DOOM The Original [Game Review]

DOOM Game Review
Published by id software – Developed by id Software – PC

The one, the only. The great, big, bad, grand-daddy of the first-person shooter. DOOM! Demons, zombies, guns, Mars, teleportation, atrocious health and safety procedures, questionable workplace ethics, more demons and a chainsaw; this game has it all!  Initially released as a three episode saga back in 1993, “Knee-deep in the Dead”, “The Shores of Hell” and “Inferno”, the game was soon expanded by a fourth episode, “Thy Flesh Consumed” was unleashed as part of The Ultimate Doom re-release in 1995 (which coincided with the release of Doom II – more on that in my next review) and finally, the game was given a fifth (albeit unofficial) episode in May 2019, John Romero’s “Sigil”.

Whilst the game might be a tough one to love in 2021, (1993 is practically pre-historic in gameplay terms) with its lego graphics, AI that is more A than I, inability to jump, look up or down or perform Jean-Claude Van Damme style splits, it’s important to remember that the game was, on release, revolutionary. Doom gave us dynamic lighting, skyboxes (nothing like looking up at a beautiful sunset when you are decapitating the minions of hell) and stairs – so no Daleks in this game! Interactive environment – there are explosive barrels laying around because why not! Perhaps the biggest innovation was Deathmatch where players could face-off against each other. On release, nobody had seen anything like that game before. In a stroke of genius marketing, they released episode one, “Knee-deep in the Dead” as freeware so people got to sample a third of the game right away (would that happen nowadays?) and if you wanted more levels, more demons, the plasma gun and the BFG you’d have to pay for the full game – and that’s just what early 90s gamers did in their droves.

The episodic level design starts off tech-based and industrial in “Knee-deep”, with episode 2 bringing the player to a more hellish landscape and episode 3 onwards set in hell proper. If I were to compare the episodes to the film Event Horizon, “Knee-Deep in the Dead” is when the viewer first sees the interior of the Louise and Clarke rescue ship and “Sigil” is at the end of the film when Sam Neill is “happening” – if you’ve seen the film you will know what I mean. And it’s a fair comparison to make as both feature opening gateways to hell.

There is a good set of enemies that each require skill to take down and the further you progress, the tougher they get – ever lose count of the amount of rockets needed to fell a Cyberdemon? The enemies range from pistol toting zombies (fodder), fireball-throwing imps, large pink demons (Pinkies) with a huge bite, ball-lightning spitting Cacodemons and two huge bosses; the Cyberdemon and SpiderDemon (or SpiderMasterMind depending on if you go with the booklet rather than in-game text). So the game throws a lot of problems your way, but how are we going to solve these problems?

Solutions will be found in the shotgun, chaingun, rocket launcher and plasma weapons. Did I mention the game gives you a chainsaw? So, you can, if you wanted to, pretend to be Bruce Campbel in the Evil Dead films.

John Carmack, Lead Programmer of ID software at the time of development, was quoted as saying “Story in a game is like story in a porn movie… it’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.” So, from whence that head-space originated, to summarize the “plot” of Doom, the Union Aerospace Corporation (Weyland-Yutani, ahem) were doing R&D on teleporters on Mars and accidentally opened portals to Hell; whoops! The plot becomes farcical then at the end of the fourth episode, “Thy Flesh Consumed”, where it is revealed that the demons killed Doomguy’s pet rabbit, Daisy and he is on a quest of vengeance. Yes, this absurdity predates the John Wick franchise by several years but if someone was to tell me that the original Doom was an inspiration behind those movies, I could not honestly say I’d be entirely surprised.

The in-game music makes for great listening, it’s often punchy with some levels leaning in on a darker musical atmosphere. The music is in midi files, basic for today but for what they had to work with, they did a good job. The music is based on tunes the development team were listening to on the radio at the time they were putting the game together – and altered just enough to avoid copyright infringement.

The game is fast, fluid and fun and yes, very dated. Textures are limited and water and acid floor effects alternate between two images. There is significant repetition in the game but a special acknowledgement has to be given to John Romero’s 2019 entry, “Sigil” where he clearly put in a lot of effort to create a new Doom experience. “Sigil” is perhaps worthy of its own review.

Truthfully, it feels counter-intuitive to not be able to look up or down, but that’s just the limitations of an early 90s game engine. When I [play] Doom, it is to relive the good old days and the fun I had at the time but would I recommend this game to modern, next-gen gamers – maybe not. But everyone should at least appreciate its place in video game history as the original battlefield for deathmatch.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

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