When it comes to id Software – few developers have shaped a single genre quite so definitively. These days they’re such a big player in the wider scheme, but every first person shooter owes its lineage to the work done by the Texan developer. Wolfenstein 3D was a revolution upon its arrival, heralding in a new age of shooter that felt more realistic than anything than had come before. How do you follow-up something so iconic? The answer, 1993’s DOOM.
The shadow of DOOM hangs long over the first person shooter genre. While it wasn’t the first game to present 3D environments in a first person perspective (That honor falls to 1987’s Midi Maze), it was arguably the game that popularized the idea among the masses. id Software’s work on Wolfenstein 3D laid the groundwork, but that game was very basic in its ambition. Floors and roofs were the same height; meaning that variety didn’t come easy. The technical limitations left a huge amount of potential for John Carmack to work towards; which he did when he began work on the technical side of things.
Where DOOM succeeds is in the balance between action and steady build. It’s the ability for the gamer to drive the momentum at a pace they choose. You can run through levels like a madman, slaughtering demons with wild abandon or you can take your time, soak in the ambiance and let the atmosphere take you in. You can hunt for all the secrets, find all the best weapons earlier than intended or you can throw that out the window and go wild as the kill count rises.
And you’ll be doing a lot of killing in DOOM. It’s a game where enemies chase you through the level, never relenting and ceaselessly hoping to bring you down. Their single purpose is to stop you at all costs, grind your health down and eventually bring you to a halt. Yet thanks to a wide selection of weapons, each with their own pitfalls and benefits, the player is afforded a huge amount of choice in how the carnage they’re creating plays out. If things get too heavy, you can whip out the rocket launcher and conduct some crowd control. The shotgun is good for mowing down weaker enemies, while the chaingun has use in holding back and stopping enemies. Weapons like the rocket launcher provide huge grunt, but come at the cost of being deadly to the player in confined areas.
Variety doesn’t stop here. Every enemy brings a new process to proceedings and every enemy requires a different approach. From shotgun guys who’s use of hitbox shots makes them deadly at range, through to imps whose close quarter dominance makes direct challenges suicidal. You’ll find yourself behaving according to the situation, strafing and gunning as you go. Lost Souls may seem easy on the surface, but when you’re trying to hit a Cyberdemon and you’re using a rocket launcher, the frustration is all too real when they throw themselves right in front of your firing weapon.
But what’s a good game if its worlds aren’t interesting? It’s the excellence of the level design which also works in the games favor. John Romero’s work on DOOM 1 is legendary, some of the games greatest levels were crafted by the legendary games designer. It’s the mixture of tight claustrophobic levels and the wide open spaces that allows for such varied experiences. Enemies can get you from below and above, meaning you can’t rest on your laurels. There’s always a twist round the next corner, a puzzle to slow you down or an enemy closet waiting to reveal itself. Some of DOOM’s levels are the thing of video game legend, taking you from the moons of Mars all the way across to hell itself.
All this is made better by the fact the game never tries to change things up. Your objective is never complicated – just get to the end of the level. It doesn’t matter how you manage this feat – the game just expects you to do it. Free of the constraints of story and exposition, DOOM is a pure gaming experience that never tries to put layers between you and the game. You’re never more than 10 seconds from launching into a level, and it’s a great thing too. The story is arguably the weakest aspect of DOOM, poorly conveyed and awkwardly left as an afterthought. It’s arguably the games biggest detraction – and probably the biggest hole in its arsenal. But then again, as 2016’s DOOM helpfully showcased, story isn’t really important to the franchise when there’s monsters to be killing.
There’s also a fair amount of single player content to work through. The original release came with three episodes, set across 27 levels. In 1994 id Software pushed out a free update that raised this to four episodes – creating a bridge between this and DOOM 2.
As well as all this, DOOM comes packing a hugely entertaining multiplayer component. Back when the game hit Shareware, it became the staple of offices and networks across the world – gamers just couldn’t get enough of the game. Reportedly at its height, more people had DOOM installed than had Microsoft’s Windows. We’ll never know if this is true, but we do know Microsoft gave serious thought to purchasing DOOM as a showcase for its Windows 95 platform. The game itself has been ported to everything from consoles to calculators, keyboards to even watches. The game has become a staple of the gaming subconscious, your console isn’t legit unless it can run a variant of DOOM on it.
Perhaps even more surprising, the game has taken on a new form in recent years. Long after its release and well beyond id Sofrware’s comprehension, the game continues to speak to a new generation of gamers. If the thousands upon thousands of DOOM WAD’s and custom levels isn’t enough to tempt you in, then the sheer efforts of the community mean that the game is never left wanting. The likes of Chocolate DOOM allow gamers to experience the game in its purest forms, while more adventurous versions of the game allow for more advanced features. It’s built-in mod support has allowed modern gamers to experience Brutal DOOM, one of the most popular fan mods of any modern games. So popular was this that the 2016 DOOM reboot took clear nods from this fan title – part of the reason it was so successful.
DOOM isn’t just a video game, it’s a phenomenon that continues to march on. Even as newer first person shooters emerge and claim their spotlight, the franchise moves from strength to strength. It’s a testament to how great the game was when it launched and how a strong gameplay core can give rise to so much more. I still play the original DOOM and its sequel all these years later and still get the same excitement from them. It’s not hard to see why, and why in another 23 years we’ll probably still be talking about it.