Doom (1993): Does the Classic Still Hold Up?

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Doom is undoubtfully one of the most influential and important series in video game history. Doom helped define the FPS genre. It was so influential that any other FPS games that came after it became known as Doom Clones until Half-life came around.

The game also had its fair share of controversies as in 1993 when Doom along with Mortal Kombat and Night Trap were criticized for spreading excessively violent or sexual content. All this has led to the ESRB Rating that we have on all our games now. But Doom thrived through all this. And its popularity only grew. As of late 1995, Doom was estimated to be installed on more computers worldwide than Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 95.

The Franchise continued after that with Doom 2, Doom 3 (which is a reboot) and is still going strong with the latest reboot with awesome games like Doom (2016) and Doom Eternal. ID Software developed all the main Doom games.

But does the original Doom still hold up after all these years? That is what I seek to find out in this retrospective of the game.

Personal Context and the Way I am Playing the Game

I have played through Doom (1993) once before on the normal “Hurt me plenty” difficulty and I don’t remember much of that experience. So this time it will still be a pretty fresh experience. I will be playing on the “Ultra-Violence” difficulty as it is the hardest difficulty in the game without having the monsters re-spawn.

Also, I will be playing through the three episodes which were first released. And not the Expansion “Thy Flesh Consumed” which was released after Doom 2 in 1995 with the re-release of Doom as Ultimate Doom.

I am playing the game on PC. But I will not be playing it in DOS as the DOSBox emulation in current PC hardware is pretty janky and restricts me at 35 frames per second.

original-doom
Doom in DOSBox

So I will be using the source port of GZDoom, which is a fan-made open-source port released by id Software in December of 1997. This source port allows players to play the game in High Definition along with uncapped frame rates.

Doom in GZDoom

So from now on out I will be playing the game episode by episode on Ultra Violence. And I will be chronicling my experience through them.

Episode 1: Knee-Deep in the Dead

The first thing I noticed as I was playing was how good the 2D sprites looked. Doom is not really a 3D game but rather a 2D game that tricks players with its use of perspectives, (This is known as Billboarding) which makes them look 3D. This is known as 2.5D. The art style was not realistic in any sense but it has a style that I think aged better than any of the early fully 3D games which are held back by their blocky chatters.

Also, one thing I realised is that I cannot look up and down or jump. My guns were auto-aiming to enemies which were seemingly above me. I guess that this is due to the 2.5D nature of the game.

The sci-fi corridors at the start

Weapons and Enemies

The game starts off directly with a pistol in my hand and 2 guys shotgunning me. It is direct and doesn’t wait a second for the action to start. The awesome midi soundtrack blazes on as I get introduced to the enemies and weapons. The enemies Zombieman, Shotgun guy, Imp, Pinky, and Spectres (just an invisible Pinky) are the ones used in the first seven of eight levels. For these enemies, I found the weapons Pistol, Shotgun, Chaingun, and Rocket Launcher. I am not sure if there are more weapons in the secrets as I found my Rocket Launcher in one of them. Along with these, I found the power-up Berserk which gives the player full health and armour and increases the melee damage a lot.

Level, Music and Story

The levels flow seamlessly and I didn’t die once as I blasted through them. The game has been difficult until now but nothing unfair. As I enter the last level of the episode to face the boss, I am introduced to two Barons of Hell. The Barons of Hell were accompanied by a ton of Specters and I died so many times in this level as I tried to navigate my way through the Specters to kill the Barons, but I eventually got to them and exited the level, seemingly dying in the process and being sent to Hell.

Just before I died from the Barons of Hell

The story itself is almost non-existent, just saying that I am just a marine on Phobos who has survived the invasion from Hell.

Thoughts

The first episode overall was pretty fun and easier than I expected on Ultra-Violence.

Episode 2: The Shores of Hell

This episode starts off teleport heavy and the levels are certainly grander. The story might be non-existent but I have been noticing that the levels are a unique merge of sci-fi structures along with more demonic aspects, unlike episode one which is mostly sci-fi corridors. It is indicative of the great art design of the game that I am able to draw this connection of Hell from the simplistic sprites.

