Doom (1993) Retro Review: How Does It Hold Up Today?

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Who doesn’t know Doom? Surely those of you who have been on the gaming scene for a while know what Doom is so what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Well, for those who don’t know, it’s my duty to explain to you. Doom is a first person shooter developed and published by ID Software back in December 10th 1993. The game follows a lone space marine (a.k.a you) trapped inside the desolate military base on Mars soaked in the blood and viscera of your fallen comrades and the demonic spawn from hell infests the base and it’s your mission to wipe them all out.  That’s just about all the context you’ll ever have for the story as the gameplay and level design are what fills in the blanks. Sounds like fun doesn’t it? Well it most certainly is.

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Doom turned a lot of heads back in 1993, following up from the success of the famous Wolfenstein 3D. Doom boasted bigger, better and far more brutal first person shooting action and it delivers that action to you in spades and more. In retrospect, Doom was considered to be one of the best games ever made at its time and was hailed for its violence, challenge, level design and overall creativity.  It made tons of noise in the gaming industry, so much so that many games decided to follow in its footsteps with other classics such as Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior and Blood: One Whole Unit Blood just to name a few. It was from Doom that the term “Doom clone” was coined whenever a new first person shooter was released back in the mid 1990s. Who could blame them? Doom was an innovative and highly inspirational game at the time, boasting up to twenty-six open ended and challenging levels split into three episodes. There’s an arsenal of seven devastating weapons including the iconic BFG9000 and a whole host of nasties from hell to rip and tear at the player, sometimes overwhelming them with legions of monsters that the player must surpass to succeed.  It’s the glorious chaos that ensues which makes Doom a flat out awesome game.

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However that was back then, the question here is “How does it hold up today?” and thankfully that’s a question I can gladly answer for you considering the amount of hours I’ve put into the game. In short, I love Doom – I absolutely adored the game ever since I was really young. In fact, aside from Super Mario Brothers on the NES, Doom is perhaps the first game I’ve ever played and that had a huge impact on me throughout all of my gaming experiences. It has perhaps even shaped me to become the gamer I am today. But putting my nostalgia aside, let’s look at the game entirely on its own merits. The gameplay in Doom is simple, as simple as pointing your gun in the general direction of an enemy and shooting them until they fall over in a mess of pixelated gore.  It doesn’t matter if you can’t look up and down or if the monsters are on high ground or floating above you as the game will handle that task for you,  leaving you to focus on blasting demon scum back to the fetid pits of hell from whence they came. To some, the gunplay feels rather archaic and simple but I find to be a very elegant, fun and reliable combat system that holds up wonderfully today. The player relies on finding pickups throughout the environment to stock up on ammo, health and armour because what good is a gun without ammo right? Sure the game sounds simple so far, but it really is a brutally challenging game especially on Ultra-Violence and Nightmare mode because the demons are out for blood and they are very good at what they do and they’ll stop at nothing to take you down whether it’s clawing your face off, hurling fireballs, firing rockets whichever way they choose.  Their intent is to essentially make your life miserable. These aspects makes the conservation of ammo, health and armour an important factor in Doom. Enemies can come in ones or twos but sometimes in the tens and twenties and finding supplies to keep those big red numbers on your HUD in three digits is absolutely essential to your survival. Rationing those pickups, learning what weapons work best against which enemy and mastering the break-neck speedy movement system are keys to surviving Doom.  One false move can end your life in a heartbeat or at least take your health and armour down to critical levels which then forces you to go scavenging for items right away. Speaking of scavenging, the levels in Doom are very open-ended.  Large sprawling levels that are filled to the brim with items, monsters, secrets, traps and a whole assortment of interesting places to visit encourage exploration. You can explore them all and wander at your own leisure thanks to the non-linear level design. The goal to each level is making it to the end and flipping a switch.  That sounds easy in theory, doesn’t it?  But as you progress further and further into the game the levels become larger, more complex, and more difficult.  The pacing of these key factors are gradual and natural, so much so that the player will instinctively learn where they need to go and what to do which often involves collecting keys to unlock new areas whilst also introducing new foes one at a time and giving you new weapons in a very timely fashion.

