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Oh, Hell – Some Thoughts On Not Loving New Doom

June 6, 2016

doom-2016_005I first noticed I wasn’t enjoying the new Doom as much as I’d originally thought when I stopped playing it for weeks and the idea of starting again made me slightly sad.

It’s obvious in hindsight, but it was easy to miss those signs because I was – and still am in many ways – convinced that I love this new version of Doom, and all the ways it’s like the old Doom but is also new. Oh, the allure of the same-but-new-but-same.

And in many ways New Doom, or as people are already refusing to call it, Noom, is very much the same-but-new-but-same. I wrote a piece effectively saying this but longer for RPS after the first gameplay reveal a year ago, all about the urgency and grace of moving sideways, and how the constant motion combined with how the demonic enemies attack you – essentially a process of constantly constructing a 3D maze of dodgeable fireballs – captured a central, important thing about what old Doom did very well.

I think that’s there, still, in the playing. 2016’s Doom is best in its early stages, bursting from a stone sarcophagus desperate to run down corridors and pull jaws from the demonically compromised. This is a great example of a update seeming like a faithful translation of then into now, despite all the intangible subjectivities by which this process is governed. There was no real melee system in classic Doom, but the glory kills which have modern us performing trauma circus finishers when in range of weakened enemies feels classic all the same, full of the same performance fury and adolescent righteousness.

So I was enjoying the new Doom and was, as I say, surprised when the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to me having stopped enjoying it after all. Here are some potentially boring reasons for this having happened that I have only bothered to think about and write down because I love the old Doom a great deal.

At some point new Doom stops being about shooting things with a shotgun and occasionally beating them into whatever world comes next if you’re from actual Hell with their own arms, and becomes about cuboid staging grounds filled with power-ups, waves of enemies, and the strategic possibilities of setting one against the other. The exits are sealed, rooms become killboxes, and our job becomes to survive and exterminate.

The problem is partly philosophical, a sense of enclosure versus the original’s speedy perpetual motion, but it’s also one of simple fun. A foundation of classic Doom is that most enemies are easy to kill, and only particular situations require the use of anything meatier than a shotgun or chaingun. These situations, once the levels are committed to memory, can be plotted out and saved for – rockets here, plasma there – while the rest of the game remains an angry burst. New Doom, once it introduces its tougher demons, becomes a series of encounters with a stacked pyramid of damage absorption. Being trapped in those cuboid staging ground becomes about dealing as much pain as possible towards giant, hurt-sponge enemies who can only be retreated from in a constant circle.

Even then I suspect I might be suffering from playing on PS4. Instant access to the 0-9 weapons menu might give these encounters more fluidity – but, on the other hand, it still wouldn’t solve my BFG problem. This is a small thing I feel disproportionately. In old Doom the BFG used energy cell ammunition, just like the Plasma Rifle. Using one weapon or the other was a choice, meaning the game had no firm say on whether you had the ability to use the BFG at any given moment – the joys of plotting out and saving for. Now the BFG is rationed using bespoke ammunition in the form of green pills. When Noom wants you to use the BFG, it gives you pills, a form of managed mayhem that makes you feel leashed at the point of greatest release.

All of which is why new Doom, a game I like in lots of ways, felt at the end and for a while before like something I was full of, like a rich cake. I finished it tonight, after a few weeks of playing a level every few days. I’m glad I played it, but I’m also glad it’s done.

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