Game Name: DOOM(1993); Special Edition Release – The Ultimate DOOM (1995)
Developer: id Software
Platform: MS-DOS, Windows, Mac OS, OS/2, Linux, NeXTcube, IRIX, Solaris, RiscPC, AmigaOS, BeOS, Acorn Archimedes, Atari Jaguar, PS1, PS3, PS4, PocketStation, Xbox, Xbox 360, XBOne, Sega 32X, Sega Saturn, Super NES, Nintendo 64, 3DO, Game Boy Advance, Tapwave Zodiac, Shield Portable, TR-DOS, iOS, BlackBerry OS, Windows Mobile, [and likely a bunch of other stuff I’ve never heard of]. Of course, Doom has been ported by fans to just about anything with a screen, including a Canon office printer. You heard me correctly.
Categories: FPS GrandDaddy, Retro, Reaction Based, Ammo Management, Abstract/Complex Labyrinthine Levels, Lethal Ambushes, Monster Closets packed to the Brimstone, Keycard Finding, Gore, Satanic, Multi-Difficulty, Low Res, Distilled Shooter, Co-op, Deathmatch, Long Campaign, Moddable, Thriving Community, Storyless, Frantic Fun, an Immortal Franchise and unequivocally/demonsterably METAL as hell.
May Appeal To: aging gamers eager to write dissertations about their generation’s superiority, future alien archaeologists studying the lost husk of human culture, gaming nerds completing bucket lists, twitchy tweakers, and those with low attention spa….
May Repulse: graphics snobs, story cravers, the young, enjoyers of Everyone’s Gone to the Rapture, and those that believe ‘DOS’ is the primary villain in Portal
Comparable To: DOOM 2016 -its directly inspired descendant- is amazing; it’s also comparable to DOOM 3 in scant ways involving the surface veneer and thinly construed plot. It bears much resemblance to Quake due to Romero’s involvement in the project (though DOOM is less scary and brighter); HeXen redefined the formula/engine for use with traditional warriors and mages, Duke Nukem was an honored peer for its time period, though Castle Wolfenstein just doesn’t hold a candle to its ‘id’ driven successor. The frenetic, survival aspect of Left 4 Dead comes really close, Painkiller propels the torch forward, Return to Castle Wolfenstein sequels do the genre justice, F.E.A.R strikes a familiar -though inferior- chord, and you may have heard of an arena juggernaut called Unreal Tournament.
Learning Curve: Curve? HA! Dodge. Shoot. No weapon reloading, no weapon swapping, no cover fire, and only 9 enemy types with even less attack patterns. Since kiting or sidestepping at breakneck speeds is viable, the level design takes center stage and presents the real challenge. If you can take audio queues and recognize the tells of a trap, you’re set.
Game Length: 3 hours or 10 levels for each of three episodes. 4 episodes in Ultimate Doom. There are ~40 official levels altogether. Not including fanmade content and multiplayer, you already get good wall humping ‘OOMPHS’ for your buck
Difficulty: Adjustable – and cheat codes like ‘IDKFA’ for when you don’t GAF
Mastery: A 25 year old game may be difficult to pick up from scratch and compete at a global level. The secrets have been charted, the history explored. Time attack records have been set for pacifist runs, solely punching runs, and any other way to play a game this simple, so leaving your mark would require something…. unorthodox. Maybe beating the game by blinking morse code at an interpretive controller has been left undone.
Story: “Why would a reflexive gorefest need story?”, you might ask. Well, the developers would mostly agree. I say ‘mostly’ because they threw in diatribe about seeking revenge against a transdimensional hellspawn army for the death of your pet bunny Daisy. I also say ‘mostly’ since DOOM’s original creative director/designer, Tom Hall, was at severe odds with what direction to steer DOOM’s infancy.
Back before the convulsing groundwork was laid for the caffeine laced fever dream of giblets and pentagrams to come, DOOM was pitched as a demonic, complex, open world of key hunting and an emphasis on narrative to enhance the player experience (I’d like to envision it as a bastard offspring between Wolfenstein and Might & Magic). As the game developed, the ubiquitous DOOM Bible penned by Hall fell on the wayside and although it was overflowing with a startling abundance of details (including guesstimations at future PR statements and disclosures), the majority of this massive document went unused. Tempers flared; a wedge was driven; Tom Hall left the team feeling underutilized and creatively stifled.
