Critical Contrast – E1DOOM1

Yano what’s really damn good? The new Doom! Yano what’s also really good? The old Doom! Yano what’s underrated? Doom 3, the one in the middle!

It’s difficult to write something new about ID’s seminal masterpiece that is the original Doom, or even to come up with a fresh take on that statement, so probably best going objective for this one, and for the sake of brevity I’m just going to focus on what I think is the core of each title.

So let’s get on with it shall we?

Critical Contrast - Doom 1

Doom is truly seminal, and although it didn’t invent the first person shooter it was definitely the first to make its mark on popular culture. From its punk like origins of shareware distribution by a group of irreverent twenty-somethings, its aesthetic blend of 80s action movies, D&D and heavy metal surrounding a fast paced, additive gameplay loop quickly gained fame and infamy with the masses.

It’s that gameplay that maintained its legacy even today, and despite its undoubted contribution to the FPS, its core combat it more akin to a top down twin stick shooter like Smash TV or its arcade predecessors like Robotron: 2084. In these titles projectile avoidance is key, and often failing to do so leads to instant death, challenging players to dance around the bullets whilst firing back, eliminating the hordes of enemies as quickly as possible, or face being overwhelmed. Sound familiar?

Critical Contrast - Doom 2

Similarly, the weapons are based on a hierarchy rather a distinct class system that FPS (or at least modern FPS) inhabit, and in Doom the weapons conform to their top down counterparts more than to their modern archetypes. The starting pistol is poor and quickly forgotten once the player finds the shotgun, which notably boasts a far longer range than the weapon class would be expected to, bearing more in common with a top down’s Spreader power up. And if the hordes too much, there’s always a temporary invulnerability pick up to give the player room to breathe.

Doom throws in a few niggles though, first amongst those the perspective. Plucking the player from their ivory tower above and dropping them into the narrower first person perspective limits their ability to make crucial decisions on placement. Doom counters this with the sheer speed at which the player moves, speeding along as fast if not faster than the projectiles they avoid, and with its health system which allows for multiple mistakes, providing health pickups to undo said mistakes, and armour picks up effectively double total health.

Secondly, unlike in twin stick shooters, weapons swapped for ones further up the hierarchy are not replaced but stored, and this allows the player to make tactical decisions when presented with certain enemy line ups- no point in using a precious rocket on one demon when a simple shotgun blast will do, save those rockets for the horde of enemies in the next room! And if that horde becomes too much, you can always switch to the BFG (Doom’s answer to the room clearing bomb power up) for respite before mopping them up with the chain gun.

Finally, whilst top down shooter enemies often escalate in health alone, the monster roster of Doom vary with their attacks as well, requiring the player to adapt their move and shoot tactics and encouraging threat assessment on the fly in response to enemies presented. Zombie soldiers take priority over Pinkies and Cacodemons for example, as the former’s hitscan (re: instant hit) weapons are unavoidable, whereas dodging can deal with the latter two, and once the soldiers are dealt with the player is likely to deal with the faster, melee only Pinkies before the lumbering Cacodemon and its powerful but slow moving (and avoidable) projectiles.

Combined, these last two create Doom’s iconic gameplay loop, encouraging the player to make dozens of tactical decisions based on the enemy line up presented to them compared to the arsenal at their disposal, and these decisions have to be made quickly and on the move to avoid the projectiles coming towards them. The sign of a skilled player is coming out of an encounter completely unscathed, so much like a top down shooter the way to play is to stay constantly on the move to avoid the projectiles, but also at a distance to maximise the decision making time available to the player.

The level design knew this loop, and thus toyed with it, combining top down shooter’s arenas to maximise the space for distance circle strafing (basically running around an enemy whilst firing) and combining them with Wolfenstein 3D’s (ID’s previous shooter) penchant for mazes to connect them, minimising the player’s decision time and forcing them to rely on reflex.

So that’s the chief focus of Doom 93- a fast paced game of projectile avoidance and quick decision making, where keeping on the move and at a distance is king. Doom 3… isn’t that.

But we’ll get into that next time, just as soon as I can get the bastard to work on windows 10.


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