PC review: Doom

DoomUltimate

Twenty years later, Doom remains the last word in fast-paced single player shooting. First person shooters have become an incredibly diverse genre, venturing into roleplaying territory and stealth action, but there’s very little out there that rivals Doom’s purity and speed. No game’s outstripped it in its own territory. Very few even try.

Having only recently played it for the first time, I was impressed by how well it holds up. Doom still feels incredibly fresh and increasingly relevant.

DoomMarines

The fundamental mechanics are on point. Players wield varied weapons and bolt through tight corridors, shotgunning enemies to bloody death on their way to the level exit. The shottie really does define the play experience – there are other weapons, but none with the same versatility as this monster, which is the player’s first real taste of power after starting with a woefully weak pistol. The range of it is almost absurd, and it can kill most enemies with one or two shells.

Enemy designs are simple but effective. The zombie marines are actually some of the more dangerous enemies in the game, teaming up to chip away at players’ health if they should venture away from the safety of corner cover. Imps shoot easily-avoided fireballs which herd players into more vulnerable positions, and do a fair bit of damage when they strike. Pink demons take more shots to kill, but can only attack at close range. They’re very rarely a threat, except for the mostly-invisible spectre variants, which sneak up on players for a quick lunch.

Their designs continue in this vein, with ranged attackers firing dodgeable shots and melee attackers closing for the kill. They’re great, both practically and visually, and they’re incredibly fun to gun down. What’s also really cool is that enemies occasionally attack each other, giving them demonic personality.

But their poor AI dates the game. Demons in particular just loaf around, barely even trying to attack players. They rely on corridors to guide them, but in the open they’re hopeless.

DoomDemon

The levels they populate are incredible, however. Corridors are tight, claustrophobic spaces leading to up-close battles with hellspawn before opening up into larger arenas. There are winding paths and multiple routes. Secrets abound. The opening chapter has some of the strongest levels in any shooter, with smartly placed enemies and items, and its secrets lend the Mars moonbase an eldritch charm of its own.

Unfortunately, later chapters aren’t as well-structured as the first. What starts as very open design with occasional gated doors becomes a series of mazes, teleporters, and colored keycards. In later levels, I found myself searching more than shooting, a real letdown when the game’s strongest point is its pure and primitive action.

Even so, it’s easy for me to forget that modern Doom isn’t exactly the same game it was on release. Chocolate Doom attempts to replicate the game as players originally experienced it, and, taking that at its word, some standout features and omissions were tweaked in later versions.

The original game has no vertical aiming, with shots hitting anything lined up on the X-axis. Guns don’t need to be reloaded. There’s no jump button. It’s a testament to the game’s core design that these things don’t feel necessary. Doom plays well without them. Plus, the MIDI sound works better for the game’s original pacing – the heavy metal soundtrack is awesome either way, but it feels overdone when it loses that computerized edge.

But part of the Doom experience is that of a shareware, community-oriented game. There’s more to Doom than just Doom, and fans have been tweaking and polishing it for years. After playing the first chapter of Ultimate zDoom, I tried out Brutal Doom.

Brutal Doom is amazing.

DoomBrutalCrop

I’m certainly missing some scope, as I haven’t played all Doom’s different mods, many of which probably contributed to Brutal Doom’s design. In fact, I think enjoying Brutal Doom to its fullest actually requires ignoring some features, such as the offend button, the jump button, and rip-and-tear melee attacks.

Brutal Doom complements the core gameplay fantastically, though. Players start with an assault rifle instead of a pistol, upping the pace when shotgun shells are in short supply, and guns do more damage in general. Critically wounded enemies often let out death screams that give the game an Evil Dead sound. Y-axis aim becomes important and weapons need reloading, making the pace more frantic as enemies swarm. And enemies are more menacing, with better pathfinding and lunging melee attacks.

Most noticeably, Brutal Doom splatters blood everywhere. The idea that adding more blood makes a game better is something I don’t agree with, but in Brutal Doom it works wonders. One thing that’s so engaging about the original is how the demons react to getting shot: they crumple to the floor, intestines spilling out in their dying throes.

Brutal Doom takes that to the next degree. Weapons have devastating impact, as blood spatters the walls and enemies explode into gory sprites. That pounding heavy metal soundtrack finally makes sense, as players blaze from room to room slaying imps and demons by the hundreds.

BrutalLaser

Brutal Doom modifies the game without compromising Doom’s original appeal, so long as you keep yourself in check. For me it was never a question, as I was having so much fun playing by the unspoken rules. There’s a sort of garish charm to it, wholly different from the more meditated and lo-fi original. It’s the difference between a well-used VHS horror flick and the remastered DVD.

Both versions are enjoyable in their own way. Too many games that broke ground upon release feel dated and boring today, having been endlessly surpassed by the genres they spawned. But Doom plays incredibly well, in a style of shooter that’s rarely attempted. Played amidst modern first person shooters, Doom feels like a genre all its own.

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6 Responses to “PC review: Doom”

  1. GFoppy Says:

    You can try the Serious Sam series or the first Painkiller, two slightly more “modern” games that still very closely follow the Doom-genre of shooting.

    • catstronaut Says:

      I actually really loved Serious Sam back in the day, as it was one of the few shooters that my PC could reliably run at the time. It follows the same school of thought, but the maps are way more open and enemies just kind of run at you in waves, so it ends up being a lot different in execution. Definitely a fun game though, and an apt comparison. I really loved the playfulness of some of Serious Sam’s maps, such as that vertical wall in Serious Sam 2 that you can run straight up while bomb guys run straight down. Also, those camera lens flares were so awesome back then. Funny story: I was probably about 12 when Serious Sam came out, and I thought it would be awesome to buy a joystick, so I could truly be in control of the experience. Somehow I figured that’s what pro players would use :O

      I hear good things about Painkiller. I should check it out.

      • GFoppy Says:

        Interestingly, I remember reading a 1990s game magazine article about joysticks that could be used for competitive Doom multiplayer. The joystick would be used to control movement similar to WASD, while a knob located beside the stick was used for turning. This was advertised as allowing you to “turn faster than keyboard” (back then, mouse control for FPSes was still quite uncommon).

        What a long way FPSes have evolved since Doom, both in gameplay style and control schemes.

  2. dennyvuquach Says:

    Really awesome review, catstronaut! Doom is really my favorite FPS game of all time, and I especially agree with the statement that too many games upon release these days feel dated and boring, while even though Doom is 20 years old now, it’s still really enjoyable to play these days.

    • catstronaut Says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it, dennyvuquach 😀

      It’s remarkable how well the game has held up. I think the original game is maybe just “good” imo, while Brutal Doom is pretty incredible. But having stayed a good game for 20 years is no small feat!

      • dennyvuquach Says:

        Exactly! I also played Brutal Doom on the GZDoom engine, which is a really exciting mod of Doom, because of it’s awesome weapons and challenging monsters. I love the fact that the assault rifle replaces the pistol, since the assault rifle is obviously more useful than the pistol. Not to mention that I can rip and tear a monster after I get the Berserk pack. It’s really awesome!

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