I’ve been a Doom fan for a very long time. Doom was by no means my first exposure to the first person shooter genre (that achievement belongs to its predecessor, Wolfenstein 3D), but it was certainly my most memorable one. I remember playing the shareware back in 1993 when the game was first released, repeatedly exploring the halls and stations of Doom 1’s first episode Knee-Deep in the Dead, to the point where I knew every single map like the back of my hand. Phobos’ secrets were no longer obscured from me, and no demon was able to escape the business end of my chainsaw…unless I was having an off-day. I’d play through the shareware levels over and over again and my friends would do the same, as everyone had acquired a copy of Doom from some form of ancient square-shaped device known as a ‘floppy disk’, or from a CD containing copious amounts of game demos to try out.
This phenomenon didn’t even stop at home, either. With the introduction of more powerful computers into schools (which today’s calculators could probably outmuscle), plucky young students were sneaking software onto every single machine they could get their grubby little hands near. When the teachers weren’t looking, students would insert their disks (gross) into the class computer and install Knee-Deep in the Dead to play later, whenever they managed to secure some computer time. Often, this would be during an indoor recess or something similar, caused by a horrid thunderstorm rumbling outdoors. The teacher also organized a computer schedule, so that exactly two students could stay inside during long recess (lunchtime, basically), and use the computer instead. Of course, this resulted in a ton of students using this time to play Doom…the computer didn’t even have a SoundBlaster, so we’d resort to the PC speaker which produced various blips and bloops every time a man was shot in the chest, or a health bonus was snagged off of the Hangar floor.
What was it that made Doom so appealing? Probably a combination of things, really. First and foremost, it had powerful guns and buckets of gore, which was enough to drag down every single young male that was exposed to it at the time (I’m sure a good number of girls were dragged into it too, but I remember as a kid that none of them in my town ever seemed all that interested in it). These aspects made the game controversial, of course, but guns and gore are two of the defining qualities that earn a Doom game its title. Secondly, it was scary and tense..but not in such a way that it would dissuade an uncertain young gamer from continuing to play. You never knew what was around any corner at the time, but no matter how bad it was going to be, it didn’t matter because you were going to get to shoot something, probably while dodging a flurry of fireballs and outrunning Marine-hungry bull demons. This is the perfect recipe for an adrenaline rush, particularly in a first-person game that was, at the time, the height of realism with respect to placing the player directly inside the world. Thirdly, Doom played like an absolute dream. It was smooth as hell, as long as the computer could handle such intensities as angled walls and multiple enemy sprites! Oftentimes, I would hit the – button to decrease the screen size and resolution just so the game would maintain its smoothness. At these slick, pristine moments, strafing and shooting became second nature, and it felt like you were quickly gliding effortlessly through the environment, and nothing could even come close to stopping you. Yes, I believe it was a perfect blend of these qualities that made Doom so incredibly appealing.
Because of the above, Doom plunged its blood-soaked claws into me like a hot chainsaw into a Mancubus’ stomach rolls, and it never let me go. I started off on the easier settings, and even employed the classic cheat codes IDDQD and IDKFA to get through tough parts. Gradually, I learned how to play the game more comfortably, and gunned for the tougher settings…in no time, I was running through Knee-Deep in the Dead on Ultra Violence and Nightmare, but here I was still stuck on the first episode! I needed more, but there was no way my parents were going to use their credit cards to order a violent video game for their 8-year old son who shouldn’t even be playing the damn thing to begin with! Luckily, another friend came through for me without even realizing they were going to.
My friend, Mike, happened to have a full copy of the game…which I didn’t know until I went over to his place and I saw the install disks lying on his computer table. I had gone over to play SNES with him and some other friends…but man, I could NOT resist finding out how the rest of Doom played out. I asked Mike if I could check out the rest of Doom while he and my other buddies played Mortal Kombat, and sure enough he was cool with it. I was thrilled! The only thing that stopped me at any point was one half-hour span where his dad needed the computer…other than that, I spent the afternoon hosing down previously-unseen Cacodemons and Lost Souls with the previously-unused Plasma Rifle and BFG 9000. It wasn’t long before I had conquered Mars’ second moon, Deimos, in the second episode, and not much longer after that I had toppled the hideous Spider Mastermind awaiting me at the end of episode 3, Inferno. I’d beaten the rest of the game over the course of the afternoon and early evening, and although I’m sure a bunch of my friends thought I was a tool for not playing Mortal Kombat…fuck it, I had a great time! (…and I was never that into Mortal Kombat anyway.)
Doom continued to be a part of my gaming repertoire for years to come, mainly because it was released on almost every video game system you can think of…and I did my best to play them all. I remember renting Doom for the SNES from the local grocery store in an incredibly cold blizzard just after it was released. My grandmother took me to rent a game because of the awful weather, and while we were inside the building, the keyholes on either side of her Ford Explorer had frozen shut. One CAA call and about half an hour later, and we were on our way back home. I plugged that bright red cart into my SNES and enjoyed it, even though I could tell it was a clear step down from the PC release. Enemies always face you in the SNES version, floors and ceilings aren’t textured, and there are less levels than in the original, amongst other things. The music in the SNES version is ridiculously good though!
