GENRE: The Original Hellspawn Slaying Boomer Shooter
BUY THEM HERE: The Ultimate Doom (Steam)
So first, let’s get something out of the way. No, Doom wasn’t the first FPS. Wolfenstein 3D wasn’t either. If you want to get technical, the first FPS was Maze War, and the first commercially successful FPS was the arcade game BattleZone by Atari in the 1980s. But we’re not here to talk about who did it first. We’re here to talk about who had the biggest impact in the genre and shaping it into what we know today.
And without question, the game that did it first was 1993’s Doom.
While not the first FPS under id Software’s belt-They had two before this-Doom was easily the most important of their first FPSes. While Wolfenstein 3D helped make a name for them with a nonstop helping of shooting WW2 Nazis in the face, it lacked the sheer depth and variety that Doom would bring to the table on top of its impressive new engine tech. Before Doom, FPSes were on flat planes. You had no elevations: Just hallways that were all the same height. Flat, and featureless. The floors and ceilings didn’t have textures either!
The first thing you saw when you started up the shareware (AKA Demo) episode of Doom was a massive entry-room with support pillars. Ceilings of various heights. And just off to the left was what one could describe as a watch-tower room accessed by a staircase. And every surface was textured on top of that. Technically, this wasn’t true 3D, it was a very clever rendering system that gave a 3D appearance. But despite not being true 3D, it was still impressive as all heck for 1993, completely software driven as we had yet to enter the age of the gaming dedicated GPU. But more importantly, it wasn’t just pretty to look at: It was fast.
Again, looking back to Wolfenstein 3D, it was also fast, but it lacked the depth we’d see in Doom. In Wolfenstein, almost every enemy minus a couple bosses are hit-scan-No projectiles, their shots just instantly hit where they aim-which resulted in firefights being more about finding ways to lure enemies around corners or into chokepoints where you could avoid being overwhelmed. With a new game came entirely new enemies in the form of the demonic legions of Hell, and this new roster changed everything about enemies and how they worked in an FPS. Only a few enemies in the entire-roster are Hitscan based, the rest being either melee or using visible projectiles you can see and dodge. And each enemy has its own movements, its own tells and timings for attacks, its own chance to be staggered/interrupted from damage, and its own health pool. This variety is part of what would so greatly set Doom apart from Wolfenstein, as suddenly encounters became about things like reaction, movement, and enemy prioritization. Every firefight was moving at full speed, weaving and dodging through shots, while returning fire as you tried to make everything in the room that wasn’t you dead.
And then you had your weapons: Again, a huge evolution from Wolfenstein. In Wolfenstein, every gun was basically just a better bullet shooter. Pistol, machinegun, and chaingun. With very little reason to switch back to a previous gun upon getting a better one. And Doom completely changed this by having multiple weapons with different ammo types, and each one filling its own role in the arsenal. Starting with a simple pistol, you would eventually find the tools Doom is known for: The close range shredding chainsaw, the close to mid-range workhorse in the form of the shotgun, the rapid fire chaingun for locking down targets, the AOE crowd killing rocket launcher, the nonstop energy spraying plasma gun, and of course: The king of crowd control: The BFG9000. Again, each gun had its own role to fill in the arsenal, with only your starting pistol being an obsoleted weapon. Doom 2 would only add one new gun, but that one gun was all it needed: The Super Shotgun. Less accurate, but firing double the shots of a regular shotgun made it an incredible burst damage weapon for destroying big enemies up close, or shredding multiple weak enemies at a distance. In the end, this setup meant all your guns (Minus your starting pistol) didn’t obsolete each other. They all served their own purpose, and having four pools of ammo-Bullets, Shells, Rockets, and Energy Cells-meant you would constantly be changing up what you’d be killing demons with. If there’s one thing Doom embraced as a new FPS, it was the good old saying “Variety of the spice of life.”
So what we basically had here was a game that completely re-wrote the rules for the genre, and in turn set the new standard. Enemy variety, weapon variety, levels designed to take advantage of said variety with big open rooms, corridors, lifts, traps, countless secrets. This is what defined Doom as a game, and what made the FPS become relevant. Due to starting as a shareware game that was fully distributable for free (and encouraged to be shared), it found itself everywhere. Some universities had to restrict Doom because it was taking up so much of their network traffic for multiplayer, which was the other big defining feature of Doom, and what one could argue was the beginning of the FPS e-sport.
