My instinct on leaping into id Software’s hyper-gruesome Doom, a gonzo shooter out May 13 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, is to dawdle. I want to linger over the arcane symbols fire-etched into slabs of stone, to peruse the fine print littering random computers screens, to find meaning in the orchestration of colored keys that open whooshing bulkhead doors that lead to scrums of howling hellish minions.
This is precisely how not to play Doom—reflexive thinking based on modern behavioral programming. Like tapping a button to reload your gun. Or clicking the thumb-stick to sprint. Or trying to duck behind cover. All contemporary shooter tropes of as much interest to this jubilantly lunatic version of Doom as savoir faire to the current political season.
Remember when Doom 3 tried to mean something over a decade ago? When its sci-fi/horror story about portals to hell on Mars and platoons of pop-out demons took itself so-seriously? When they got someone to write tie-in novels hundreds of pages long?
This is the opposite of that: A gleefully gory ballet held in a skate park plucked from a nightmare. You prowl corridors that link up with micro-arenas, gliding along ramp-like turns, mantling up containers and vaulting between platforms with the panache of a boss. Classic enemies are both nimbler and smarter. Areas flush with industrial piping and hellfire harbor creatures who’ll now clamber up the sides of columns (to fling fireballs from on high), flee when charged, or chase you up the sides of platforms and anywhere else you’ve foolishly deemed safe.
What a pleasure it is not to have to reload weapons, to glide over health and armor pickups without pausing to press buttons. There’s no need to follow objective markers because levels feel like funnels, pulling you inexorably from one bloodbath to another. There’s no sprint toggle because you’re always sprinting. The squelching sounds of pulverized anatomies punctuate a susurrus of Chthonic roars and growls as you shoot then “glory kill” enemies by literally tearing their infernal head and limbs off.
Forget aspirations to hero-hood. You’re the sort of especially cruel psychopath who punches innocuous service drones after using them for an upgrade. Duke Nukem would crack wise to lighten the mood, but Doom‘s mute space marine just soldiers on like a stewing, steroidal super-villain. It’s like pre-Army of Darkness Sam Raimi—absurdly violent and violently absurd.
The only thing I’m not sure about after messing around with Doom‘s first few levels is its codex, stuffed with walls of text that delve into the narrative whys and wherefores. It feels at odds with everything else, like someone trying to squeeze in explainers when they’re neither necessary nor desirable. If you’re going to commit, then commit. Did the original 1993 Doom have a story? Did anyone care?
You can ignore that stuff, of course, because this is about the opposite of stopping to read, or think, or reflect. Bring on the crazier crazies, the cacodemons and cyber-horrors and spider-legged brains. Bring on the punching things in the face until faces pop off. I have no idea if I’ll be bored senseless of all this in another dozen hours, or care enough to craft maps with the clever-looking Snapmap tool, or feel competitive enough to bother with multiplayer. But for now, it’s enough.