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How Doom uses the past to go forward

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There was plenty to be concerned about regarding the new Doom: The multiplayer Beta received enormous negative feedback; there were no review copies prior to launch; it was a multi-platform title, on a new engine no one had had access to before. Yet, hours into the main campaign, my opinion – any many others’ - is clear: Doom is a fantastic, furious, ferocious experience. More surprising is how forward-thinking it is in a number of areas, despite “old-school” designs and its focus on violence.

Doom (2016) is a reboot of the classic first-person shooter, both made by id Software. It’s operating on brand new tech, and using many of the same designs for creatures, weapons and levels. But it also takes its own name, as well as shooters as a genre, forward.

Violence as survival

Though I do think we need more games that don’t rely on violence and combat, Doom was never going to be a demon romance simulator (though there’s no reason it couldn’t have been). Furthermore, by focusing on combat and violence, it creates a ballet out of mayhem, fine-tuned to evoke Doom’s central themes and maintain consistent interest.  

Doom does away with regenerating health, cover shooting and sprinting, and even reloading and aim-down-sights. Instead, everything is auto-absorbed, you move at a consistently fast pace, vertically and horizontally. Basically, Doom has an answer to the mechanics we’ve come to expect from modern shooters, in a somewhat old-school way.

But, as I’ve said, it also moves forward in smart, gory ways. Consider the two most violent aspects of the game: “Glory Kills” and the chainsaw.

Violence by design

Glory Kills are melee finishers. After damaging a demon significantly, they are highlighted by waves of iridescent colours flowing over their bodies. By pressing the appropriate button, you then finish them off in a fancy, bloody but quick animation. Further, depending on where you’re aiming, the animation for the demon will change.

Look at a demon’s right leg will usually mean ripping it off and using it to crush them. If you leap at them from above, you might stomp on their head.

 

However, these aren’t just gory and violent: You use Glory Kills as a guaranteed way to obtain health. Demons almost always drop an item on death, but you’re never guaranteed it’s what you need. Doom doesn’t have regenerating health, so if you need it, you must plan for Glory Kills.

This creates strategy during combat, since you can’t simply hide in a corner and magically get better. You might decide to take on smaller enemies for a short while to get some Glory Kills - and therefore health. But this decision means leaving the harder enemies out there to kill you. Maybe then you’ll decide to take on the bigger guys, instead: bigger enemies means bigger health, but also bigger damage.

Which will you decide on?

Out of a brutal, bloody and fancy-looking move, id Software create strategy due to eliminating a core aspect to many modern shooters: guaranteed restoring health in cover. There is no restoration unless you seek it out and there is no cover, except your movement.

Similarly, the chainsaw is used to guarantee ammo and is a one-hit kill for almost all enemies (some can’t be killed by chainsaw). You will find your belt empty, even if demons are constantly dropping ammo. The chainsaw, gory and bloody and hilarious as ever, leads to demons turning into ammo piñatas.

Unlike Glory Kills, however, the chainsaw relies on its own ammo source, in the form of “fuel cans”. Furthermore, you need a specific number of fuel cans to take on certain enemies: The bigger the demon, the more fuel cans required to chainsaw. Though Chainsaws are guaranteed one-shot kills, they are costly but do benefit you with ammo. They can sway an entire fight - for example, if there’s a particularly large enemy during combat, you can chainsaw the big guy and thus make the entire combat scenario manageable.

What both of these show is how, despite being gory and violent, id have cleverly made these essential to combat. They speak to the game’s aesthetic and comical levels of gore and hyper violence. That the game does not take itself seriously is also key.

Indeed, your Doomguy displays more personality when he interacts with the world and responds to “video game mission commands” than all Call of Duty’s or Battlefield’s or Destiny’s characters. Just look at his integration with a collectible doll. Or how he responds to a command to “carefully” remove a cylinder thing video games love so much.

 

Another way that the game is both “old-school” and progressive is its reliance on secrets and collectibles. There’s no gradual and automatic upgrades. You need to actively seek out upgrades for your armor and skills. If I played the game as I would most shooters, my armor and skills would be on a similar level as the start of the game. It’s necessary, not merely optional, to search levels for “secrets”, since these will prove essential to survival. And, thankfully, it’s a fun activity, too.

Moving forward

The point is, through “old-school” design, id Software has shown an interesting way forward. The game embraces its over-the-top gore and brutality, but also makes it essential to play.

You can’t avoid chainsaw kills and Glory Kills; you can’t avoid Doomguy’s personality and sheer brutality, because he’s interacting with the world in a unique way that fits the theme (he’s almost charming in how hulkish he is); you can’t avoid searching for secret areas, because it’s how you upgrade your abilities. Id doesn’t try to create a grimdark, complex narrative.

It doesn’t even stay for a few moments to ponder what Hell means or the ethics of the characters’ horrific actions. It just chainsaws its way forward, taking you along for the ride. I expected Doom to be good. I did not expect me to be clever and charming.

Tauriq: Twitter / MWEB GameZone: Twitter | Facebook

 


"through “old-school” design, id Software has shown an interesting way forward"

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