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23 February 2015 @ 06:44 pm
Game Review: Doom  
I first played Doom's shareware version pretty soon after it came out. I'm pretty sure I got it from a PC Gamer disc--though it's possible my father downloaded it for me through Gopher--loaded it up and started the game, and from the moment that first guitar riff that gamers nowadays know so well started playing, I was hooked:

This is pretty much the standard story for a PC gamer alive in the 90s. What makes me different is that I asked my father for the full game and he said no, and that was pretty much the end for my foray into major first person shooters until someone living down the hall gave me a copy of Half-Life my first year of university. I played Master of Magic and the Quest for Glory and King's Quest series and Diablo and Castle of the Winds and other games, and Doom mostly faded from my consciousness. I played earlier FPS games like Catacomb Abyss and Ken's Labyrinth, but nothing later and nothing of Doom after the Bruiser Brothers. What happened to poor Doomguy after that? I had no idea.

Until now.

Now with dynamic lighting!

I didn't write modded up there, but leaving it out isn't technically correct. While I'm not doing something drastic like a combo Doom RPG/DoomRL Arsenal run (which I plan for a future playthrough of Doom II), I did use Brutal Doom, which upgrades the particles and shadows, lets fire set trees alight and makes the various bodies destructible, gives everything high pressure blood, and adds a few other small tweaks like how headshots do more damage.

Also, it lets you rip demons in half.

This may seem crass and juvenile, but I've read Masters of Doom and based on that book, blowing sergeants in half and having them crawl around bleeding everywhere or death animations of being eaten alive by cacodemons or melted by acid are absolutely something id Software would have included if they had the technical capability.

The biggest change was just running the WAD through GZDoom, which adds mouselook and jumping. In the spirit of the original game, I reloaded to a previous save whenever I found that jumping trivialized a level--I skipped a good 2/3rds of E4M7 with a jump before I reloaded, for example--but you can bet I bunny hopped like mad through lava. Doom apparently does floor damage on a tick system, and with properly-timed hops I could avoid almost all of the damage. It's like how in Thief, the best way to move is in these bizarre staccato bursts, constantly starting and stopping to avoid the game triggering the footstep sounds. Walk without rhythm and you won't attract the worm.

Dissention among the ranks.

I played Doom III a few years ago, before I had played more than the shareware Doom or any of Doom II, and even then the contrast between playstyles was readily apparent. Having read Masters of Doom, I can see that Doom III is one of the initial ideas tossed around about what Doom should be like, and had it come out at the time it would probably have been a cult classic like Marathon was instead of the game that took the world by storm. Nowadays, of course, it seems fresh and innovative because we're drowning in realist military manshoots. In addition to letting me link this extremely groggy video, it reminds me of how when Deux Ex came out with a multiplayer mode in patch 1.12 it created a multiplayer FPS where you couldn't just sprint everywhere. Rocket launchers slowed you down! Moving backwards was slower than moving forwards! How exciting! How realistic!

How little we knew.  photo doomguy.gif

Speaking of movement, I had forgotten how much fun the madcap sprinting gameplay of Doom is. The levels aren't quite as amenable to dashing everywhere firing madly and getting demons to shoot each other, but there are still plenty of opportunities to do that. I didn't quite realize until now how crippling attempting to design levels that feel like real places was for FPSes. Compare yet another bland crate-filled warehouse to this:

Classical allusions for the win.

Not too many levels like that anymore. Popular games as a whole have adopted a more real-world aesthetic as graphics increasingly made it possible to do so, but that's cut off large areas of interesting design space. It's not that I blame them, really. When Half Life came out, it was revolutionary in terms of feeling like you were in an actual place that was under attack. But nowadays, I think we need more "this was designed to be a fun FPS level" and less "this was designed to be a location in which an FPS is taking place."

The events following this screenshot were nasty, brutish, and short.

