A Follow-up to my Article on Doom

Forgive the low resolution.

I don’t recall specifically if I made a promise to elaborate on my previous article once Doom Eternal came out, but I’ll participate regardless. So, it finally happened: Doom Eternal came out. I admit that I was a person overly obsessed with its inevitable release and then second inevitable release after being delayed, but it was all worth it when I gorged on it like a termite to fresh lumber, leaving a beautiful carcass (which is a new enemy that I don’t particularly like). What I wanna do here is give a needed elaboration upon my last article now that the game has been out for a ~week.

I’ll start this out with a somewhat concise review of the game, from which I’ll move onto what I really care about: The culture and writing around the game (yeah, yeah, get the “invasive games journalist” comments out of the way). In terms of gameplay, the game has stated everything it needed to in its hype-cycle: It’s a heavily refined and foresightful version of Doom’s (2016) gameplay that creates the perfect tension to insinuate what the developers call the “Doom Dance.” If you’re wondering what that is, it’s the zen state where the player effectively keeps tabs of enemy position, resource management, and current options to feel perfectly in tune with the game.

The campaign’s structure itself is fine, but I do feel like there’s a lot of components in it that feel like they were just cool ideas implemented only once and never elaborated upon again. I specifically cite how you play as a Revenant enemy for a specific part of the game where you need to retrieve your super shotgun, and then you never play as another demon ever again. I also think that, while a lot of the streamlining the game did was welcomed, there’s areas in which I feel like it took too much away and offered a disappointing return. While the introduction of Heaven and the Khan Maykr’s sanctuary as an environment is greatly welcomed, I feel like there was more that could’ve been done to make it unique aside from one new enemy and a boss fight. I might need to replay the game again if I wanna better understand the plot, but rest assured that it’s far more sporadic and wide than it was previously.

Visuals, huh? The game is gorgeous and truly cutting-edge: I know this because my computer from 2017 is unable to run it consistently at a 60fps benchmark and it still looks good even at the lowest and muddiest settings. The environments are different enough from each other to where each level feels unique from the last but at the cost of losing a sense of narrative coherence. The animation-work is probably the second best part of the game: Enemies all move in distinctive ways that emphasize their body-shapes and gruesome personalities. There’s a distinctive, slapstick charm that comes to dismembering them that feels aware of how comedic the game’s gore is. The game is constantly policing its own tone so that it always feels like just the right amount of “too much.” I think that works wonders.

For content, there’s a meaty amount of it for sure: The campaign is ~fifteen hours long, and that’s only if you play it without going for all the collectables and extras there are: The collectables themselves are also rewarding to go after. There’s also the addition of customizable weapon skins, which is not only something I’ll do an entire issue on soon but also a welcomed inclusion for aesthetic variety. However, the gripes I have with it are that the new ‘battlemode’ feature seems to be the only options for multiplayer, which I thought was rather exclusionary because many people desire for a return of traditional death-match, which was the only option available previously. Multiplayer specifically brings up the game’s negative motif of streamlining to the point where it feels like options were taken away despite how much they strove to add as much as they could.

With presentation, the developers knew they were creating a game for an audience already familiar with the release four years prior, so they take no holds and pack the game with a ton of callbacks to the game’s legacy, and it can be seen in the game’s art-direction, harking back to the days of hell on earth and grotesque clay-formed designs. They take a ton of liberty with this, and if the tone is anything to go by, it also hearkens back to the nostalgic days of games that took themselves seriously but what was being taken seriously was incredibly stupid. Doom Eternal is incredibly stupid conceptually, but from a series that took the bad writing of the original comic and made it the series’s tagline: “Rip and tear!” There’s a huge loss of narrative subtly that the original prided itself on, but you get a much more confident package as a whole, but that might hurt the game in reception.

