Doom: Knee Deep in the Dead is a wonderful novel | Book Review

How do you novelize Doom? A game where the developers famously didn’t care about the story. Well, you take the bare bones of a story from the game, add some more characters, and give the main character more motivation and backstory. It did take some time to get going, but this is a fun book!

There are more characters in the book. It helps fill out the main character’s backstory and explains his motivation to continue. You also read about the psychological effects of what he is experiencing. This isn’t dwelled on too much, but it is nice to have in the story.

I do have some problems with the story. Most of them are centered around one character I feel should have had a more satisfying death. I’ll get into this later; let’s talk about the story.

Story

The book follows the events of the three episodes of Doom. We follow Corporal Flynn Taggert, Private First Class Arlene Sanders, and scientist Bill Ritch as they make their way through the levels of the game. The backstory of Flynn is explained first, as he will be our main character.

We start with how Flynn and his company ended up on Mars and why they responded to the distress call on Phobos. I liked this part because it added to the bare-bones story of the game. More is also added to who Flynn is and his relationship with the other marines in his unit. I think this was needed because it would have been a short story.

Flynn must escape from the two guards watching over him when things go down. As he makes his way through the Phobos base, we read about how he struggles to deal with the situation. Zombies and demons hadn’t been encountered before, and it seems humans haven’t run into aliens. Flynn, and the other two characters, go back and forth on whether or not they’re facing demons or aliens. They also debate on if there is some mastermind.

The most interesting part of the story is Flynn’s brief conversations with the zombies and imps. I think it was essential because I never questioned if they could talk before, and it let Flynn learn about his situation. It also got my mind working on my theory, which turned out to be wrong. It was still fun to think about if Flynn was going to find people who had joined with the demons.

Flynn makes it through Phobos quickly and picks up the different weapons from the game. Some of them are given different names, but the pistol, shotgun, chain gun, and rocket launcher appear. It is also pointed out how they need to look for ammo and that they need to loot the zombies for supplies.

All of the iconic enemies from the game show up. The imps could talk, which was fun! Most of them are given different names. This is explained by having Flynn and Arlene come up with names for the demons. When they find Ritch, we hear what he calls them, but it doesn’t play much of a role.

Throughout the Phobos base, Flynn follows markers Arlene left for whoever was left. These markers lead him to the first boss fight and a teleporter to the Deimos base, which had disappeared after the scientific experiment went wrong. For some reason, Flynn seems not to know that Deimos vanished, even though he was there with the rest of the marines. He looks a little dumb when the story needs him to be.

In the Deimos base, Flynn meets up with Arlene, and we get some more speculation on what is happening. They name the demons, find key cards, and teleport through the base. I almost forgot! The key cards can only be used to open one door. For example, according to the book, if you want to open three red doors, you need to have three red key cards. This is stupid, but I’ll get into that later.

The two make their way through Deimos and struggle to deal with the hellish landscape they can see. They struggle at first, and after that, they seem perfectly fine. I didn’t notice it that much, but there are one or two moments where it is really strange.

They teleport to Hell and find Ritch, who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Spider Mastermind. The three eventually find the Spider Mastermind, kill it, and sabotage the demon-spawning vats. Unfortunately, Ritch is killed in the battle.

Before that happens, Ritch fills the two marines in on what happened. On Phobos and Deimos, some alien race built two-dimensional gates. Ritch explains that the aliens were like something from an H.P. Lovecraft story and that none of the demons they’ve encountered match the reliefs that the scientist found. It is a nice explanation of what happened and why.

After the battle, Flynn and Arlene learn that they’re now in orbit around Earth and that the demons are invading the planet. Flynn is given a vision of this invasion when the Spider Mastermind gives him a psychic vision. That is how the book ends.     

Extra Characters and Motivation

The game didn’t have many characters in it. There was Doomguy and the monsters. Doomguy wasn’t even important enough to have a name. His back story was barely there.

In this book, Doomguy is named Flynn “Fly” Taggert. He has friends, relationships, and a story to tell the reader about his life. Most of the book’s first part establishes who he is and what is making him move forward.

