Doom makes me feel lonely. For all the demons lurking on the moons of mars, it’s not fear or anger that grips me; it’s the hermetic howl of loneliness. It’s those long stretches spent rooting through the gloom for card keys. They blew through the soul, like wind through branches. And the music, with all its midi metal angst, was like a fight at a funeral. It seemed to want to set the mood ablaze, to assault the darkness with aggression. ‘If only you could talk to the monsters,’ ran the infamous Edge review. It never seemed an intellectual observation; it seemed a craving for company.
That company sprang up around Doom in the form of a fledgling online community. The WAD – which stood for Where’s All the Data? – was a free package that bundled levels, sprites, and game data together. These were shared online, or, romantically, via floppy disk – which soon became the plastic carrier of cultural downfall. Indeed, it’s impossible to prise Doom apart from the moral panic that bubbled around it. It helped spark The Violent Video Games Debate, which still seethes today. Its very name seemed chosen to tease.
It would be easy to imagine its creators a coven of hooded cultists, pouring freshly let goat’s blood into a cauldron of floppy disks. You’d never think Doom was the cheery creation of John Romero, the beaming grin beneath the black waterfall of hair, and John Carmack, whose impish smile now lives below an Oculus Rift headset. Now, 25 years after the game’s initial launch, Romero has revealed that he is releasing Sigil, a WAD containing a fifth episode for Doom. Despite the considerable changes the games industry has seen over that span of time, the power of the original Doom lies undiminished. People still wish, it seems, to be hurt plenty.
It isn’t difficult to see why, not just for Doom’s Satanic charms but for its influence. It changed everything, and there’s more than just shooters that are knee-deep in the debt. I remember the familiar eerie quiet, that same sense of lonesome isolation, when playing Gone Home. Prowling the halls of the Greenbriar house, the guns had been folded away, the coloured keys swapped for cassette tapes, and it wasn’t monsters but memories that could talk. Imagine my paranoia, when playing Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, that I would round a corner and see a Cacodemon curvetting around Shropshire.
NOW READ:TODAY'S COIN MASTER FREE SPINS HAVE ARRIVED - FIND OUT WHAT THEY ARE HERE!
The walking sim was born of the first person shooter. Not only in a broad sense but in a literal one; the first true wanderer, Dear Esther, had its caves illumined with Half-Life 2’s Source Engine. But it was Firewatch, with its dusty red planes, that brought me back to Doom. Here, it was loneliness the hero courted, heading out into the wilderness, not toward but away from demons. It wasn’t long, of course, before they found him. What Campo Santo did was spark a feeling of paranoia, as if the threat of inferno lurked just out of sight at all times, ready to leap out.
In fact, one of Doom’s delightful habits is to do just that: to pounce up every few years holding a mirror up to other games, revealing the ways in which it spawned them, and – their flesh consumed – the way it would mutate their formulas. Remember the languorous opening to Doom 3, wherein a ship swoops down to the UAC station, stirring up martian dust? The first ten minutes were jammed with walking and talking, with corporate cynicism and low pay-grade grumbles. It shared in the secret of Alien, which understood the importance of the long lunch before any chests were ripped open. But so, too, did it look back to Half-Life, with its leisurely train jaunt that entrenched us in the everyday jostle of the Black Mesa Research Facility. And where did that draw its inspiration if not the empty corridors of the UAC base on Phobos, from 1993?
From the relentless speed of the original Doom, it’s only a short hop to the Call of Duty campaign, with its waterslide momentum and one-versus-all spirit. But it’s a hop over a swamp of story and cinematic ambition. Whether it be Medal of Honor, which – with an eye cast toward Spielberg – washed us up on the shores of hell, in Normandy, 1944. Or Bioshock, in which the monsters could not only talk but we were drowned in their audio logs. Then along came Doom, in 2016, a refreshing slap to the face. ‘There’s no need to overthink things,’ it seemed to suggest.
And, there was no danger of that. Here was a game in which computer consoles were there for thumping, not reading; where any narrative was returned to the realm of backdrop; and where its hero came with the desire not to talk to his enemies but to rip and tear them to shreds. The 2016 iteration of Doom quenched a thirst for pure aggression that I didn’t even know was there. Here it wasn’t just the heavy metal soundtrack – a rusty, short-tempered brew, courtesy of Mick Gordon – but the desperate need to stay alive, by way of health-restoring glory kills, that stoked our aggression.
It’s fitting that next year we have not one but two Doom releases, bracketing the last quarter century of shooter evolution. There’s Romero’s hark back to the 1993 original, and there’s id Software’s Doom Eternal, a name that seems as prescient as it does a declaration. What, I wonder, will it mirror and morph in the next 25 years? Perhaps we should keep our eyes peeled for a battle royale in Hell? From what we’ve glimpsed in trailers and demos, we have seen a nifty new energy sword, a grappling hook, and, perhaps most exciting of all, is that it promises a Hell on Earth scenario. But then, Doom has always been here. Its name contradicts its true nature. It’s not our end. It’s our salvation.