Classic Doom Review

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When I was a kid and off from school over the summers, my dad would sometimes bring me to his office and set me up on a PC with the first shareware episodes of Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. They were the first shooters I ever played. Thinking back, I find it slightly humorous that I was deemed too young to stay home alone while my parents were at work but old enough to blow away Nazis and demons. Developed and published by id Software, the first shareware episode of Doom was released for DOS in December, 1993. Two more episodes would follow and in 1995, The Ultimate Doom was released which is an expanded version of the game containing a fourth episode. Doom was a huge hit and has been ported to numerous systems over the years. It was followed up by Doom II which was a commercial release sold in stores. It was released in September, 1994. The expansion known as the Master Levels for Doom II was released in December, 1995. No Rest for the Living is a set of levels, or an expansion pack, for Doom II and was developed by Nerve Software, originally released on Xbox Live Arcade. It was then included in the Doom 3: BFG Edition. Last but not least, there’s Final Doom which contains two thirty two level megawads – Evilution, developed by TeamTNT and The Plutonia Experiment, developed by the Casali brothers. Final Doom was released in May, 1996. For this review, I played through all of these and consider them all part of the Classic Doom experience. I did play through the games using the GZDoom source port which allows you to run the games easily on modern systems and includes a ton of new features. There are plenty of Doom source ports out there and GZDoom is one of my favorites. If you’re looking to play more accurate vanilla versions of these games, I would suggest you check out Chocolate Doom which is a source port developed with a philosophy of “preserving the look, feel, and bugs of the vanilla versions of each”.

In Doom, an unnamed space marine is sent to Mars after assaulting a superior officer. The Union Aerospace Corporation has facilities on Mars which are being used to experiment with teleportation by creating gateways between the moons of the planet. Something goes terribly wrong and demons start pouring out of one of the gateways slaughtering everyone that gets in their way. The unnamed space marine sets out eliminate the demons and stop them from attacking Earth. Doom II continues right where the first game left off. The space marine discovers that Earth has also been invaded by demons so he once again takes on the armies of Hell in an effort to close the portal to Earth for good. In Evilution, we learn that the UAC is continuing to experiment with teleportation and have set up a base on one of the moons of Jupiter. However, this time they are better prepared and manage to successfully annihilate the forces of Hell after the first experimental gateway is opened. After a while, the UAC notices that a yearly supply ship coming ahead of schedule looks unusually large and eventually realize it’s a ship from Hell. Demons come pouring out of the ship and overrun the base. During this time, the protagonist, a marine commander, was out for a walk and after being attacked, he rushes back to the base only to realize what happened. In the Plutonia Experiment, Earth’s governments have taken measures to prevent future invasions. UAC scientists start working on a device known as the Quantum Accelerator which is intended to close the invasion gates. As you would expect, the research complex is eventually overrun and a marine who was on leave at the time returns to discover what happened. The storylines in each game are never shoved in your face but there is plot information in text form displayed after certain levels that explain what’s going on.
In all of the games you can run around freely, aim left and right, and access an automap which displays all explored locations in the level. There is an auto-aim mechanic of sorts that allows you to shoot targets above or below you by simply aiming and firing in their direction. Unfortunately, trying to shoot a specific target in a crowd can sometimes prove to be a problem. You can’t jump or crouch but you can cross certain gaps by simply running. Many source ports including GZDoom allow you to jump, crouch, and aim up and down but I decided to play with the default mechanics. Scattered throughout the levels are medikits, stimpacks, and health potions which will grant you health upon pickup. Armor can also be acquired for better protection and you can find backpacks which double your ammo-carrying capacity. There are other pickups found in all the games that grant you benefits, some of which are temporary. Acquiring a Computer Area Map will reveal the current level in its entirety in your automap. The Light Amplification Visor allows you to see better in dark areas. The Radiation Shielding Suit allows you to navigate through hazardous liquids without taking damage. Partial Invisibility makes you partially invisible as the name implies which results in reduced enemy accuracy. The Berserk pickup resembles a medikit but it’s black, restores your health to one hundred percent, and increases the damage of your punches. The Supercharge pickup, otherwise known as the Soul Sphere, increases your health by one hundred percent. Then there’s invulnerability which makes you invulnerable to damage. Doom II adds in the Megasphere which is a pickup that immediately grants you two hundred percent health and armor. The Megasphere can also be found in The Master Levels, No Rest for the Living, and Final Doom. In fact, all of the new content added in Doom II is carried over into the expansions and Final Doom.

