THE ULTIMATE DOOM – PC (1995)
Grab your shotgun and that sweet 32-bit music because we’re winding back the clock and going back to Hell.
Developer: id Software
Publisher: GT Interactive
Release Date: April 30th, 1995
TURNING BACK TIME
1993 gamers got their first look at the future of first person shooters. Doom took the world of gaming by storm and went on to sell over one million copies worldwide in spite of it being a shareware game. Doom won multiple games of the year awards as well as scored high reviews and high praise from almost all reviewers. In 1995, Ultimate Doom was released and came packed with all previously released content as well as some unreleased levels that were polished up and added to the package. The game was such a colossal hit that the developers actually went on record and said that, “The number one cause of decreased productivity in businesses around the world was Doom.”
Doom was and is to this day, one of the most influential FPS games of all time. Don’t believe me? How many modern FPS’s have a shotgun, a machine gun, and a rocket launcher? The fact of the matter is that Doom smashed the mold into tiny pieces, and forged a new one from the fire and brimstone of Hell. Doom was a revolutionary game with realistic 3D graphics, varying room heights, fluctuating lighting effects and full texture mapping of all surfaces. This technology was groundbreaking for its time.
There wasn’t much in the way of rivals to Doom in 1993, in fact only a few years prior id Software released Wolfenstein 3D which paved the way for Doom. It was a three-dimensional game, but unlike Doom, the lighting and textures were static, and in every way, it was bland by comparison. Room heights were static and never changed and lighting didn’t vary. Wolfenstein 3D also didn’t have any of the intractable environments that Doom has such as: raising and lowering staircases, elevators and even bridges.
Delayed Reaction is all about looking at games with and without those wonderful nostalgia goggles everyone loves to wear. Everyone loves to say how Final Fantasy VII defined modern RPGs, but did it really? Is its effect on the world of gaming still present and was it worthy of the ratings it got at the time? Doom is the first in a long line of Delayed Reactions yet to come. That said, lets jump in and get to it.
Doom’s graphics at the time of its release were top notch. Looking back on it now it’s almost laughable that a whole game fits in a smaller amount of megabytes than an image of said game. The graphics are classically pixilated, yet even today they are not jarring or impossible to look at. Visually speaking, Doom had no rival. Comparing Doom to id Software’s previous game, Wolfenstein 3D, would be the equivalent of comparing Uncharted 4 to the classic Tomb Raider. Doom had a fully customized 3D texture map where the world around you changed as you progressed through it. It also had many outside levels which included a skybox and detailed backgrounds.
Doom visually showed your advancement off the moon base of Phobos and into the deep fire pits of Hell. The descent into Hell was well-designed with subtle changes as textures became less man made and more disturbingly organic. With things like twisted trees and what appeared to be organic walls taking the place of pillars and stone structure respectively. Doom set the ground work for what level progression would become.
Arguably one of the most important aspects of a game is its use of music and sound. As with all forms of media, music and sound are key to the emersion of your audience. Without audio that matches the tone of your game the emotion you’re attempting to portray could be easily lost.
Doom made a point of having great sound, however, the music was… well, it was pretty awful for the most part. Stuck with classic gaming sounds like old school arcades, they didn’t have access to the full spectrum of music that the industry has today. They made some poor choices in the early stages of Doom where the music was too upbeat and almost happy. It seemed an odd choice considering the first chapter of Doom revolves around you blowing away newly reanimated corpses of your fallen brothers in arms. That being said, I could understand that when you compared this to something like Mario’s theme song it did have a heavier tone to it.
On another note, Doom’s use of monster noise was top notch. The moans, groans, howls and roars you’d hear wandering the tight corridors were enough to make your skin crawl. I often found the music taking a backseat to gunfire and growls, which I welcomed whether the dev’s had intended that or not.
The gun sound effects were fitting and what you’d expect from old school sound, though I found myself giggling at the pop gun-esque sound effect they used for the pistol. To my surprise, all the weapons had a unique sound. It wasn’t just the same audio file repeated across each gun. There was never a moment when I didn’t know for an absolute fact that I was shooting the rocket launcher over the BFG 9000, or the machine gun over the shotgun.