Not content to just let you blast demons of hell alone, Doom allowed you to use a modem or local network to do it with friends. Or if you were feeling competitive, you could blast away each other in Deathmatch. And with Doom’s speed oriented shooting, it was an immediate hit in the multiplayer market. Deathmatches took Doom’s speed and ran with it, pitting players against each other in a free for all where you frantically searched for guns and ammo to kill your opponents for points called frags. The goal: Reach the frag limit or have the most frags when time ran out.
Alright, now that we’ve gotten the history lesson and a basic overview out of the way, let’s get into more specific stuff, shall we?
You start out with only two simple weapons: Your pistol and your fists. Your objective is typically to just reach the exit to a level, but standing between you and said exit are the legions of Hell that want you dead. Packed in each level are weapons, ammo, and various items to help you survive like armor and healing, as well as a few special power-ups to spice things up. The gameplay flow is thus a simple one: Explore the level, shoot any demons in your way, find the exit. What makes such a simple flow work so well is that it’s not just a simple case of point A to point B. Many levels tend to have entirely optional spots off the main path with more enemies and potential rewards behind them, as well as secret rooms for those with a sharp eye and willingness to try everything that offer everything from extra resources to even getting a weapon earlier than you would otherwise. And in many cases, progressing in a level requires finding switches to open up new areas, and keys to open locked doors, so exploration is just as much a focus as the actual shooting. And with Doom’s inclusion of an auto-map, it was easy to find your way back and not get hopelessly lost like one could in Wolfenstein 3D. But yeah, point is? These additional layers made every map far more than “Go from point A to point B while shooting everything.” And combined with Doom’s speed focused movement and shooting, it created something truly special.
That’s not to say Doom defined EVERYTHING about the FPS in the early days, mind you. For one, Doom did not support the ability to look up or down: Instead your weapons would automatically aim at an enemy above or below you, as long as it was centered horizontally. This wasn’t without problems, admittedly. The auto-aim would prioritize whatever was in front of you, which could be an issue if something was behind and above the enemy in front of you, and that something behind was what you wanted to shoot. Also, Doom didn’t have jumping. It instead relies on running off ledges at high speed to create the illusion of jumping, as you would descend at a speed that allowed you to cross a gap as long as the ledge on the other side was lower than the one you ran off of, or if the gap was narrow enough to clear before gravity fully kicked in. Thankfully, Doom’s fast movement made this work in the absence of jumping, so it was easily forgiven and incorporated into plenty of levels, both official and fan made. Thankfully, for those who prefer mouselook based aiming, most Doom Sourceports (aside from the ones aiming to be as accurate to the original as possible) support this. More on this will be covered in a future writeup: “How Classic Doom is Still Going Strong.”
As for the levels themselves? Doom’s level design is typically about starting small, and ramping up. The first level of Doom, the famous E1M1 Hangar, only has six enemies on its Hurt me Plenty difficulty. E1M7, Episode 1’s penultimate level has a whopping 84 by comparison. And 84 isn’t even considered much by today’s standards, with community made maps going well into the hundreds, and even thousands! But we’ll talk about community stuff another time, don’t you worry, for now let’s just talk about the original game.
Episode 1 would introduce you to a good chunk of Doom’s monsters and arsenal right off the bat. The Zombiemen and Shotgunners being your firearm bearing, hitscanning undead that everyone loves to hate, and one of the few enemies where the only reliable way to avoid damage is taking cover around a corner, getting them between shots. Imps make up a good chunk of most levels’ monster counts, being an enemy that shoots fireballs you can readily avoid, or clawing your face off if you get too close. These basic three lack a lot of health and typically go down in one shotgun blast, but prove to be more than a problem when they attack in groups, something Doom is happy to do as you get further into it. Speaking of the shotgun, it’s the first new gun you get, as early as E1M1 if you find it in a secret, or if you’re playing on Ultra Violence where you encounter Shotgunners right off the bat. While it fires slower than the pistol, it covers a much wider range and packs a much more devastating punch, particularly up close. It’s the gun you’ll constantly come back to in order to slay your basic enemies. This is where one of FPS’ most iconic weapons (And hated by at least one Call of Duty ‘pro’ apparently) would truly take shape. The Shotgun is your all around “Workhorse” gun that you’ll always come back to for something, because it’s just so good at what it does. Shoot, pump, shoot. A simple rhythm with deadly results.
E1M3 introduces you to Hell’s up close and personal guy: the Demon, aka Pinky. He moves faster than other enemies, has a fair bit of health, and can only attack up close. Thankfully if you were the exploring type, you might have found a chainsaw in E1M2 that can help you deal with these guys while saving your precious ammo for ranged threats. Pinkies are one of the ways encounters get spiced up because now you have to worry about a foe that can take some punishment, and is all about getting up in your face while you’re being shot at by zombies and imps. Oh, did I forget to mention they come in a dark, shadowy hard to see version called a Spectre as well? Because they do. And that is nearly the entire roster for Episode 1 right there, with the exception of its E1M8 boss duo: The Barons of Hell, we’ll get back to them. First, let’s look at the other guns you’ll find in E1.
