Retro Rewind: Doom

In our weekly Retro Rewind feature, GameFront examines the best (and worst) that classic games have to offer. Check back every week for forgotten gems, sacred cows, and fresh new insight into the gaming past.

When I first heard that Gears 3 would have a “Retro-Lancer” I thought for a moment that it would just be a regular chainsaw. Marcus would find it and say something like “Whoa! isn’t this retro? It’s a chainsaw before we added guns to them!” Sadly, this was not the case. But I can still remember a man who brazenly wielded a chainsaw in the face of impossible odds. I remember a hero who didn’t need to attach weapons to other weapons because he could carry as many as he damn well pleased. I remember a legend who took on zombies, cyberdemons and almost certain DOOM.

In 1992 game developers id Software were looking for a way to follow their smash hit Wolfenstein 3D. Originally, the plan was to make a game based on the movie franchise Aliens. But the developers decided they needed more creative freedom, so they kept the space marines and swapped out the aliens in favor of demons and zombies. With this crucial decision, id Software conceived the most influential FPS of all time, Doom.

Wolfenstein 3d had been a fun frag fest, but it hadn’t really done much in the way of scaring players. In fact, up until Doom, there hadn’t been a truly scary FPS. But, with a new engine capable of creating flickering lights, dark corners, and gruesome textures, Doom could easily provide a few scares for a kid who was unprepared. I remember playing my brother’s copy of doom on Playstation with the lights off in my room. After the first of one of those ugly gorilla demons came charging after me, I decided Doom would be a “lights on” game.

Doom had a lot more going for it then a few scary moments. Back in the day, there was this thing called “player health” and the game would end if it reached zero. In Doom, I never really looked at my actual heath percentage, but instead just looked at how busted up my character’s face was on the HUD. When I started looking like Edward Norton at the end of Fight Club, it was time to start praying for a blue orb. Nowadays, there is no health meter. If my screen gets bloody, I know I need to hide behind a wall for a few seconds before I’m magically restored to perfect health. It kind of makes me miss the moments when I was forced to search every corner of a level for a med kit to bring me back above 10% health.

And while I’m getting nostalgic, I’ll just come right out and say it: I miss being able to carry three or four tons of weaponry. Does this make the game less realistic? Of course. However, I don’t give a rat’s ass about realism when I’m fighting CYBERDEMONS ON MARS. I’m going to need to carry a chainsaw, a shotgun, a BFG 9000, a chain-gun, and a rocket launcher all at the same time. And man, did the weapons feel good. The first time I took my chainsaw to a zombie and watched the gore fly was an experience I’ll never forget.

One of the surprising things about Doom was that the story was actually pretty good. Many players remember the hours of mindless violence, but forget how it started. Basically, a rift from hell got opened up when some government scientists tried making teleporters. You see, they were forced to invent teleportation because they’d designed their military bases with so many hazardous sludge pits, exploding barrels and secret passageways that it was impossible to get anywhere. Anyway, all the other marines die horrible deaths, the player is left to turn back the tides of hell. It’s short, sweet and allows the player to use their imagination to fill in the gaps. Also, the idea of pitting marines armed with futuristic weapons against otherworldly demons was a pretty novel concept for the time.

Aside from being a beacon of light to the FPS genre, Doom also helped create modding as we know it. By releasing “WAD” or “Where is All the Data” files, Id Software allowed players to build their own custom levels for Doom. Id was really the first developer that took a hit game and encouraged people to make it their own through modding. User generated content for Doom far eclipsed any game that had come before it. Many game designers can got their start creating-demon filled custom maps and we have Doom’s creators to thank for that.

Doom wasn’t flawless. Having recently played the game, I rediscovered some of the things that irked me. It was the first FPS where enemies could attack from different heights, yet I’m unable to look up or down. That can get more than a little frustrating. And occasionally, the combat would become slightly stale. It seemed like I’d be popping out from behind a wall, firing a few quick shots then getting back behind the wall to dodge fireballs, repeatedly. But these minor annoyances are easily overlooked when I remember the amount of fun my twelve year old self had with Doom.

These days, iD is still making FPS games. Their latest project, Rage is a blast to play and has plenty of Doom references. Id uses these references to remind gamers of how the FPS genre got started. So I’d advise you to take a moment and fire up the game that inspired so many modern day favorites. You can find it free online and there’s nothing like putting a few rockets in a Spiderdemon to make a man feel young again.

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