I’ll begin by making some of you feel very old: when Doom was originally released back in 1993, I was two. So, as you can imagine, I was not able to experience Doom in the era it came out in. I will never experience the thrill of waiting for Doom to be uploaded to the BBS, or playing it for the first time and being blown away by the REALISM, or participating in a deathmatch on a LAN. As anyone who has listened to my lacklustre appearance on the podcast knows, I read about fragging in a book; clearly I am from a different time.
So no, I wasn’t around to experience the release of Doom. But I what I did do was grow up with Doom. Granted, I didn’t actually own it, primarily since my family didn’t acquire a PC until about 1998. Rather, Doom took on a bit of a mythical status on my mind. It was a secret between me and my friends, this hyper violent game we would play out of earshot of parents on visits. I have a rather vivid memory of one of my friends loading up a level filled with endlessly respawning enemies, switching invincibility on and simply spinning around in a circle with the chain gun, ploughing through the never-ending demonic hordes. Good times indeed.
If I can make a generalisation for a moment, everyone who plays games as a hobby has heard of Doom. Doom doesn’t go away. It’s available on practically everything (including my personal favourite, a graphing calculator). More importantly, Doom does not get any less playable. If you took a gamer who had never played Doom before, and loaded up E1M1 right now, it is almost a guarantee they would have a blast. It’s ageless. Presumably, somewhere in Carmack’s attic, there’s a source code of Doom that gets more unplayable every year.
So, you might think, Doom doesn’t need any updating. There’s no need for it. Yet Sergeant_Mark_IV, or Marcos Abenante to his friends, walked a delicate line and somehow managed to absolutely nail it with Brutal Doom. First released in February 2012, Brutal Doom is labelled as being a gore mod for Doom and Doom II (as well as Final Doom), but to write it off as just “adding a bit more blood to the game” is to do it a huge disservice. That said, there IS a lot more blood.
In the original Doom, the enemy death animations were simple but effective. A spurt of blood, a quick roar and they become pixelated viscera puddles on the ground. Brutal Doom ups the ante a touch by having enemies explode into gore clouds, spraying gibs far and wide. Blasting a Commando with the shotgun takes their head clean off. The plasma gun reduces enemies to burnt and blackened husks. The chainsaw will actually split a Cacodemon in half. But the gore addition is more noticeable in the moments after your slaughter ends. Hunks of flesh from fallen enemies lay scattered around the room. The walls are streaked with blood. Gibs will stick to the ceiling and fall down to the floor with a wet slap. Ban this sick filth, and so forth.
It’s more than just gibbing, mind you. Brutal Doom adds a host of other gore-centric features to the game. Most of the time, imps and soldiers will die when shot, but every so often, they’ll fall to their knees, roaring pain as they bleed out. Berserker mode allows you to perform outlandish fatality moves on enemies, most notably diving between a Baron of Hell’s legs and tearing out its spine. Beyond the gore, other changes include adding fellow marines to be rescued who then provide battle assistance, some enhanced lighting, and what has to be one of the best additions, a kick move. It might not seem like much, but if you run, jump and kick all at once, you can divekick a Spider Mastermind in the face. Bear it in mind, could be a deciding factor.
So why is Brutal Doom more than just a gore mod? Simply put, because it is a link between two periods of gaming history. Brutal Doom ties the birth of the first person shooter to the state of video gaming today, slamming the two together in a beautiful bloody mess. The mod draws on the twenty years of gaming development that have passed since December 10th, 1993 to not update Doom, or upgrade, but rather enhance it. All of the design choices that Abenate makes, all the features that he cribs from other games are chosen so perfectly. Enhanced gibbing? Yes, as it adds to the hellish and chaotic atmosphere. Higher res textures? No, everything is already clearly communicated as it is. Over the top finishing moves? Of course, it’s perfectly in keeping with the Doom mentality. Regenerating health? Go die in an acid pit. And so on.
Doom is often used these days as a point of comparison with modern FPS games. “Look at DOOM!” they’ll cry! “Doom never had cutscenes, or finishing moves, or whatever!” I get the idea behind this line of thinking but to follow it, you have to ignore twenty years of changing technology, ideas and attitudes. No, Doom and Battlefield 4 are not the same. There’s a very good reason for that, though. It turns out, shock though it may be, Doom and Battlefield 4 are setting out do very different things. Battlefield is a single player game about an epic modern day war, as well as grandiose multiplayer battles. Doom is a game where you shoot things until everything is dead. Apples and oranges.
And similarly, as wonderful (and agless) as Doom is, Brutal Doom shows that it can be enhanced by new updates. Free look, kill moves, iron sights, AI companions, dynamic interfaces: all of these ideas came after Doom, and yet fit so well into the game. It’s something to bear in mind the next time you want to bellow “Every shooter since Doom is shit!” Sure, they might not be quite as good as Doom, but there’ve been some incredibly important strides forwards since then.
So that’s why Brutal Doom is more than just extra blood and guts. It’s Doom taken to its logical extreme. It’s Doom, backed by twenty years of new ideas. It’s exactly like Doom, but somehow different. It highlights why Doom doesn’t have so many of the things we see in video games today. It is Doom, in all its fully realised, curb stomping, spine tearing, bullet spraying, gun toting, power-fantasy ridiculous madness. Dare I say it, Brutal Doom is the Doom that John Romero first conceived of. It’s Doom, but not as we know it.
Eddie Johnston has stabbed a Spider Mastermind in its face with its own leg. He also tweets a lot under the wacky pseudonym @lavalampbamboo