Though with as many times as I died I think the sound that sticks in my head the most is the ear shattering sound of “Doom Guy” screaming as he died. If there’s one thing modern games are missing, it’s the fear of a good voice actor screaming into your headset when you make a mistake.
Doom took some getting used to. The controls felt familiar and comfortable but weirdly out of place when compared to the modern FPS. It was clear that Doom inspired FPS control layouts for games like Call of Duty and Counter-Strike.
The controls were simple, tight, and responsive. Establishing the long since standard movement keys of “W, A, S, D” Doom laid the groundwork for modern games, and by utilizing the mouse to turn on horizontal axis you can clearly see the evolution from past to present. The strangest controls to get used to were actually the lack of controls. One of these was having no control over the vertical axis. As jarring and off-putting as this sounds after the first few levels of the game it no longer bothered me. The other missing control was a very disconcerting lack of reloading with the “R” key. In fact, there was no reloading at all. Just a never-ending stream of death extending from the barrel of your gun. While Doom’s controls took some getting used to, it felt natural in a classic wild west of game design kind of way.
Modern day shooters follow a very similar control layout regardless of game or developer. If you’re playing an FPS “R” is going to reload, and your scroll wheel will cycle through your weapons. In the days of Doom, those rules hadn’t been established. Neither sadly, was the thought of player customized controls. If you didn’t like the key mapping, tough shit. This is, after all, Doom my fellow Coin Droppers. You’re already going to Hell why should they make it comfortable? All that aside, I found the controls easy to adapt to and felt comfortable with them again after only a few minutes of play.
Doom has a total of five difficulties that scale from walk in the park to a single hit and your dead. The game pits you against overwhelming odds, short ammo supplies, and traps. These traps draw the player into a false sense of security then utilizes that oh-so-needed med-pack to trigger a swarm of monsters that will quickly devour your soul if you don’t think quick and shoot even quicker.
Doom has an odd pacing we don’t see in games anymore. It has moments where it becomes incredibly difficult, and then simply returns to its original difficulty once you start the next level. An example of this is a level in the second act that throws four Barons of Hell, a prior boss monster, at you when you start the level. If you’re quick enough or well equipped enough to get past that the next room holds easily fifteen Cacodemon’s, a large flying head of a monster with red scales and one eye all clamoring for the taste of your human flesh. After killing all these monsters, a door opens to the next level and the pacing returns to its regularly scheduled difficulty.
Doom also employs a true cost for dying, similar to the ever popular Dark Souls franchise, but in my opinion much costlier. When you die in Doom, and you didn’t save on that level, you’re forced to choose between loading an earlier save or restarting the level with nothing. Other than fifty bullets and your pistol, you have nothing. That’d be like Dark Souls saying, “Hey we’re going to take all your weapons and armor back, but here’s a spoon to fight with until you find new gear.” Unlike the Dark Souls franchise, Doom doesn’t let you pick up your gear after death either so once you die, it’s gone, which is, tragic. Doom’s use of traps is something we haven’t seen in FPS’s in a long time. Personally after going back to Doom and encountering it I can’t understand why modern games don’t employ it more often.
Dynamic lighting, Interactive environments via mechanically raised staircases that raise each step one after the other, elevators, trap doors, pressure plate, switches and hidden passage ways. Doom didn’t achieve raving reviews and awards just because the game looked good. Doom’s in-game physics engine was second to none.
Walking down a dark hallway in Doom was terrifying because it wasn’t just dark, it was damn near pitch black. Hope you have a lot of spare bullets because your flashlight in Doom is the muzzle flash of your gun and that lasts just a split second. As if dark hallways weren’t bad enough, the worst were the strobe light areas. Flashing lights that quickly change between pitch black and fully lit were unnerving beyond measure. Couple that with Dooms amazing sound effects and you’re in for some terror. You hear a monster but, when the lights flash there’s nothing in sight. The lights flash again and a demon is taking a bite out of your face. Complete and utter terror. Luckily for us, up close and personal is the exact distance your trusty shotgun loves. Dooms physics and mechanics may seem gimmicky by today’s standards but I dare you to find an FPS from 92 to 95 that did it better than Doom.
