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SummaryAtmospheric, intense, action-packed revolution!
The GoodI first played two or three Doom levels about ten years ago; at that time, I strongly disliked FPSs and despised games "without a story". Years have passed, and things have changed. I fell in love with the FPS genre (thank you, Duke Nukem 3D!). So while "combing" the history of first-person shooters, feverishly trying to catch up with all those great titles I have missed thanks to my prejudices, I suddenly realized that I haven't checked Doom ever since that forgettable time ten years ago. I understood I had to give this undisputed classic of the genre a fair chance.
I expected some sort of a "FPS template" at best. Something technologically advanced for its time, something that introduced typical gameplay features for the first time, some kind of a crude product that got so successful just because it was the first to jump on the train of 3D gaming.
And what do you know. I was absolutely wrong. Sure, Doom is all of the above, too. It has what must have been considered the most incredible, cutting-edge graphics of its era. It is a 3D game with a first-person view, guns, and enemies to kill, so yes, it did introduce a sort of a template that was used a million times afterwards. But Wolfenstein 3D did that too, even earlier. And yet I don't feel I want to play that game again. At least not for pure fun, not the way I eventually started to play Doom (yeah, it began with a "courtesy re-acquaintance", but ended with genuine excitement). So what's the catch?
The "catch" is artistic value. I wonder why I had this stupid idea that Doom was just about primitive gameplay and absence of story. That's not at all what distinguishes Doom. I even think that any sort of "deeper" gameplay and a specific narrative would destroy the feeling of wonder that Doom evokes. Think of it: you are one lone marine, trapped on a demon-infested space station. You fight your way to the exit... only to be teleported into hell! That's where the real fun begins. The goal is clear: survive. That's it. Nothing else. That's the concept of Doom. And you know what? It works! It's simple, sure, but "simple" doesn't equal "bad". The game tells you all you need to know; the rest are your own feelings, your own connection to the hero.
And this connection is precisely what Doom does so masterfully. I mentioned "artistic value" in the previous paragraph. What I mean is the game's ability to convey - be it through graphics, sound, even gameplay elements, and perhaps above all level and enemy design - an incredible atmosphere, such as never experienced before. Wolf 3D didn't do that. It was about traversing mazes, hunting for keys, killing everyone in sight. And you really felt that's what it was about. You knew you were in an arcade game - looking great, innovative, fun, 3D, sure - but still just a game. Doom is also about traversing mazes, hunting for keys, and killing everyone in sight. But you don't feel it. What you do feel - and I can't stress this enough: I felt it now, in 2010, seventeen (!) years after the game's release (to further emphasize this - right after a session of Singularity) - are emotions. Fear. Anger. Joy. Raw, pure emotions. And it doesn't happen because Doom is a technologically advanced game with a brand new 3D engine. It happens because the game does the magic, because it knows how to press the right buttons in order to make you feel this way. And that is the greatness of Doom. It physically immersed you into its world. That was something no other game had done before, and I think not that many games succeeded in re-creating in such a pure form afterwards.
More specifically: the game has great locations. The graphics are not just good technically - they are beautiful. They are detailed. When you walk through hellish corridors, you feel you are in hell. Mind you, of course with current technology you could achieve the same or better effects without even bothering with concrete level design. But what impressed and attracted me in Doom was precisely the care with which the developers crafted every location, clearly wanting to make it as real as possible - and when the technology couldn't follow suit, they used imagination. Just take a look at some of the images in the hell levels, and you'll see how they did it.
Doom keeps the same style throughout, it never lets your attention wander off because of some weak design elements or inappropriate tone. Doom can be called a horror game. The enemies are just as horrifying as the locations, if not more. Scary, disgusting demons are wandering the world of Doom, and every encounter potentially leads to a quick, yet painful death. That's where the gameplay kicks in.
Sure, the gameplay of Doom is not very sophisticated. Run and shoot - that pretty much sums it up. But the game knows how to keep suspense, how to surprise you. Everything here is very well thought-out. The monsters are not just lazily walking around, waiting for you to kill them. You don't just run in a straight line, happily shooting left and right. No, what happens are carefully placed moments of genuine fear. You walk into a room... and the light goes off! What? Why? How? Immediately, you feel somebody is trying to kill you. You can't even see who it is! You shoot frantically; the room brightens for a moment, lit by the fire from your gun (Doom was probably the first game to incorporate lighting as means to enhance the atmosphere). You manage to run away. You walk into a seemingly empty room... and monsters suddenly appear from all sides..
The game is full of moments like that. In fact, most of the gameplay process is arranged in such a way that you never feel it's stale. Well, almost never. Repetition is bound to be a part of FPS gameplay. But Doom keeps throwing surprises at you, and no matter how mild they might seem (by today's standards, perhaps), they work great. Fact: I played it in 2010, and I was immersed and scared. Which means there was more there than just "primitive gameplay". Doom subtly directs the gameplay, so that it feels fresh and entertaining, despite is the obvious simplicity.
Doom has great level design. Not just in terms of atmosphere or graphical beauty: the design itself, the layout, is perfect. At least it was perfect for its time; but even many later FPSs don't come close. Although the example of Halo proved that an FPS could become famous even if it had atrocious level design, I still have the opinion that level design is one of those integral things that make an FPS live or die. Well, Doom lives. Nearly every level is interesting. I really wanted to explore those levels. Sometimes I found myself staring at the "Exit" sign and then went back, looking for what I might have missed. That's what I call a good level design - when the levels themselves are interesting, when you get hooked just by the exploration process. The levels of Doom are also less linear than in many later FPSs. They are not just a straight line from A to B. They are full of secrets. And they are not too maze-like. Wolf 3D had real mazes, but Doom has intriguing structures that are there to enrich its world, not to artificially extend gameplay time.
What else? Sound effects. Doom has none of those arcade-like beeps and blips; it has real sounds, and most of them are terrifying. Roars, howling, shouts, and alike - welcome to hell in stereo.
The BadHonestly, now I've finally come back to this great classic, I can't find what I would objectively consider "flaws". Doom did nothing wrong. It's the things it didn't yet do that really stick out. As in, more physical interaction with the game world, characters, actual narrative, etc. People had to wait until Dark Forces and Duke Nukem 3D appeared, giving the genre everything Doom didn't yet think of. Now we take those things for granted, but we can't blame Doom for not having them. Doom works great with its simplistic gameplay. I don't think it could've been better in what it tried to be.
Seriously, the only thing associated with Doom I don't like is the effect its release had on its creators. I might change my opinion in the future, but so far, going through ID's post-Doom game library, I haven't found anything of interest. Clones, technical showcases, and not much else. I tried the famous Quake and got bored after a couple of levels. Looks like Doom was too big a success. But again, it's not its fault.