DOOM is the ultimate first-person shooter game and arguably the most iconic video game franchise of all time. The imagery of the series from its 1993 inception to 2020’s most recent release remains important to pop culture and easily accessible to the public. As the internet joke goes – can it run DOOM? 99% of the time YES.
The reboot of the series in 2016 was a roaring success for developer id Software and publisher Bethesda. A metacritic score of 85 and most importantly – incredibly positive fan reaction. Fans were skeptical of another attempt to reboot DOOM, after mixed reception to 2004’s DOOM 3.
12 years in between drinks is a long time, especially for such a large franchise – the one that gave birth to the first-person shooter genre. In those 12 years, many important games came out that redefined the genre from just being about shooting and killing to deep stories and more cerebral stories.
DOOM was never intended to be thought-provoking or deeply intelligent. It was a game about killing demons with a shotgun and a chainsaw. The first game was set on a space Mars, then Hell, before the sequel Hell On Earth which took the series to a demonic invasion of Earth.
The reboot in 2016 was very much a soft reboot of the 1993 original – just like the original DOOM it starts in the UAC facilities on Mars, before going to Hell, back to Mars, and finishing up in Hell again. It features the same enemies, a very similar plot and the same tools and gadgets for the player character – but brought a new layer to the series – scathing criticism of capitalism, and utilitarianism in the backdrop of its gory and adrenaline-fuelled action.
The plot of 2016’s DOOM is that the company the UAC (Union Aerospace Command) discovers they can use energy from Hell to power Earth and end the energy crisis in the 2100s whilst also knowing it would require opening up a portal to Hell permanently, all while their staff experimented on demons and started to develop a cult around them. Unsurprisingly, the demons eventually just invaded Mars with the help of a higher up from the UAC.
But this plot means nothing if the main character isn’t interesting. The protagonist of the modern series was dubbed the Doom Slayer, as opposed to the past name of just “Doomguy”. The writing for the Slayer was, according to the developers, inspired by films like Last Action Hero, RoboCop, and Die Hard.
The characterisation of the Doom Slayer, a character who doesn’t speak a single word and can only express emotions with his hands is impressive. From the opening 10 minutes you know he hates demons, hates the UAC, hates innocents being killed, and has a strong dislike for Samuel Hayden and his “ends justify the means” view.
Doom Slayer’s rage towards demons is shown throughout, but also his compassion is shown just as much and just as importantly. His rage is never blindly thrown around to those undeserving. Towards the end of the game, he is tasked by Samuel Hayden (who in an uneasy truce is aiding the Doom Slayer towards killing the demons and stopping the invasion) to deactivate and wipe VEGA, the UAC created artificial intelligence which has been aiding the Slayer throughout the game. The Slayer realises he has an option to back up VEGA and save it from being lost to time and losing a valuable ally, and actively takes that measure to save it. A small gesture but one that shows the Slayer doesn’t just assume the most violent or combative route when it is unnecessary – he’s smarter than just being pure rage towards everything. He doesn’t let his hatred of the UAC and what it stands for blind his judgement.
DOOM: Eternal came out last Friday, and I was lucky enough to receive my order of it several days early on Wednesday. I’ve completed the campaign and it is truly rocking. Smart, concise, simple but effective. It knows you’re there to kill demons with a chainsaw and shotgun and doesn’t leave you waiting around for it to begin. Within 20 seconds of starting the game you’re into combat. The speed of gameplay in the new DOOM series is relentless. You don’t have time to rest, you don’t hunker down and hide from combat – if you want to survive and fight on you need to stay on the offensive. The game rewards you for being proactive.
But balls-to-the-wall action is only good if you’re invested in the hero and the consequences. DOOM masterfully makes you feel like if you aren’t there, the world simply won’t survive. It is power fantasy at its best.
The renaissance of DOOM as a franchise, to me, comes down mostly to the fantastic characterisation of the Doom Slayer. What used to be considered the least important aspect of the series in the 1990s is now what really holds the modern DOOM series together. It’s a testament to the writing and art direction of id Software and I am very keen to see where they go next with the Doom Slayer’s arc. There are two planned story expansions to come out for DOOM: Eternal.
Feature image credit: @BethesdaANZ