Month: June 2016

Doom (2016) Review — Fear No Evil

by Jed Pressgrove

The firefights in the new Doom have something to share: Hell has little suspense. Thanks to music cues, checkpoints, “Gore Nests,” and more, you almost always know when you’ll be fighting waves of demons, who continue to appear out of nowhere, but in an orderly fashion, as you kill off their kin. Doom, like the 1993 original, is faster than the overwhelming majority of first-person shooters, but the pace elicits superficial excitement rather than tension because you’re rarely caught off-guard and because ammo and health are plentiful.

Although this entry features expendable characters, irritating voice-overs, and too-easy satire about corporate marketing (“Weaponizing demons for a brighter tomorrow.”), the point hasn’t changed since the original Doom: kill demons on Mars and in Hell. With scenes dedicated to the silent protagonist’s brutish approach (such as when he forces a drone to give him a weapon upgrade), Doom is unapologetic and witty about its brawniness, making it more fun than the pretentious Dark Souls III. The shooter’s cause is also helped by developer id Software’s superior weapon design that includes two modifications that can be leveled up for almost every gun. Since you can switch between a gun’s normal and modified fire during battle, the strategic and kinetic possibilities are immense, surpassing the amount of styles enabled by power-up selection in the 1989 vertical shooter Blazing Lazers. The gun offerings in Doom also confirm the embarrassing lack of imagination in Wolfenstein: The New Order, another Bethesda-published title.

Doom’s tactical variety and breakneck pacing don’t make shooting the star of the game, though. The irony here is explained by a standardization of danger. As far as combat is concerned, you’re usually only threatened when you enter one of the game’s many arena fights, which are imposed by mission objectives and suddenly locked doors. In these arenas, there is often an object, such as a Gore Nest, that you have to interact with before a variety of demons pop out of thin air, so in these cases, you have the luxury of scanning the area for hideaways, power-ups, ammunition, and so on before the battle starts. After you initiate the fight, it’s best to attack the enemies as they enter the arena; their starting positions are projected by red energy patterns. Because enemies can materialize all around you, the “keep moving” principle largely guides success, as does performing melee finishers (“Glory Kills”) on stunned enemies for health pickups and using your chainsaw on enemies to replenish ammo. With some practice (and you’ll get plenty of it), you can see the odds are stacked in your favor, and if you die, checkpoints ensure you won’t be far from the arena.

As such, this is the first time in the Doom series where you can operate with negligible fear. The less respected Doom 3 had fewer enemies on the screen at a time, but it produced more suspense because demons could come out of a hiding spot in any hall or any room. You could justify the new Doom’s arena repetition by saying it’s adopting a different paradigm, but the result is not as exciting as Masanobu Endō’s 1982 classic Xevious, which combined predictable enemy entrances with some random variations in enemy type and attack style.

The inclusion of Glory Kills in Doom says a lot about id Software’s decreased emphasis on unpredictable horror. When you perform a Glory Kill, the game temporarily takes control away from you so that you can watch the protagonist’s armored hands and feet rip and pulverize different parts of enemies. Even though these finishing moves vary according to enemy type and player position (e.g., you get a different finish if you’re behind an enemy), you see them so many times that they become like ordering a Classic Single vs. a Classic Double at Wendy’s. From a practical standpoint, the Glory Kills can give you much needed health in a pinch. At the same time, the imagery of Glory Kills — hell, the very name — evokes this illusion of masculine invincibility that is in line with many pop action games and is another reminder that some developers can’t leave the blood pornography of the 1990s behind. The violence in the original Doom was more about complementing atmosphere, tone, and theme rather than showmanship (as in the gore of Mortal Kombat). The new Doom rejects this significant historical distinction.

The best part of this Doom has nothing to do with violence. As critic Patrick Lindsey once said about the original Doom, “The secret is that Doom is not actually about the shooting.” Here, Lindsey pointed to the lack of precision aiming and emphasized the importance of movement. I want to borrow this point about movement but flip it away from the idea of putting oneself in the best position for killing enemies. The most interesting parts in the new Doom involve exploring every corner of a level for tucked-away items without falling to your death. When you fall, there is no Glory Kill or chainsaw kill or “Berserk” power-up to bail yourself out. When you fall far enough, you’re dead. That’s the tension that a title like “Doom” entails.