Quite a few of the other marines that Flynn is stationed with make an appearance in the book. Most show up as zombies. Flynn and Arlene struggle with fighting them sometimes. When they come across the corpse of one of their friends, Flynn reflects on them a little, even if it isn’t clear that he cares about them.

Bill Ritch was an interesting character to appear in the book. The origins of the invasion were only speculated about until he gets rescued. He sheds light on what happened and proves he can fight the demons. Not that it would be too hard. If a nine-year-old can beat the game, Ritch shouldn’t have too much of a problem.

Flynn has a strange relationship with Arlene that is built up throughout the book. There isn’t a huge payoff to this. They find the marine that Arlene is engaged to, and she kills it. Then she deals with it for a paragraph or two, and we’re right back to shooting demons. I don’t think there needed to be more to this, and I think it could have been left out. We’ll see if it matters in the next book.

Lt. Weems

I wanted to single out Weems for a bit. He is the officer that was in charge of the marines. He is also an idiot and an alleged war criminal. He did order the killing of a bunch of monks in a fictional country at the beginning of the book.

Weems gets built up as a potential antagonist throughout the book until he is found dead near the end of the book. It was a letdown for me because I thought there would be a more satisfying end to him. Instead, he is found dead twice, and that is the end of it.

When Flynn had a conversation with one of the Imps, which was amazing, we learned that some of the humans had joined the demon’s side. These humans weren’t turned into zombies, according to the imp. It isn’t clear that we can trust what was said, but it got my mind working on a possible subplot.

It would have been great if Weems had joined the demons! He is built up as an idiot and a coward. He is also why Flynn was detained at the book’s beginning. It would have been cool to have Weems being zombified or leading some of the demons.

Instead of that happening, Flynn and Arlene stumble across his corpse late in the book. He does die somewhat grotesquely, but it would have been better if he had betrayed the rest of the marines. That would have been more in line with his character.   

Likes and Dislikes

I have more likes than dislikes here. This is a fun book for fans of the Doom games, but it can stand alone if you have never played any game from the series. It also expands on the games’ lore by creating a better story than what Id Software had made.

The Spider Mastermind is given two weapons in the book. The first is its chain gun, and the second is a psychic attack. This was awesome and made a ton of sense! It is a giant brain, after all. This wouldn’t have worked in the game, but in the book, it is excellent!

My biggest dislike has to be when Flynn and Arlene teleport to a new section. Each time they lose all of their weapons and clothes. It seems completely unnecessary. You only lose all your gear when you die in the game, and with the book, it feels a little pointless. It only gives the characters an excuse to explore and find more weapons.

The key cards also make no sense in the books. In the game, once you get a key card, you can open any of the doors of that color. In the book, the cards are a one-time usage. The keys disappear once you go to another level, but this wasn’t necessary for the book. It doesn’t make much sense in the context of the story.

What I do like are the different things from the game that show up in the book. The monsters fight each other, all the monsters from the game appear in the book, and the story is expanded.

I liked it when Flynn talked with the monsters to figure out what was happening. It was early in the book, and it was clear that he didn’t know what was happening and why. While it didn’t happen again, it was an excellent addition to the game’s lore.

There was only one weapon that didn’t make an appearance in the book. The plasma rifle isn’t mentioned; if it was, I didn’t recognize the name it went by. We’re also told what weapons were the most effective against specific enemies. It was very cool to read about!    

Conclusion

This is one of the better video game novels I’ve read. It does a great job of expanding on the game’s story, and it works in most of the elements from the game into the story. I’m looking forward to the other books in the series.

This one covered the episodes of the first game. I’m guessing that the second book covers the second game, but I don’t know what the third and fourth books will cover. These were written before Doom 3. It will be fun to read the others and see how the story changes over the other books.

Published by Paul Werkema

Hi! I'm here to share my hobbies with all of you. I love video games and books, so I write about the books that cover video games or are novels about video games.

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