Episode 1 introduces you three more weapons before your tour is over: the previously mentioned chainsaw. No ammo to worry about, it’s a close range weapon that rapidly hits, depending on your luck it can even stunlock some tougher monsters to take them down without spending a single bullet in precious ammo. Of course, the fact you have to get close is a risk you always have to worry about.
The Chaingun is what finally lets you put all those bullets to use and obsoletes your pistol entirely. Firing fast and reasonably accurately, this gun can pin down any demon that has a high chance to be flinched from damage. Great for chewing through weaker enemies as well, since it lacks the downtime of a shotgun between its shots.
Finally, you get your big boy weapon: The Rocket Launcher. This baby is all about risk vs reward, as it can do tons of damage with its explosions, but said explosions can hurt you too. So if you aren’t careful with it, you’ll end up making your insides your outsides if you fire a rocket too close to a foe.
Now, back to those Barons of Hell. Barons are extremely tough, taking a ton of ammo to bring down: preferably Rockets due to the high damage they can deal, allowing you to save your lighter ammo for lighter targets. Baron fireballs hurt a ton, and up close they will absolutely murder you with their claws. While E1M8 introduces these in a pair for a boss battle, they’ll be showing up throughout the rest of the game as a normal enemy afterward. Typically the toughest thing you’ll see in a group of foes, they definitely bring about the question of “What to kill first?” Kill the weaker demons, or go straight for the big guy? Just another split second combat decision you get to make, and part of what makes Doom so great.
Before we move onto the rest of the roster and arsenal, let’s also talk about powerups. Along with health and armor pickups to keep you going, Doom has a few special Powerup items that provide various beneficial effects to keep things interesting. Soulspheres give you a whopping 100 health, and can overheal you past it up to a maximum of 200 health. Armor and Megaarmor will reduce the damage you take by taking a percentage of damage in place of your health. Shadowspheres will make you partially invisible, causing enemies to be less accurate: Although some players find this a problem as they may dodge into an off-center aimed fireball. Berserk heals you back up to 100 health if you’re below it, and for the rest of the level, supercharges your punches, making them hit with enough force to make your shotgun a tad jealous, and that punch boost is for the entire level! Radiation suits are pretty simple: They protect you from environmental damage like radioactive liquid and magma. Light Amp Visors cause every room to be fully lit while active, letting you see in dark areas without trouble. Finally, Invulnerability Spheres do exactly what they say: Make you completely immune to damage for a short period. Found both in levels normally, and often as well kept secrets, powerups are definitely something that help spice up the game’s levels, as suddenly you can traverse hazards, have health your desperately need, or just plain can’t die for a bit. Doom wouldn’t be the same without these.
So, past the shareware Episode, Doom introduces a few new enemies, and boy are they game changers: Starting off with the Lost Soul and Cacodemon.
The Lost Soul is a particularly irritating enemy that is notorious for being surprisingly durable for a small, flaming skull. While they normally move at a slow speed, they turn into a fast, living projectile when they decide to charge at you for an attack. This makes them particularly dangerous when using the rocket launcher, as a Lost Soul might suddenly charge into the rocket and cause it to detonate far earlier than you wanted. Also, they fly, which means they can cross gaps and deal with extreme height differences walking enemies cannot.
The Cacodemon is the other flying enemy of Doom, and is the opposite of the Lost Soul in a lot of ways. Slow, fairly durable, but most importantly: Spits ball lightning at you. They also tend to get pushed around easier when shot, which can make landing repeated hits on them a lot more difficult. Along with the Lost Soul, he makes for far more interesting encounters as suddenly you have to worry about enemies you can’t escape by simply crossing a gap they can’t.
Thankfully, Doom is nice enough to introduce you to a good weapon to deal with both: The Plasma Rifle. The Plasma Rifle fires non hit scanning energy projectiles at a rate far faster than the chaingun, making it the ultimate rapid fire weapon for dealing with groups or melting a tough foe, so long as you remember to lead your shots. It’s the perfect addition as Episode 2 throws far more dangerous enemies at you more often.
Topping off Episode 2 is its boss: The Cyberdemon. He’s big, he has the largest health pool in Doom, is nearly impossible to stagger, and he has a rocket launcher. Needless to say, dodge or die. Admittedly, not as scary today since circle strafing is a technique most FPS players know by now.
