Don’t get me wrong, Doom (opens in new tab) is metal (opens in new tab). In fact, Doom is heavy metal and certainly 2016’s most metal PC game so far. But as with all things metal, to someone, somewhere, Doom is just not metal enough. I am that man, and I am not sorry.
I believe a perfect Doom has yet to be made (opens in new tab), one that exists somewhere between Doom and Doom 2’s fast gunplay and cheeky wit, and Doom 3’s uncanny horror. And thus is metal: the earnest, willfully campy distillation of the most brutish and bleak of human affairs. Think spinning Judas Priest records in reverse to reveal dangerous occult messages while your parents are asleep. Think of the lowest depths of misery and anger channeled through a rad guitar solo, dude. Think of the folly of man and his insignificance embodied in corpse paint, sleeveless political t-shirts, and luscious long hair. Doom can do more. Here’s how.
Make every level pitch black and empty
Imagine: an ocean of obsidian with just you and a shotgun. It’s freezing and absolutely silent. Nothing happens. OK, so maybe reel back on the pitch blackness and emptiness a bit. Doom would benefit from even more environmental variety, though. It does a great job capturing a singular comic book version of hell—jutting rock spires and skull adornments en masse, but there’s little sense that an ancient occult hierarchy exists there.
To really give Hell an air of uncertainty, let me walk through demon settlements and interact with passive (likely tortured) denizens. I fantasize about a level that explores the cacodemon society, where I trek through an abandoned (or not) hive and piece together clues about their floating eyeball culture through small environmental details. Doom has plenty of quiet moments and wholly encourages exploration with its many secrets, but doesn’t reward much in the way of color and information about the world. I just want to know who I’m dissolving with my super shotgun on the reg, not because I want to empathize with them (that’d be tough to pull off), but because I want to know what they represent. How did the cacodemons come to be? Are they representative of a specific kind of sinner? What kind of messed up rituals do they have? How is babby cacodemon formed?
There’s plenty of room for Doom to expand on environmental storytelling. Sure, every inverted corpse is a story, but if the only story prop in each environment are inverted corpses then the story per inverted corpse will have diminishing returns.
Replace all the blood with misery
OK, so don’t replace all of the blood, but I think there’s room to be more creative with fluid decoration in Hell. Blood is cool, and the implications of blood hanging around for decoration or happenstance aren’t rosy, but that junk would congeal and crust. Plus, Metallica, a big mover in all things metal, made great use of bodily phlegms in the cover for Load.
To be clear, Doom should not do as Metallica did. Doom should just ease up on the blood hose and let original artistic endeavors take shape. Doom needs a healthy splash of red regularly, but could afford to dip into a more cosmic color palette. Some of the most imaginative (opens in new tab) metal album covers (opens in new tab) make use (opens in new tab) of the entire color spectrum. Creepy and rad can be more than red and brown.
Do you really want to know how this album cover was created (opens in new tab)?
Make Hell impossible to conceive, let alone traverse
One way to lean into Doom’s cheeky wit while elevating its level design and uncanny horror is to make Hell an ‘impossible’ plane of existence. I expect a nightmare dimension to rattle me and step outside the traditional bounds of time and space on occasion, and Doom’s arid rocky platforms don’t exactly do much to instill existential dread. I want to experience a nameless horror and laugh about it.
Doom’s layered and winding level design could benefit from the addling complexities of M.C. Escher inspired staircases (opens in new tab), or the mind-bending perspective behaviors of a game like Antichamber (walls that only exist when you’re looking at them)—Doom doesn’t need to go all in and become an environmental puzzle game, but by adding bizarre, seemingly illogical behaviors to Hell, it becomes a more threatening and unpredictable place while broadening its playful use of cliches.
The portals dotting mid to late game fights are a step in the right direction, working as they always have: instant transports between two distance points on a map. Rendered as blue and red swirl patterns however, they say 'World of Warcraft’ more than they say ‘time and space have no meaning here, everything you know is a facade, have you heard the new Agalloch LP yet’ and so on.
I wish every mechanic in Hell was coated with the same miserable helly-hell paint as the totems—small stone artifacts in Hell that project the histories of the dimension in the most deep, luxurious demon dulcets imaginable. Portals should be screaming mouths that split open and swallow the player whole, maybe large glistening eyes that carry the faint reflection of their destination within them.
