Welcome to our new segment, Chasing Ghosts, where we review all of our favorite and newly available horror games. We'll let you know how they play as games, how they impact us as horror media, and how those two categories meld to form a horror experience.
You know what, It’s fitting that this segment starts with a game that has effectively been around since you could run games on floppy disks. Back when the collective we were buying bootlegged copies of the original doom on a 3½” floppy disk we were also cutting our teeth on early 90’s horror that our parents tried desperately to hide from us. Unfortunately for them, we all had that cool friend in elementary school who had parents who let them play whatever the hell they wanted. Doom back then was mind blowing, and Doom now is… well… read on below to find out.
Doom (the 2016 version) is the fourth major installment in what is one of the longest running still active video game franchise today. For simplicity I’m just going to call it Doom 4 for the rest of this review since I’m also periodically referencing the original Doom from 1993. This franchise put the first person shooter genre on the map, and is also one of the most famously “gory” games. I fondly remember walking into the living room in college when one of my roommates was playing the re-released original on his xbox. “Tyler… why are there rib cages strewn about the floor?”
Doom 4 continues this tradition of fast paced gore in spades, and in space, and in hell. Seriously. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, then Doom is a game about a lab on Mars that accidentally (total oops moment) opens up a portal to hell and releases its denizens on the scientific colony. The protagonist “space marine” fights his way through waves of demons and demonically mutated humans to close the portal and save all of humanity. Hooray. Well that was three games ago and we’re still in roughly the same spot. Doom 4 follows the same (or at least a resurrected version of) the space marine as he continues to try and close the portal to hell, which has once again been opened in order for humankind to harvest its, get this, “hell energy.” It’s not a story heavy franchise.
Doom: As a game
The Doom games have always been great gameplay experiences. Like I said, the original Doom basically invented the FPS franchise. That’s an impressive bullet point to have on your resume. Get it? Bullet point? I’m really nailing this thing for a first timer. Doom 2 and 3 made their own contributions, each ratcheting up the 3D graphics and violence levels. Those games came out over ten years ago.
Doom 4 came out last year, and proportionately ratcheted up the silky smooth 3D violence, plus added about five levels of absurdity to it. Need more ammo? Cut that imp in half with your chainsaw. Low on health? Pull out a cacodemon’s eye. This isn’t just violence. This is advanced space violence. In fact, violence is essentially the core mechanic of the game. Sure, there’s some platforming thrown in for good measure, but ultimately the only way to get to where you need to go is to punch your way there.
...And what a beautiful game it is as you punch your way there. Mars (and Hell for that matter) are good enough looking as backgrounds, but the real looker here is the framerate. Despite having literal explosions of particle effects on screen, numerous demons and zombies, detailed shadows, and high def textures the game holds strong at well over 60 frames per second without breaking a sweat. I should say my computer that I played this on is decent by most measures, but it’s also 6 years old. In any case, your mileage may vary, but this strikes me as a game that is incredibly well optimized.
All that being said, you probably aren’t planning on playing this game for its story. You and I are different people, but I certainly wasn’t expecting much in the narrative department outside of shooty shooty punchy punchy. Turns out, I was sorta right. Doom isn’t going to win any awards for story, but there is plenty of background to dig into if you like reading data logs and the research reports the game gives you on its creatures. Beyond that, there’s a strange sense of humor that permeates every level. I guess realistically you have to have the safeguards in place, but you can’t tell me that computers shutting down because the demonic possession levels are too high isn’t at least moderately hilarious.
Doom: As a horror experience
Words like demon, zombie, gateways, space, hell, and space-hell should all be familiar topics for the horroriented among us. If you think about it, what I’m describing above isn’t altogether different from how you might describe Event Horizon. So this must be a pretty great horror experience, right?
Well… not really. Horror isn’t so much the focus of this game, it’s the setting. Space-hell may be the backdrop, but that’s not as scary when you can reliably punch anything to death in your power armor. Even the skeletons can’t pull off being spooky. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like there aren’t certain spots that are intense, but I don’t think you’ll lose any sleep over it.
It is probably worth noting (again) that this game is incredibly gory. Blood, bone, and viscera abounds in this thing. It’s a core game mechanic that you have to beat the hell out of your enemies with your fists to regain health. Attacking them with your chainsaw replenishes your ammo. The attack animations change depending on where you are standing in relation to your foe as well, so each demon can be killed in about 7 different ways. You know that bridge at the bottom of splash mountain where people stand to get soaked with water when the flume comes through? Yeah, it’s like that but with demon-pieces. Gore is never really something that puts me on edge, but if you are squeamish this game might get to you at times. Most likely all of them. All of the times.
As a Game
Doom is jam packed with content, replayability, and fun. It runs at a silky smooth framerate on most systems, and offers unlockables and side-tasks to keep you engaged in every mission. I didn’t touch on it above, but as a nifty throwback you can actually unlock levels from the original Doom (1993) as you play through for double the nostalgia. I can’t vouch for the multiplayer (not my scene), but I can say that the single player campaign is an incredibly fun roller coaster ride. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.
As a Horror Experience
Gore and violence is the name of the game here. That’s the heart of the horror that propels this game. Aside from those factors the remaining horror aspects are mostly backdrop. Yes, it’s hell in space, but you’re also an invincible demonslayer who is fully capable punching the gates of hell closed. Not exactly prime dread-building material. 2 out of 5 stars.
As a Horror Game
It’s hard to separate the game from it’s scare tactics. The franchise that popularized the first person shooter genre has always been set in hell (or at least hell adjacent). As a thought experiment I think you could take the core gameplay here, strip away the monsters, replace them with some other innocuous baddies, and have close to the same game. In a weird way, though I don’t think the tone and humor of the game would work nearly as well if you stripped away the horror elements. Plus there’s no moral ambiguity to worry about when you are fighting the denizens of hell, which clears the way toward mindless enjoyment. This game may not scare you at your core, but most people who appreciate horror should still appreciate this game for what it is. 3 out of 5 stars as a horror game. Go check it out.