Wednesday, September 9, 2009


By the end of 1993, id's Wolfenstein 3-D was still going strong. A couple rip-offs had surfaced here and there, but nothing that would threaten the title's popularity or status atop the genre (it's the game that established it, after all). Yet the folks at id Software were busy during the year and a half that transpired after Wolfenstein's release. They were developing new technology and ideas, and once Doom was released the gaming industry would never be the same.

Reloading title.Doom introduced plenty of new textures and scenery, which stood out as extremely immersive when compared with Wolfenstein's bland and repetitive walls. The technology also allowed for variances in height within the game. Stairs and elevators could now exist and the player got a much greater sense of moving in three dimensions, which was pretty cleverly done, considering the game actually operated on two-dimensional physics. You see, levels existed on a plane as they always had (for instance, never will any room be on top of another one), but the textures and models were such that height would appear to exist in a fully three-dimensional state. So when you shoot your guns you'll feel like you're auto-aiming along the Z-axis, while in reality there is no Z-axis at all!

Of course, all this technobabble is just preliminary stuff to go over before getting to the meat of Doom. No, quite literally, the meat of it. This game consists of eliminating your enemies with as much excessive violence as you can muster, even mutilating them if you get the chance. Naturally, when you view the game now and see the blood falling from the sprites, you'll get a chuckle over how panicked people were about this game's gore. They even tried to sue id for the Columbine debacle, which was pretty absurd (and thankfully the judge declared as much).

Double Baron.So if Wolfenstein got away with its violence because your targets were all Nazis, how can Doom justify an even greater level of gore without resorting to the same ploy? Let's think about that one a moment. What could possibly be more universally evil than Hitler's Nazis? How about, say, the very legions of hell itself?! So there's no need to feel bad about shooting things mercilessly - they're all demons bent on torturing you for eternity. Man, how do they do it? At first I was hesitant to engage in all this brutality, but somehow with that one caveat I'm now not only okay with it, but I feel like it's my duty to go slay the foul beasts.

Naturally, that does require a little bit of justification from the story. After all, were you dead and sent to hell, you'd hardly have an arsenal of weapons at hand to combat them. So how did hell come to you? Doom takes place, at least initially, on a research base on Phobos (one of the moons of Mars). You are a marine working security for the Union Aerospace Corporation, which owns the base. Somehow, in some way, the forces of hell invade the base and kill everyone, leaving only you alive (why/how they didn't kill you is unexplained). Now normally you'd try to get out of there as soon as possible, because who in his right mind would try to single-handedly defeat the armies of hell? But they made one fatal mistake in their assault on the base - they killed Daisy, your pet rabbit. And you are going to make them pay. You probably think I'm kidding. You probably think this can't actually be the justification for the game's action. Just you wait.

Pinky Plasma.So, as any curious scholar might ask, "Of what exactly do the forces of hell consist?" Glad you asked! The first baddies you see are zombies. They're your fellow marines, somehow transformed and converted into employees of the enemy, and carry either pistols or shotguns. Then there are imps, which are basically wookiees with haircuts who throw balls of fire. What you see above are generically termed "demons," and just run at you to gnaw your flesh. Some of these are even partially invisible. There are flaming skulls and big red spherical uglies called cacodemons, and the minotaur-like Barons of Hell. Finally, the bosses consist of a big mechanical spider monster and the Cyberdemon - a gigantic horned beast with a semi-automatic missile launcher for a hand. His loud metal footsteps will scare the living tar out of you.

And scaring the player appears to be one of the major goals the developers had for this game. Wolfenstein would frighten you by circumstance, when you'd hear a guard from another room shout an alert, or somehow not see a dude with a gun in your face. But Doom frightens by design. A very large portion of the game is not fully lit. That isn't to say it's pitch dark or anything, but just that the lights are dimmed intentionally both to partially hamper vision and to generate a creepy atmosphere. Some lights will even flicker, which was new at the time. There are times when you will be in an empty room and a wall will open behind you, unleashing monsters on your back. It's pretty effective all things considered, although in some sense it's only a notch above the "cheap" scares of its predecessor.

