In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. This week Sam revels in Doom's chunky, moddable guns.
You know how at Sony and Microsoft’s E3 conferences, you can hear people actually whooping in the audience? I used to hear those people and wonder if they were for real, or the product of some kind of crowd hose used to spray generic NPCs onto real life venues.
At Bethesda’s 2015 E3 conference in Hollywood, I was sitting next to one of those guys in real life. He’d brought his girlfriend. When the first footage of Doom was revealed, he screamed “oh my God!” When Doomguy chainsawed through a monster in first-person, I swear he grabbed his girlfriend’s hand really tight and shouted “oh shit!” with a hysterically over-the-top cadence that I’ll never forget. I rolled my eyes and thought, “cool your jets, pal, it’s just a ruddy chainsaw.” By the time the Elder Scrolls Online footage started, he’d obviously calmed down.
I wondered why he was that excited about what we were seeing on screen, which at the time just looked to me like a pretty shooter with recognisable Doom iconography. The 2016 reboot didn’t really interest me until I had the game in my hands. That was when I realised this wasn’t just a gory shooter that reheated old character designs, but a smart, logical extension of the earlier games, heavy on player expression. I was now whooping on the inside.
It was the weapon mods that made me fall in love. They essentially let you become Iron Man, employing a range of increasingly lavish military hardware against the game’s array of schlocky monsters. Without upgrades, you have the standard firearms you’d find in any 7/10 FPS—shotguns, rifles, rocket launchers and so on. With mods, the shotgun gets a grenade launcher. The heavy assault rifle can fire miniature rockets in bursts. Upgrade the rifle enough, and it can continuously unload rockets, so there’s no reason to use it as a machine gun ever again.
Most weapons have two upgrade paths, too, so you can trade tiny rockets for a tactical scope on the heavy assault rifle if you wish. But who’s playing Doom to land precision headshots, instead of spaffing rockets all over the shop? This person doesn’t exist, and even if they did, they’d be ostracised from my social circles.
The heavy assault rifle’s rocket rounds are incredibly cathartic. They latch onto enemies or the environment, then explode a second later, with a satisfying high pitched comic book sound effect. I love how they can combine with some of the other weapon mods as part of a strategy for clearing out waves of monsters. Another favourite of mine is the Heat Blast function of the plasma rifle, which unleashes a radius knockback attack, giving you the chance to chain a few melee kills together. When Heat Blast is fully levelled up, it can even shred enemies in your vicinity to pieces, which feels like a Sith power. It’s spectacular.
My use of the word “strategy” in that last paragraph was disingenuous, actually. I never have a strategy in Doom, and I expect you don’t either. I essentially unload every gun I have upon waves of enemies, in the order that I enjoy firing them, until I’m out of ammo for each. I assume other Doom players do the same. There’s enough delineation between the weapon mods that I feel a certain level of attachment to my favourites—and I never get this invested in guns in other FPS games.
The mods collectively make Doom’s armoury feel more inventive than anything I’ve encountered in a shooter since the first few Halo games—they make other FPS devs look like they’re not trying. Why can’t guns always be this fun? Who still gets excited about basic machine guns or laser rifles, no matter how good the sound design is? Videogame guns should be stupid, novel and indulge the whims of players who want to inflict as much mad shit as possible onto disposable enemies.
My final favourite weapon mod in Doom—and one that completes the fantasy of being Iron Man, if Tony Stark fought demons instead of Captain America—is the gauss cannon’s precision bolt. This changes the heavy laser gun into an allpowerful charge beam, much like the core on Iron Man’s chest. I’m getting endorphins just thinking about it.
If id makes a sequel to Doom, let’s take it even further. How about a grenade launcher that you mod to fire black holes at enemies, pulling their limbs off through space and time? Or a sniper rifle that fires chainsaws? It will take this sort of daft, unfeasibly complicated weapon idea to provoke me into whooping at a future Bethesda E3 conference.