That was what DOOM II promised to be, and I couldn’t wait. I got my hands on a full copy of the game about a year after its formal release and was quickly swept back into its world of dread and demons. But, unlike with DOOM, I knew what to expect in the scares department…or, at least I thought I did.
The first few levels of the felt pretty standard as my hardened fighter traversed the brown hallways and exterior levels of a starport, trusty shotgun in hand. There were basic monsters aplenty, along with small caches of more formidable but still familiar foes, and every space came full of howls and growls warning me of the dangers ahead. And yet, I had no idea of the long and unpleasant journey that laid in wait.
With each new level, our titular marine descended into further chaos. Upon reaching a level called “Dead Simple,” it’s revealed that demons that have infested the port have sabotaged its technology and are trying to instill their own hellish sense of reality upon the world. You are the only one who can save earth’s population from a descent into madness. It feels like a big deal, and it becomes even more so when the level starts. All of a sudden, the demons at play are much worse than before, and it’s all I can do to steel myself against the horrific onslaught. By far the worst of the newly-introduced monsters are the Anrachnotrons. These creatures with robotic frames made to look like spider legs might seem a little clunky by today’s standards, but at the time, there was nothing worse for me than hearing it’s grinding gears in the distance. My always-poor reflexes never, ever looked forward to facing an Arachnotron’s plasma gun.
“Well, okay,” I hear you say. “This all well and good for an action FPS, but it’s #Spooktober, so where are the real scares?”
Granted, yes, I wouldn’t really call the first two-thirds of DOOM II outright scary. It wasn’t until I reached a level called “Nirvana” that my level of trepidation within the game notably increased. And it wasn’t because of the enemies per se – though the wicked Arch-viles and their unpredictable distance attacks, new in DOOM II, made the Arachnotrons look like ladybugs – it was mostly due to the physical environments. Gone were the brown buildings, view of the sky, and cityscapes. In came a world more akin to…well…the innards of a decaying cadaver, if I may put it so lightly.
You know how some people are okay with watching videos of surgery? Well, I am not one of those people. While I’m fine with movie special effects in that regard, the real-life equivalent makes my stomach churn. While the nightmarish rooms of the last third of DOOM II certainly don’t read as realistic, they were enough to set off my imagination, which remains really good at conjuring up visions far scarier than anything id Software could have ever produced at the time. My point being, once the visuals in DOOM II got really gross and weird, I found myself less likely to jam through its spaces (though, in hindsight, maybe I should have paid less attention). This was especially true when it came to facing any room that looked remotely like dripping flesh. The addition of hanging corpses, dead bodies, pools filled with acid and/or “blood,” skies filled with red, deformed skulls only heightened those imaginary (but real-feeling) fears.
Watching playthroughs of DOOM II now, I realize now that my brain made the game feel much scarier and much more dread-filled than it ever was. Then again, it – the DOOM series – is all about survival, and there’s a bit of instinctual fear that goes along with the notion of “me vs. them.” To be honest, it’s one of the reasons I mostly avoid survival, particularly survival-horror games today. They make you feel like you’re at a disadvantage from the outset. You have to formulate your own advantages along the way while continually avoiding the things that can cause setbacks, like someone stealing all your stuff, or, well…death. (This is why, no matter the game, I’ll always give my primary characters the best weapon and armor available, no matter how silly or impractical they might be. I can’t not survive.) At the end of DOOM II, actual “ending” aside, winning meant surviving, triumphing over dread and demons. That made all the scares, real and imagined, totally worth it.
All embedded images © id Software (1994).