From the way it was being hyped by all the media, I half-expected it to sense my stagnant disappointment, tear itself out of my computer screen and commit seppuku all over my carpet exclusively for my viewing pleasure.