DOOM: Ripping and Tearing Genre Conventions

In 2016 the first person shooter genre was flagging greatly. The genre was stilted with multiplayer-focused titles that ranged anywhere from arcade to incredibly¬†realistic. Gone were the days of the sitting down and playing a shooter alone just to blow off some steam. The single-player aspect of games also became stilted in lore. Cutscenes that lasted as long as the gameplay were no longer exception but the norm. Developers wanted so desperately to tell a story with a moral that would inspire or move a player they forgot the core aspect of gaming, its supposed to be fun. Regardless of Ian Bogost’s criticism, there is a place for “Big Fucking Guns” in video games and it took the game that made the BFG-9000 a cultural cornerstone remind gamers of that.

At its heart, Doom is a pure gameplay experience. The first level sees the Doom Marine retrieve the famous armor and receive¬†a goal for the next fifteen minutes of gameplay. After receiving the goal a character begins to monologue; in any other game this would have played out for minutes. Not in Doom. The Doom Marine picks up the radio and throws it across the room. In the first two minutes, Doom has established the pace that the player can expect from the game. No cutscenes, minimal tutorial, and no moral dilemmas. Literally, all hell has broken loose and it is up to the player to shred through hordes of demons to complete the game. This was all that was needed to be conveyed and that was all that was conveyed. In world stilted with grey areas, Doom allowed a player the solace of a black and white narrative; you were good and the demons were evil. A player who is truly interested in the game world and backstory can pick up audio logs and fill the codex to fill holes in the story. Meanwhile, a player who just wants to rush from kill room to kill room with the Super Shotgun (like I did) receive a bare minimum story to keep the objectives straight. In a time where the stories of games would hold your hand all the way through, Doom took the story and chucked it into the boot and drove off down the highway. Doom’s minimalist story might have been a bit sparse if it was not complemented by gameplay that took a chainsaw to the timely conventions of the genre.

In 2016 most shooters relied heavily on cover, regenerating health, realistic movement speed, and high damage weapons. Save the high damage weapons, Doom does not follow these conventions at all. Doom is a hardcore, violent, and aggressive game and the gameplay reflects that flawlessly. The Doom Marine carries all of the weapons in the game as they become available, runs at full speed at all times, and double jumps over most obstacles. Health is done with a bar, and just as easily as it can be depleted by the numerous enemies the player will be facing at once it can be refilled just as easily. The ‘Glory Kill’ system was the mechanic that made Doom work. By getting an enemy to low health the Doom Marine could finish them off with a brutal hand-to-hand kill that dropped health like a pinata. The lower the health these ‘Glory Kills’ were performed at the more health would be granted to the player. The infamous ‘chainsaw’ worked the same way. Granting a one hit kill and a treasure trove of ammunition in exchange for relatively scarce gasoline. These mechanics made it so the action was always moving forward. In many games with health bars, the player has to stop and backtrack for health and ammo. Doom is about movement, forwards and sideways, but almost never back. One of the gameplay tips on the loading screens is “Hell devours the indolent” and it could not be truer. Playing Doom like you would play a conventional shooter, especially on the higher difficulties, will see you waiting around to die more times than not.

I would be remissed if I did not give kudos to Mick Gordon’s incredible soundtrack for this game. In a gaming culture where game scores are either orchestral or techno, Doom turns the Djent metal up to eleven and keeps it there. It was a bit of risk on the developers part to use music like this. Metal is a niche genre and most people simply do not enjoy the constant auditory bombardment that it offers. However, Doom uses it right, it compliments the gameplay loop so well and really urges the player on the really tough fights. Plus it is simple euphoric when you finish off an enemy and the blasting guitar riffs fade into a more ambient synth. The game uses its soundtrack to let the player know when they have a break and when its time to rip & tear. Atmosphere is obviously created in other games through this method but Doom sets itself apart by using a genre of music that most developers would touch with a ten-foot pole.

When Doom was announced the E3 demo looked like more of the same. It moved slowly, the soundtrack was synthy and safe, and its atmosphere was simply weak. People feared that Doom, the powerhouse over-the-top shooter that changed gaming many years before, had fallen into the same trap that many great franchises had fallen into by 2016. What was eventually released was so far from conventional that a ‘low-brow’, loud, gore-fest became a Game of the Year candidate for many in the community. Doom is not a game that can be accessed by everyone, but any fan of the shooter genre should give it a shot just to see how good the genre can be once the fat is cut. Some may decry the ‘childish power fantasy’ of Doom but if not in Doom, the series which created many of these discourses in the first place, then where? It should not be shameful to enjoy the catharsis of Doom and games like it. The world is stilted in uncertainty and unsolvable problems; Doom allows its player to turn off the lights, pump up their headphones, and solve problems two barrels at a time.