The main question people have asked me while I've been playing is "does it hold up?" and I can say that yes, it absolutely does. And not just in contrast to the modern trends of FPSes, either. I haven't played a modern FPS since early (Orange Box era) Team Fortress. Before that it was Half-Life II, and before that I think it was Return to Castle Wolfenstein back in university. My point is that I am not steeped in modern FPSes at all, and I thought Doom was loads of fun. The Quicksave/Quickload style of progress was a bit odd and the keyhunt got tedious at times, but the mapping functions are good enough and movement fast enough that searching for a place I hadn't been yet wasn't that bad.

And frankly, it was nice to actually have to do some searching. I'm sure most people reading this have seen this comparison of FPS level design, and having to actually look around was nice. It's like how prefer Morrowind dungeons to Skyrim ones, because even though the Skyrim ones are filled with more decorations and are moodier and have an aesthetic I like better, in terms of design they could be replaced by a single straight corridor running from entrance to boss and then a teleporter after the chest at the end, whereas Morrowind caves were more unpredictable. That unpredictability was the fun part. Searching for secrets was fun but (and this is important) not required--if I got tired of trying to find where hidden rooms were on the map, I could just leave the level, since the keys were always more straightfoward than the secret areas were.

With mouselook and jumping, there's really no UI problems at all. With appropriate level design to take Doomguy's new capabilities into account, it'd stack up well against games released today, I think. And wouldn't you know it, the impetus for me to setting down and play through Doom was both Doom's 21th anniversary last year and a Rock Paper Shotgun article about the Cacowards. I bet I could find some levels out there designed specifically for G/ZDoom's gameplay.

Blood for the Blood God!

The only complaints I have are really in comparison to Doom II. Doom has about half the enemy types as Doom II, and I think it suffers for it when Barons of Hell are the only challenge monster and no one has any interesting mechanics. Fighting an arch-vile fundamentally alters player tactics in a way that Barons of Hell don't, and mancubi or revenants provide a more interesting step in between hordes of fodder and boss-level monsters that Doom fills with giant amounts of cacodemons or demons.

The second is just that there is no weapon in FPS history that is as satisfying to use as Doom II's double-barrelled shotgun.

Oh, I'll just let myself out, then.

My previous experience with Doom other than the shareware was playing DoomRL, which is a great lite roguelike but doesn't capture the frenetic nature of Doom's gameplay at all. Hiding behind pillars to kill the Cyberdemon is a much different experience on a turn-based grid, and I'm really glad I went back to the well for the original experience. The only part I didn't have as much fun with was Thy Flesh Consumed, which was an expansion pack casually thrown out to the Doom-starved masses while id was working on Doom II, and you can tell. The levels are all thrown together with no flow, they're obviously designed primarily to be extremely hard and everything else is secondary, and there's no new enemies or weapons. Meh.

When there's free stuff out there like Doom RPG, though, why should I care? Give me Doom RPG, Doom Arsenal, and some Cacoward-winning map packs and I'd happy dive back in to the screaming bodies and rivers of blood and twisted faces and bizarre cybernetic demon hybrids. I'd probably do that next if I didn't want to take a break and play a couple other games in the meantime. So to answer the question--yes, Doom definitely holds up, monster closets and all. And what's more, there really aren't many FPSes nowadays that provide the same kind of fast action against hordes of enemies, so it still provides a fresh experience even 21 years after it came out.

11/10, would RIP AND TEAR again.
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: Evil Horde - Hangarmageddon (e1m1)
q99q99 on February 24th, 2015 03:32 am (UTC)
Yea, high-speed running, creative level design... Doom really was a classic for good reason!

-The second is just that there is no weapon in FPS history that is as satisfying to use as Doom II's double-barrelled shotgun. -

I'm going to disagree: Unreal Tournament 1's Flak Cannon was also incredibly satisfying.
dorchadasdorchadas on February 24th, 2015 04:19 am (UTC)
Unreal Tournament 1's Flak Cannon was also incredibly satisfying.

I do agree to a point--especially coming around a corner and blowing someone into bits before they knew what was happening--but the flak cannon lacks the aural feedback that the double-barrelled shotgun has. That BOOM when it's fired is pretty hard to beat.
q99q99 on February 24th, 2015 04:48 am (UTC)
I think they both had pretty good noises...