Do I like Doom?

One man's internal struggle about a long running franchise.

At the time of writing this I have just finished Doom Eternal, a game which I thought was only okay but still completed. Then I remembered when the 2016 reboot came out, I played that and didn’t really like it much but still completed it. This got me thinking do I actually like the Doom franchise or am I just playing them for the sake of it. Is there something in these games that keep me coming back despite having very few positive things to say about them? I hope that by the end of this article I will have gained a better insight into what Doom is bringing to the table that keeps me saying “why don’t I give the new one a try”.

Part of the process of trying to figure all this out will involve me talking about the Doom games story and mechanics etc. If you consider hearing about mechanics or late game weapons spoilers then you may want to turn back now. If you are okay with hearing about these things then join me for what is going to be part review of the more recent Doom games, part therapy session to figure out what it is that keeps bringing me back to the testosterone fueled orgy of blood and guts that is Doom.

Tell me about your childhood?

My first ever foray into Doom was on the Playstation One. A conversion of Ultimate Doom & Doom II. This version of the game released November 16 1995, meaning my first exposure to it was at the tender age of 7 maybe 8 depending on when my friend got the game because I never owned it myself. I have memories of going to his house and him telling me I had to see this game it was so cool and that it was best played in the dark. So, as you can guess we drew the curtains, turned off all the lights and booted up the game. Once the game started there was cool menu sounds and music and I thought to myself he is right this is cool. Then we actually started playing and I was terrified!

The monsters running at the screen, the beastly growls, the loud bang of the shotgun was all too much for me. Even though they were made up of about 10 pixels (not accurate I know) my little kid brain made it all real. To 8 year old Shane these monsters looked as real as the best visual effects of modern day films and games. There was the added tension of that one beast that I could always hear but never find. Always feeling that it was going to jump out any moment and get me. When I say me I mean me not just Doom Guy in the game. Clearly as a young boy I had quite an active imagination, so active that I thought the demons of Doom were going to get me and I didn’t have the badass killing ability or a super shotgun to defend myself.

Needless to say that was the end of my interactions with Doom for a long time.

How did that affect you later in life?

Many doom games had come and gone, well only 4 or 5 most of which were ports of existing games and I still hadn’t played any of them. That childhood trauma of being eaten by demons must have subconsciously stuck with me I suppose. The idea that if I picked up a controller and started playing I would have flashbacks like some war veteran paralysed on the spot. Then during this current console generation we get Doom 2016 a reboot of the franchise. What better time to conquer that fear then starting from a new beginning. However that didn’t happen. My brain was telling me don't buy that game you don’t like Doom. Instead of questioning it, I just didn’t play it. Then another friend kept telling me I should play it and that I would really like it. After borrowing his copy I was finally about to play another Doom and I did to completion.

You may be saying to yourself that great he played a full Doom and all was well, you would be wrong. I didn’t like it. Not for the reason you might think. This time I was an adult there was no fear of being eaten. To not let my childhood prejudices get in the way I made sure to play the entire game before forming an opinion. Let's start with the positive, Doom is a very solid shooter. I cannot fault it on those merits. Nor can I fault it on the power fantasy it instills in its players. I mean it makes you feel like an all powerful God with an automatic weapon. Where the game fell down for me was the lack of a story and repetitive gameplay.

People who are fans of Doom tell me that part of the draw is that there is no story to worry about. You are a guy with a gun, they are demons. Demons bad, killing demons good. Not having played Doom in a long time I did not know this and expected a AAA game released in 2016 to have a bit more narrative but I guess I am the minority. The gameplay loop of Doom was another piece of information I was not privy to. Everyone else seemed to know that Doom is just; enter an arena, kill all the enemies then the door unlocks, then it's onto the next arena. Rinse repeat. This wore thin pretty quick but I held out hope something would change. It didn’t. I did get a shiny new instrument of death every once and awhile which was nice. Alas still not enough for me to sing the games praises.

How does that make you feel?

Jump forward to 2020 and Doom Eternal has arrived. The sequel to the critically loved 2016 reboot. The release of which was greeted by me with an enormous eye roll. I would never have anything bad to say to anyone who likes Doom. I just can’t get on board that train. I went about my merry business with Eternal not on my radar. Then enter another friend who tells me Eternal is great. Now he is a big fan of Doom but I won't hold that against him. He offers to lend me the game and not being one to turn down a chance to play a game for free I took it. Albeit with an internal sigh of shame. Again I played this game to completion. Even though it cost me nothing I am still going to get my money's worth.

This time around it was much the same. Arena after arena of demons and monsters, this time however they were broken up a little more with terrible platforming that felt really cumbersome and unnecessary. But I can’t have it every way and at least they tried to break up those arena kill fests. Of course the gold standard shooting was still on show with some wonderful way to mame and kill demons. The buffer of giant bullet spitting killing machines to choose from was also top notch. Surely these items and mechanics that can easily be found in other games can't be what is bringing me back time after time.

Much like the 2016 entry the power fantasy that Doom Eternal has on offer is cream of the crop. I would go as far as to say it's better than Doom 2016. Tearing you way through the hordes of hell, literally, tearing flesh from bone just can't be beat for making you feel like you are the master of death. This is the part that I think keeps bringing me back to Doom.

I think we have made a breakthrough today.

Coming to the end of this piece I think I have finally cracked what it is that keeps bringing me back to Doom, power. You might say that any hyper violent video game can give you the power fantasy that Doom can. That is true but I think it runs a little deeper than just feeling like you are basically a superman. When I play Doom, somewhere deep down in all the gray matter that is my sub conscience I am taking back the fear that those demons had over 8 year old me. I am showing them that they can’t hurt me. That I have the upper hand now. It doesn’t matter how big and scary you are because now when I am Doomguy I can tear you apart and send you right back to hell. They now know that if they mess with little Shane they have grown up Shane to deal with.

So now that our therapy session is coming to an end we have finally discovered what it is that keeps drawing me back to Doom. Really it’s some silly psychological feeling of control and trying to protect my younger self from the scary monsters under the bed. Then again maybe it’s just fun to run around and shoot things with big guns.

All images taken from various Doom press kits here

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