A blood-soaked love letter to Doom

Image Credit: Samaneh Sadeghi Marasht

Andy Prizeman Nolan explores what makes Doom stand out as a genre-definer, all these years after its first release.

After a stellar release in 2016 that brought a limping franchise back to fruition, Doom saw its latest entry  Eternal released on the 20th of March. The franchise has always been upfront in what it offers, and Eternal has more than delivered on these grounds. A blood-filled, energetic shooter that plunges the player into an atmospheric hellscape, with enough difficulty to keep them on their toes. 

It is accompanied by yet another memorable soundtrack, and the updated gameplay mechanics gives fans a fresh means to experience its world. Marauders aside, (seriously lads, they’re ridiculous) Doom Eternal is yet another cathartic, satisfying entry into an already lauded franchise. Fans of Doom, however, probably know this by now. But if you’re one of the people who’ve yet to delve into the series, or someone who just doesn’t see the appeal, here are just some of the reasons that makes Doom so special.

Before I had ever played them, a part of me did look at the franchise as just another first-person shooter - a genre I’m not overly keen on. Outside of the hellish aesthetic, it never looked like anything special to me. All it took was about an hour of playtime for my opinion to change completely. The gameplay provided something I had yet to see from other FPS’ at the time. Whether it be the newest instalments or the original releases, it can feel unfairly difficult at times. With so many enemies providing a near constant barrage of offence, and resources running thin surprisingly quickly, the game serves well in making sure that, no matter the difficulty, the undertaking is never an impossible one. While the demons may provide a looming threat, the player is just as powerful.

Once the mechanics are nailed, and they’ve found a rhythm for the loop of weaving through enemies, previously unmanageable combat scenarios become second nature for the player. Once daunting enemies quickly become healthy competition. It’s a system that perfectly suits the game around it. Exploring through Hell, taking in the environment as ambient, dark music complements the backdrop. The soundtrack then rises into a trash-metal orchestra, and the empty landscape fills with enemies. And the feeling of finally glory- killing that Mancubus after ten failed attempts? Priceless.

When exploring some of the extras that Doom Eternal has to offer, the love that the developers had for the project becomes apparent. Discoverable cheat codes appear in the form of old floppy disks, alongside album art for soundtracks of older instalments. All of which are on display in the ‘Fortress of Doom’, the Doom Slayer’s ship. The ship, while being a hub for starting different levels, also served as a playground for the developers during its inception. Littered with previous iterations of the Doom Slayer’s armour, an empty rabbit cage alongside a food bowl, and a bookshelf filled with punned adaptations of popular book titles, the developers clearly had genuine fun working on the project. Without spoiling anything, visiting your ship’s computer upon completion only cements this love further. This obvious dedication certainly blends into the gameplay, as each aspect of gameplay has had copious levels of attention given, creating the best final picture imaginable. (Seriously though, if anyone can lend me a copy of The Hungry Hungry Cacodemon, it would be greatly appreciated)

The distinct soundtrack of Doom is deeply ingrained in its identity. Previous iterations boast a cast of talented musicians, with names such as Bobby Prince and Trent Reznor having contributed to the franchise’s audio. The latest two games were orchestrated by Australian composer, Mick Gordon. He sought to create a beefier reimagining of the sound most associated with the franchise, using whatever tools he deemed necessary. A collection of 8 and 9 stringed guitars and one chainsaw later, his work on Doom’s current gen reboot won the award for Best Music/Sound Design at The Game Awards in 2016. To cement the identity of the game further, Gordon altered the inaudible frequencies in this album so that, when played through a spectrograph, varying Satanic images are found. For a game so heavily criticised in the past for its Satanic implications, there is something beautifully ironic about subconsciously planting pentagrams in the music people were hearing.

The music for this Doom game also stands as a testament to how music composers’ work is treated in the industry. Although the soundtrack for Doom Eternal is like no other in the distinctive way it was created, analysing the music that Gordon created himself but didn’t mix reveals how badly some of the tracks were compressed. Although tracks such as ‘Cultist Base’ and ‘The Icon of Sin’ were mixed beautifully by Gordon himself, other tracks were at the discretion of the game publishers, Bethesda, who often do not fully understand the creative choices made by the composers. The comparison between the wavelengths of tracks the 2016 game compared to the Doom Eternal OST leaves it clear that the Doom 2016 soundtrack is a lot more defined, whilst the Doom Eternal tracks that were mixed on by the studio leave a lot to be desired. Eternal has magnificent tracks that add so much to the playing of the game and manages to deliver, despite the tracks not mixed by Gordon. Unfortunately for Doom fans, Gordon revealed he wouldn’t be working with ID software again due to the situation with the Doom Eternal OST. This means that for the upcoming Eternal DLC, Gordon will have nothing to do with the soundtrack. The franchise manages to still have one of the most memorable and distinct game soundtracks ever, and fans will always have the memory and nostalgia for the 2016 OST. Even though the Eternal soundtrack wasn’t as well received by many fans, given the prior entries, it’s still a Doom soundtrack. C’mon like; 2016 was literally a €70 album that came with a free game. Even when it’s bad, it’s still unbelievably fitting. 

Though it was so compressed and ill defined, being able to enjoy the work of Gordon’s while slaughtering my way through hell is an experience like no other. For those who have yet to play it, Doom is much more than just another first-person shooter. Having created an aesthetic so synonymous with the franchise that it later became somewhat of a trope, setting the game to Ultra-Violent difficulty and trying to scrape your way through Hell to the tune of a chainsaw blended with heavy metal guitar is an experience like no other.