While it wasn't the first FPS game (that honor goes to 1973's Maze War), DOOM really defined the genre. The game, which developer id Software originally described as a "a lightning-fast virtual reality adventure," was simple: you were a space marine fighting demons to prevent them from attacking Earth. As you went, you'd pick up an arsenal of weapons, ranging from a pistol to a plasma rifle so you could cut through hordes of demonic enemies — literally, when you were out of ammo and could only equip a chainsaw. At the time, the game was considered gory and even disturbing, though today its pixelated, over the top gushes of red are more funny than fearsome.
And, of course, there was multiplayer — though in 1993, multiplayer meant connecting over your phone line at 2400 baud (or about a megabyte an hour). It may be ubiquitous — and a heck of a lot faster — now, but DOOM brought us the first online deathmatch games.
But games — and DOOM itself — have come a long way since 1994. Now with the release of the latest iteration of DOOM, let's take a look back to see just how far the series has come.
DOOM (1993) and DOOM II: Hell on Earth (1994)
The game that started it all, DOOM's art was a dazzling 256 colors — but the designers made the most of what they had, creating a vast and terrifying world one pixel at a time. Give the game credit: it did a lot with a little, running on a 386 processor with 4MB RAM. Today, you can buy wristwatches smarter than that.
So why are DOOM and DOOM II lumped together here? The two games used the same engine and while DOOM II added levels and new story, it didn't blaze any new trails: the games look almost identical.
While collecting weaponry has become a hum-drum gaming chore, it was a new concept back in '94 — and some of DOOM's weaponry still feels uniquely DOOM, from the bright green blast of the BFG to the roar of the chainsaw. In its original iteration, the game's weapons included fists or chainsaw (for those terrible times when you ran out of ammo), pistol, shotgun, chaingun, rocket launcher, plasma rifle, and BFG 9000.
DOOM II introduced a powered-up double-barred shotgun which used twice the ammo but did well more than twice the damage — its ability to take down some demons in a single shot made it a great choice for close combat. In both games, you started with only your fists and your pistol and would have to find the rest alongside the appropriate ammo to use it. Only have one rocket left? You'd better save it for when you've got a group of demons you can cheerfully send back to Hell with a single well-placed shot.
While it might not have been practical, the chainsaw was hands-down the most entertaining weapon in the game. The downside, of course, was that getting up close and personal with the demonic hordes wasn't always good for your health — which is obviously why you'd type in the iddqd cheat code to toggle on god mode before diving in. Sure, the challenge of facing a group of demons in melee range could be fun, too, but there was just something joyous about hacking them to pieces while they couldn't do a thing about it.
DOOM 3 (2004)
Nearly a decade later, DOOM 3 was, despite its name, not a DOOM sequel — it was a new version of the original games, though it pushed further into the horror genre. Once again you took the role of an anonymous space marine fighting off demons to prevent them from destroying Earth. That story was really only sketched out in the readme.txt file of the original game, but DOOM 3 had the chance to flesh out the world with cutscenes, character dialog, and items (like emails and audio diaries) you could find.
And what a difference a decade makes: DOOM 3 had much better graphics than its predecessors. While the game looks dated today it was the cutting edge of technology in 2004, pushing people to upgrade their PCs to 2Ghz Pentium 4s processor with top-of-the-line Direct X 8.0-compatible video cards and 1GB of memory. While your smartphone probably has that much power (or more) today, it was a big deal a decade ago — leaving plenty of gamers wondering how they would even be able to afford to play DOOM 3.
Despite the tech and story improvements, gameplay was nearly the same: find weapons and armor, pick up ammo, and shoot demons. Perhaps the biggest shakeup to the run and gun style the originals had is the addition of a flashlight.
Playing up the horror angle, DOOM 3 was full of pitch black areas you could only see if you had a flashlight equipped — and you could only do that by holstering your weapon. Why couldn't Doomguy hold a flashlight in one hand and a pistol in the other? Plenty of DOOM 3 mods cropped up to fix this, including the Duct Tape mod, which explains itself like so: "Under the crazy presumption that a roll of duct tape has to exist somewhere on the Mars facility, the Duct Tape mod sticks flashlights to your machinegun and shotgun." By the time the game was re-released in 2012, the hero apparently leveled up in flashlights — he could now have both a light and a weapon in-hand, no mod required.
DOOM's classic weapons remained, including favorites like the super shotgun, BFG, and chainsaw. A few new weapons joined the fray, though, with a machine gun, the ability to throw grenades, and the strange Soul Cube.
Breaking out of the standard-issue arsenal of guns, the Soul Cube is an alien artifact powered by life force — it charges as enemies and allies fall, then hurtles towards enemies in a flurry of spinning blades. Yikes. The attack is enough to take down all but the most powerful foes, draining their life force to heal you. Basically, the Soul Cube can make it a really bad day for your demonic enemies.
Another decade has passed which means it's time for another DOOM game, offering yet another technological leap forward as DOOM joins the modern age. And, wow, is it a good look for the game. DOOM's classic characters are recognizable, but more detailed — and more creepy — than ever.
The latest DOOM iteration focuses on the return of Doomguy (whom I hope has retained his ability to hold a flashlight), "the only flesh and blood to walk between dimensions." You're once again fighting the minions of Hell and building up arsenal of weapons as you go.
All of your favorite old-school DOOM weapons remain — again, there's the ever-present chainsaw, shotgun, and BFG — but there's all-new weaponry, too, like the fast-firing gauss cannon. Where previous DOOM games offered a range of weapons, each good for certain situations, the latest installment brings the ability to customize your weaponry to suit your gameplay. Though common in new games, customization was never part of the classic DOOM series — after all, you were fighting your way through Hell and relied on whatever you could find to help you survive. There simply wasn't time to stop and tinker between waves of demons.
Is this a new twist on the classic game or does it just make our favorite weapons a little less special? We'll find out once we've had a chance to sink our teeth into DOOM.