The demons should riff on your insecurities
Well, to be clear, the demons should never say a single human word, but there is definitely more room for them to strut their personality. For the most part, they all make gurgly noises and furrow their brow at Doom Guy. There’s nothing unsurprising in their behavior—they’re all very capable demons and I’m proud of them.
But they’re not very good at sharing their feelings. Hear me out. I’m not asking every imp I see to pop a squat, crack a beer, and spill their workaday woes to me—I’d just like to see a few more heinous behaviors from these hellions. Most often, they apparate, I punch in their soft shell skulls, and carry on. I want to stumble upon a rite, a human sacrifice—hell, a board meeting. What do they represent? Why should they feel threatening beyond sporting a scary good set of demon abs or a single glistening cat eye?
There are a few moments where you can look at an arena from afar where some demons are already fighting one another—I’d love to see more of their activities overlap and extend beyond simply attacking the player. Pitting certain demons against one another doesn’t just offer combat incentives, but it speaks to their relationships and personalities. If every cacodemon I encounter wants to duke it out with all Barons, then I’m inclined to kite around the arena (even more than Doom already encourages) and distract them with one another. And if those behaviors are expressed beyond demon models bumping up against each other, accompanied by attack formations and supplemented by small set pieces throughout each level, I may begin to think of them as creatures instead of polygons.
The demons should literally make you sick
In 1993, Doom’s assortment of demons were taboo. They were pixelated approximations of creepy, occult entities made into video game stars overnight. In a largely Christian society, they stood out as harbingers of an imminent teen-pocalypse. Now, they’re pretty much par for the course. It’s time to dip into the old six demon bag (opens in new tab) and see what new devils have earned a shot at stardom. A few of my favorites, for your consideration:
Buer (opens in new tab) - This confused vortex of goat legs is attached to the head of a lion. Imagine the animation and speed on that sucker rendered in idTech, the clop-clop-clopclopclop as it approaches. Metal.
Purson (opens in new tab) - Dude’s just trying to ride a bear. Imagine: shotgun the guy up top and steal his ride. Take a hell bear for a spin through the sixth layer, knocking down mailboxes.
Baal (opens in new tab) - Look at this confused little guy. I’d be wearing the same expression were I part man, cat, and frog on a bed of—holy shit, yep: spider legs. Imagine a chopped, screwed remix of this enemy in a Doom game. Give them some kind of bizarre, tiered behaviors, maybe a support role in battle. Maybe they’re a recurring NPC. Maybe they’re passive and completely unexplained.
Black Phillip (opens in new tab) - Ba. Ba. Ba. Ba.
There are plenty of apt demons to pull from. The concept of hell and demons recur throughout an immense portion of cultures and their history. Floating horned cyclops sphere (cacodemon) is a great idea, but less so after 23 years. It’s time to rope in the extended family, quirks and all.
The music should turn you into an empty vessel
I adore the soundtrack in Doom. It goes a long way in establishing a raucous, exuberant tone that accompanies the quick and dirty combat like a maestro to an orchestra.
But there could be more nuance in what mood Doom is going for throughout. For the most part, it’s either A) badass and silly or B) curious and contemplative. It’s intended to make you feel one of two distinct states throughout a 10 hour campaign, and for an adventure that traverses an alien planet and an interdimensional plane, the two broad emotive palettes don’t quite encompass the physical and mental distance traveled.
As the environments change, as they should in Hell (opens in new tab), shifts in the subgenre of metal music accompanying them would be a fun way to change the emotional palette and celebrate the diversity of metal as a whole.
Titan’s Realm, a late game level, comes to mind. For a brief spell, the reds and browns of Hell give way to ashy greys and blacks. The mood is much more subdued, even in the middle of combat. I couldn’t stop thinking that it’d be interesting to hear Doom deploy black metal or a similarly bleak experimental metal with the same exaggerated enthusiasm as the rest of its soundtrack. Doom’s heavy metal OST always gets me hyped to mow down demons, and layering on the fuzzier, bleaker tone of black metal (Blut Aus Nord, for example, embedded above) has the potential to underline the desperate difficulty of late game fights and the thematic destitution of the most tortured, terrible reaches of Hell without sacrificing a sliver headbanging, demon-slaying potency.
Most importantly, parents should hate it
This kind of indifference just won’t do. Doom should get me grounded for weeks.