I don’t really play first person shooters (FPSs) – I’m more of a platformer guy (Super Mario Bros! Mega Man!). Of all of the FPSs out there, I have only really played Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, and Destiny in the course of the last 15 years. (Incidentally all produced by the same studio – Bungie.) I’ve played no Call of Duty: Subtitle Whatever, or Overwatch, or any Battlefield game. I’ve played no online FPS multiplayer-shoot-each-other-fests – not even in Halo or Halo 2. And I’ve never played the original DOOM – the granddaddy of the modern FPS – or its sequels.
Yet, despite the fact that I am probably not the sort of person who would be expected to love the new DOOM, I love the new DOOM. I almost always want to play DOOM. Even though I am not very good at DOOM.
I am literally struggling to continue writing about DOOM, rather than closing my laptop and playing more DOOM.
The game resonates with me on multiple levels – I adore the game’s aesthetic, and its sensibilities.
This trailer encapsulates much of what I love about the game:
It is pure B-Movie schlock. Heck, your character’s name is ‘the Doomslayer’.
The premise is ridiculous. You play as a silent, ancient humanoid – the Doomslayer – who once waged war on the Kingdoms of Hell with the aid of your trusty Praetor Armor and whatever weapons you could get your hands on.
You particularly like large guns. (One you acquire late in the game is called the BFG – Big F*cking Gun.) In some ancient past, you were defeated, captured, and imprisoned in a sarcophagus. This tomb was found during a private scientific expedition to Hell, conducted from the surface of Mars, for the purposes of developing the technology to tap into the seemingly limitless power of Hell. Hell, as one might imagine, is not so readily controlled or tapped, and subsequently breaks loose. You wake up naked, in a lab overrun by demons and possessed science and security personnel. You have to kill your way to your armor (which the researchers also found), and then kill everything tainted by Hell on the surface of Mars, and in some parts of Hell itself in order to close the portal hemorrhaging demons onto the surface of the Red Planet (and boy is it red in the game). Your motivation: You hate demons. Why? Did they kill your dog? Your wife? Your wife and your dog? Your pet turtle? Is it because they are Evil and they will make their way to Earth and kill or possess every living thing there?
We don’t know.
We aren’t told.
You hate demons. And you are going to kill them. In as grisly a manner as possible.
Aaaand that’s it.
I admit, this sort of thing grabs you or it doesn’t – it just happens to tick a lot of my boxes.
However, beyond the fact that the game strikes many of my particular fancies, a very large part of what keeps me running back to the game, and keeps other people running back to the game, is that it is a very well-thought out piece of interactive art. Every element of the game – the story, the visuals, the music, and the gameplay – converges to create a unified, immersive, almost pure, aesthetic/affective experience for the player.
This is somewhat atypical for a game that is primarily focused on a single-player mode. Usually, such a game is designed to immerse you in a narrative that will have you feeling multiple emotions throughout, eventually leading you, if you’ve played the game properly, to a satisfying emotional payoff/climax. (Though, occasionally you get the intentional downer ending – like in Halo 2). But in DOOM, the narrative is there to facilitate immersion in a psychological/emotional state – the game is going to be unnerving, visceral, tense, overwhelming and stimulate your adrenal glands. (See Jim Sterling make pretty much this same point about the game’s protagonist and the story – you don’t need to pay attention to the story to enjoy or ‘get’ the game).
That DOOM is designed to draw the player into this kind of emotional/psychological state becomes more and more apparent the more you dig into the various elements of the game. Here I want to draw your attention to the soundtrack, which is an often-overlooked component of the experience a game provides. (Even by game designers – see Xenoblade Chronicles X.) Specifically, I want to look at how the sound design and music of DOOM participates in constructing this unified aesthetic/affective experience.
There is one part of the game that is deeply etched into my memory. Whenever I think about having played DOOM in the past, or what DOOM is like, it is the first experience that comes to mind. It occurs shortly after you’ve acquired your armor and you are working your way out of the research facility in which you start the game. You enter a large, dark room. You can see virtually nothing but some scattered, glowing panels. But you can hear demons, or possessed personnel, screaming from somewhere. You know they’re there, but you don’t know where. And if they are close, you won’t see them before they have seriously depleted your life, or sent you back to the last checkpoint.
This unnerving effect is not only accomplished via the light-starved visuals and the remembered threat of the demons you encountered a few moments before.
If it were just a dark room with standard mechanical sounds, or the humming of the computer interfaces, or other sounds you might hear as broken or malfunctioning equipment continuing to decay, you would not be so unnerved. You might be tense. The demons/possessed could come from anywhere. They might be around. But with the screaming added, you know they will attack. And it is just a matter of time. You can’t tell how much time you have – you can’t see how far away they are. You can’t take a mental rest of any kind. A sense of urgency is forced upon you that is not forced upon you without the sounds of the demons to let you know they are coming. You need to find your way out now. Not merely soon.
The game is full of this kind of combination of the visual and sonic environments, but the sonic mood setting in DOOM starts before you even begin the game.
This is the menu music:
It starts very minimalistically. It slowly throbs and pulses, creating tension, but never offering the full release of that tension even when the most sonically complete segment of the track finally emerges. You have to start the game to release this tension. And you start the game already tense, already on edge, and already primed to release that tension by playing the game.
Now, once you are playing the game, and when you are doing the primary business of the game – killing demons – you are almost always accompanied by a distorted guitar-heavy and drum-heavy Heavy Metal soundtrack that propels you along as you have to face swarm after swarm of Hell’s citizenry.
The music that accompanies the action of the game largely has a driving, running beat to it. It stimulates your adrenal glands and emphasizes how frantic the encounter with a swarm of demons will be.
This music serves to encourage you to play the game as the designers intended.
You see, DOOM does not permit one to play it the way I like to play first person shooters. I tend to like to armor up and get ahold of a high-powered rifle. And then, when encountering a group of enemies, I set up a good distance from them and eliminate as many of them as I can from far away before walking in and walking down the remaining, often weakened, enemies that had taken cover. In doing so, I do not worry about defensive movement; instead I rely on my armor to protect me, while I use my high-powered rifle at close-range to kill my targets as I ignore their offence.
I tried to play DOOM like this. Many, many times. This prevented me from getting very far. And I say, with some embarrassment, that it took me a while to figure that you have to play this game very differently. You cannot stay still for very long, if there are demons around. You don’t have sufficiently powerful armor, and you don’t have a long enough health bar. Stay still and you are swarmed and starting over from the last checkpoint. You have to keep moving. You have to keep running.
And the music tries to tell you this by providing you with a loud, driving, Groove Metal soundtrack as you play. The only breaks in this soundtrack are when you’ve cleared all the demons from an area, or you are walking between demon-infested sections of the game map. During these breaks, you are fed soundscapes similar to that heard at the menu screen, which allows your adrenal system to ease off a little, but maintains tension and unease as you are given a brief respite from running and shooting and chainsawing and using your armored hands to tear demons apart….
id software (and Mick Gordon, who composed the music for DOOM) really thought this thing through. You virtually cannot but have the emotional/affective experience they want you to have.
DOOM is soooo good….
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PC/PS4/Xbox One
Release Date: May 13, 2016
ESRB/Pegi Rating: Mature/18
Link: DOOM Official Website
Steam ($59.99USD, $79.99CAD, £39.99, €59.99)
Amazon.com (PC, PS4, Xbox One)
Amazon.ca (PC, PS4, Xbox One)