There are two types of fear in horror games: the fear of what could be around the next corner or on the next screen, ready to pounce on you and suck your lifebar dry, and the fear of being eaten to death by hordes of pixellated beasties while you bash uselessly at the controller, knowing the GAME OVER screen is just one last hit away. The best horror games are the ones that combine these two fears well. And Doom 2 does it shockingly well…
Yes, horror games and first-person shooters have both come a long way in terms of creating worlds and blurring lines with cinema over the years, but there’s something so simple and visceral about Doom 2’s garish, Day-Glo trip through the bowels of Hell that it still packs a gruesomely thrilling punch today.
Perhaps it’s because the main character has no name that you can become so engrossed in the gameplay, which amounts to little more than running, jumping, flipping switches and of course, blowing seven shades of bloody goo out of demons with a variety of deadly weapons. It literally feels like it’s you against Hell’s worst denizens, which makes it all the more satisfying when slicing, shooting, shocking and slaying your way to the Exit button, giving you a few seconds of respite before rushing headlong into the terrors that await you next level.
And terrors they are. The enemies that populate the various dimensions of the game are so imaginatively grotesque in their creation and their style that it feels almost literally as if your nightmares have come true. The first encounter with the Spiderdemon and its vicious, soulless face makes for a nerve-jangling adrenaline rush; battles with the demon-resurrecting Arch-Viles are an exercise in survival that doesn’t end until it emits its high, gurgling death-scream; flaming skulls come flying at you, jaws open to chew lumps out of you. As fun as it is to kill them to the creepy, iconic strains of Bobby Prince’s soundtrack (particularly when toting a Berserk power-up) it still doesn’t feel quite safe till you’re sure every last one of them is dead. Hit the Action button on the wrong wall and you could be face to face with a horde of those snarling Pig Demons, zero ammo and 2% health.
But what’s scariest about Doom 2, and indeed all FPS horrors, is the use of that third dimension. Anyone who’s ever played the game knows what it’s like to be trawling through one of those dimly lit halls, only for the familiar grunt of pain and flash of red to pop up on the screen as one of the near-invisible Spectres sinks it teeth into you. It’s a brilliant implementation of one of the most basic human fears – helplessness. All the chainsaws, shotguns, even BFG9000s in the universe are rendered useless when you can’t see what’s killing you.
Doom 2 is a perfect fit for the Halloween festivities – decked in the gory Technicolour of 90s games, chock full of twisted imagery and gory action, stacked with thrills and geared for pure, unabashed monster-killing FUN. Hell has never been so inviting.