The protagonists can use their fists to punch enemies to death and they’ll also get their hands on a good variety of firepower. You start each game with a pistol which you may never use again after acquiring any other weapon. The shotgun is my usually my go-to weapon. You can save ammo with the Chainsaw and the chaingun is great against a crowd of undead enemies and even imps. The deadlier weapons include a Rocket Launcher and Plasma Rifle which are great against almost any threats. Then there’s the BFG9000 which is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal. It fires large spheres of plasma that can decimate the lower tier enemies in a single shot and disperses damage over a wide area, meaning a single shot can obliterate multiple foes. Doom II adds the super shotgun to the arsenal. It’s a double-barreled shotgun that can inflict a good amount of damage. With the exception of the pistol, most weapons prove to be useful and are best used in certain situations. For example; if you’re up against a horde of Pinky Demons, the chainsaw will prove to be very useful. If you’re looking to save ammo for your heavier firepower, the super shotgun can take down some of the tougher enemy types relatively quickly. Like the Chaingun, it’s also great for crowd control but consumes more ammo with each shot than the standard shotgun. With that said, you will want to be mindful of what the best weapon to use for the scenario are because you don’t want to blow through all your ammo and then come up against an extremely tough enemy or group of enemies and have nothing to defend yourself. Some weapons do share ammo. The pistol and chaingun share bullets. The shotgun and super shotgun share shells. And the plasma rifle and BFG9000 share plasma.

The Doom games include a good variety of enemies although the hitscan types can be annoying. The undead enemies are easy to kill but can prove to be extremely dangerous in large numbers simply because they are all hitscan types. Imps are humanoid demons that will heave fireballs at you and slash at you if they get close. Lost Souls are flaming skulls that can fly around and fly at you to inflict damage. Demon, otherwise known as Pinky, are ape-like monsters that can only attack you when they get up close in personal. Spectre is the partially invisible Demon variant and both Demons and Spectres usually appear in numbers. By themselves, they’re not that dangerous. Cacodemons fly around and spit balls of plasma. Doom II adds several new enemies to the roster including Arch-Vile, Revenant, Pain Elemental, Arachnotron, Mancubus, Hell Knight, and the Heavy Weapon Dude which is an undead type wielding a chaingun. Arch-vile may be one of the most infamous enemies in the series. They can resurrect fallen enemies and set you on fire. Their fire attack is a hitscan attack and inflicts a lot of damage, making Arch-vile one of the most dangerous enemies in the roster. Whenever I encounter one, it immediately becomes a priority target. The Revenant is a skeleton with shoulder-mounted missile launchers and their missiles can home in on you. If Revenants are close enough, they will try to punch you. A Pain Elemental is a flying type and it doesn’t actually attack you but it does spit out Lost Souls and will continue to do so until it’s killed. An Arachnotron is a spider-like enemy that can rapidly fire shots of plasma. The Mancubus is a large fat demon that can rapidly launch dual fireballs in your direction. The Hell Knight is actually a weaker variant of the Baron of Hell. Two Barons make up a boss battle in the first game and act as standard enemies in the subsequent episodes and in the sequels. They are somewhat large demons that will hurl projectiles at you from a distance and claw at you if they get close enough. Hell Knights share the exact same behavior. Barons have pink skin and can take more damage before dying which is main difference between the two. The secret levels in Doom II include Nazi soldiers as enemies. These levels are actually a nod to Wolfenstein 3D.