Crucitunes.The environments also include extra little tidbits to create the game's atmosphere. Throughout the Phobos base you will find the corpses of your fellow marines, or occasionally just their pools of blood and guts. As the game progresses, you find that the invasion of Phobos came from Deimos, the other moon of Mars. And then you realize that a gate to hell itself was opened on or near Deimos, and so proceed to invade the home of your enemy. And here the ambient creepiness really jumps up a notch. Rivers and lakes of blood are common fare. You'll find other marines who attempted the same infiltration impaled on stakes, twitching in agony. Totems of the skulls of your comrades have been collected and placed in various spots, and there are even a few times at which you can see the souls of people drifting by in the walls.

The game also helped pioneer powerups, which are items you can walk over that enhance your abilities in some way. Previous games had health and ammo pickups, and Wolfenstein had random bits of treasure to collect for points, but Doom's powerups are more significant. There are radiation suits that make you immune to corrosion from toxic waste or...lava... There are goggles that allow you to see in full lighting for a time, temporary invincibility orbs, and a computer which reveals that area's full map. The map itself is a great feature, which allows you to view a wireframe layout of the area at any time, helping you to not only not get lost, but also to have extra help in locating hidden doors and rooms. Man. Including a map in a game that might cause players to otherwise get lost. It sounds so obvious. How could anyone miss it? Anyway, the funniest powerup is the berserk kit, which empowers your fist to such a degree that you can split monsters into pieces with a single punch. Awesome.

Death-o-matic-9000.And on that note, it's long overdue to talk about guns. Wolfenstein's guns were simple and straight- forward, but Doom helped establish the concept of crazy weapons in games. Your fists and pistols need no mention. Similarly, the chaingun is about what you'd expect. Doom's rocket launcher though fires a lot more quickly than you'd think it might, and makes a pleasant sound effect with each shot. There's a chainsaw that rends flesh from monsters, but is usually worthless in practice. Then there's the plasmagun, which is damn strong. And of course, the BFG-9000. For those not in the loop, the BFG part stands for "Big F--king Gun," and it just annihilates everything. The final boss dies in three shots with this guy, and almost everything else is obliterated with one. Final boss. Three shots. Ammo isn't even that hard to find. Weapon balance be damned! It's a heck of a lot of fun to play around with, but it might be too strong.

I'm a worrier, always conserving ammo and the like. If you're anything like me, you'll find yourself running around 98% of the game with the shotgun. It can kill weaker enemies in one shot, and even stronger ones without too much hassle as long as you're quick on your feet. I found myself never using the stronger weapons just because I was afraid of having no ammo if and when I actually needed them. Perhaps that's my own foolishness, but perhaps the shotgun is just really that good.

By the way, for those of you still waiting for proof of the bunny slaying motive, see below. You evidently just carry the carcass (or at least the head) around with you. Nevermind the question of how bunnies survived on Mars in the first place. You want revenge. Wait, come to think of it, how are you surviving? I understand that there's a base that surely has its own life support system, but there are plenty of times you set foot out onto the surface of the moons. With no helmet, if your little face at the bottom of the screen and the picture below are to be believed. Either you hold more reserve air in your lungs than Fort Knox holds reserve gold or the Martian moons have oxygenated atmospheres. If it's the latter, we need to get on board the colonization train, pronto.

Oh wait, scratch that. I almost forgot they're the gateway to hell.

Poor Daisy.I do want to air some complaints about the game though. While the general concept and experience is decidedly positive, I found it impossible to play for longer periods of time. The main reason is this: the game is repetitive. I can only play a few levels at a time before I'm just tired and bored of the same old shotgun dance. Most maps revolve around finding keys to open doors, and killing monster after monster along the way. How many blue keycards do I really need here? Why are they in the most illogical of places? And while we're on the subject, why don't these demons just get rid of all the weapons and health and ammo and keys to impede your progress? It's like they want you to win. But that's the main reason this game's score is lower than it otherwise would be - once you've played the first few maps, you've played them all. Bosses and other monsters aside, there's nothing new to find anymore, and that's disappointing.

Overall though, Doom is a solid game. It didn't do anything really original from a gameplay perspective, other than the new guns (and even that's debatable). But it did do everything better than any similar game before it, and remains enjoyable to play. Just don't try to rush through it all at once or you'll get sick of it. Pace yourself as you go, a level here and a level there, and you'll really get the most out of your Doom experience. They even included a bonus fourth episode called "Thy Flesh Consumed" to the original trilogy for subsequent releases of the game, so there's more action to go around. If you ever were curious as to how and why first-person shooters hit the mainstream gaming populace, go play Doom and learn ya somethin' right.

Bottom Line: 13/20

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