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Written by  :  Cor 13 (174226)
Written on  :  Jul 27, 2010
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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Intense, atmospheric, action-packed goodness

The Good

Much has been said and written about Doom, one of the most influential games in history. People were mesmerized by it when it came out; it was worshiped by fans like an idol, and shunned by non-gaming purists in fear of its demonic influences; and it affected the development of its genre like no game before or after.

Doom was by no means revolutionary - it just did everything better than its almost equally famous predecessor. The main "catch" here is - perhaps surprisingly - artistic value. "Primitive" gameplay and lack of a story is not at all what distinguishes Doom. I even think that any sort of "deeper" mechanics and a specific narrative would destroy the feeling of wonder that this game evokes. The game tells you all you need to know; the rest are your own feelings, your own connection to the hero. And there is only one goal - survive.

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, gameplay elements, and perhaps above all level and enemy design - thick atmosphere coupled with furious action, such as never experienced before. Wolf 3D didn't quite 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 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.

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. The developers crafted every location with care, 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 can be called a horror game. The enemies are just as horrifying as the locations, if not more. Scary demons are wandering this world, and every encounter potentially leads to a quick, yet painful death. Sure, the gameplay of Doom is not at all sophisticated. Run and shoot - that pretty much sums it up. But the game knows how to keep suspense, how to surprise you. 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! 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. And even the plain shooting feels right: you get the atmospheric immersion of an Ultima Underworld with the speed of Wolf 3D.

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 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 certainly lives. 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 structure itself is 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 full of secrets and not too maze-like.

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 Bad

Doom hardly did anything 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 evolving narrative, etc. People had to wait until Dark Forces and Duke Nukem 3D to get that. Now we take those things for granted, but we can't blame Doom for not having them.

The only thing associated with Doom I don't like is the effect its release had on its creators and some other developers. Going through ID's post-Doom game library, I haven't found much I was interested in. Technology became the prime focus, and the simple gameplay concepts of Doom were cloned to oblivion.

The Bottom Line

It might not be everyone's favorite FPS anymore, and the intense copying of its uncomplicated formula did a lot to mar its memory. But when seen within the context of its time, Doom emerges as the only game that could combine fast and furious gameplay with a detailed world and convincing horror thematics. That is the reason for its great popularity, and that is also why this grandfather of the overpopulated genre continues to be an enjoyable game even today.