Of fireballs and flamethrowers

I am the Slayer, I am the divine force with anabolic-filled arms and explosives-filled pockets, I am Doom, I… have just been swiped out by a Mario-Bros-Fireball.

Doom Eternal is colorful, fast and does not miss a chance to remind you that it is a video game. Is that bad for the holy grail of immersion? Does Doom Guy look like he cares?

Already the start of the game crystal-clarifies some basics. Fuck that sterile techno UI, must have been one of the thoughts of id Software. May it be playful, full of decorations and ornaments, a homage to the user interfaces of the eighties and nineties. Fonts like on covers of Death Metal records, buttons made from metal, even the pointer of the mouse delays the movement like back then, when the barely self-financed computer could not even handle the requirements of the intro screen of the latest must-have game.

Doom‘s gameplay is rather slapstick than gorefest. Exploding heads and ripped-out eyeballs make a flippant “pop” sound, glory kill animations resemble the silliness of Loony Tunes, just more morbid. I collect shining bright 1ups and question marks for not-so-hidden secrets. Arenas with enemies who spawn in waves feel more like a hectic game of puzzles and positions where every clever move is rewarded with funny animations of familiar foes who mostly then break up like a piñata. Christmas in the fun house does not compare to that.

Why all this artificial seriousness anyways – here we are playing the great-grandchild of a game which solely defined a whole genre and brought basement dwellers to infantile delight. It is a strange contradiction: on the one hand you have brute force as a means to show emotional maturity and adulthood. On the other hand you play in a setting that is so much over the top that it is beyond any thinkable reality. It riddled even censors since the beginning: does Doom glorify violence, does every first-person-shooter do that or are the things on screen as absurd as a Monty Python fever dream?

The reboot of Doom in 2016 and its successor Doom Eternal welcome this paradox and hence have no problems to troll, to comment and copy without shame. That is why NPCs do meta commentary like Glados, that is why I had to laugh when fireballs rotated and I thought myself to be in Bowser’s castle instead inside the hellish world of Doom. It is fun with a well measured portion of purism and self-irony. Maybe something the world has good use for in these times.

Doom Eternal, released in 2020, is the successor of the 2016 released Doom (both developed by id Software), that was praised by critics and fans for its uncompromising return to the origins of the series. The games seem to do a lot right because they quit the arms race around “realism” and instead embraced the medium for its unique “gameyness”.

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