ave you heard of DOOM? Of course, you have, don’t lie to me. In 1993 we were blessed with one of the biggest gaming influences ever created. First Person Shooters were a thing, certainly, but they hadn’t made the break into common gaming mechanics. Then Id Software appeared in 1992 with Wolfenstein 3D and then DOOM in 1993. Neither of these games was actually in 3D but they tricked us into thinking that they were, perhaps I’ll write an article about it in the future, but that’s not why we’re here.
I'm Cecil and today I'm going to be talking to you about the genius that is the 2016 release of DOOM. I’m going to be open with you here, as well as being a player of video games, I am also a player of instruments. So, a section of this review will focus more on the music of the game than normal, because Mick Gordon cast some satanic wizardry over the audio of this game and produced one of the most amazing and on theme scores that the industry has ever seen, at least in my opinion, which is why you’re here anyway.
For now, we’re gonna start with from the beginning, and discuss many facets of the game altogether, because DOOM is a bit more complex of a beast than some of the other games I've written about. DOOM is a masterpiece of character portrayal, motivation, and story. That last one came as a surprise to A LOT of people on release. It’s not the first time DOOM has had a story though; DOOM 3 had a story and, from what I recall, a fairly decent one. However, it didn’t feel like DOOM, it was something different. It had gone from a game being exclusively about killing demons and zombies to an attempt at a horror game with some slightly questionable mechanics, which would have worked wonders in other games, but just didn’t sit right. Searching through data pads for the passcode to a door, that’s standard fare in a lot of games and the key to large swathes of many others, but in a game series about just killing everything because the demons killed your rabbit? Yes, that is the reason that the original DOOM protagonist went rampaging. It just isn’t the same, is it?
DOOM (2016), however, is back to bases in the best way. It takes 20 seconds, by my reckoning, between hitting 'begin new game', and shooting your first zombie dead, not counting load screens. No cutscene showing your character storming into the first room; no exposition. You wake up in a stone sarcophagus, crush a skull and get a pistol. You clear the room and go to the next after a small 15-30 second ‘cutscene’ where a hologram says some mostly unimportant stuff unless you want it to be important. You walk into the next room where the now famous doom marine armor is standing, you put it on and just like that, you’re a god of murder and blood.
The thing that happens next is one of the best characterizations of a video game protagonist in a long, long time. The facility director, Samual Hayden, explains that what happened was a tragedy blah blah blah, you and he have aligned goals, he wants to recover the facility, you want to kill. The Doom Slayer (his new name) doesn’t give a damn though, he just wants to murder all insight and doesn’t care about what happens to the facility along the way, and throws the screen aside that Samual is communicating through. Without breaking the first person, without uttering a word, we learn so much about the character, his contempt for anyone that might even be slightly responsible for the demon incursion on mars. This character trait is reinforced later in the game when we are tasked with dismantling some equipment after Samual has finally convinced us to help him. Samual is giving step by step instructions telling the Doom Slayer he needs to be careful about all this, so the Doom Slayer just punches and kicks the device until it is clearly broken beyond salvage. This happens three times in the following segment of the game, and the last one has Samual trying to explain how important it really is that the last one is kept intact for future use. This one receives the most destructive treatment from the Doom Slayer. Most modern games struggle to get such strong character traits across without resorting to clichéd voices and backstories, the Doom Slayer never says a word and we never know about his history, unless we really want to know, because a deep and detailed story is there, it’s just hidden in codex files through the game, which is fine because most people aren’t playing this game for story.
The game itself looks very good, the graphics are crisp, bloody and, in many places, moist. That sounds unpleasant, but for the most part that is what it is supposed to be, they’re demons from hell, not kittens at a shelter for adoption. Animations are responsive, full of character, and smooth, even in console versions.
Now as promised, the sound design and Mick Gordon’s genius. I recently watched a talk by Gordon at the Game Developers Conference, where he spoke for 45 minutes or so about his process and little intricacies that he used in production. When he received his mission brief for the game, he was told no guitars, because the developers didn’t want the game to be associated with the ridiculousness that metal has become in some places, and how stupid some of it really is. This is an understandable thing, but anyone that has played DOOM knows that guitar is one of the most important parts of the soundtrack, even in the original. The music set the tone, and that tone was violence. So Gordon began his work on the project, using weird synth and feedback loops to try and create the sound of DOOM, and this was working to a degree, but when he had submitted a track and saw it with gameplay footage, he knew something was missing. Everyone knew. DOOM needed guitar.
Gordon didn’t want to just grab a guitar and a distortion pedal though, he wanted to avoid the things that he knew the developers thought of when electric guitar was mentioned, his response? Make it sound like something else. The Trojan Horse of the soundtrack’s first guitar-based piece was a work of genius, he found a plugin for his DAW (desktop audio workstation) that allows you to take characteristics of one sound and apply them to another, so he took a guitar recording, made with a 9 string guitar, and used this plugin to apply the audio characteristics of the chainsaw sound from the original DOOM, this created the crunchy, violent guitar sounds found in the game, and when he presented it to the developers, they said okay, this sounds good, this sounds DOOM. and from, then on he had the ability to use guitars, but he kept pushing things, making weird combinations to make the sounds, to make it unique. Lastly, he threw a couple easter eggs into the audio of the game, using a piece of software that allows you to insert images into the waveforms of audio tracks, he placed a number of pentagrams into the audio's waveform, as a nod the times when rock music was accused as instructions for summoning satan, and for hiding messages about loving satan when played backwards.
I highly recommend it and it can be found here.
I've been Cecil, and thanks for reading my rant about why the sound design in this game is amazing, and why DOOM (2016) is one of the best games to come out of the mainstream industry in a long time. Until next time, farewell.