Hellish images within sci-fi corridors

Weapons and Enemies

More enemies are added to the roster, with Barons of Hell becoming more common along with the floating skull of Lost Soul and the floating projectile throwing Cacodemon. The Cyberdemon acts as the final boss of this episode. Here, we are also introduced to new weapons such as the iconic chainsaw and the powerful Plasma Rifle. New power-ups are introduced with Invisibility and Invulnerability. The powers-ups do exactly what they state.

Going through spooky rooms with the iconic Chainsaw

Level, Music and Story

The game still looks great

I take back saying that the game is easy. After the 3rd mission I was desperately running around the arenas looking for health and ammo. These levels are big and have a ton of monsters while compared to the other levels. Especially in Mission 6 (Halls of the Damned) as the game trolled me showing me a fake exit and instead lowering me into a ton of enemies. I think that I understand the gameplay better now. It is mostly about dodging the enemy projectiles and shooting them as they get ready for their next attack. This is very enjoyable and it is really satisfying whenever I manage to dodge all the attacks and kill a roomful of enemies.

Fight with the Cyberdemon

The music is as upbeat as it was before but it acquires some horror notes as the Doomguy moves through the dark areas. When I defeated the Cyberdemon at the end there was a story screen where it was said the Phobos and Hell were merging. And that Phobos has been now teleported to Hell. It ends with our hero deciding to rappel down the floating moon down to hell.

Phobos transported to Hell

Now that was awesome. The gameplay got way harder and more satisfying. There are more enemies in grander levels which are fun to navigate. The feeling of scouring levels for health packs as I almost died and then returning to the areas to defeat the enemies which almost killed me is thrilling. The story is almost not existent and cheesy but I think it is just enough to keep a player going. I am excited to play the last episode.

Episode 3: Inferno

The episode starts off like a slog, requiring you to pistol two Cacodemons to death. But it soon picks up the pace. The aesthetics are now almost completely Hell-based, with textures resembling flesh colour covering the floor and walls. Just a lot of pictures of human skulls. It is weirdly adorable.

Now we are in Hell.

Weapons

There are no new enemy types in this episode if we don’t consider the final boss, “The Spider Mastermind”. But the iconic and the powerful Big F*ucking Gun (BFG) is also given to the player here. And it’s so satisfying to clear a room with it.

Level, Music and Story

I think that this episode is easier than Episode 2 and I died only like three times. The first and last level I started quick saving was E3M7: Limbo. I thought that this mission was easy on combat but irritating on the teleportation puzzle. The Final Boss is kinda a pushover and died to like only 3 BFG shots. This episode feels like the final hurrah of the game and fittingly so. And the music reflects that.

Killing the Spider Mastermind with the BFG

The story ends with Hell literally sending you back as you were too much for them. And the Doomguy wondering if the monsters have followed in the portal to Earth. And then the game ends with the screen panning to a dead rabbit head in front of a burning city. I don’t know why but this got a chuckle out of me.

The out of place but fun end screen

Thoughts

I have the least to say about this episode as it is kinda a culmination of it all. And it was really fun just like the first two.

So Does it Hold Up?

Yes…. but with minor caveats. If one goes back to play the original doom in DOSBox, then it is a bit rough. But with the right source port on PC, absolutely. And I have used GZDoom as previously mentioned to get it running in HD and uncapped frame rate. And the Doom wiki has a list of them along with what systems they work for so that’s not a problem. Doom is also available on almost all present gaming consoles along with mobile phones. And all those versions run in HD with uncapped frame rate so you can play them there too.

The game is still very fun to play and all the weapons, monsters and Power-ups work with each other pretty damn well. The music is awesome and Bobby Prince’s score shifts from upbeat to horror tones seamlessly. The level design is easy to navigate for the most part. And even though non-existent, the story is pretty tongue in cheek. Its art design is so strong and the game being 2.5D instead of full 3D makes it age better in my opinion. All the enemy sprites are expressive and striking. I would recommend playing it on Ultra Violence but that depends on your skill level.

Doom (1993) has a uniqueness to it even when compared to any of its sequels (maybe except Doom 2). It is very simple and unique. It has no data pad scouring and flashlight like Doom 3. Or RPG mechanics like Doom (2016). Or more combat mechanics on top like Doom Eternal. This simplicity and its solid mechanics works in its favor 28 years later and it has just gotten better with time.


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