Why i love… doom’s pro­logue

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - CONTENTS - Fraser Gil­bert

Delv­ing into the fo­cused and ab­sorb­ing qual­i­ties be­hind one of the best open­ing se­quences of the past decade

Ask just about any­one who ex­pe­ri­enced the orig­i­nal Doom for the first time back in 1993, and they’ll have a story to share about its open­ing level. It was iconic, in­cor­po­rat­ing eye-catch­ing vi­su­als, a mem­o­rable sound­track, and im­pec­ca­ble stage de­sign.

A sim­i­lar sense of won­der car­ries over to the in­tro­duc­tion of 2016’s Doom, which proves highly rem­i­nis­cent of its 25-year-old coun­ter­part, de­spite lack­ing the same rev­o­lu­tion­ary im­pact. Its great­est achieve­ment can be at­trib­uted to its re­luc­tance in em­ploy­ing a stan­dard tu­to­rial in fa­vor of div­ing right in, bury­ing into the sub­con­scious with an ar­ray of clever de­sign tech­niques.

The pro­logue is around five min­utes in length, fol­low­ing pro­tag­o­nist Doom Slayer as he seeks to escape im­pris­on­ment from his sar­coph­a­gus and seek an­swers sur­round­ing the on­go­ing de­monic in­va­sion. But here, the real fo­cus isn’t the story—it’s the com­bat. Within just half a minute of the game’s start, Doom launches you into bat­tle against a hand­ful of en­e­mies, and there are 28 demons to slay in the first five min­utes alone. This is a game that makes its in­ten­tions clear from the out­set— you’re here to kill demons, and the story is merely an af­ter­thought for the most part.

The pro­logue fore­goes some of the more mod­ern con­ven­tions of FPS game de­sign. It’s a shock to the sys­tem—go and watch a new player’s re­ac­tion to the im­me­di­acy of the com­bat, and you’ll see what I mean—but it also lends itself to a sense of in­trigue and fresh­ness, help­ing to en­cap­su­late that old-school Doom feel.

One of the most ef­fec­tive ways it ac­com­plishes this is in the lack of cutscenes. Doom sets its premise in a short space of time, and does so with min­i­mal di­a­logue, fea­tur­ing a com­pletely voice­less main char­ac­ter who uses nothing but body lan­guage to con­vey his feel­ings. We see him crack his knuck­les in anger, cock his shot­gun in style, and punch ev­ery­thing from en­e­mies to el­e­va­tor con­trols with a ma­ni­a­cal sense of power, help­ing to build char­ac­ter in sub­tle fash­ion. The pro­logue sub­se­quently uti­lizes th­ese traits to en­hance the game’s fast-paced na­ture, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the Doom Slayer’s hot tem­per to re­duce lengthy story el­e­ments with the de­struc­tion of nearby scenery. Another way the pro­logue works to build speed is in its com­bat, which takes the form of an arena-based seg­ment near­ing its con­clu­sion. At face value, this serves as lit­tle more than a means for dis­patch­ing demons, but it also ex­ists to ac­com­plish a key goal—forc­ing play­ers to keep mov­ing. Ev­ery bit of ammo, health, and en­emy move­ment is built to en­cour­age the player to re­main ac­tive. Stay still, and you’re guar­an­teed to fail.

Liv­ing hell

Each and ev­ery foot­step, char­ac­ter an­i­ma­tion, and story-build­ing el­e­ment is care­fully crafted, help­ing to set out a state­ment of in­tent with­out ever mak­ing you feel as if you’re en­gag­ing in a paint-by-num­bers tu­to­rial. In­stead, it spends its time gen­er­at­ing a ballsy first im­pres­sion that delves into both the con­scious and sub­con­scious mind. It has the con­fi­dence to get in your face and trusts you to de­ter­mine whether you’ll pur­sue the hel­la­cious ride.

It’s all summed up in the pul­sat­ing outro, in which the Doom Slayer is seen tak­ing an el­e­va­tor to the begin­ning of the game’s first real level. The sheer badassery of Doom is dis­played here in full force, with the main char­ac­ter go­ing into a fit of rage as he takes in a deroga­tory audio link from Dr Sa­muel Hay­den, set to the back­drop of Mick Gor­don’s breath­tak­ing ‘At Doom’s Gate’ remix. As the ti­tle screen hits, the mu­sic reaches its crescendo, pump­ing its vol­ume and send­ing sev­eral dozen shots of adrenalin pul­sat­ing through the screen. It’s all timed to perfection, and the results are mes­mer­iz­ing.

I can’t think of any in­tro­duc­tory seg­ments that have cap­tured my at­ten­tion in the way Doom’s pro­logue has in re­cent years. And ul­ti­mately, id Soft­ware re­ally didn’t have to in­vest such care and at­ten­tion in its de­vel­op­ment, but in do­ing so, they’ve helped to en­tice both old-school fans and a brand-new gen­er­a­tion of de­mon slay­ers to the se­ries. You only get one chance to make a good first im­pres­sion, es­pe­cially in the com­pet­i­tive world of first-per­son shoot­ers, and Doom ac­com­plishes this with one of the most mem­o­rable and riv­et­ing open­ing se­quences on the Xbox One.

“You’re here to kill demons, and the story is merely an af­ter­thought for the most part”

Above It’s only a mat­ter of min­utes be­fore you en­counter the first de­mon-spawn­ing Gore Nest.

Be­low The Doom Slayer ac­quires his ar­mored and high­ly­cus­tomis­able Prae­tor suit in the pro­logue.

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