Each episode in Doom ends with a boss battle and these very same bosses are added to numerous levels throughout the sequels. I would say they still act as bosses in the sequels, although they are usually not the focus of the levels whereas in the first game, you need to defeat them to progress. As mentioned before, two Barons make up a boss battle in Doom. The Cyberdemon is the boss of the second episode and is my favorite enemy in the series. It’s a massive demon with a rocket launcher mounted on its left arm. The Spiderdemon, otherwise known as The Spider Mastermind, is the boss of the final two episodes of The Ultimate Doom. It’s a massive spider-like monster equipped with a chaingun and is the only hitscan boss-type. Doom II includes only one unique boss which is encountered at the very end of the game. This boss is known as the Icon of Sin. It’s a large demonic head with an exposed brain that can spawn an endless amount of monsters. Technically, this boss is actually John Romero’s head because that’s what you have to shoot to defeat it. It’s located behind the exposed brain. The Icon of Sin is also the final boss of the two Final Doom megawads. I’ve always found the Icon of Sin to be rather underwhelming because it doesn’t really feel like a boss. The challenge comes from dealing with all the monsters it spawns and shooting it in the exact right spot. I would love to see a new Doom game include the Icon of Sin but as an animated boss that you actually have to “fight”.

Each game includes five difficulty modes. You’ll face more monsters and take more damage on higher difficulties and on the highest difficulty, Nightmare, enemies will respawn. I played through each game on the Ultra-Violence difficulty. The Ultimate Doom is the easiest game in the series, although the fourth episode, Thy Flesh Consumed, is noticeably more difficult than the episodes that precede it. Because the first game plays out in episodes, you lose all of your weapons after beating an episode. The objective in each of the standard levels in all the games is to simply get to the exit. In the first game, there’s a map screen of sorts in between levels. After beating a level, you can see what area of the map you’re going to next. The sequels have you going from level to level, you won’t ever lose your weapons, and there is no map screen in between levels. The Master Levels for Doom II are actually individual WADs each containing a single level with the exception of one that contains two levels. These games will take you through a lot of high-tech bases, different facilities, you’ll navigate through levels set on Earth, and of course through locations in Hell, itself. Most of the levels in each game contain secret areas to find which usually house weapons, ammo, and pickups and some levels include secret exits which lead to secret levels. It is very easy to get lost in these games, mainly due to the maze-like level design. Hell, The Plutonia Experiment contains a map known as “Hunted” which is literally a labyrinth full of Arch-viles. I think I got lost more in the Master Levels than in any other campaign. The levels are well designed but how to progress isn’t always obvious. You can roam around the levels freely in each game and there will be some required backtracking here and there. You’ll have to collect keys to open specific doors or to gain access to certain areas, usually to progress. You’ll be pushing buttons, flipping switches, using teleporters, riding elevators, and circle strafing around the environments to stay alive. Doom II includes much larger and more intricate levels than its predecessor and Final Doom follows this trend. You’ll have to watch out for toxic liquid, lava, crushers, and explosive barrels which all act as environmental hazards in each game but the barrels in particular can be used to your advantage. Getting lost will often result in you running around in circles until you find whatever is you missed. Some buttons and switches open up doors and/or paths in other areas of the level. In most scenarios, you can figure out how to progress just by looking around and consulting the automap. The trickier maps will require you to find hidden areas that contain something you need to interact with like a button or switch that reveal another hidden area in the level with something else you need like a key. Sometimes you have to shoot something to progress. I’ll never forget the levels that contain invisible platforms you need run across especially one level in Plutonia. It took me forever to figure out it was there.