Speaking of hurting in reception, the game’s writing is all over the place, and while that normally wouldn’t matter considering how many described the story of the previous game, the story is certainly more pronounced this time around — what with prerendered cutscenes sprinkled throughout the game. So, there’s clearly a bit more emphasis the developers wanted to be placed upon the story they wrote, and perhaps the cutscenes were more necessary this time around due to how sporadic the game’s pacing is: At one point, you’re killing the second Hell Priest (whatever that is) and then you’re blowing a massive hole onto the surface of Mars. The game explains a lot of this through codex readings, but the reading feels somehow more like a chore here than it did previously. Maybe that could be remedied if the codex entries are narrated and that narration could be played while one resumes gameplay, but that’s just my suggestion.

Now, onto the meat: I largely think the plot was created after they designed the environments, and that isn’t a bad thing because that environmental base isn’t a bad place to start out! In fact, plenty of media does that really well, and I don’t think this game is any different: Storytelling is largely environmental but each level is like a miniature story that, in my opinion, don’t really satisfyingly combine into an overarching narrative but are still enjoyable on a micro level. If anything, that’s more aligned to how the original Doom games were structured plot-wise: Each level was its own objective that didn’t care to seam easily within each other, but the sparse text you’re offered does the job well to tell you the purpose behind your slaughter.

Knowing that, the game has a consistent character conflict in which the Doom Slayer wants to see his slaughter as not having a purpose because, as soon as he views it as having one, he thinks about the implications and furthermore the consequences of it. That’s counterintuitive to the role he has to play for the player and is simply justified in the lore like his superhuman abilities. He has a bloodlust because his pet rabbit was killed by the demons… and he has powers because the Khan Maykr’s priests infused him with angelic powers that essentially turned him into a demigod: The usual.

Now, onto the cellulose: The politics infused into the game are expectedly not fascistic nor is it strongly in favor of referring to climate change. The game is, as I stated, explicitly exploring a theological theme, particularly that of deicide and the implications of the opportunity to end a natural oppression entirely and what unforeseen consequences could arrive from it. The game makes it obvious that the Doom Slayer is seen as a godlike figure by surviving humans, and one part in particular jumped out at me when I listened to it. In the log, a scientist tries to formulate conclusions as to what the Doom Slayer’s status is: She’s dumbfounded by the fact that all scientific analysis of his body has revealed he’s fully human, but despite this, he displays inhuman ability. She starts to doubt her adherence to scientific rationalism severely and gives into the appeal to the mythology that the Doom Slayer is a godlike figure.

At pinpoint, the game is implying that, by trying to finish the job that God failed to accomplish since damning Lucifer, the Doom Slayer is embracing godlike characteristics, defying mortality and pissing off the figures one would assume are on his side. The assumption that Doom is a game in favor of the forces of good as described in Christian religiosity is deconstructed here. In fact, it becomes critical of the forces of heaven because it puts the narrative in a position that slowly reveals that the forces of good were in cahoots with the forces of evil through the framework of Christian rapture. Why would heaven decide to bring about judgment upon Earth by exacerbating hell’s presence? What was once the deicide of Satan now becomes the deicide of God, leaving a member of humankind to ascend to godliness through vainglorious slaughter.

The reuse of medieval Christian imagery like crusaders isn’t a reference to its recent adoption by neo-reactionaries but rather is a reference to its particular historical moment. The Doom Slayer is adorned in a history of organization around Crusader-reminiscent figures because it’s symbolically appropriate: He thinks, or once thought, of himself as a force for holiness against all the world’s evil, and he brings about justice through what he was conditioned to see as the only route: Extreme and genocidal violence. Of course, that’s only intention: As we know, cultural reciprocation often deviates from intention, so it doesn’t surprise me that neo-reactionaries who are drawn to Crusader imagery find appeal in Doom on an aesthetic level.

Okay, I lied at the beginning of the previous section: The game’s writing is pretty bad and downright embarrassing in a lot of areas. The game has no strong political messages outside of anti-corporatism and a critique of the supposed progress of humankind. As much as it relies on cultural Christianity, I can’t derive much out of it that doesn’t venture outside the realm of theological allusion. But do you know what the game has? Terrible jokes that parody contemporary culture, particularly our language. I mentioned in main article the entire debacle that occurred back in 2018 regarding an off-putting joke about the UAC preferring that survivors refer to the demons as being “mortally challenged.” That joke is still in the game, and it appears exactly where it was showcased in those early screenings, and that’s all I’d have to say about it… if it were the only instance of such a cringe-worthy remark.

