Doom is a historic game for so many reasons. It has shaped the first-person shooter genre that dominates the gaming market today, and it was released to a swathe of controversy that it has fed off ever since.
Doom showcased stunning graphics, interactive levels, and, most infamously of all, graphic, bloody, and gory violence. Some would say this was to be expected from a game literally set in Hell. While today’s market is oversaturated with horror-themed games such as The Last of Us and Resident Evil, when Doom was released, this was shocking and new.
Doom is now a solid part of internet lore. But does it still hold up? How will it look to someone who never got to give it a proper go in the 1990s?
Doom: What’s It All About?
Warning: spoilers below… unless you’re like most people and have already played this game, in which case you should be alright.
Doom follows a guy, who has guns, he’s trying to escape (or is he trying to enter?) a series of buildings, there are some monsters and toxic waste. There’s not a lot of story to Doom. Thankfully id Software put some plot synopsis in the game’s instruction manual for context. Here’s the plot summary, summarised:
- You’re a marine and a tough one at that.
- You’re based on Mars after severely assaulting a superior who had ordered you to fire upon innocent civilians.
- Mars and its moons are being used for various science projects. One of them goes seriously wrong.
- You and your squadron are sent to Phobos to investigate. Your buddies are all killed after going into the base to explore, while you are, conveniently, left outside to secure the perimeter.
- With no other options, you enter the base to find some weaponry and perhaps even a way out.
A Step Through Time: A Quick Recap
Doom began life in late 1992 as Doom Bible, with id Software beginning development not long after the success of Wolfenstein 3D, the grandfather of 3D shooters. The plot had evil moon-based-scientists releasing demons straight from the depths of Hell. From here, it began morphing into the game we all know and love.
Unfortunately for id Software, there was internal friction throughout the game’s development. The developers were unable to reach a consensus about taking forward the various facets of the game. id decided early in the project to focus on the technological advancements they had made during development rather than concentrating on its plot.
In 1993, id Software made the bold decision to promote their game before it was even finished, boasting about all the new features they had worked on in development. However, not long after this, they decided to overhaul the game and strip it of many plot elements and realism. They instead focused on making a darker, faster shooter than the Wolfenstein-esque game they had been working towards. Internal feuds continued to develop and fester, to the point where designer Tom Hall, the driving force behind the original Doom Bible concept, walked off the project and left id altogether.
Breaking New Ground
To help with their burgeoning new project, id Software developed the now-famous Doom engine. Wolfenstein had used flat levels and right-angled corners, but the Doom engine allows for walls and floors at any angle or height, as long as they weren’t on top of one another. The new engine also allowed for new ways to manage light in the game.
The monsters within the game came from various inspirations. They were all made into 3D models, then recorded in stop motion, then digitized and transplanted into the game.
After missing their initial deadline of the third quarter of 1993, id finally had a game ready to go by December. Demand for the game was huge, driven partially by id’s marketing plans and partly by the suspense built from the many delays. It was a massive hit, and in 1995 it was estimated that more computers had Doom on them than Windows 95.
The game was met with critical acclaim upon its release. It won many ‘Game of the Year’ awards and topped many year-end lists. It continues to feature in many ‘all-time’ lists, and its influence upon both the first-person shooter genre and video gaming, in general, has been immense.
The game has since been ported to many platforms, including the Xbox 360, Apple iOS, and the Nintendo Switch. It became a popular game within the modding community, with fans of the game incorporating many movies, tv-series, and other pop culture references into the game, from Star Wars to The Simpsons.
How Does Doom Look Through Fresh Eyes?
So let’s be honest for a minute here – it is impossible to make it through three decades of life without running into Doom in one way or another. But while I’ve had fleeting moments with it whenever I was with a friend whose parents were cool enough to let them have the game, I haven’t had a genuine experience with it.
My first thoughts on the game are how well it plays. It’s smooth, it looks good, and it’s easy to pick up. I’ve seen various screenshots of the game throughout the years, and I was always curious about how the 2D enemies would work in with the 3D background. The graphics work well, though, and nothing is amiss.
The developer’s focus on gameplay certainly comes through here – you need absolutely zero tutorial to figure out how to play, save for a few moments at the start of the first level to test out what all of the buttons do, of course.
No matter what difficulty you select, the game eases you in (relatively speaking). The enemies come at a rate that allows you to figure them out and determine what you need to defeat each of them. The weapons are well spread, too, and match the difficulty curve nicely.
Rising To The Top – Top 3 Highlights
Doom was an absolute trailblazer in the gaming industry. Choosing the top three highlights was certainly not an easy task.
1. The Graphics
As mentioned above, I was suspicious about how the graphics would look. Given the use of 2D enemies in a 3D world and the fact, the game is nearly as old as I am. Oh, how wrong was I.
Now, I’m not saying Doom’s graphics are up there with Red Dead Redemption or Cyberpunk 2077, but the sheer fact of the matter is that these graphics hold up well. Extremely well. The maps are easy to navigate, the enemies differentiate themselves from the background, and the weapons and other items don’t look like cardboard versions of themselves.
Now, of course, the more astute keyboard warriors among you will point out that it is pretty hard to make a series of grey walls look bad no matter when the game was made. Yes, Doom’s environment could have been more imaginative. But that would have taken away from the dark and dangerous nature of the game.
The developers have nailed the graphics with this game. They are excellent for 1993’s standards and continue to hold up today.
2. How Easy The Game Is To Play
In a similar vein, another highlight is just how easy it is to play the game. Now, this doesn’t mean that Doom itself is painless. id Software has found the perfect equilibrium between a game that is easy to play but not easy to defeat.
