Every week, Retro Game Wednesday reviews a well-aged game available for digital download on Steam.
Title: The Ultimate Doom
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: id Software
Release Date: Apr 30th, 1995
Price (at time of review): $9.99
Modern gaming can get tiring. It’s full of choices, after all. Deep moral choices, or at least the illusion of them, seem to be the newest trend in video games. I can only be warned so many times by loading screens in Mass Effect 2 that my choices could have dire ramifications in Mass Effect 3 before I start to become a paranoid, shaking wreck, paralysed at every conversation option because everything is going to have wide ranging aftereffects. My choice to order a burger and fries or just the sandwich could irreversibly ruin my chances of getting the Best Ending and I have no way of knowing which choice is the right one. If I just get the hamburger, but decide I don’t want fries, will Commander Shepard be crippled by hunger at a crucial moment? Perhaps fries are necessary – but the consequences of overeating could be just as terrible. And what about my choice of drink?
So I don’t play Mass Effect 2 anymore. It’s just too much for me – I play video games to escape from the hard choices I make every day in real life about what I’m going to have for lunch. Sometimes it’s nice to play something a little simpler. Like this, for example.
Wait, there’s a story? Oh yeah, I guess so. You’re a space marine, and there’s some freaky stuff going on in this here base on Mars, what with all the creatures coming in from the literal biblical Hell we somehow opened a portal to with Science. They are big. That means they have big guts. So use your violence on them.
- The standard-setter for fast paced action gaming.
- Three episodes of action packed fun, with one additional bonus episode of greater difficulty that hates you and wants you dead.
- Eight different weapons and significantly more than eight types of enemies to use them on.
- The source code for this game was released over a decade ago and people have been actively modding it ever since – if you don’t hate mods, you have a near-infinite number of levels for this game available over the internet.
- You also don’t have to play it using the default Steam setup – take the .wad file from the game folder and you can use it in any number of freely available source ports – recommendations are available down in the Technical Notes section.
- A decent multiplayer community still exists, using multiplayer oriented source ports and third party programs. Again – read more in the Technical Notes.
- Episodic structure – a leftover of the game’s shareware origins – means you start over with nothing but a pistol and your fists after the end of every ‘episode’.
- Maze-like non-linear level design in some areas can get you lost if you’re too used to games that send you from a clearly marked A to an even more clearly marked point B. – If you start finding elaborate complexes of secret rooms inside other secret rooms it only makes things worse.
- Par times for levels are included as an optional challenge but are apparently set on the controversial ‘hummingbird nearing cocaine overdose’ standard.
- Difficulty levels actually run the whole stretch of difficulty from ‘actually easy’ to ‘any reasonable person would say this is impossible’.
- If you die, you restart the level with nothing but your pistol and fifty bullets. Since you can save at any time, there is basically no point to this.
- If you require a deep, engaging narrative with complex, layered characters and drama, you won’t find it here.
- Likewise, the game’s moral choice system is limited to simplistic decisions like ‘shoot with shotgun’ or ‘shoot with plasma rifle’ that don’t take into account the emotions and motivations of your adversaries.
Okay, so the vanilla game is a bit dated by now, but it’s still fun, and it’s probably still the gold standard of the ‘shoot everything until it dies and get to the end of the level’ subgenre. If you’re just looking at the standard game, it’s worth playing, but not at ten bucks. If you’re willing to play some mods and multiplayer, then it’s a far better value. 5/10 on its own, 8/10 with mods and Source ports.
Some games are just part of history, sometimes because they were revolutionary and changed everything forever and sometimes because they were so terrible that there was no choice but to bury every surviving copy in a giant hole in the desert and hope that no one ever finds them.
Doom, at least from my side of the argument, is more the former than the latter. There’s a reason they called first person shooters ‘Doom Clones’ for most of the middle of the 90’s. This was THE shooter that set the standard for first person shooters until 1998, when Sierra came out with some game* about a scientist with a crowbar and ushered in new standards for storytelling and immersion. But up until that point, Doom summed up what mainstream shooters were about. There were guns, there were monsters to shoot with the aforementioned guns, and ‘story’ was something that happened in the manual.
There’s no ‘realism’ to be found in these parts. Barrels of acid are stacked throughout the base seemingly at random, you can run around in hot lava for as long as you like with an environmental suit, and reloading is something that happens when you die rather than something you do with your guns. The level design is classic and kind of abstract, designed more to evoke the feel of a place than a logical layout. You’ll enjoy it as long as you don’t stop to ask ‘why do they have this room at all?’ which is really not a question that’s going to come up a lot. There are too many things to shoot and far too many levels to shoot them in for you to stop and do any of that pesky thinking.
From a historian’s point of view, this is a really interesting game. The level design set a new standard for complexity, with rooms that could be any height and walls that could be at any angle, not just 90 degrees. While the technology was still a couple years away from being able to do rooms on top of rooms and other ‘true 3d’ this was a major leap forward for 3d FPS gaming, and the levels are all designed to show it off as much as possible. The graphics are great for the era, and the sound is all right, with all the monster noises and background growls managing to sound convincing enough. The music is especially strong, ranging from atmospheric and tense to pumping metal to kill things to, some lifted right from popular groups like Metallica and Pantera. It’s all MIDI, of course, but that comes with the territory.
One last thing to keep in mind – this is ‘The Ultimate Doom’, not just Doom. Functionally what that means is that this game comes with a bonus ‘episode’, ‘Thy Flesh Consumed’ as an extra, adding nine more levels to the original game’s 27, for a total of I hope my readers can do basic math themselves. This episode contains the hardest levels in any official Doom release. You will die, probably repeatedly. Play it on Nightmare! difficulty to die extra often.
Actually, I don’t think I could in good faith close a review of an original Doom game without talking about Nightmare! difficulty. It earns the exclamation point. When you try to select it the game will tell you it’s unfair and suggest that you don’t. If you persist in playing anyway, you will find that it is outwardly exactly the same as Ultra-Violence difficulty, with the following caveats – the monsters and their projectiles move twice as fast, and any monsters you kill will respawn after a few seconds. It was designed to be impossible, but much like everything else in gaming, people have managed not only to beat it but to speedrun it.
You probably won’t succeed at speedrunning it, but if you want to get angry and quit playing, you can play Nightmare! for a bit and see how you like it.
*Incidentally for those of you who are interested, I think the game was called ‘Scientist With a Crowbar’ or something like that. It was pretty okay.
You can take the .wad file that contains all the delicious game goodness and download a freely available source port to run it instead, allowing you to run the game in whatever operating system you like with an expanded array of modern day options. ZDoom is generally consistent and has a wide array of configurable options. Doomsday supports 3d models and other fancy graphical effects if you can’t play a game without feeling like it’s the future. ZDaemon and Skulltag are competing, slightly different multiplayer clients running various Deathmatch, Co-Op and CTF games, as well as more esoteric modes – I prefer ZDaemon but they’re both fine. Keep in mind most servers use Doom 2 and not The Ultimate Doom, so the selection will be more limited if you don’t have all of the games.
Note: The screenshots in this article were taken in glorious 1920×1080 resolution, which the original vanilla game does not support. They were taken using ZDoom. Don’t worry too hard – without corresponding graphical tweaks and enhancements it’s all still the same old textures and sprites from 1993.ox10c, doom facebook cover