Doom really needs no introduction. It is one of the most recognizable names in video games, a game that stood at the forefront of the FPS genre and has caused many a controversy since its release. The game has been ported many times since 1993, but today I wanted to take a peek at the classic version that was released alongside the Doom 3: BFG Edition.
The story of Doom is not really worth diving into. You play as a lone space marine that finds himself stationed on Mars as a horde of Demons launches an assault on the planet. Through a total of three chapters, we get to control the space marine as he fights his way through armies of Demons in an attempt to get back to Earth. However, the further he goes, the more he just ends up getting into trouble.
Each chapter contains a number of levels that feature intense, first-person action. You start off with just a small pistol, but as you explore the levels you’ll find a variety of weapons. This includes familiar but powerful tools like the shotgun and chaingun, as well as exotic stuff like rocket launchers, a plasma gun, and a huge chainsaw. Doom is not the kind of game where you are afraid of the Demons, rather it’s the Demons that should be afraid of you. Running around at top speed and shotgunning Imps in the face or dashing around a Cyberdemon’s barrage of rockets as you fire energy shots at him is super satisfying and very cathartic.
The enemy variety is strong and you’ll soon learn what each type of Demon does and find approaches to deal with them effectively. Still, the level layout will often place them in clever ways to make it harder for you. A trick Doom is particularly fond off is hiding Demons behind secret walls that open up behind you. It’s easy to get startled by these creatures and panic, especially on higher difficulties.
If you are used to more modern games, one feature you might need to get used to is the lack of vertical aiming. You only aim horizontally and will pretty much hit anything below or above you so long as you got them targetted on the vertical plane. There is a little bit of auto-aim involved, but nothing that is too bothersome and the game remains challenging due to the number of enemies you gotta deal with.
While the core gameplay of shooting Demons in the face is fun and satisfying, it often ends up feeling like you are playing Doom in the most boring way possible. That is because outside of the basic enemies, foes take a lot of shots to deal with and you don’t reliably find the ammo needed to keep using your more powerful guns on them. The inferno chapter especially feels very annoying, since right from the start you are left scavenging for even the shotgun, lest you have to deal with cacodemons and the like with your starting pistol. If you die at any point in a chapter you’ll fortunately restart on the stage you died on, but you’ll have lost all of your weapons and ammo, including the ones carried over from previous stages. Really, just save at the start of any stage and reload if you die; it beats having to deal with that hassle.
Another problem is the level design. While it starts off strong with stages that are compact and easy to wrap your head around, with fun secrets and side-rooms thrown in that are cool to discover, it soon becomes problematic as the game proceeds. Levels just become maze-like, with rooms that sprawl in all directions, hallways filled with doors that lead you all over the place, and teleporters that unpredictably warp you to different parts of the stage. Not only do you have to navigate these levels, you also need to find colored keycards to open up corresponding doors, which means there is a lot of backtracking involved too.
Even worse, the map the game gives you doesn’t mark these colored doors anywhere, forcing you to remember where in the maze you have to be when you eventually stumble upon these keys. And most baffling of all, sometimes you have to find secrets to progress. This got absurd when the one and only path that would lead me further in the level was tucked away, out-of-sight, in the middle of a sea of lava. More commonly, progress in the level will be hidden behind hard-to-spot switches or doors from much earlier in a level that has inexplicably opened up.
Doom is a game that is at its best when you get to keep moving forward and shoot the baddies. This is a landmark game and highly innovative for its time, yet I found it to be kind of boring because of the navigational challenges. Some levels took me over 40 minutes to beat and for most of that time, there was nothing to do besides walking around looking for keys and hidden doors. When I replayed stages where I knew what to do my experience was better and Doom was fun again; I just wish it could be that fun all the time instead.
Gameplay score: 6.5/10
So one fun fact to keep in mind is that Wolfenstein 3D came out only a year before Doom did. A fun game in its own right, but one with a massively more limited variety of textures, only a handful of enemy types, and even less recognizable levels. By comparison, Doom feels like a massive leap forward. While the levels can be confounding to navigate, they are highly atmospheric with lots of set-dressing and cool themes. Especially in the inferno chapter you really feel like you are descending into the depths of hell.
The stellar soundtrack really helps in this regard, featuring a lot of rock tracks that sound absolutely kick ass. The best way to play Doom is with the sound turned up high, so you really get to blast the music and let your shotgun roar.
The enemies too are really iconic of the series, with imps, pinky demons, cacodemons, and the various boss monsters being some of the coolest enemies in FPS games. Their various unique grunts and death animations make each one fun to kill and the game knows how to vary them up so you never get tired of seeing any one kind of Demon too much. There are also fun details to be found, such as the face of the space marine at the bottom that changes based on how much health you currently have.
The only real issue I have with Doom in terms of visuals are the various power-ups. To me, their gameplay purpose is kind of negligible, but it’s annoying that they all coat the screen with some kind of filter. When you get multiple of the things in succession, this means the game turns into a visual mess that is unpleasant to look at.
Presentation score: 9/10
Pick your version
If you really can’t get enough of Doom, then you can try to pursue all the different versions of the game that are out there. Many of these ports and re-releases feature their own, extra chapters, as well as many changes to music and levels. It can be an interesting experiment to see how much has been changed and which version you like the most, though you are probably better off finding a video on the subject.
The game also has replay value thanks to the many secrets each stage holds and the statistics displayed upon completion. Each victory screen goes accompanied by a par time you could try to beat, as well as percentages for how many secrets you found and how many enemies you killed along the way. You can also play the game on various difficulty settings, which alters the number of enemies in the stage, as well as their level of aggression.
Extras score: 8/10
Doom remains one of the must-play games within our medium, but I feel it’s safe for most people to limit their play-time to just the shareware copy that included the first episode, and then maybe episode 2 if they were really into that. It’s a great game, but the maze-like layouts are a major source of frustration that doesn’t play to the game’s actual strengths. When you get to run around and blast Demon scum to the sweet sounds of rock ‘n’ roll it’s a great experience, unmatched by even the shooters of today. A shame it doesn’t let you do that often enough.