It doesn’t matter if I fire blanks, I’ll still miss


Doom (1993)

Up until now, I’ve always felt somewhat unqualified to talk about shooter games. Yes, I was able to write about Perfect Dark, but that was moreso because the protagonist is a lady. And I know quite a bit about ladies, having tipped my fedora towards many in my time. I’ve also gotten up to some other pretty manly pursuits, like flying planes and bombing it around in go-karts and doing arts and crafts. What I had never done before, however, was fire a gun.

What can you expect? Our police force ain’t even carrying. There’s an armed response unit, but you’d have to be a pretty depraved crim to warrant that kind of heat around here. And I can’t shake the terrible feeling that our boys and girls probably only have access to antique rifles. No, proper weaponry seems to be the sole preserve of mad farmers who wield their shotguns at anybody who might trespass on their land. Yes, I know these are the last people who should be swinging shottys around, but this is Ireland. Anyway, I can tell you that I’m no better, since I’ve now lost my gun-toting virginity.

It happened, almost fittingly enough, in a secluded warehouse in Poland. Well, we didn’t want to do it by halves. And I was nervous, and I can admit that it wasn’t the prospect of missing the target that had me nervous. It’s not as if I had my glasses with me, I was hardly gonna be like Bond in there anyway, nailing 10 after 10. Oftentimes on The Chase, you’ll see contestants pausing for a moment to slip on their eyeglasses before the serious work begins. I’d like to see a duff action film someday where the protag stops for a moment, puts his coke bottle glasses on, and then starts spraying all the enemies with dead-on balls accuracy. But I’m not stupid – I know he would have had his camo contact lenses in from the start.

The moment we walked into the shooting range, there was already that smell of sulfur in the building. You’re able to look up the package of weaponry you want to fire before you book. Certainly the most eye-catching selection was the BADASS package, 70 bullets for about €75 – including a .357 magnum, a Kalashnikov, an Uzi, a Glock, an AR-15 and a pump-action Shotgun (3 normal shells and 2 magnum shells, if you don’t mind). You could also specify some custom weaponry ahead of time, like WW2 rifles, if you were a proper ammunition connoisseur. Believe me, they have everything in these places.

Mind, the USA is obviously where you wanna be, if you’re a regular taker of Guns & Ammo; my brother visited the Orlando Gun Club, I think he may even have membership status now, and in there you can buy yourself an honest-to-God minigun. You’d look great in McDonald’s with one of those on your back, trust me. Me being a brasser, quite literally a man off the street, I just plumped for your more basic Glock/Kalashnikov/Uzi/Shotgun package, still a pretty nice set of artillery.

It was all getting a bit dicey for me when my mate pointed out that one of the dudes ahead of us in the queue had a long coat on him with a Pepe patch on the arm. A public mass shooter in training? Perhaps, but what was really striking was the fact that we were able to load up without any form of ID. We didn’t even sign anything. So my mind was not entirely at ease when we walked through to where the magic happens and someone was already popping off before we’d even got our muffs on.

God, was it loud, although I must admit that I thought a nearby gunshot with no aural protection would be absolutely eardrum shattering, but it wasn’t quite that. It made us jump a foot in the air, don’t get me wrong, but only because we thought somebody was going postal.

Actually there’s a lot of misconceptions about guns that probably get perpetuated by films and games. They’re bloody loud, but not the earthly roar you get in movies. Also, the muzzle flash isn’t some big light-show, although maybe if you blast a gatling gun at full auto it would be. This sort of gun stuff is probably obvious to those in non-repressed societies, but it definitely surprised the three of us farmboys.

But what amazed me the most is that the recoil isn’t even that bad. When I was offered a modern AK-47 (disappointingly not with classic wooden finish), I thought it was a bit big for an oik like me to start out on. I knew I was gonna break my shoulder or whack myself in the face or something. I thought the shotgun in particular was gonna take me off my feet and snap my collarbone like the most botched wrestling finisher of all time, but nothing of the sort.

Better than that, pumping the thing after each shot (which I kept forgetting to do) was so easy. Don’t know if they put a nice wedge of WD-40 in there, but pumping it felt like a children’s toy. Really, my only fear with the weapons was that some nutter could turn 90 degrees and open my chest up – or that I’d accidentally do the same to someone beside me.

And I have form for that: I’ve accidentally pointed a bow with loaded arrow at people before. Be a bit tough for me to apologise to someone when their head’s hanging off. As it was, the lads running the place (Action Men all of them, you could tell they all live for combat) managed the whole setup really well, put you at ease, loaded the weapons for you, and all with no fatalities (this time).

Hence, I’m now a guns expert. If you don’t believe me, check the target I hit with my shotgun – I must have put a thousand holes in it. I even used many of the same weapons that Doomguy used in the seminal 1993 shooter, Doom. Talk about ubiquitous; there’s a famous stat where, in late 1995, more PCs had Doom installed than Windows 95. And no wonder, because old Bill Gates wouldn’t have been very much at home in your typical game of Doom. We’ve all seen that Windows 95 onstage launch video. 

There’s little I could say about OG Doom that you won’t know already. It’s the daddy, or maybe granddaddy of FPS. And sure, your guy can’t look up or down or jump, but you can shut your mouth with any criticisms because it’s been over 25 years and Doom still stands the test of time. Better than that, it’ll always have a top-notch soundtrack, with some of western gaming’s most iconic tunes. Most people favour At Doom’s Gate, though my pick is The Imp’s Song.

There’s actually a ton of levels in the 1995 release of Doom, and even more depth added with five distinct difficulty levels. Each level’s got a few caches of secrets hidden away as well, I tend to find 0% of these but they’re there. And if all that ain’t enough for you, Doom was one of the earliest and most popular games for modded levels. Plus you can get it for free for your PC, or for an absolute song on modern consoles. 

Sure, the enemies ain’t 3D, but it’s still plenty satisfying tooling up with a shotgun and letting rip right in a beast’s face. And I know a thing or two about that, although sadly no Polish beasts ever entered my line of fire. One thing I certainly didn’t manage to pull off at the firing range, and probably my favourite thing about Doom, is your character’s facial expressions at the bottom of the screen.

As a default, he looks to his left and right in an impassive manner that I never quite mustered in that Polish warehouse. Impassive? Try ‘muted’, ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘slightly cacking it’ instead. As you take hits from enemy fireballs and shottys in Doom, you’ll get more and more bloodied, something that was pretty shocking to me as a child. This was a time when we all lived in fear of Mortal Kombat, remember.

But the best is when you pick up a particularly gorey and vicious weapon, like the chainsaw or the BFG (three guesses what that stands for) and your guy’s got a savage smile on his face like they’re now delivering pizzas to hell and he’s just heard the doorbell ring. There’s even multiplayer too, which is fitting because I can tell you that shooting is definitely a group activity.

But my top tip is, don’t try to bring a chainsaw to a shooting range, because the supervisors stand beside you at all times, they’re big cheeses around the local barracks and they know how to use that chainsaw far better than you do, as well as all of the other guns you might have lying around at home. If you don’t fancy mixing it up with the armyman fantasists, then you can always try practicing your marksmanship on Doom. There’s a lot less chance of the controller recoiling out of your hands and shooting you in the foot, believe me.

29 May 2020

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