Last year I had a religious experience. Like a lot of Biblical encounters, it happened unexpectedly one night while minding my own business. I never thought such a thing would happen to me, but now here I am: I am in love with Doom after playing it for the first time last year.
Doom is definitely a hypermasculine power fantasy. The Marine you play as is ripped and vascular, his face grimacing at you from the bottom of the screen at all times. You shoot demons with an increasingly powerful array of guns, blowing them into bloody chunks while a soundtrack heavily influenced by thrash metal plays. On paper, it does sound like something I’d hate (except for that soundtrack), but I couldn’t have been more wrong about that, because it’s so…pure? Am I really wanting to use that word to describe this game? Yes. Doom is pure.
A lot of it is in the audacious details: the ridiculously cartoony demon designs (digitized from clay models!) and explosions of gore, the thrash metal riffs in the soundtrack, the lack of need to reload your weapon, the grunts, snarls, and roars of the demons, the open maps packed with secrets and power-ups, and more. The guys at id Software were playing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, listening to a lot of Slayer and Metallica, and watching loads of horror films. They poured their love for all these things into the game, and it shows. I mean, you’re fighting demons from Hell that have emerged through a portal on MARS. Setting your shooter on Mars is cool enough as it is. Fighting demons is a strong enough concept on its own. But the two combined? It’s unnecessary and ridiculous and wonderful. Why is there an old-fashioned chainsaw on Mars? Because it was cool in Evil Dead 2, and it’s cool here too. Why do some of the demons have mechanical parts? Because HR Giger’s biomechanical designs rule. It’s so gleeful and shameless.
And then there’s 2016’s remake? Sequel? Where does it fit into things? I don’t know, I don’t care, neither did the developers because it doesn’t matter (it’s nice seeing other folks take the Godzilla approach to continuity by giving no fucks). DOOM (I’m just gonna use all caps to differentiate it from the original) is a game that’s aware of the things that are bogging down modern shooters. Because really, shooters aren’t a genre I greatly enjoy. The endless wave of military shooters in particular just have no appeal to me, and DOOM feels like a response to that.
Rather, it looks back to what made the original so great, bringing back large, colorful, open spaces in which to explore and fight wave after wave of goofy looking demons in (with some very Metroid Prime feeling platforming thrown in for good measure), no limit to the weapons you can carry, NO RELOADING, loads of powerups, and of course, heavy metal riffs. The game’s story is mostly background noise. There’s lore if you want to dive in, but it’s kinda pointless, with your hunky protagonist (who isn’t given a face this time because, really, who cares) outright refusing to listen when people try to talk to him to advance the game’s plot.
One of the reasons I never much cared for shooters is because I feel like the genre is ultimately limiting, and trying to introduce interesting characters and complex stories would be better suited for another style of gameplay. Doom and its successor both get this: the story is bare bones, characters are few. The focus is solely on gameplay, and that’s where the purity really comes from: it’s all about shooting demons. Again, there’s no reloading. Stopping to reload just slows things down. Taking cover is worthless because you can’t shoot when you’re hiding behind a wall. In DOOM especially, if you’re low on health, the only way to keep going is to brutally melee kill a demon or two. Low on ammo? Get in there with the chainsaw and make those demons bleed bullets. If you stop moving, you’re gonna die. Your beefy hero is basically a shark, or the bus from Speed.
And yeah, again, it’s a hypermasculine power fantasy. You are a one-man army standing against the hordes of Hell and you have all the firepower you need to turn them into red paste. You’re not even doing it to save the world, you’re just doing it because you love killing demons. But…it doesn’t bother me the way other violent games sometimes do. The only people you kill are zombie soldiers, whose features are so cartoonishly exaggerated that there’s no squeamish guilt. The games also sidestep any problematic treatment of women by, well, uh, leaving women out altogether. No sexualized nonsense, no misogyny, just a guy with a lot of guns killing a lot of demons. That’s easier to swallow than any Duke Nukem game. DOOM does have a female villain, but you never really encounter her and she winds up getting sucked into the portal to Hell…or something like that. Again, characters and story don’t matter.
I mean, bear in mind: masculinity is a prison, it’s toxic as fuck, America has a huge problem with gun violence that our government isn’t doing shit to fix, these things are true, and these past two years have served as strong reminders of that. At the same time though, with the world going to Hell the way it is and monstrous men running things and people like me feeling helpless all the time, it just feels really good to obliterate a Baron of Hell with a gatling gun and well-aimed punch to the face.
Oh, my phone is ringing. What’s that ringtone, you ask? E1M1, the first stage of Doom. No, I don’t plan on changing it anytime soon.