The controls in Doom are simple. Move around, and shoot, and a general action button thrown in for good measure. Everything is intuitive and easy to pick up. It’s not like the games of today, where various tutorial levels throughout the game gradually teach you all the new controls until you feel overwhelmed.
Yes, they are not perfect. A jump button wouldn’t go amiss, and neither would the ability to look up or down. But the fact is, these controls work well for what the game is trying to achieve.
3. The Surprises
Hidden within each level are a handful of surprises. They’re usually odd-colored expanses of wall and, when they’re opened, reveal secret areas and bonus items.
Now, of course, I’m well aware that hidden surprises are nothing new in video games, even those from 1993. But this is a part of the game id Software has done well. They work well with each of the maps, and they are common enough that they are easy enough to find, but not too common that they make the game too easy.
Not only that, but they add in a lovely wee sidebar to the game’s frantic pace. Doom is pretty straightforward – kill everything and find the exit. The surprises are a cheeky surprise hidden within a hot mess: a penny hidden in id Software’s proverbial Christmas pudding.
The Dregs at the End – Bottom 3 Lowlights
Unfortunately, Doom is not a perfect game. In their efforts to produce a hard-hitting, confronting first-person shooter, they have left some areas that could do with some TLC.
1. The Lack of Story
Yep, it was bound to be here. Doom’s story elements make Crash Bandicoot look like War and Peace.
To be fair, id Software intentionally ignored the game’s plot so they could perfect the gameplay. The developers even considered story elements in a video game to stories in pornography – expected, but not necessary. They also tried to compensate by adding essential plot elements into the game’s instruction manual to provide context. The only problem was that they didn’t envision a world where everything is digital, and nobody used the instruction manual. For a long time, I had no idea what was going on.
The developers did not have to do too much to remedy this. They added a story card at the end of each chapter as a segue – was it too much to ask to put one at the start too?
2. The Lack of Variable Levels
Now it bears repeating. I’m well aware that id Software made Doom to showcase their cool advancements. When you’re playing a scary game with monsters coming out of all corners, a fast pace helps create tension. Yes indeed, fast is good. But this game is too fast.
The par time it takes to pass a level is about 90 seconds. That’s a minute-and-a-half of monsters, weapons, dead ends, and key cards. (Disclaimer: While the par time may have been around 90 seconds, my average time was closer to ten minutes). You enter the building, you fire off a few rounds, and then before you know it, you’re done.
The problem is that the game’s pace, tied in with the similar-looking levels, makes it all one big blur. Even the developers’ impressive advancements are lost to the speed of the game. You reach each level’s end before you have any time to appreciate what you have just witnessed.
Obviously, your options are limited when your game is set in an industrial landscape. Most colors will be shades of grey, and most shapes will be rectangular. But when there are barely any other defining features (save for a few levels like crate maze in the Containment Area), you can easily forget everything you have just done.
The game reminded me of a Cannibal Corpse album. It’s fast and frantic, it gets your heart racing, and you know your parents wouldn’t want you listening to it. But all of a sudden, it’s over, and you look back and realize you can’t remember any specific tracks. There wasn’t one distinguishable song in there. Instead, it was just an hour of crash, bang, and wallop.
No amount of excellent gameplay can change that.
3. The Shotgun
This weapon was not realistic at all. It’s only designed for short-to-medium combat, but this thing’s power knows no bounds. You may as well put a scope on that thing because I was picking enemies off like Vasily Zaytsev.
Biggest Surprise in Doom
The biggest surprise in Doom was how tame it is. Doom has courted controversy ever since its release, from clogging university internets to playing a role in the Columbine shootings. But on the face of it, Doom is just another FPS. Maybe it’s the dated graphics, or perhaps it’s the lack of story making you feel like you are nearing the gates of Hell themselves. But there is just nothing titillating about Doom.
Now, of course, back in 1993, this was a different story. Games weren’t as confronting, nor were they as overtly violent. But the fact that Doom has continued to wear the label of a violent and evil game in a world where other gorier titles such as Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead exist is baffling.
If anything, Doom has become a scapegoat for those who are against video games. The ones who have nothing to do but complain about a hobby that has nothing to do with them. Like the Sex Pistols or Catcher in the Rye – it remains a classic example cited when people think of violent video games because people think about what it was like in its heyday. But when you compare it to modern offerings, it doesn’t pack the punch it once did.
Tier Listing: How Does it Stack Up?
As each retro game is reviewed, they will be placed on The Game Crater Retro Review Tier List. This tier list will determine where they ultimately stack up with one another.
Doom finds itself in the Good category, but it is placed ahead of Crash Bandicoot. It is a game that has some great mechanics and was a triumph of its time, but as time and technology have moved on, the areas that it is lacking have been highlighted.
Final Thoughts: Are We Looking at Doom Through Rose-Tinted Glasses?
To be blunt, yes, we are. Doom is a game that was revolutionary in its time in so many ways. The violence. The graphics. The controversial subject matter. The ultra-smooth gameplay. But just because they were revolutionary in 1993 doesn’t mean that it will necessarily knock your socks off now. The Wright Brothers’ Wright Flier was impressive when it first flew, but you won’t see Boeing building one anytime soon.
Don’t get me wrong. Doom is still good. It is still more than playable. But the areas that id Software neglected, like the storyline, are areas that the game is now craving, given it can’t rest on its original laurels.
The world has changed, and it is unfair to criticize the developers for not foreseeing the change. But the praise for Doom needs to lie with the influence the game has had on the industry and the capabilities of the Doom engine, not just the physical game that was released on December 10, 1993.