Episode 3 introduces only one new monster, its final boss. It also introduces one of Doom’s most famous weapons, if not FPS gaming’s most famous: The Big Freaking Gun, the BFG9000. This weapon is kind of weird in that it doesn’t actually do splash damage. The shot you fire LOOKS like it does, but it only does damage to whatever it hits. Instead, after the shot hits, you fire several unseen ‘tracer’ shots that hitscan anything in your field of vision, creating a small energy blast effect to show the hit landing, and give the illusion of a massive AOE effect. Weird, I know. But this gun is basically the weapon you bring out when you need to be absolutely sure everything in the room dies, becoming a staple of the Slaughtermap-A type of community made map-and all around demon horde slayer.
The final boss of Episode 3 is the Spider Mastermind: A big brain with mechanical legs and a chaingun that feels more like a rapid fire shotgun. Not as much health as the Cyberdemon, but still dangerous in a head on fight. But assuming you have enough cells for a few BFG shots? He won’t last long. It’s kind of funny that Doom’s two big boss demons aren’t actually a significant threat these days, at least in their original maps. Community maps love to use these guys to far more dangerous effect, and how.
So, we talked all about the enemies and guns, but what about the levels? That’s actually one spot where Doom has a surprising number of ups and downs, due to how the levels were done. Ironically, Doom’s best episode, Knee Deep in the Dead, might be the first episode you play, but it was actually the last one to be made. Shores of Hell and Inferno were actually designed before Knee Deep, and it does show in some areas unfortunately. Knee Deep in the Dead is regarded as one of the best FPS campaigns ever made, and for good reason: It absolutely nails everything a good FPS campaign needs. Good levels with a good ramping up, delivering a satisfying experience throughout. Shores of Hell on the other hand ends up having some absolutely great levels, but then has some that just feel like they go on too long with lots backtracking or downtime. And then Inferno ends up having way, WAY too many bad gimmick levels with things like un-fun teleport puzzles, or having to hunt for a bunch of switches on top of teleport puzzles. That’s not to say it’s all bad. E3M3: Pandaemonium will always be a favorite of mine. But it does mean your mileage may vary after Episode 1. You’ll either love it, hate it, or be somewhere inbetween on episodes 2 and 3.
Now, Episode 4, I admit I’m not going to touch much on. But I will say this: For people that found Doom’s standard campaign too easy? This is for you. Episode 4 features the hardest levels in the original Doom by far, with absolutely devastating monster layouts and traps that will murder you dead. So if you want a challenge after Inferno? By all means, bang your head against the wall that is Thy Flesh Consumed.
So, after Doom became a massive hit, what was Id Software to do? What else, a sequel! Doom 2 would flesh out the monster roster to create an absolutely amazing list of demons to fight in all kinds of combinations, and also give us the gold standard in shotguns.
First, let’s talk about the Super Shotgun. The Super Shotgun fires two shells at once, in a much bigger spread. That means not so great at range, but great up close or for shredding weak targets. And boy did it do that. Some would even call it overpowered, except Doom 2 is going to throw a LOT more at you than Doom 1 did. And I mean a LOT more. The second level throws a total of 70 monsters at you on Hurt Me Plenty! Funny enough, that’s also where you get the super shotgun! Go figure.
As for new beasties? Oh man, Doom 2’s new demons are truly the cream of the crop, allowing for some absolutely amazing fights when used in proper combination and balance.
First, we have the hitscanner of everyone’s nightmares: The Chaingunner. Once he sees you, he doesn’t stop shooting until you break line of sight, he dies, or more likely, you die. In groups, these guys can murder you in a matter of seconds. And Doom 2 isn’t afraid to use them to full effect. And if you play the official mission pack known as Plutonia? You’ll see them used to fuller effect in a way that may make you never want to see a chaingunner ever again.
The Hell Knight is admittedly just a reskin of the Baron of Hell with less health, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous. Especially since less health means you can get away with throwing more of them at the player at once. The Hell Knight acts as a bridging point between the medium and heavy monsters, but it’s a role he fills nicely.
Another bridge gap for light and heavy: the Mancubus is a big, chunky demon with twin flame cannons that prove very difficult to dodge since rather than a single shot coming straight at you, these fire slightly off center from you, potentially caging you in as you try to sidestep them. On top of that, the Mancubus fires these things in bursts, making him a dangerous foe that is more than happy to pin you down with his barrage.
