HorrorScope Halloween: Doom At 20 – Guns, Gore & Good Times
This is Part one of our massive two-part retrospective on DOOM, to celebrate its 20 year anniversary this year. Check out part two for a look at some of the amazing mods the game has inspired over the years.
Happy Halloween one and all! It’s the season for all things evil and demonic, so what better time to take a long, nervous sideways glance at a game so dripping with satanic power that it has scarcely slowed its terrible, gore-drenched advance for two whole decades? Of course, we’re talking about that undying titan of the FPS genre; Doom. The one, the only, the original. A beast that’s still thrashing and kicking twenty years later, and still worth playing to this day.
Not Doom 3, with it’s pitch-black corridors and awkward flashlight fumbling. Not the frequently rebooted Doom 4, trapped in development hell. We’re talking about the original and all its cousins, derivatives and unholy spawns. This is the story of one of the most enduring games in the history of the medium, and the fans that have kept this monster going for all these years.
Original Sin – The Genesis Of Doom
First released in 1993, Doom changed the face of PC gaming. While they’d made some waves with the release of the Catacomb series and later Wolfenstein 3D, this was the release that put iD software on the map. The original free shareware episode (a concept now sadly forgotten) of the game was one of the first major digitally distributed titles, and the game was graphically unparalleled at the time. It was darker, grittier and gorier than the competition. It was unquestionably the future of the FPS.
The release of Doom 2: Hell On Earth the following year cemented iD Software’s place among the greats of the industry. While essentially little more than an extended expansion, the new enemies and additional weapon – the legendary Super Shotgun – filled in the blanks, and while there some debate as to whether the level design was an improvement over the original game, Doom 2 is the title that most think of when you invoke the name, even to this day.
Dissecting The Beast – Why Doom Works
What made Doom so special is hard to pin down, and everyone has their own fond memories, be it of the trap-laden level design, the imaginative monsters or the MIDI Metal soundtrack, lifting riffs wholesale from many of the genre anthems of the time. Even in its shareware incarnation, it was highly replayable, with the upper difficulty settings adding more enemies to the level, increasing the pace and skill required to survive.
One of the best analyses of the game came from JP LeBreton, one of the lead Bioshock level designers. After recreating one of Bioshock’s more iconic levels in Doom, he put forward the theory that, at its heart, Doom was closer to Robotron than any other game. A twin-stick arcade shooter as played from a first-person perspective. Of course, this assessment holds up better when applied to Doom 2 and its larger battles in more open environments, but even the original game feels quite unlike modern shooters, especially when played with the now-standard WSAD + Mouse layout.
Looking back, Doom is almost unrecognizable when compared to modern FPS gameplay. Nowadays, it’s rare to give the player even a fraction of the Doom Marine’s unchecked power. No longer can you run like a cheetah while lugging around eight guns and enough ammo to fight an army. The standard reaction to finding opposition in a modern shooter is to take stock and take cover, wheras at it’s peak, Doom encouraged you to charge headlong into danger with most enemies unable to harm you so long as you kept mobile.
Heresy And Strife – Doom’s Twilight Years
Doom went on to spawn a few official expansions made in collaboration with early community groups, as well as some direct clones, several of which were officially licensed and running on the same engine. Of all the Doom engine games, Heretic was the most superficially similar to its parent. Essentially Doom in a high-fantasy world, it had a few new features, but otherwise felt like more of the same. Hardly a bad thing, but not a great leap forward either.
Hexen later expanded on Heretic’s universe, but the complex hub-based levels often turned into an interminable switch-hunt, and the addition of some light RPG elements was somewhat undermined by each character only having four weapons, rather than the traditional 7-8 of the time. It sold well and even got a Quake-engine sequel later on, but it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as its predecessor.
The final Doom engine game was Strife, arguably an early precursor to Deus Ex, offering dialogue and multiple quest solutions in a post-apocalyptic world of intrigue and violence. Sadly, it came out alongside Quake, dooming it commercially. As if to spite its very existence, every company involved with it went bust, meaning that it can only be found in the depths of eBay or on dusty old Abandonware sites to this day. Still good fun if you can track it down, and host to a small mod collection of its own.
With the release of Quake, iD led the genre they had established down a new road. Higher system requirements led to smaller swarms of enemies, and increasing demands for faster, deadlier online combat led to quicker kills, smaller targets and more precise guns. Eventually, we would see the rise of ‘instagib’ servers, and the popularization of their more dour cousin, the modern tactical shooter.
With the genre itself so far distanced from its parent, Doom now is a niche unto itself, familiar yet strange, retro yet eternally reinventing itself. More through luck than judgement, Doom has become timeless – immortal, even – and that’s why there are still people playing it now. There’s an active community making levels and mods and whole spinoff games based on it, and it’s just not going to stop any time soon. So let’s take a look at the other, sometimes-strange forms that Doom has taken over the years…