Happy birthday, Doom: Celebrating 23 years of a timeless classic

There are times, when it is best to leave realism in gaming aside. To plunge your mind into another universe entirely. Today, we have various new innovations (most notably the virtual reality headset) to give us that deep sense of immersion. This, however, hasn’t always been the case.

In the early 90s, “innovative” peripherals/gadgets were merely gimmicks and gamers had had enough of such silly toys (does anyone remember Virtual Boy?). Hardly any research went into them, and it was quite clear that the industry was not ready for such devices yet.

But what does an ailing industry do to keep games fresh? How does it make games engrossing?

In 1992, gamers were introduced to first person shooters. Wolfenstein 3D, developed by an unknown developer called id Software quickly became a run-away hit.

But it wasn’t until id’s next title, released on 10 December 1993, that’s 23 years ago, that the genre became a universal and a resounding success.

It didn’t set itself apart only on the merit of employing a unique point of view. It was the attention seeker! With you, only known as the “Space Marine”, walking around a Mars base unleashing blood thirsty, almost maniacal fury on the legions of Hell.

It was simply titled DOOM.

So much was its fame that fans decided to name every FPS game that came out after it, a “Doom Clone”. Today, be it a multiplayer game, a slow narrative rich title (also called walking simulators) or even horror, first person shooters have become part and parcel of the video game industry.

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Back in 1993, Doom was a novel concept and an instant success. But playing it today, would you still feel the adrenaline rush from the run-and-gun mayhem that came out more than two decades ago?

Hold no doubt, being as ancient as it is, Doom still looks and sounds brilliant. It is more than just playable. Its arcady feel is apparent. Don’t discount Doom as a casual game due to its age, though.

Starting off with a pistol in your hand, you keep getting new toys to play with every now and then to unleash a deep and latent rage that you never knew you had in you, on your enemies — who themselves keep the formula fresh and flowing throughout the duration by adding new enemy types to their army.

With a background soundtrack that feels like it was stolen from an 80s crime drama, you walk across a set of narrow hallways inter-connected to form a non-linear map or level to complete your objectives. The story being just an afterthought. Your objective is simple, you start at point A, traverse through the level, find a red button, press it and you are moved to the next stage.

Finding the red button is a challenge. Sometimes it’s behind locked doors, which can be accessed by locating a key card. And sometimes to get to this keycard you must look for another keycard.

However, this isn’t the only hurdle that comes in your way. To reach your objectives, you also must survive hordes of demons craving your guts. And how do you deal with them? You shoot them of course.

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The shooting, although not as impactful as recent games, still packs a serious punch. Firing a shotgun at an imp to see it stagger backwards from the impact is a lot of fun by even today’s standards. Fire some more rounds, and you will see its head burst like a pink-coloured balloon.

Despite its conservative graphical capabilities, the game can also manage to give you a good scare from time to time.

The flickering lights overhead push you into complete darkness while you roam the tiny corridors in search of a key card or a lever. The sense of fear steadily engulfs as you hear the soulless cacophony of demons everywhere around you lurking in shadows.

The game does not look very good, as is expected, but it makes great use of what it can muster. The paper like character models of the various enemy types, from Spectres to the Barons of Hell, which only look 3D because they constantly keep turning to face you, are perfectly crafted for the setting.

The protagonist too has a face (and emotions). His face rests on the status bar, and he constantly reacts to his surroundings. He will make a groaning face when you take damage. On the other hand, his face will light up in a grin when you get a new weapon type. He will also get bloodied up as your health approaches zero. This helps you to create a bond with the protagonist, something that was difficult to do back in the days when side-scrollers were the norm.

Impatient gamers will surely be disappointed though. The game doesn’t hold your hand and take you to your next objective. It expects you to hunt for it yourself, no matter how long it takes and how frustrating it gets. In my playthrough, no matter how hard I tried, I was not able to find any maps or compasses that could guide me.

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It felt like searching for a needle in a haystack. Every gamer no matter how seasoned, will surely find themselves flustered. The levels are mazes that you can’t quite solve, and they get more convoluted with every new level that you play to ramp up the challenge.

Despite the shortcomings, rest assured, that 23 years from its launch, the fast-paced gameplay is edge of the seat intense and will forever be the perfect vent for your worldly pain and disappointments.

P.S. For those who just want to skip the frustrations that come out of playing an old game, can get hooked onto the latest reboot. After a decade of being in development hell (pun not intended), it was finally released this year to critical acclaim. In the recently concluded Game Awards 2016, it lost to Overwatch for Best Overall Game of the year.

It surprisingly retains the game play of the original, down to every last detail, and adds some elements to make it more relevant in today’s times.