We all know the story of Doom. One man, hundreds of monster, thousands of bullets, and seas of blood and spent ammo. Doom is an artifact, but a holy one; a game developed during a simpler time when all a gamer needed was copious amounts of bloodshed, stiff challenge, and wild, elaborately designed levels. Some might argue that the game doesn't measure up to today's narrative; that it doesn't feature a heart-rending human story with gritty realism and cover-based mechanics. They'd probably also suggest remaking the game with up-to-date visuals and a brief campaign overshadowed by an addictive multiplayer mode. I'm sure it'd be a cute game, but for those of us who grew up slaughtering sprites, it wouldn't hold a blood-stained candle to the original. For us, Doom is old school shooting at its finest; raw, brutal and basic.
This is not to say that Doom is perfect. One of its downfalls that I'll admit to is the inability to aim weapons semi-realistically. If you want to gun down a lofty hellspawn, you have to aim under its sprite and hope the auto-aim feature does its work as you pull the trigger. It's an archaic concept, but that's part of what gives the game its charm. It wasn't intended, even in the early '90s, to be a deep, realistic FPS. All id Software aimed for in developing this game was a streamlined, violent experience where you aim, shoot and don't even bother asking questions.
Of course, you'll want to take care just the same. Lower your guard and the immense population of zombies, imps, cacodemons, and other hellish creations will converge on you, give you a pixelated beatdown with teeth, claws and fireballs; and leave you a smoldering, bloody mess. Players who remain aware of their surroundings, however, may escape with a few cuts and bruises. In other words, you must quickly consider all stimuli--enemies, environment and hazards--in order to form an effective strategy on the fly. How you go about annihilating demons depends on your situation. For instance, if you're out in the open without obstructions to block enemy firepower, then only fast dodging and aggressive offense will prevent you from becoming a man-burger. Other times, though, you can duck behind walls and wait. It may sound cowardly, but it's an excellent way to lure a demon into a shotgun blast to the face.
Oh, and there will be plenty of opportunities to deliver ammo forcefully to demonic faces. Since Doom overloads you with scores of demons, the game also stocks you up with fine weaponry and enough ammunition and firepower to set a small country ablaze. You'll peel cap after cap with a deadly chaingun, reduce foes to unholy chunks with a rocket launcher, control large crowds with an automatic plasma gun, and tear the world apart with the legendary BFG.
Firearms in tote, you can confident strut through around thirty insane stages, each one elaborately crafted with various environmental devices, obstacles and hazards. You'll scour the Containment Area, a maze of UAC boxes with imps hiding in tiny crannies, ready to incinerate you with surprise fireballs. If exterminating monstrosities out in the open is more your style, there's Mt. Erebus, a level that features open spaces and small structures waiting for you to unwittingly trigger their doors and unleash their demonic contents. One of my personal favorites is Halls of the Damned, a multifarious stage that plays more like several mini-stages fused together. It kicks off with a firefight against a cacodemon, then spits you into a lake of poison, followed by sterile hallways crawling with zombies and imps. From there you'll plunge into dark, convoluted passageways where more pinkies and cacodemons play hide and seek. You'll finally end your tour in several interconnected chambers with more closed quarters and scores of foes ready to pick you to pieces. Like Doom's other numerous stages, it's a well planned and developed level that makes use of some of the game's best qualities.
Among those qualities is the game's ability to monkey with your head and scare you senseless. Occasionally, you'll rush into a still, calm room with naught but a keycard sitting in the middle of it. At first you'll find the calm reassuring, so much that you'll snag the keycard without a second thought. That's when the walls open up and dozens of beasts pour out with their haunting eyes trained on you. That's terror of the Pavlovian sort, my friends. I guarantee next time you see a badass weapon or a keycard sitting all by itself, you'll think, "Eff that. I'm going back the way I came." Or maybe you'll grow a pair and grab the item, then turn around quickly and pop off a few rockets only to find that the game was having fun at the expense of your sanity.
What I love the most about Doom is its rustic presentation. Sure, we could give the game a modern update, but it would lose a lot of its atmosphere and effectiveness. It would be tantamount to taking some of my favorite grindhouse and drive-in classics and cleaning up the grainy cinematography or fixing the impurities in the celluloid. Don't bother. Part of what makes this game feel creepy and desolate is its aged, bleak visuals.
No matter how old I or the game grow, I'll always love Doom. No matter what new FPS seduces me into a few hours of vicious gunplay, I'll always go back to Doom. And no matter how much the genre expands and grows, I'll always prefer the simplicity of Doom over realism for the sake of realism. Give me demons, give deadly weaponry, and give me gloriously outdated pixels and horrifying situations that I wouldn't have any hope of surviving in any other shooter. Give me Doom and I'll be happy.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.