Many a game have tried to take the first person crown. I mean, just name any one of the many genre-defining titles. However, few can claim the fame Doom can. We’re talking 1993 Doom everyone. Save the 2016 installment for another time; while I can praise that game ’till the cows come home, this spotlight is on the original.
While not the first of its kind, it certainly made its genre popular. The closest thing to it was, funnily enough, id Software’s own Wolfenstein 3D, which of course, are the same people that made Doom. Wolfenstein was glorious by paving the way of innovation, but Doom was the innovator that took the path head on! With an attitude to boot. Why, nothing like it had ever been seen before. So visceral, so violent, so heart-throbbing challenging at higher difficulties that you were guaranteed a good time.
However, could it still be that good today? In our modern world? Well… that is rather debatable. Don’t its achievements fool you, the game is not perfect. I will show the good and the bad. Doom may have been king, but it’s no young man anymore.
The game begins immediately upon pressing start. No backstory. No introduction. It’s just you, in a room, with a pistol in hand. With that pistol, you must find and earn your weapons. Quickly you are introduced to the two main enemy types – possessed human grunts and the brown spiky Imps. The possessed use hit scan weapons. In other words, the idea that damage is dealt instantly when the trigger is pulled, rather than waiting for the bullet to get to the target. And the Imps launch projectiles, which can be dodged by a skilled player. These two enemies will make up the bulk of the demon armies and you will learn to deal with them swiftly and effectively in time.
Your eventual set of weapons is more than worthy to be called an arsenal. From the pistol, you will most likely earn your shotgun – the most effective weapon for most situations. Believe it or not, you do not have a machine gun in this game. No rifles either. There is a Gatling gun, but that’s as close as it gets. Your shotgun is more than worthy of taking out foes. It also encourages close combat, the best source of action. You will also receive a chainsaw, melee at its finest.
Further down the line comes the Plasma Gun. Its many projectiles fired in quick succession will make quick work of the opposition, with satisfying sound effects to boot. And who can forget the Rocket Launcher, an FPS essential? But in the end, NOTHING compare to the big daddy of them all. The BFG9000. What does BFG stand for? THE BIG F***ING GUN of course! Yes, that is literally the name of the weapon. It will pretty much instantly decimate anything near it and serves as an end-all solution for destroying a horde of demons in one blast. You WILL feel like a badass. Oh, and yeah, you can punch things with your fists if you’d like. Hardly effective against anything without the Berserk power up but yeah, it’s an option.
Speaking of powerups, expect to gain access to a number of them throughout the game. The Berserk power up I mentioned earlier makes your fists a temporary demon slaughtering nightmare. And the Invisibility is… self-explanatory; same goes for Invulnerability. There’s also goggles allowing you to see perfect in the dark without the green tint of modern night vision. And you also have a radiation suit that will shield you from hazardous substances. And finally a backpack, which allows double the ammo capacity you normally have.
Then there are the standard pickups lying around everywhere. In this game you have a health bar and armor bar, to be filled up to 100 percent each. Armor will shield one-third of incoming damage until depleted, and should your health deplete, you’ll die. No need to fret, however, there are health and armor pickups everywhere, and if you are very lucky, you will find the Soul Sphere and the Mega Armor, which can magically increase Health and Armor to 200 percent. And of course, there are ammo pickups everywhere as well. For the most part, you will find them dropped by enemies. So if you want more ammo, you need to kill more demons.
Back then, aiming with a mouse was unheard of. In fact, aiming up and down was unheard of as well. And there’s a good reason for this. Doom is not actually a 3D game. While you think you are moving in three dimensions, you are actually experiencing an amazing trick called ray casting. Without going into immense detail on how ray casting works, suffice it to say that the objects in the game are not polygonal. So looking at them from non-90-degree angles would heavily distort the image, due to the fact they are being drawn to look polygonal while at the standard angle.
Looking up and down was replaced by having a gun that shoots anything in a vertical line across the screen. If an enemy is lower or higher than directly in front of you, your bullets will hit them anyway. For modern gamers, this might take getting used to, but it is simple and effective in the long run.
The last thing I should mention is how you complete a level. The end goal is to get to either a teleporter or a switch at the end of a level in order to progress to the next one. It’s point A to point B. However, sometimes you will need to find certain color coded keys throughout a level before you can proceed to the end. In the early half of the game, these will be red, blue, and yellow keycards. In the later half, they will be red, blue, and yellow skulls. Yes. The keys become skulls. That’s how you unlock stuff in Hell I suppose.
If you grew up in the early days of gaming, you might not help but chuckle remembering that story was the least important part of a video game. Not by choice on the developer’s part actually. Storage space was always so small, be it on computers or cartridges. Even basic textboxes for story had to be sacrificed to save more room for gameplay. Most of the time, the only story you were getting was from the manual. Speaking of which, 90 percent of Doom’s story WAS in the manual.
Long story short, in a future where the world has set up military and scientific bases on Mars (the Union Aerospace Corporation), some scientists go too far and open up a portal to Hell. Now there are demons running about. And you – a man simply known as DoomGuy – for some absurdist reason, take it upon yourself to kill them all single-handedly.
I mean that’s it, Doom made it clear you weren’t here for an engrossing narrative, even the modern Doom keeps that mentality. No, you’re here to shoot things. Shoot quite a few things really. You progress through 3 major chapters, 4 if you’re playing with the “Ultimate Doom” expansion, which is hardly canonical and wouldn’t matter even if it was. In the first chapter, it’s simple eradication of a demon horde on a Mars moon base (Phobos). You know, the nine-to-five.
At the end of the chapter, you have a fight against two of the nastiest types of demon, Barons Of Hell. Defeat them successfully, and you can move on to the next chapter. Well, at least that’s the way you’re supposed to do it. In truth, you can choose to start on any chapter right from the get go if you want. Every chapter, or episode as they’re called, is a separate package.