In lieu of DOOM promising to be an overly ambitious title with too many ideas, the remaining team won out and the game earned its destiny. Lead programmer John Carmack can sling nigh-autistic tech lectures with the best of them, though I highly disagree with an earlier quote of his: “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.”
Did a lack of story free up resources and hone the gameplay to a razor’s edge? Probably. Ultimately though, the developers’ own life stories are more interesting than anything infused into DOOM itself, in my humble opinion. (And if you’re curious about what outcome the characters, story, and influences of Tom Hall would ever arrive at, look no further than a wacky, sprawling, repulsively-unique game called ‘Rise of the Triad’.) DoomGuy Blazkowicz could have been an animorph dog damn you. A Dog!
Presentation: What you see is what you get, and you can barely see that the weapons were filtered photographs of toy guns and that half the enemies were clay models spun around a lazy Susan. (Neat, huh?) Apart from nine enemy types and more sprites than I had originally guessed, there is devious funhouse architecture here that must surely be the work of a concussed M.C. Escher doodling an Etch-A-Sketch during a horseback ride. Obtuse angles stick out at every turn, incongruous elevators drop out from underneath, the grumbles of the damned resound balefully throughout the jagged corridors, and you must wade through rivers of toxins and intestines alike. Bodies don’t disappear like in most modern shooters, rewarding the player with a visual sea of their fallen enemies upon [frequent] revisits to old areas with new revelations. Of note: DOOM is notorious for having lifted various riffs from prominent metal bands though I’d remark that the soundtrack is mostly terrible. There are assumedly royalty free sound effects floating around in DOOM since I’ve heard some in Starcraft and other games.
Unique Features: Doom is one of those titles that changed or influenced the face of gaming forever, the pervasiveness of its example being only outmatched by its legendary status. Because it’s been emulated in every way possible, you’re not going to find anything that sets it apart from its legacy of descendants nowadays. The pacing, tone, subject material, weapon set, mod-friendly design, networked multiplayer, dim lighting, and other facets have nearly all become commonplace in some shape or form. What you won’t find in other babysitter shooters is the brutal level of difficulty, the ‘unfair’ placement of monster hordes within claw swipe distance (and the fact that they fight each other), the intriguingly abstract level design, and the slew of secret sleuthing required to get weapons before they’re usually available. It’s just a very rewarding experience dependent on combat alone – one might call it “survival action”, which is kind of special.
Gameplay: Shoot, run, and scavenge your way across branching, nonlinear level design. Literal waves of monsters assault you at every opportunity, many of which close the distance to the player through a shifting landscape of pitfalls, perils, and surprise ambushes. Is there a sprite on that pedestal? Skirt the perimeter first and be prepared for a firefight!
Secrets, kill count, and time are recorded per level and you have a lot of missions. Save scumming is almost endorsed by design but you could simply restart the level after dying. Beware, however, that ammo and allocated weapons reduce to a measly pistol upon respawn as does the player’s progress. For these reasons, careful deliberation of how many shots of what weapon will maximize your survivability. Combing the unconventional hallways for triggers, buttons, and audio indicators that mask fateful powerups or boons within site and beyond reach is essential. With them you’re invisible, invincible, immune to radiation pools, or primed to convert demon flesh into fist-sized craters. Without them, you’re no different than the stepping stones of crimson sprites exposing pixelated rib cages in your wake. DOOM alternates states like a meth head on and between highs, but it’s up to the player to decide how long each phase is.
Additional Comments: This game is a beefy 2.5 megabytes total, zipped. That’s smaller than your modern webpage – and less than a cup of coffee a day. DOOM ran at a locked 35 frames per second on blistering 12 megahertz processors of its era, was mainly distributed as boxless shareware (a product you pay for after the demo), and had more installs than even Microsoft Windows at some point in time.
