Doom (1993) – Retro Games Review

Review is based on experience playing the Nintendo Switch port.

Doom is a game that needs no introduction, but I shall give one regardless. A classic without peer, the father an entire genre and one of the most influential games of all time. What Mario did for jumping, Doom did for murder simulation. A household name that caused a stir on release, who’s tendrils reached out across time to ensnare the minds of millions. 27 years after its original DOS release, how does this titan amongst lilliputian homunculi hold up? This is Doom, so let’s-a-go.

The aptly named Doom Guy is a man whose penchant for carnage is matched only by his love for his unfortunately deceased bunny, Daisy. What little story Doom has is irrelevant, for to Doom, a story is merely a catalyst for the wanton destruction to manifest. In the now immortal words of John Carmack – “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not important”. The only thing you need to know, is that demons are between you, and a world without demons. Rip and tear, until it is done.

With the absence of story, Doom relies entirely on its gameplay to evoke any emotion – even an adrenaline rush of sheer jubilation. Luckily, despite its aged, almost archaic mechanics, Doom continues to be an absolute joy to play. When it comes to blasting demons, Doom is incredibly simple due to the inability to look up or down. The game relies on a very generous auto-aim to send hot lead on the Y-Axis. For the most part, the system behaves to the point I didn’t miss the ability to move my neck.

No shooter worth its salt can survive without a hefty arsenal of destructive implements. Whilst Doom Guy always starts with his trusty pistol, it is little more than a peashooter. Very quickly you will acquire more powerful instruments of death such as the iconic pump-action shotgun, chaingun and even a chainsaw. What makes these simple tools so endearing, is the surprising amount of tactical thought goes into their usage. The shotgun is monstrously powerful against condensed groups of demons. The chaingun can mowdown hordes of lesser demons from a surprising range, and causes significant hitstun allowing you to shred even the mightiest of foes. When you find a chokehold, the chainsaw can tear through swathes of enemies without fear of repercussion. Throw in a rocket launcher, plasma gun, and the unimaginably powerful BFG9000 (Big F****** Gun), and the sky’s the limit.

As iconic as Doom’s arsenal is, arguably more impressive is its menagerie of miscreant monsters. Zombie soldiers make up the bulk of hells initial incursion, each one brandishing a rifle or shotgun. As you go deeper into Hell’s clutches, fire hurling Imps, tank like Pinkys and the bloated but deadly Cacodemon start to appear. Each monster is recognisable, regardless of distance, and instil a real sense of nostalgia and fear. Every enemy has a weakness that can be exploited, and failure to do so can lead to a swift death, regardless of the demon’s rank.

Even though the FPS genre has evolved to include sprawling open worlds, there is still something uniquely special to Doom’s claustrophobic hallways and trap laden rooms. Each level plays more like a labyrinth and less like a linear sequence of events, requiring you to fully explore the desolate walkways to make it to the hilariously signposted exit. Collecting keys and killing demons is all you will be doing in Doom, and there is a calm serenity behind its simplicity. Each level also contains a seemingly endless selection of secrets to uncover. These will often provide you with munitions, health, powerups and even the opportunity to play with weapons much earlier than you would otherwise.

Doom is split into four separate Episodes, each containing 8 levels, and each sporting a unique theme. Knee Deep In The Dead is one of the most iconic sequence of levels ever constructed, and provides a perfect balance between intense combat, satisfying level design and difficulty. As you progress through each chapter, things begin to escalate, with your skills as a player tested to the extreme. Once you reach the hellish nightmare that is Thy Flesh Consumed, you will be assaulted by endgame bosses as early as mission one, and hordes of demons so vast, you might actually succumb to a coronary before the incoming fireballs reach your lifeless corpse. Not all levels are created equally, but with nearly 40 levels staring you down, it is a feat in and of itself that the vast majority of them are of such high quality.Doom is not a walk in the park, but it remains mostly fair thanks to it diligently preparing you throughout its many, many levels.

Of course dying repeatedly to attain the mastery required can get a tad tedious, and more than a little bit disheartening. Heck, it might even verge on the repetitive at times. But all the hallmarks that make an FPS good, are present and accounted for. Doom is aware of its monotonous cycle, and frequently takes measures to keep things interesting. You will frequently be ambushed by demons, often from behind upon hitting tripwires or collecting keys. The sound of demons being your only indicator that an ambush is near. Certain rooms are designed to be fun, with explosive barrels everywhere, and unaware demons standing in close proximity. It knows when to shock you, it knows when to kill you, and it knows when to give you a powertrip.

When playing a 27 year old game, you can’t exactly expect cutting edge graphics, and Doom is certainly dated when it comes to its aesthetics. What surprised me however, was how well the game has aged. Sure, the game is blocky, thanks in part to its reliance on 2D sprites. However Doom’s style is seemingly timeless, as it carries the visuals magnificently to the 21st century. There is even a wonderful use of lighting, which was truly unexpected. Entire rooms can go black, filling your heart with an abyss-like dread. Strobe lighting allows only the quickest flash of a demon’s position. Enemy projectiles even emit a rudimentary form of light, allowing you to see the oncoming death. Even the animations, despite how basic they are, utilise keyframes perfectly, giving everything a real sense of weight. You know exactly when an enemy is about to attack due to specific tells, giving you ample opportunity to dodge out of the way.

Early midi soundtracks are not exactly pleasant on the ear, especially when we have spoiled with fully orchestrated marvels in recent years. Doom’s soundtrack is quite the exception to this rule. Using remixed 90’s thrash metal from bands like Metallica, Doom has a distinct sound that likely wouldn’t be able to exist nowadays. When you aren’t headbanging to metal, you are sitting in suspense as Doom throws more melancholy and atmospheric tracks into the mix. It’s great stuff, marred only by a couple jingles that get a tad repetitive over a long maze jaunt. For me though, the highlight of the show are the sound effects. Whilst a tad distorted, they still convey a mighty fine amount of heft with each pull of the trigger. The shotgun in particular has a sound that would bring any gun-nut to near-climax levels of ecstasy. Even picking up ammo sends ASMR tingles throughout the entirety of your brain. It’s like you’re being gently stabbed in your frontal lobe, with a knife made of cotton candy and dreams.

Doom is a true masterpiece. It fully understands what makes a good FPS, and flaunts its tight gameplay like a stripper in a thong. I was too young to play Doom back in 93′, but my god, I wish I could have. There is a reason the FPS genre was originally named Doom-Clone, and this is because Doom is the granddaddy of them all…minus Wolfenstein (also made by ID Software). This is a timeless classic that everyone needs to play at some point in their life. In fact, I am off to play through the game a fifth time.


Your comments are welcome, however we all know that the only comment you will be making is “Doom is frickin awesome!”.


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