Later on, after my friend had gotten a PlayStation, Doom reared its head on that console as well. We rented it multiple times in order to complete it, but it was much harder for our young minds to handle getting through the game due to its creepier feel and atmosphere. Gone were the fast-paced hard rock background tunes that played in every level, and in their place were legitimately scary pieces of atmospheric music crafted by Aubrey Hodges. Every stage was also much darker, and enemies made different noises that always seemed much more unsettling. The PSX Doom, as well as Final Doom on the same system, were the first Doom games in a while that had actually managed to creep me out; I had become desensitized to the PC version by this point. Looking back on it, it’s amazing that the entire feeling of Doom could be completely changed just by swapping out background music and decreasing the brightness a tad.
The PSX version is sort of a mishmash of Doom I, Doom II, and other versions of the original title found on various consoles, and so it happened to be my first exposure to Doom II levels and enemies. I hadn’t played Doom II at all before then, but it didn’t take me long to get my hands on a copy for my PC. I recognized the stages from Doom for the PSX, so there was a little bit of familiarity, but for the most part it was still an all-new experience. The Super Shotgun was a very welcome addition to Doom’s already perfect arsenal, and the new enemies fit right in with the rest of the cast, which always managed to surprise me. Whenever I look back on Doom now, I usually default to envisioning Doom II instead, simply because it always felt like a such a natural progression from the original masterpiece.
I’m also one of those people who happens to be a pretty big fan of Doom 64. I first saw glimpses of this title in Nintendo Power, and I knew I had to have it once it was released. My Doom 64 experience began with a rental from the local store, and I was extremely excited to give it a try. Before I could really get into the game though, I had to increase the brightness on EVERYTHING. The in-game brightness slider seemed to have no effect on illuminating the dark hallways of the initial stages of the game, so I had to crank the settings on the TV as well! Even after doing this, it was still very difficult to see and I wound up moving my system to a different television which had better toggles, and finally I could see what I was doing. The darkness of Doom 64 is something that is often criticized by players…but trust me, it’s worth it to figure the settings out. I played Doom 64 all weekend and was absolutely enthralled by it. The level design was (and still is) fantastic, with sprawling pathways, tense arenas filled with all manner of demons, and some incredibly well-hidden secrets. Plus, it’s one of the only games on the system that doesn’t chop up every 5 seconds. Anyway, after my rental of the game was over, I managed to convince my family to get it for me for my birthday. Once I had the game I played it over and over again, learning the ins and outs of each stage and eventually being able to find all of the 3 super-secret runes required to power up a new gun (called the Unmaker), which lets you throttle the final boss in mere seconds. Now that’s satisfying!
Doom 64 kept me busy for a good while, but then I wanted more Doom at a time when new Doom games were scarce. Thankfully, the PC iterations have always had an extensive modding community, full of great level architects and skilled programmers who manage to create astonishing levels and projects, even to this day (Brutal Doom, anyone?). I would seek out MegaWAD after MegaWAD (Note: a WAD is the file type that maps use, while a MegaWAD is a full set of levels…GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER) and systematically work my way through them. I’d always seek out the incredibly tough levelsets that put my FPS twitch reflexes to the most intense trials, and clear them on the hardest settings. Scythe and Scythe 2 are just a couple of the ones that really stand out to me, where the stages were rife with devious traps and monster closets, constantly flooding you with targets to annihilate. I died a lot, but it didn’t matter; the game was so damn fun and I had a blast attempting the levels over and over again!
Doom 3 was announced a number of years later, slated for release in 2004. I remember seeing the trailers and playing through the unreleased alpha build with my friend Andrew, who was also a Doom addict; the alpha had leaked onto the internet following E3 one year. It was incredibly different and ridiculously frightening, with the most realistic lighting and shadows ever seen in a video game up to that point. The alpha was limited to a few rooms, with chains and meathooks dangling from the ceilings and zombies wandering around for you to gun down…but that was all it had, really. Even so, it was enough to convince me to get Doom 3 on release day. Conveniently, the release date was right before my very first semester in university, for which I’d need a computer. This was my chance to build my very first PC that would not only get me through university, but also be strong enough run the most cutting-edge computer games!
Using my work money, I bought a relatively strong system and called it The Doom Machine. The video card was a Radeon 9800, which was top of the line at the time, and more than enough to run Doom 3 on high settings alongside the processor (which I don’t remember) and 2 gigs of ram. My computer was delivered by the time Doom 3 was released, and I picked the game up day one; I didn’t stop playing for the entire day. This version of Doom was not at all like Doom 1 or 2. The massive hordes of enemies and fast arcade-like gameplay had been swapped for a slow and methodical approach, with realistic settings and a more horror-themed atmosphere with a cohesive story and narrative. Data logs scattered throughout the environment had backstory and audio files to listen to, which were great the first time around, but eventually became tiring. Doom 3 was certainly nothing like the originals…I still loved the game though. Being pulled back into the Doom universe and seeing the recreations of the classic enemies and weapons, as well as the insane attention to detail in the environments was really cool. The actual gameplay, though more slow paced, was still fun as hell when the action ramped up. An expansion was released later on called Resurrection of Evil, which focused much more on high-action battles rather than the slow horror pace of vanilla Doom 3. Although I liked the settings and ideas more in the original, overall RoE is more fun to play through.
So there you have it: a rundown of pretty much my entire experience with the Doom franchise. You might be wondering why I wanted to write this all up. Well, it’s 2016 now, and a brand new Doom game was released just a little while ago, and it’s making waves in the gaming community. My next article is going to be a complete review of it, and I wanted to highlight my prior experience with the franchise so that you know where I’m coming from.
I know what Doom is, I know what Doom was, and I feel like I have a fairly good grasp on what Doom SHOULD be…so don’t worry. You can trust me on this.
Comprehensive review to come very soon.