Arachnotrons are the other rapid projectile enemy of Doom, basically they’re smaller Spider Masterminds. But instead of a chaingun, they pack plasma. The good news: It’s not hitscan. The bad news: They fire it rapidly and they fly at you pretty darned fast. Often deployed in groups, the Arachnotron is a great way to keep the player constantly on the move since there’s no gap between their attacks like other projectile demons.
The Revenant is probably one of the most iconic new monsters of Doom 2 due to its tall, skeletal appearance, notorious shriek, and being a new hybrid attacker that is dangerous up close or afar. From afar, they fire homing missiles that relentlessly track you. Just sidestepping won’t be enough, they’ll gladly turn around to hit you in the back after. You’ll have to trick them into hitting walls or other demons most of the time, and that’s easier said than done. And in case that’s not bad enough, up close? A Revenant can punch your lights out, easily flooring you in a couple swings. And those swings are pretty darned fast. Surely they won’t use a demon that dangerous much, right? You’d be surprised. The Revenant is surprisingly common for such a high threat, only offset by having relatively low health, with a rocket or two usually being enough to take one out.
The Pain Elemental is probably the most hated demon in the Doom community, and for good reason. It doesn’t attack you directly, but instead flies around like a Cacodemon while spawning Lost Souls nonstop. It even spawns a cluster of them when it dies, just as a final screw you to the player. When there’s a pain elemental about, your rocket launcher suddenly seems like a very bad idea…
And last, but certainly not least, is the most unique yet possibly evil addition to Doom’s lineup: The Archvile. Another skeletal like demon, but make no mistake, this is no Revenant. The Archvile uses a fire based attack that summons flames below you, and if they fully charge, cause damage while knocking you upward. The only way to avoid this attack? Break line of sight or manage to stagger the Archvile, the latter of which is very, VERY difficult to do. But that’s only half of what this guy does: With a few exceptions, he can revive any monster he comes across back to full health! So suddenly all those corpses you left lying around are potential threats just waiting to get back up. And again, the Plutonia campaign uses these guys to devastating effect, taking full advantage of their ability to revive dead foes. In some cases, placing them so they’ll constantly revive the same dead foe until you can kill the Vile itself…IF you can kill it!
Sadly, Doom 2 only introduced one new powerup, but boy is it a good one at least. The Megasphere. Brings you to 200 health and armor, regardless of what you had before. The perfect pick-me-up after a rough level if you save it for the end, or just what you might need to survive said end.
Now, that said, Doom 2 is another case of hit or miss on the level design, on top of being a much longer game. Where Doom 1 used an episodic format, which each episode starting you with just a pistol and ramping up the action over time? Doom 2 is a single campaign of 30 levels (plus 2 secret) done in one go. This means it can feel like it drags on for awhile, especially when some of Doom 2’s levels are just not that great. I’m looking at you Chasm. Seriously, that level is the definition of tedium. Thankfully, there’s more good than bad levels, so I can still say Doom 2 is a good time, though I will confess I prefer the episodic length campaigns of Doom 1 by comparison. They just feel like a better length for when you want to sit down and do a quick bit of demon killing without having to dedicate hours to it. If I had to give my overall thoughts on Doom 2’s campaign though? It starts strong: ends up somewhere weak in the middle, but then picks back up and finishes strong.
Wow, I have to admit I talked about the gameplay so long I kinda forgot one of the other key aspects of Doom that made it succeed: Its sound, both in effects and music. Every gun sounds nice and punchy, every demon death satisfying. And the soundtrack is something else for both games: Mixing fast paced rock with more heavy metal esque tunes, and some good darker instrumentals for good measure. Doom definitely wouldn’t have felt complete without its killer soundtracks, courtesy of Bobby Prince. To say At Doom’s Gate is the song that represents Doom as a whole would be an understatement. If any song is Doom, it’s E1M1: At Doom’s Gate.
So, if you want to have a listen, check this video from Futuretime23 on Youtube!
At the end of the day, it’s really hard to find a reason not to play Doom or Doom 2. These games defined a genre. They arguably began e-sports. Their gameplay is incredibly fun, fast paced, and still holds up today. And that’s not even counting all the fan-made content for the games. Levels, mods that change up gameplay, total conversions that create entirely new experiences. There’s so much fan made content for Doom you would be hard pressed to run out of new things to try. And that’s why I honestly think it’s still worth a look, and always will be, over 25 years after the first game’s release.
Don’t forget to check back for “How Classic Doom is Still Going Strong!” There, we’ll take a look at how Doom is still relevant over 25 years later, going over how to run it on a modern PC and look as good as possible, as well as some of the user made content that has kept this game so relevant and replayable. I’ll have a link to that article here once it’s a thing.