Yes, the writers decided that line was just so funny that it needed to become a thing the game references back to multiple times. In fact, it’s stated that the survivors on Earth refer to the demons as “the challenged.” It seems I was wrong in my entire analysis: The demons aren’t a metaphor for immigrants nor climate change, but rather, they seem to be a metaphor for… disabled people. That’s a bad joke, which is the point. It’s obvious that the demons aren’t a metaphor for disabled people, but the language surrounding the demons in the game’s canon surely implies that, but you’re not to take that seriously. It’s just a silly quip made to mock corporations appropriating progressive language to better their image! But, from the way the game treats it — giving such special attention to its supposed humor — makes me think that’s not the intention or, if it was the intention, it’s become heavily muddied. All it feels like now is a tasteless joke that makes fun of disabled people.

That’s hilariously ironic though: Why? Because Doom Eternal has some of the best emphasis placed on accessibility I’ve seen in any modern game. There’s an entire option in the pause-menu dedicated to accessibility, you can change the difficulty any time you want with no consequences or meta mockery, there’s an optional support mode one can enter upon dying so many times that makes the game easier, and the HUD is fully customizable on consoles as well on PC. The game outdoes itself to make sure everybody, no matter what level of skill or ability, is able to partake in the fantastic power-fantasy that is Doom Eternal. If there’s any award given to games for excelling in offering accessibility options, I have no doubt that the game would win it several years in a row. I will find it endlessly ironic that the game that raised the standards for accessibility options in video-games is the same one that has humorous writing so poor that it considers cruelly comparing disabled people to demons is funny enough to drive home. Alright, my “SJW outrage” is over.

I’ve seen other criticisms online that the game constantly making it a goal to remind the player (all the time) that the Doom Slayer is badass cheapens his appeal as a character by focusing too much on a fan-made interpretation of the character. Many have compared the game’s shift in tone to Warhammer 40k, which I think is an accurate comparison when it comes to how hard the game tries to turn the Doom Slayer into a hardened ‘badass.’ A lot of the story of the 2016 game felt hand-waived to embrace a narrative that tries to aggressively impose itself upon you with all the maddening revelry that fans frolicked in previously. The ludicrous fans used to enjoy on their own separated from a game that played straight and concisely has now become actualized. I mean, the game is silly but it might be silly in such a way that’s detrimental to the cohesiveness of it: That seems to be a consistent theme in the game from the writing to the level design itself (I mean, monkey bars: Really?)

To justify all the terribly corny and downright offensive jokes, the game creates a dramatic shift in the tone and presentation of the UAC towards one of sinister and insidious about their intentions to one that takes off the mask. However, I think a lot of the charm was lost by removing the mask entirely. At one point, the UAC employee whose job it is to record damage-controlling presentations directly says “will somebody kill this bastard already?” That is just the ending in a long series of becoming more and more desperate at the Doom Slayer’s progress. It’s a nice touch, but the looser framework also allowed them to make some of the worst jokes I’ve heard in a game in awhile. Like, I can’t understate how awful this writing is, Jesus Christ.

But we have to remember that conceptually, Doom is meant to be a power-fantasy. I fear that I might’ve failed to establish this point in the previous article, so I think it should be made obvious here. So, that inception defines everything about the game: It defined the impression of those who consumed it for so long, and now that the game is in a new spotlight with decades of fandom behind it, it wants to embrace all of it. That’s exactly what they were attempting to do with Doom Eternal, and that contributed to various strengths and weaknesses to the game’s overall presentation. I was largely critical in this follow-up, but that should be expected at this point. Just know that I adore the game on many levels, but one of those isn’t from a writing standpoint.

My point still stands that interpreting Doom Eternal to be about immigrant hordes is massively stupid.