This weekly column looks at classic video games both in how they looked back in the day and how they stand up today. Though scores will be assigned, our tough review standards will be relaxed a bit for these games to give a general overview instead.
All retro games come courtesy of Retro Games Plus, located at 1761 Post Road East in Westport, CT. If you’re in the northeastern part of the United States, please give them a look.
There aren’t enough platitudes or words to describe the effect Doom has had on the industry. Simply put, the series pushed PC gaming past the edutainment era of The Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego and right into the accentuation of both action gaming and having to routinely upgrade one’s system to keep up with the latest games. It cemented the careers of John Romero and John Carmack, turning both of them into household names and Romero into something like a rock star. It was so popular that first-person shooters came to be known as Doom clones for awhile, ignoring or forgetting that Doom itself was the successor to Wolfenstein 3D. Even in 2012 it’s a popular game, as evidenced by the game’s presence on Xbox Live. Anything else I could add would be redundant compared to the platitudes put on it by countless “greatest games of all time” lists.
Today, we go back to see if the original DOS game stands up.
Original Systems: MS-DOS (reviewed via DOSBox), numerous others
Developer: id Software
Publisher: id Software
Original Release Date: December 10, 1993
HOW WAS IT THEN: Simply put, we hadn’t seen anything like Doom. Doom was a step forward for shooters, action games, PC game graphics, and the medium as a whole. In addition, it was a step forward for distribution as the first third of the game was shareware. For those of you too young to remember shareware, picture a really long demo that let you continue if you paid for the rest of the game. The first third of the game was free and the rest was purchasable. Considering id Software’s mid-90s success, the system worked great for the time, especially considering the core game was so good. Doom featured huge, sprawling levels with secrets littered all over the place in areas so deep, I’d be willing to wager that very few people have 100% mastered the game, even fewer without liberal help. The gameplay was simple yet effective: arrow keys moved, Ctrl-key shot (I forgot how it was for the weirdos running Macs), Alt-key strafed, and space bar interacted with doors and buttons. Of course, around every corner were monsters of some sort, usually bunched up and almost always shooting. The level design in Doom was simply genius, adding a dark atmosphere to what was already an intense, amazing shooter. Logistical additions such as an automap toggled by the Tab button had never been seen before, at least in any way I can remember.
I honestly don’t think it’s possible to overrate Doom. We simply had never seen anything quite like this in 1993, and what we saw was pure genius.
HOW IS IT NOW: The first and most obvious strike against Doom today is that the controls don’t mix up with what we’re used to in today’s gaming landscape. In any recent shooter, the mouse is used to aim the scope of the gun while the WASD keys are used to move, adjusting to how the vast majority of PC gamers are right-handed and need to be able to use the entire keyboard. Doom added mouse controls to later versions of the game, but they would be unrecognisable to today’s player. There isn’t even a vertical axis for aiming; enemies on higher platforms get shot at automatically, so going up or down with the mouse simply moves the player forward or backwards. This makes mouse play untenable because there’s no WASD support; the concept hadn’t been invented yet. I had problems adjusting because I long since outgrew things like aiming with the keyboard and alt-strafing.
Eventually, I was able to perform better simply by forcing myself to readjust to the archaic keyboard commands. Muscle memory kicks in eventually, and once this happens, the game becomes second nature. This is good because the core Doom game is still as amazing as it was in 1993. Yes, it’s dated, but there’s so much to do, so much freedom in terms of exploration, so many secrets to find, and so much action to be had that the game will be playable even twenty years from now. The gameplay has aged beautifully, and although I was far from a major Doom player as a kid (I had no PC, so I relied on the inferior SNES version), I still find things in the game in my 30s. It’s an amazing piece of work and one of the rare times one should adjust to the controls instead of dismiss them. Even the graphics, while not “holding up” in the normal sense, don’t get in the way as much as I thought they would.
For those who can’t abide by the DOS version, there are other options available for $10 on Steam. Modern players might actually enjoy the XBLA port more, which uses the standard controller setup for aiming and shooting. Normally, shooters on a console are inferior to their PC counterparts, but Doom is old enough that the controller actually feels like an upgrade.
Those who put down Call of Duty to play the original Doom or its just-as-amazing sequel won’t just find a game that stands up well in 2012. They’ll find a game that, depending on what they are looking for, is better.