Fun fact, the first episode was free back then. One entire third of the game, just given out for free. An excellent marketing tactic, though. A video game demo that gives you just enough to get hooked, but not enough to be satisfied. So naturally, you’d want to buy the other two chapters.
Upon choosing the second episode, you find yourself on the lost Mars moon (I don’t know how it got lost, but the scientists screwed that up too) of Deimos. You might notice a, well, noticeable increase in demonic architecture this time around. Now there’s just blood vein walls and weird demon stuff everywhere, including an abundance of pentagrams. If you’re familiar with James Cameron’s “Aliens” (sequel to Alien), this concept of the other-worldly creatures turning a scientific establishment into a creepy one will feel familiar.
Like in the first episode, at the end lies another boss battle, this time against The Cyberdemon. He’s a rude dude. He also shoots endless rockets at you. He’s also really fast. So good luck fighting him. However, should the fight be successful, you can move on to chapter three: “Inferno”.
And yes, each episode has a name. The first one is called “Knee Deep In The Dead”, and the second is called “The Shores of Hell”. When “The Ultimate Doom” came out, they included a 4th chapter named “Thy Flesh Consumed”. That’s one of the likable things about id Software, they have fun when making their games. And they certainly aren’t afraid of controversy. A game about Hell and before it, a game about Nazis winning world war 2. Tell me you don’t love their weirdness.
The third episode just straight up takes place in Hell. Get through that, and you can fight the Spider Demon. Or the “Spider Mastermind”, being that he’s the mastermind behind the hellish invasion. He’s less spider and more giant brain with a face on metal spider legs. And he only packs a Gatling gun, rather than an endless rocket launcher. And it really is an underwhelming fight. Just stay your distance and keep shooting. With the Cyberdemon fight, that at least required mastery of dodging projectiles.
If you grew up in the early days of gaming, you might not help but chuckle remembering that story was the least important part of a video game.
With that said, defeat him, and Mars is safe! You then enter a portal to Earth, aaaand it’s been taken over as well. Yep, the cliffhanger for Doom 2: Hell On Earth. Quite literally Hell on Earth. Also, the demons taunt you by putting your pet rabbit’s head on a spike. Yes, DoomGuy had a pet rabbit. All the more reason to keep on fighting, I guess. Life lesson: don’t anger DoomGuy.
But of course, if you’re playing the “Ultimate” version, there’s that fourth chapter I mentioned. And at that point, the devs stopped caring about continuity altogether. You fight Cyberdemons as miniboss every other level and the Spider Mastermind is alive again. I don’t even know where or when it takes place. It’s just more Doom. And hell if it isn’t difficult and you aren’t tested to the bone here.
ART AND MUSIC
Who can forget the awesome soundtrack of Doom? I’ll admit, many games win me over with their soundtracks. One of the prime reasons I gain interest in a video game is if the soundtrack impresses me. I’m a musician myself in my spare time, so I’m always on the lookout for catchy or snazzy tunes. And be it ambient or full of energy, the songs in Doom’s levels will bob your head along with them.
And I must say, the art is pretty good as well. For pixel art at least. Impressive for the time, though I must comment many textures end up getting repetitive, not to mention drab. The colors, while they may differ depending on the level, get boring within the levels. It makes it all the more annoying if you’ve been stuck in a level for some time and you just want to finish it. Repetitive dull colors certainly don’t help.
Alright. I’ve been putting this off for as long as possible. Look, I hate the level design in Doom, I absolutely loathe it. And level design can make or break a video game. Despite all I’ve said today, regardless of how good the execution of everything else may be, in the end, all of it is contained within its levels. And there is not a single level in the entire game that I enjoy. I’m serious. I only play this game because it’s fun to kill demons, and it’s not very long. But the levels themselves are atrocious.
Look, I know, it’s one of the first of its genre. They were still figuring out how to make it work. But it is so apparent that they had very little idea what they were doing. The levels were creative, I’ll give them that. They look cool, but they are above all, absolutely tedious and with so much backward thinking design. Do not get me started on the key hunting. Levels in this game can take you upwards of 30 minutes the first time playing them. Tedious is an understatement. There are many doors and hidden passageways you might never be able to find because you would never think to do what is required to find them. There are straight up doors that are just part of the wall textures, with no indication that there’s a door there.
All of the back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth between areas that have few landmarks in a labyrinth of confusion is tedious every way to Saturday. I hate it. It’s not fun. I try really hard to enjoy everything else, but the levels are just horrible. You learn to dread every new level, out of fear of how long you will get stuck on terrible puzzles that have no place in an action game. It gets boring. Demons become just annoyances rather than fights to look forward to. Because if they kill you, you have to start from the beginning of the level, erasing your progress. And depending on the version you’re playing, you lose your entire arsenal that you’ve been building up for several levels at that point. It’s sad to say that these levels… simply don’t belong in an otherwise great game.
Level design is a vital aspect to every game. It wraps the package in a neat little bow. If your game is, for the most part, impressive and feels great, it may be canceled out by the levels it’s contained in. I’m not the only one who believes this either. And for that reason, I must lower my score. But with that being said, Doom in spite of all its shortcomings still commands respect for what it achieved at the time. And while many games deserve respect for the time they came out, some age more gracefully than others.
In all likelihood, I will continue to play Doom as I have for years. But I would not recommend it to anybody who either hasn’t played it already or isn’t a fan of its old style. It has aged too much. And its levels are something that will hinder many play sessions. If we were still in the year 2000 even, perhaps I’d give it a 10. But age does exist. For this, I give this pioneer a bow of respect, but a 6.7/10.