Like most games prior to the N64 era, Doom didn’t focus a whole lot on storytelling. In fact, the only bit of actual in-game story you got was a red colored text crawl at the end of each chapter. Hell, your character doesn’t even have a name! He’s still to this day, referred to as “Doom Guy” similar to the old arcade game “Donkey Kong” with “Jump Man”. At lease Jump Man got a name some years with the release of Mario.
The direction through the level and the game’s ability to tell you where to go is lax at best. It does give you simple instruction however without saying anything. Blue door, blue key. Red door, red key. There was never any nagging fairy to tell you where to go or what to do. Doom threw you in the driver’s seat and said, “Good luck mother f**ker”. It’s a fantastic feeling that I had almost all but forgotten exists thanks to current video game logic. It did cause me to run around like an idiot a couple of times before figuring out where to go.
Hand holding is a modern gaming tradition and I personally think it’s one that needs to end. The story of Doom, until you get on the net and dive into the lore, is pretty straight forward. The game starts, you have a gun and there’s stuff that needs killing. That’s it until you get through the first act and get that scrolling text telling you what the hell is going on. Personally, I liked that about Doom.
At its core, Doom is a simple and fun game with a simple and fun goal. Kill shit, get weapons and ammo, kill some more shit, win in the end, isn’t that all we need?
They say a user shouldn’t realize they are using a game’s user interface. It should be seamless and easily navigated to the point where it’s almost entirely forgettable. Someone should tell Bethesda that.
Doom doesn’t really have a user interface and it doesn’t need one. Your weapons are automatically equipped when you pick them up. There’s no inventory to deal with and game options and settings are really quite minimal. Doom is king in the world of seamless gameplay. You never waste time in menu’s or looking at the stats of equipment. The only user interface I ever encountered was the hilariously old school map.
Hitting the “Tab” key opened up a line drawn map of where you’ve been with a white arrow on it. The best part of this map was when you moved with it displayed because essentially, the map was a top down view that allowed you to navigate through the level. I hope you killed all the monsters in that area though because they don’t show up on the map.
Doom, though old and outdated was a very well-polished game. I never once had screen tearing, texture pops or any graphical or game play issues. That might be because the game was only 26 or so Megabits big or that modern games have a lot more code to deal with thus have a higher potential for errors. Whatever the case, Doom was a well-polished game without any game breaking glitches.
I’ve played a lot of FPS games over my twenty-three-plus years of gaming. From modern to the classic I’ve seen and played most of them and none of them have ever left the kind of imprint on me that Doom did. Playing it again was like a trip back in time to the world of dial-up internet and crappy Gateway computers. Doom stands above games of its time as a shining, blood spattered beacon of how far gaming has come and where it truly began.
Today Doom may not be the most visually appealing game, especially if you intend to hold it up against its new 2016 remake. But as a game that’s fun, challenging and thought provoking it achieves its goal well. If you’ve never played Doom classic or it has been as long for you as it has for me then I strongly recommend you reach into your pockets, pull out a crisp five-dollar bill and grab this bad boy by the demon screaming horns; or pick up the Doom Classic Collection for an extra ten dollars which includes Ultimate Doom, Doom II and Final Doom from Steam.
For any of you Coin Droppers who think this game is old and dated and has no bearing on the modern gaming industry to you I say, go toHell and see how fun it is, Ultimate Doom doesn’t have the longest campaign and there’s no multiplayer, nor is there much replay value, but for five bucks it’s worth reliving the good old days of fast-paced blood splattering Doom. With that said this is one game I’m personally glad I revisited and one I’m more than happy to add to my ever growing catalog of Steam games.