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At first the game feels like a wide open maze and I adore that old school FPS level design.  Thankfully there’s also a map to keep track of places you’ve explored so you won’t feel too lost when exploring the abandoned, metallic halls of the Mars base or the fleshy catacombs of Hell itself. Some players will find the gameplay too challenging and the level design a bit too maze-like for their tastes.  For those who prefer more linear, casual experiences, then Doom may bit a bit on the difficult and confusing side.

Doom-1993-04The visuals in Doom look very 90s with a simple yet very colourful and interesting 16-bit pixel art style.  Personally I find that they really stood the test of time. Each and every level is made with a specific aesthetic in mind ranging from full on sci-fi to gothic to the absolutely grotesque.  The monster and weapon sprites are drawn and animated with love and care and it all comes together beautifully in this wonderful, unified art style that is timeless in this day and age. However the only thing that stands out as a complaint here is that the animation for the large monsters, most notably the Spider Mastermind, can look quite rigid up close.  Also, moving from one frame to the next can be a little jarring as they have a rather unnatural animation pattern.  However back then with the highly detailed sprite work, making many different frames of animation would have proven very difficult, time consuming and costly to develop for larger sprites and that’s perhaps my only gripe with the visuals.  Other than that, the graphics for Doom look brilliant.

The sound design in Doom is also quite fantastic.  Sound effects for weapons are meaty, powerful, chunky and are highly discernible.  You can tell which weapon is which simply from hearing their sound, and your weapon arsenal ranges from the bombastic chain-gun to the electrifying plasma gun. The monsters also sound great, with memorable sound effects from their violent roars to their bloodcurdling death cries.  They also play a key part in knowing which enemy you’ll encounter in the next room.  For instance, if you hear pig-like snorting then you’ll find a multitude of Pinky Demons, but if you hear ghostly noises then chances are that a Lost Soul or two are right around the corner.  If you hear high-pitched hissing then you’ll most likely find a Cacodemon flying around somewhere and that makes the sound top notch as it makes you keep your ears out and teaches you to recognize the sounds that monsters make to best prepare you for your next firefight. The music is highly entertaining as well, although rather cheesy.  Essentially they are MIDI covers of songs mostly by thrash metal bands such as Metallica, Pantera, Slayer and Napalm Death as well as its own assortment of ambient and atmospheric sounds to darken the mood even more than it already is.  But it sounds amazing when playing the game. Whilst some of the music sounds a little off to me and doesn’t quite sit with me as the MIDI is often a little too screechy, the music for the very first mission is rather catchy and will stick in my mind till the day I die.

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Doom, in my honest opinion is perhaps the quintessential game that every gamer should play at least once in their lives.  It was the FPS that revolutionised the industry in the 90s and is up there with the likes of Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros. and Tetris. I consider it to be one of the finest first person shooters ever conceived and you’d be doing yourself a disservice as a gamer not to play this. To this day it’s still remembered and played fondly and is backed up with a loyal fanbase of old veterans and young newcomers.  Thanks to the rise of mods on the PC version of the game over the last two decades, the sheer amount of user-generated content to download from simple level packs to aesthetic changes up to full on total conversions, there is just about a limitless amount of content to play through.  The eight hour campaign of blood-pumping violent action is just a very tiny slice of what Doom has to offer. With the amount of rereleases this game has had over the years since its release, it is easily obtainable as a physical copy or through digital means on just about every platform. You can pick up the Ultimate Doom on Steam for £5.99/$4.99/€9.99.  However I also suggest you download a source port as well. GZDoom or Zandronum are your best bets for mod support and online competitive and cooperative multiplayer. These games also allow for features such as full mouse aim and Xbox 360 controller support. In the end, Doom is an undeniably awesome classic that absolutely deserves your attention and you really need to play it.  You’d be a very silly person not to.

Good

  • Fast paced, challenging action
  • Timeless 90s pixel aesthetic
  • Healthy modding scene offering unlimited content

Bad

  • Some poor MIDI tracks
  • Vague story
  • Too challenging or confusing for casual gamers
7.5

Good

Gameplay - 10
Story - 3
Graphics - 9
Sound - 8
Jamie is a long time gamer from the UK with thorough knowledge about games - old, new, popular and the outright obscure. His favourite genres of games are old school FPS, hack n' slash and survival horror. He aims to deliver helpful and accurate reviews for gamers as well as articles to present new ideas to the people in the gaming scene whilst keeping a highly entertaining writing style for the reader to enjoy.
  • Warchild

    Best. Game. Ever.

    Great retrospctive review, too.

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