Wednesday, 26 October 2016

October Nightmares II #26: Doom (2016) - It Has Huge Guts

Doom is one of video gaming's most venerable franchises; treated with such unquestionable reverence you'd think it fought in the Second World War. It's one of a rare few games where admitting to having not heard of it will get you the kind of weird looks usually reserved for people who claim Bradon Stark's storyline is their favourite part of Game of Thrones. This is the franchise which codified the act of picking up a gun and killing everything in sight long before white school kids got in on the act. And fortunately, the first new Doom game in eleven years is, appropriately, blisteringly savage: a claim the franchise hasn't had the balls to make since 1996.

When I reviewed Doom 64 early on in this year’s October Nightmares I gave Doom 3 a bit of stick. Not because it was awful, just too divergent from the series trademark gameplay. One does not play Doom to walk down dark corridors groping around like Bill Cosby in a women's refuge. A Doom game, however, is like having sex with a pizza: even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. That's how that saying goes, right? Doom is a series which has always walked the fine line between horror and action, and it’s when it veers too far in either direction that it goes off the rails. Doom (2016) maintains the ethos of the original games, but presents it through a filter of blood, shit, and tears, as though that blood-spewing elevator from The Shining had a part-time gig in a maternity ward.

The story of Doom is…not important. Doom's 'story' is like the male Brontë sibling - entirely overshadowed by the brilliance of the rest of the elements surrounding it. You are a marine, the lone survivor of a demonic/extra-terrestrial invasion of a military base on Mars, and your sole motivation is to kill every monster that stands in your path - presumably because they've been eyeing up your bird. Fortunately, the story is mostly told through collectible datapads and is, therefore, largely non-intrusive.  Not unlike a prostate exam.

Even the few occasions where the story threatens to derail the gameplay aren't without merit. Doomguy's various reactions to the remnants of a narrative wafting over to him, like the putrid stench of the smelly kid in school, provide nuanced character detail on a level similar to the face display from the original game. You know which display I mean: the one which shows the marine's increasingly battered face as his health dwindles; or the psychotic grin he adorns whenever he finds a new gun, as though he's just seen an unflattering photo of his ex on Twitter.

Throughout, the protagonist’s personality is synonymous with the player’s expectations: both simply want to rip and tear, and id are the eagerly indulging parents. The one glaring criticism is that id are overeager to please in the action stakes. The Quake 3-style arena skirmishes keep combat frantic and tight, but as the game progresses it becomes increasingly easy to anticipate encounters, the level design akin to Wile E. Coyote setting up exceedingly obvious traps that the player can only roll their eyes at.

It may repeat its tricks so often that they become played out more quickly than Ray J. Johnson Jr (good luck with that reference if you're under thirty), but it is undeniable Doom has torn the flabby face off the Nineties shooter and now wears it like a mask. There’s rocket launchers with more splash damage than a cum shot from a blue whale, movement speed resembling a black teen running away from American police, and more pick-ups than an accident-prone contact lens factory.

Doom is by no means a scary game – not even on the level of Doom 64’s dark ambience. The background music in this game certainly captures the intensity, but it sounds more as though someone stuck a copy of the Ghosts of Mars soundtrack in an industrial grinder. And like Doom 3, Doom is made up of 75% bland military bases and laboratories, and 25% Hell levels. Which is a shame, as the Hell levels are disgustingly creative with their visceral and organic design. One can only spend so long travelling through military bases before starting to feel like Captain America in the first half of the Captain America film.

The game excels when it’s the gross-out gorefest; when you’re wading through blood and guts, or ripping the demons apart with the new finishing moves. Many of the enemies reflect this overtly gross horror style - the flayed Revenant with its painfully elongated limbs; and the Cacodemon, the cancerous looking Beholder knock-off. The game's enemies are entirely squishy and sinewy, perfectly fleshy enough to be hacked to pieces with the chainsaw, or torn apart by hand. Inspired by fan-mode Brutal Doom, the
finishing moves keep proceedings at a break neck pace by restoring the player's health and ammo and allowing the player to perpetually rend the demons into pulpy piles of gore. No longer does the player desperately have to search for health pick-ups as though they're trying to find a clean toilet in a hospital for the blind.