The game is clearly 3D, (contrary to what soapbox standing game analysts spout) though contrary to what your eyes see, there is an ingenious use of 2D mapping to extort the most of its limited hardware: altitude changes occur, though no two hallways overlap. This means that a top down view of the game reveals every nook and cranny, and that an enemy is never truly above or below you (not that you can tilt your head to look or aim).
DOOM’s resolution is 320X200, which is proudly represented in this actual scale image:
What I Liked: The game never died while I took my sweet time getting around to beating it. The mod support via WAD files is a brilliant piece of philanthropy that kept this near and dear to the hearts of many – lot of cool stuff that came out of collaborative efforts. I like DOOM’s sound effects, the weaponry, the grunts, falls, and satisfaction from clearing a room and surveying the carnage wrought at my own hands. I like the feeling of overcoming a challenge and coming out on top of self-restrictions (like a no-death challenge, no reload challenge, speedrun, or other). The bright colors in this game are distinctly old school and remind me of a time before everything got brown and ‘bloomed’ to maximal retinal damage. On that note, the lighting system is better than remembered – lightmaps were drawn where they made sense, strobes in the darkness were appropriately scary, and recesses were darker the further they got from the camera.
Additionally, and not often included in other games, the Mach 4 speed you run at has just the right amount of inertia to keep you moving after letting go of the run button. There is something about this feature that ‘completes’ the entire experience for me.
What I Disliked: The shotgun, by my account, is a broken uberweapon (and don’t get me started on the super shotty from DOOM II). Since you don’t aim vertically due to the aforementioned 2D aspect, the relevant shot spread is thin and horizontal and perfect for nailing any group of enemies or thing bigger than your typical humanoid without waste. Coupled with the profuse amount of ammunition dropped by enemies, I retained the weapon for well over 50% of my time and deployed it effectively at all ranges excluding the Spider Mastermind and Cyberdemon. The tracking on the plasma rifle with its rapid fire nature, also, results in a lot of wasted shots – not my favored weapon at all.
Episode 4’s difficulty curve is exacerbated by cheap teleportation tricks in the early levels and plagued by inconsistent design choices nonadherent to the cerebral cleverness of the others. Even though 3 previous episodes were executed masterfully, it’s like the fourth was tacked on by A) a disgruntled team member looking to silence boisterous fans B) a nervous newhire fumbling with DOOM’s bra strap or C) a debugging exercise detailing how not to use teleporters in your game. Although ‘C’ is in line with the general policies of the Union Aerospace Corporation, it’s poor taste to abuse the player’s patience like this.
Glitches Experienced: None. Well done id.
Hours I Played: Less than 10 on Ultra Violence. I attempted an ‘all secret’ run throughout the first 3 episodes and used a walkthrough for about 6 secrets. Episode 4 annoyed the shit out of me so I blitzed through as quickly as possible with my guts dragging a smear behind to mark the trail.
My Personal Reaction: I obviously enjoyed myself. DOOM always had that stigma when I was growing up since the industry was being [justifiably?] skewered for their mindless violence and potential to generate maladjusted adults of the 1990’s youth. Rather than wax philosophical on the impetus of breaking barriers vs normalizing ichorous pools and ritual sacrifice, I just want to say that this game is fucking awesome. Very rarely do you regret a missed opportunity of beating a game in childhood and then return to that game two decades later without the world ever losing sight of the debt owed to it. DOOM holds up even today, and elicits the same evisceral reaction to blood, shadow, and fireballs in me as it did when I was but an eager lad booting it up at my friend’s house, paranoid that their parents would catch us worshipping digital Satan.
Noob Tips: ZDOOM is a fanmade source port of the first DOOM engine. Although it “improves” these games graphically and provides custom options, its akin to the CG stickers slapped all over our Star Wars re-releases that cheapened the majesty of the original labor. If nostalgia is your thing, get a good port working through DOSBOX and consider the following configuration tutorial:
Handy key presses:
CTRL + F10 to capture the mouse to the DOSBOX window
ALT + ENTER to fullscreen DOSBOX
Depth and Replayability: Low depth, High replayability. It has Co-op, Deathmatch, campaign easter eggs to plunder, community maps, and mods for every spritely occasion.
Suggested Value: $5
Where to Buy: Steam, GOG, Humble Bundle