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Review: Doom (1993)

Table of Contents

Quick Info

Gore & Brutality Magic Sex Civility Religious Objections
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Additional Notes
This game is also available for Linux! This game is free!

Summary of major issues
Despite this game's age, there's a lot of blood, gore, and violence. Today, it's still enough to be worthy of an M rating, but it's fairly tame compared to newer games.

As a large portion of the game takes place in Hell, Satanic references are very commonplace.

Screenshots

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Meet the Bruiser Brothers

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Some of the more mild gore

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Bodies and a pentagram

General Information

Genre:First Person Shooter ESRB Rating:M - Mature (18+)
License:Shareware My Rating:Teenagers (13+)
Played on:Martha, Thaddeus
Available from: Various; See below
Save System:This depends on the source port you're using. The original game only had a manual save using save slots, and even then it only recorded your progress at the start of a level. Newer source ports can feature autosaves or allow you to save in the middle of a level.

Game Overview

In the distant future, laboratories on the Martian moons Phobos and Demos were attempting to develop working teleporters. These experiments eventually succeeded, but they also created a much larger problem than anyone anticipated. During an experiment, one of the teleporters malfunctioned, opening a gateway into Hell itself. To make things worse, it seems that the denizens of Hell were expecting this, and had already prepared to invade. The research base was swiftly overwhelmed, though somebody managed to send a distress signal before the facility was completely overrun.

In answer to the call, a group of elite marines were sent to the moons to secure the laboratories and contain the breach. While most of these soldiers rushed into the fray, one lone rookie was left behind to guard the transport ship. Soon, the sounds of the fighting stopped, and the radio links fell silent. Alone and without orders, the rookie decided to investigate the situation, and if necessary, complete the mission himself. Thus began one of the most famous adventures in gaming history.

This adventure also proved to be one of the most controversial stories, and it's not terribly hard to see why. Doom was one of the bloodiest games on the market at the time, and its demonic themes only made it more disturbing. It's still somewhat controversial today, though a lot of people have shifted their focus to other titles, including other games in this franchise.

Yet, despite the controversies and bad press, Doom has maintained its popularity. More than twenty years later, it's still being sold and played by a large and active playerbase. Simply put, Doom just does a lot of things right, making it a very tough act to follow.

This is definitely NOT a game little kids should be playing, but if you're mature enough to handle in the imagery and concepts features in this game, I'd highly recommend giving both Doom and its sequel a go.

Pros

Non-linear levels
One of this game's less talked about features is the non-linear level design it uses. Most levels lack a set path, so you're free to explore the map as much as you want. Leaving the path is also encouraged, as you'll often be rewarded with secret areas containing weapons, ammo, armor, or some other useful goodies. On the other hand, you're also free to run through a level without stopping to pick up anything or fight any of the monsters. I personally wouldn't recommend doing that, but there's nothing stopping you.


Modding friendly
Doom was one of the first games to openly support and encourage modding. Since the game's engine and content are entirely separate, it's possible to replace one or both portions of the game to fully customize your in-game experience. Custom engines are known as source ports, and while they are most often used to make this old DOS game compatible with modern systems, they can also be used to add features or tweak the gameplay in various ways.

Additionally, players can create and distribute their own levels and other game content. Unfortunately, this has led to some problems in the past, as as show below.


Active fanbase
It's rare that you could say this after five years, let alone twenty, but this game still has a large and active fanbase. Deathmatches are still pretty popular, and many source ports include built-in support for setting up multiplayer games with people all over the world.

Fans have also found other ways to keep the game entertaining, such as sharing their speedrun attempts or inventing challenges. One of the harder challenges that's popular is known as a "pacifist run"; basically, the player attempts to clear levels without fighting the game's monsters -- not exactly an easy thing to accomplish.


Cons

Very, very controversial
While this game is pretty fun, the sheer amount of controversy over it is staggering. It's important to remember that some of the complaints people have with this series are grounded in reality and shouldn't be dismissed too easily. For example, the violence and demonic imagery present in this game has been known to make many Christians pretty uncomfortable. If you're undecided, you can always try the shareware version -- not only is it free, but you're free to back away if it's too dark or intense for you.


Concerns and Issues

Blood and gore
There's a lot of both throughout this game. Aside from the remains of the monsters you personally killed, you can also find the dead bodies of your former teammates in many of the levels. This is taken up a notch in any of the levels that take place in Hell, as you'll frequently be walking around rivers of blood, piles of skulls, and other remains. Bodies of damned souls can also be found nailed to the wall, hung from the ceiling, or even crucified, making Hell the sort of place where you clean your boots before you go outside.