Doom II’s larger and more intricate levels were pretty impressive when the game released. However, many levels include a lot of wide open areas and they haven’t aged as gracefully as the more tight and confined levels. Final Doom is also a victim of this. The issue is the hitscan enemies. Running out into the open only to realize your surrounded by the undead types and maybe even an Arch-vile can result in tedious trial and error gameplay. This is because they usually don’t miss unless you’re out of view. It seems like a crazy amount of undead enemies populate most of the levels in the Evilution megawad and the developers of Plutonia went crazy with Revenants and Arch-viles. Doom II and Final Doom are obviously designed to be more challenging than the original game and that philosophy is fine but there is a lot a bullshit that you have to deal with that sometimes feels cheap or just downright unfair. Sometimes you start a level immediately surrounded by enemies and while you’re trying to get out of the way or figure out where you need to go, you’re just losing health rapidly. You’ll often acquire a key or interact with something that reveals hidden areas around you with enemies inside ready to attack or numerous enemies teleporting to your location. In the bigger more open levels, it’s very easy to take damage from attacks you may not see coming. Enemies will often have the high ground and enemies in the distance can and will attack you so you need to pay attention. You may not be able to easily spot enemies in distant locations and sometimes they can attack from behind walls which is just cheap if you ask me. Whether its fireballs coming from Imps up on a ledge in the distance or a Heavy Weapon Dude rapidly draining your health from an alcove on the other side of the level, you’ll want to take your time and be constantly alert otherwise you’re going to die quickly. Being surrounded or overwhelmed by Revenants can happen often, especially in Plutonia, so you may find yourself running from a lot of homing missiles. Ultimately, I think the more confined levels have aged better and are more enjoyable.
No Rest for the Living does not contain as many levels as the other campaigns but the levels are tight and well designed. However, they are also quite challenging and contain a lot of ambushes. Finding secret areas in each game does make things easier because of the items you usually find so you really should keep an eye out for secrets. You may find yourself low on health and/or about to die but then you locate a secret area and acquire a ton of health and/or Invulnerability. You may find yourself low on ammo, unable to deal with all the threats, but then you find a secret area with a ton of ammo or heavy firepower that can solve your problems immediately. You’ll always want to be prepared. Learn how to avoid projectiles, know what weapons are best against what enemies, and learn the best ways to save ammo. Before exiting a level, you may want to backtrack through it and pick up any health, armor, and ammo you missed or couldn’t pick up earlier. One way to save ammo is to just run past enemies which I don’t advise unless you have the level memorized or the exit is in sight and you know you can make it. Another way is to shoot the barrels when enemies are near them. Blowing up a barrel can take out lower tier enemies easily, even multiple. One of the best ways to save ammo is to incite infighting. Once your spotted, the enemies will aim for you immediately. They don’t care if any of their buddies are in the way so when you encounter a group of enemies, you can cause them to attack each other. Enemies will fight each other which means they stop focusing on you. Whenever I came to an area full of baddies, I found it best to run out into the open so they spot me and start attacking and then run back and wait for them to kill each other. Then I just had to deal with the stragglers.
All of these games run on the id Tech 1 engine, otherwise known as the Doom engine, and share the same visual style and many assets. For it’s time, Doom was visually impressive. Instead of levels filled with a ton of similar looking corridors like id’s own Wolfenstein 3D, the environments in the Doom games feel more organic. The environments contain numerous textures, outdoor areas, flickering lights, and different objects. All the demonic imagery, blood, dead bodies, and mutilated corpses emphasize the evil theme the games are going for. Final Doom includes some new textures and in case you forgot Evilution was developed by TeamTNT, their branding can be found all over the place. I do think the visuals hold up. In my opinion, sprite-based games usually age better than early 3D games and while the levels in these games are presented in a 3D perspective, enemies and objects are sprites. Some areas in the levels can appear a little bland now and Final Doom and No Rest for the Living easily contain the most detailed levels in the group. Doom was pretty violent for its time resulting in a lot of controversy. You can turn enemies into bloody gibs and when I was a kid I always thought it was cool when doors would crush enemies. When a Cacodemon dies, its innards literally come pouring out of its face. The sound effects may be dated but the weapons fire gets the job done and the growls and snorts of the demons are iconic. Just as iconic as the soundtrack which is full of excellent rock and metal sounding tracks. The music inside the Doom engine’s WAD files are in the MUS format which is similar to the standard MIDI format. I need to find a Slayer music WAD. That would really be the ultimate thing. On the technical side, the games ran smooth and I did not encounter any serious bugs. The Master Levels for Doom II is a pack of individual level WADs and not a single WAD with multiple levels with the exception of one as mentioned earlier. You can play the WADs individually or you can use Master Levels Menu Interface mod to load the levels through an in-game menu. The menu will allow you to select from a list of levels, show your stats for each level, you can decide if you want varied music, and if your inventory carries over from level to level. The mod does require you to use a ZDoom compatible source port. The Interface does not come with the levels so you will need to acquire The Master Levels separately.
