HorrorScope Halloween: Doom – 23 Mods For Your Circle Of Hell
This is part two of our massive two-part retrospective of DOOM, to commemorate its 20 year anniversary this year. Check out part one for a look back at how DOOM got started way back in 1993.
Welcome back to our spine-tingling, blood-drenched Game Front Halloween Special. In Part 1, we poked around Doom’s guts and found it to be as healthy as a demonic, flesh-eating horse, despite falling from grace. Even as the FPS genre evolved off in a completely different direction, the grand genre progenitor is still doing just fine. Here in Part 2, we’re taking a look at some of the best levels, mods, total conversions and standalone spinoffs the Doom community has produced recently to get new and returning players up to speed. Enjoy!
Oh, and one last thing: If you’ve jumped into Part 2 before reading the first, turn back now! Unless you already know about Doom source ports, GZDoom, Zandronum and such, because you’ll need them to run many of the mods on this page. With that said, let the fun begin.
Level Packs – When All You Need Is More
A key part of Doom’s enduring success is in how easy it is to create new levels. Even as a kid, I could figure my way around the DOS-based Doom editors of the time, and the tools available now (such as Doom Builder) are even smoother and more accessible. Anyone can create a Doom map, but it takes a master to create a campaign worthy of universal acclaim. Here are some of the best singleplayer levels made in recent years, just to give you a taste of what’s available:
Community Chest 4
Over four years in development, this full-length level pack showcases the talents of some of the best creators in the Doom mapping community. While never diverging too far from classic Doom gameplay, the environments are far more varied and detailed than the original Doom 2 campaign; the combined result of a less limited engine, better mapping tools and some excellent new texture art. While the campaign does have a few low points, they’re still far better than the worst of vanilla Doom 2, and the highest points (widely agreed to be levels 20 – pictured above – and 21, which take your adventure into deep space) are nothing short of amazing.
An interesting side-effect of Doom’s massively extended lifespan is an almost incomprehensibly skilled subset of players. With near-arcane knowledge of every gameplay mechanic, enemy AI loop and weapon firing pattern, these players sought out new and interesting challenges, and so the concept of the ‘slaughter’ map was born. These levels are almost puzzle-like in their structure, throwing so many enemies at the player that a precise route must be planned through the chaos, carefully managing resources to win a war of attrition.
Sunder is one of the best examples of this style. Architecturally, these maps are impressive enough, but their biggest strength is pushing Doom gameplay to its absolute limit, each level often containing several thousand enemies to chew through. Literal armies of hellspawn await – regiments of monsters standing shoulder to shoulder – and the only way past them is to blow your way through with plentiful rockets and BFG blasts. Mere mortals will need to rely on quicksaves to progress, but veterans have a chance of making it through in just one life.
Speed Of Doom
Another great full-length level pack, although this, too, is aimed more at veterans than newcomers. Launching straight into the action at a respectable pace, it continually escalates far beyond anything you’d see in Doom 2. While it seldom reaches the insane monster-horde action of Sunder, the later levels do have some pretty crazy battles. What it lacks in mega-scale carnage, it makes up for in tightly choreographed battles that really play to the strengths of each enemy type, and forces you to learn the best tactics to deal with each. While otherwise devoid of plot, Speed of Doom does feel like a coherent campaign, with each level’s end leading directly into the next.
Back To Saturn X
‘Vanilla’ Doom action at its finest. Back To Saturn X is the first in a planned series of themed releases, each built around a new and exceptionally good-looking texture pack. This time round, it’s all high-tech bases, all the time under the glow of an orange alien sky. The enemies remain unchanged, but the environment is fantastically detailed – this is some top-notch pixel art, and best viewed without any filtering effects. To compliment the refreshed visuals, the colour palette of the game itself is subtly tweaked, giving it a fresh look.
The levels themselves are brilliantly designed and paced, and tied together by having each series of maps end with a return to an increasingly decrepit subway ‘hub’ area. BTSX’s levels are never too easy, never too hard, and rewarding to explore. Offering just enough off the beaten track to encourage a little bit of free-thinking, many secret areas are hidden in plain sight, with only the path to them being obscured, giving you a hint of what you’re looking for and a tantalizing glimpse of what the reward will be.
Doom The Way iD Did
One for the purists, this. While so many other level packs seek to push the boundaries of what the engine can do, DTWiD pulls hard in the opposite direction. Deliberately limiting itself to the style of the original Doom (right down to mimicking the quirks of each individual level designer at iD), the result is a campaign that feels like an alternate version of of the game, pulled from a nearly-identical parallel dimension. It’s every bit as good as the original, just… different.
Unlike most Doom map packs, this one requires the WAD file from the original Doom, rather than the sequel. Being based on classic Doom, it’s also somewhat less aggressive in its enemy placement, making it quite playable even on Nightmare mode, or when combined with difficulty-increasing mods. As an interesting aside, it’s designed so perfectly in sync with the original engine that it’s fully compatible with the classic DOS version of the game, if you feel like going for the full retro experience.
And now for something completely different. Sometimes, all Doom needs is a lick of paint to feel like a new game, and Epic 2 is a fine example of this. Yet another full-length campaign of middling difficulty, this transplants the demon-slaying from UAC research facilities and corrupted hellscapes to the weird world of ancient Egypt by way of Stargate. Cleverly using textures lifted from obscure Build engine game Powerslave (among others), the sandy locales and dusty tombs give the game a distinctly new feeling, and some of the enemies have gotten an Egyptian-esque look to match the new environment.
They’re great levels, too. Not too hard, not too easy, and occasionally very creative in their use of enemy placement – ever tried outrunning a dozen cyberdemons in a narrow maze of corridors? Fun times. Still, cyborg hellspawn in ancient Egypt? As great as these levels are, that combination doesn’t quite gel right. Check out the gameplay mods on the next page for an alternative (if rather retro) set of enemies might just fit this particular environment a little better.