Certain actions or situations also produce a larger mess. For example, crushing traps will turn any body into a bloody smear, and anyone caught too close to an explosion will be blown into a pile of meaty chunks (known as gibs) rather than show their character's normal death animation.


Moderate swearing
When you leave the game, a short message is displayed that mocks you for "running away". These statements are random, and several of them contain profanity. Not all source ports display these messages, so you might not even see them.

That said, some bad language can still be found here and there. Examples include the f-word being used in the name of the game's most famous weapon and the story portions shown at the end of a chapter include words like "badass" or "bastards".


Demons and satanic imagery
Since the entire premise of this game revolves around stopping demons from invading our world, dark and occult themes are a common sight. Pentagrams, for example, are shown in numerous places, as are the faces of various demonic beings. Additionally, in areas controlled by Hell, the multicolor keycards you use to unlock doors have been replaced with colored human skulls.

An important thing to remember about all of this is that the demons and their world is always shown as alien and wrong. At no point are the demons or their things treated in a positive light.


Connections to school shootings
One of the darkest moments of gaming history came in 1999, when two teens opened fire on their classmates at Columbine High School. In the aftermath, the world discovered that one of the teens was extremely obsessed with violent games, including Doom, and is on record saying how the shooting would be like living out some of his favorite games. It doesn't help matters that he also designed and published some custom levels for Doom. Knowing what we now know about his mind set, these custom levels are very disturbing and most repositories that distribute custom levels outright refuse to host his content.

But, as much as people want to say games corrupted these teens, it doesn't look like that was the case. Instead, it looks like it was the other way around: these troubled kids frequently searched out violent entertainment, and this morbid fascination with dark subject matter continued beyond their gaming habits. According to the wikipedia page on them, they also had an unsettling interest in events like the Oklahoma City Bombing and the Waco siege.

For more reading, I'd suggest having a look at the Doom Fan Wiki, which has a page covering the incident.


Notes on two rumors
Since Doom was at the center of many controversies in the mid-1990s, there were a lot of rumors floating around. Two of these are still going around today, so I felt it would be best to address these rumors directly.

The first and perhaps most popular rumor about Doom is that the player is assisting Satan's attempt to take over the world. Such a game would indeed be troubling, but it also wouldn't be Doom. In this game, you're explicitly trying to stop the demonic invasion, and all demons you see are enemies to be fought against. Additionally, Satan doesn't appear in any game in the Doom franchise; the being behind Hell's invasion is either a powerful demon known as the Spider Mastermind (Doom 1 & 2) or a human that decided to side with Hell for one reason or another (Doom 3 & 4).

The second common claim about this franchise is that you're encouraged to kill innocent people. At the time, this rumor was completely false: there aren't any humans in the first two Doom games. All of the "humans" you see are actually demonically possessed human corpses, and the games even call them "former humans". However, this changed in Doom 3, where there are other people who survived the initial invasion and you can choose to kill them. This is only way to acquire certain optional items, which takes the third game in the series into some questionable territory.


Notes on Availability

Since Doom has been around for more than twenty years, you can probably guess that it's been re-released several times. Because of this, there are actually two versions of Doom; the original release, and an updated version called Ultimate Doom. I would suggest looking for the latter, as it includes an additional campaign that connects the first two games.

Once you have your copy, you need to set things up. Since you have the option of using one of many different source ports, you aren't stuck with the engine the game came with. This is particularly important if you purchased an older copy of the game: Doom was originally a DOS program, and modern operating systems can't run its 16-bit executable unaided. Thus, your first step is choosing which source port to use. You can find a listing of popular source ports over on this page of the Doom Wiki. I personally prefer Zandronum, but there are plenty of other options.

Next, you need to locate the file named doom.wad that came with your copy of Doom. However, if you're only interested in the shareware version of the game, the file you want is called doom1.wad, and you'll need to find it online somewhere, such as the WAD Archive. To clarify a little, doom.wad contains the full game, including the shareware chapter, while doom1.wad contains only the shareware portion and can be freely distributed. Once you've found the file you need, place it somewhere your source port can see it and everything should be ready to go.

There are two other things you might want to know before purchasing Doom 1. First, Doom 3: BFG Edition comes with Doom 1 and 2 as free bonus material. This allows you to have the first three games for the price of one, and since it also comes with its own modern source port, so you can play Doom 1 and 2 without any further effort. The doom.wad file is also included separately like usual, so you can still use whatever source port you want.

The other thing to keep in mind is that there is a game titled Final Doom. This is a collection of additional content for Doom 2. While you'll probably enjoy those levels if you like Doom in general, it's not what you want if you're trying to find a copy of Doom or Doom 2.