Monday, January 7

The Ultimate Doom Review

The version played for review: Steam
Available on: PC
The price I paid: £3.99
Other Notes: N/A

During the early 90’s the first person shooter genre was still young only including a few very limited games. Faceball 2000 on the Gameboy had delivered a very early idea of what would become one of gamings most beloved genres in 1991. Id Software then delivered the much more violent and enjoyable Wolfenstein 3D a year later. These were still simplistic games that caught the attention of some but failed to gain mainstream success. Then in 1993 Doom was released and changed the gaming landscape forever. The first person shooter was truly born and with good reason. Doom wasn’t just impressive for a 1993 game as it still holds up today. We will be looking at the 1995 Ultimate Doom for this review as it’s the most definitive version of id’s classic.

The story of Doom is told over the first 3 episodes. You play as the Doom guy, a marine shipped off the UAC base on Mars for assaulting a superior officer. The UAC has other bases on Mars’ moons Phobos and Deimos. A few hours before the start of the game Deimos just vanishes and the Phobos base radios Mars for help. They claim something evil is coming through the interdimensional portals they’ve been working on. This leads your squad to leave for Phobos. You are left to guard the exterior while the rest of your squad enters the base leaving you alone. It’s over the radio that you hear gunfire and the screams of your dying team. Now it’s only you and a base overrun by the demonic hoards. During the 3 story episodes, you will discover the fate of Deimos, battle your way through Hell itself and try to make it back to Earth. As was familiar for the era most of this story is found in the manual to the game or short paragraphs at the end of each episode. This means that the actual game itself is light on plot but that’s not to say it’s devoid of it. If you pay attention then you can pick up a few details about the world of Doom from the environments around you.

These environments are one of my personal favourite things about the original Doom. The game starts with the famous Episode 1; Knee Deep in the Dead, Mission 1 or it’s the more well-known name of E1M1. While graphically impressive on its own for a 1993 game that’s not enough to support it today. It’s the artwork that allows classic Doom to keep up with modern shooters. The first of the episode feels very much like a military base, it’s built out of mostly metal with modern lighting using key-cards to open doors. As the episodes go on, however, the surroundings start to slowly change. Satanic imagery starts to become more common, then the walls slowly move away from the metal military base to cold stone and wood. Before long you’re in the depths of hell with human and demon corpses alike impaled on spears or hung off crosses. Mutilated walls of human flesh and stitched together faces become uncomfortably common. Even the previous coloured key-cards are replaced with coloured human skulls. While not gory by modern day standards due to the limited graphics this imagery is still off-putting. The reason this works so well is just how slowly the change occurs. For a game that’s so fast, violent and just all round heavy metal, this transformation is remarkably subtle. Modern Doom is great with how sudden and intense these changes are but classic Doom masters the slow burn.

When most people think of Doom’s gameplay today they tend to think of fast, loud and violent. One marine against the hoards of hell in a never-ending series of manic battles. Classic Doom does have these moments but once you have ended the existence of the last demon in the level things slow down. You will spend just as much time exploring the maze-like level design trying to find the right key-card for the right door. Early on you’re introduced to teleportation pads. Upon stepping on one of these you will be warped to another part of the map. This helps create really confusing puzzles towards the end of the game. Due to this Doom starts to feel just as much like a simplistic puzzle game as much as it does a shooter. Unlike Wolfenstein 3D these are less of an issue for me. Part of this is because the graphics and visual design are so much more impressive than Wolfenstein 3D. The other reason is the map. You can use TAB to bring up a real-time map of the level. Demons will still attack you when using it so this is best used once you have removed the local demonic population. Even with these improvements though I still find myself getting annoyed with the level design at times. Being lost in a maze of hallways and teleporters is just not fun after the 5-minute mark.

The biggest difference between classic Doom and modern Doom is that the newer games are fair. Classic Doom does not play by the rules. It’s not uncommon to need to hurt yourself to progress. Making your way over lava or chemical liquid is something you will have to get used to. This can drop your health quickly if you’re not careful. The game also likes to set traps for you. You may grab a useful item only to have hidden doors open up unleashing power demons on you with no warning. Some enemies are also invisible making it very easy for them to sneak up to you during combat or in the dark. That’s another thing classic Doom uses a lot to get the edge over the player, darkness. While most of the game is lit rather well there are times when it will turn off the lights leaving you to battle the hellish monsters in the pitch black. All of these unfair tactics make this game hard, even more so if you’re out of touch with old school gaming controls. W and S move you forward and backwards while A and D strafe you left and right with turning being controlled by the directional buttons. You can use the mouse but I personally find it more annoying than helpful. Left shift allows you to run and if you’re playing on normal difficulty or above you pretty much want to always hold this down. Lastly, CTRL fires your weapon and space bar actives any doors or switches. These controls feel very dated and I find them to be very clumsy. Now I will put my hands up and admit this is because of me being so used to modern controls. Thing is if you go back to replay this then the odds are so will you. This really hurts the game for those of us used to the modern standard set in place over the last 20 odd years of gaming.

Doom is a masterpiece, one that could only have existed when it did. Modern games are played by more than just computer nerds now and as such have become more friendly and accessible. Levelling up stats to gain the advantage is common even in shooters and things like aim assist make taking out enemies easier. I don’t think this is a bad thing at all, I love that more people than ever are able to enjoy a hobby I’ve loved all my life. But that’s not to say there isn’t room for the classic Doom. It may not be for everyone with it’s dated visuals, sound, controls and even game design. But for the people like me that grew up with Doom, it’s still amazing. I will admit I struggle with the harder difficulties because of the controls. But when I finish an episode even on normal I feel a sense of achievement that’s lacking from many modern games. This is not even due to the, at times, insane, difficulty of Doom but more because I feel like I’ve bested a foe with all of the advantages over me. The Demons spring traps, remove lighting, force you to hurt yourself and overwhelm you with their massive numbers but still you come out the victor and that feels amazing! Doom feels like Hell, it fights dirty and doesn’t care about you at all and that’s something special that you won’t find many places today.

Recommendation Rating: 8 out of 10.

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