As usual, I had an absolute blast playing through these. I actually consider all of these games as one complete package even though they’re technically separate games. I will often refer to them simply as Doom or Classic Doom. So with that said, these are my favorite first-person shooters ever. If I had to choose just one, I choose Doom II because it recycles almost everything from the first game and just adds more. A new weapon, a new pickup, and new enemies. The expansions and Final Doom recycle everything from the first two games but also include some new textures, Evilution includes some new music, and they all contain their own sets of levels obviously. Despite some issues I have with the level design and difficulty of Doom II, the new content makes the experience feel complete. Sure, I hate Arch-vile but I love to hate him. What’s more badass than a skeleton with shoulder-mounted missile launchers? And does it really feel like Doom without a double-barreled shotgun? I’ve beaten The Ultimate Doom and Doom II more times than I’ve beaten Final Doom and that’s because I didn’t always care for Final Doom’s megawads. Don’t get me wrong, they are well designed but often feel frustrating. Playing through them again now, I’ve gained more of an appreciation for Evilution. That may be because engaging a ton of undead enemies is a little more tolerable than going up against hordes of Revenants with numerous Arch-viles thrown into the mix. They both have their ups and downs. Regardless, they are full of well crafted levels, and more Doom isn’t really a bad thing. I do consider them part of the Classic Doom experience. This is actually the first time I’ve completed all of the Master Levels. I’ve only beaten a few levels in the past. Some levels are more challenging than others and figuring out how to progress in many of these levels was certainly the biggest obstacle for me. No Rest for the Living is challenging but I really do enjoy the level design. The levels are detailed and tight with plenty of enemies to shoot. I think what really makes Doom special is the modding community which is still very active today. The Doom engine source code was released in 1997 and opened the door for thousands of mods. There’s plenty of megawads, individual maps, total conversions, and other types of mods out there and the sheer amount of content can keep you occupied for years. And out of all the games I’ve attempted to mod, I find Doom to be one of the easiest. I actually created my first level not too long ago using the Doom Builder 2 program. It’s not very good but if I can make a map, anyone can. You would still need to read up on things but there’s plenty of tutorials out there and fan-made programs and tools designed to mod the game or make modding easier. In addition to all of this, there is a multiplayer component that I never did get to try when the games were in their heyday. There are source ports that specialize in the multiplayer component and there’s all kinds of game modes now. I used to love playing the Invasion mode using the Skulltag source port which is no longer developed. It was succeeded by Zandronum which I have yet to spend a significant amount of time with. The original games had a cooperative mode and a deathmatch mode and from what I understand, Doom became a big issue in the workplace in the 90s. Hell, my first experience with the game was in an office.

I would absolutely recommend the Classic Doom games to anyone that enjoys fun. Doom is one of the greatest first-person shooters of all time. I may think Doom II is the best but the original is where it all started. The games are fast-paced, fun, contain plenty of replay value, and I predict the modding community will never let these classics die. As much as I love these games, they do have some issues. They’re not perfect. Not all of the levels have aged well and the difficulty sometimes crosses over into cheap territory. But the games are still fun to play and I can always come back to Doom and have a blast. I could play these games forever. Acquiring these games on PC not only gets you the megawads they come with, but you also gain access to a ridiculous amount of free content that can keep you occupied for years thanks to the modding community. If you have never played a Doom game before, then it’s time to get off your ass and into the action. Hell awaits.

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