Brutal Doom, the mod that brings today’s trends to id Software’s 1993 opus

Brutal Doom

It’s dark and hell is hot. That much remains the same.

The thick metal door shunts away and you take a few steps forth. You hear the Cacodemon before you see him – he nearly takes a chunk out of you but you back up and boom, your shotgun silences the ugly bastard. The grey corridor runs red with the thick paint of his blood. You march a few paces on and a pack of marines rush you like rabid dogs. Their shotguns rack and blast; it’s deafening. You pull out your machinegun and its silver barrel starts to spin before unleashing a flurry of lead. Legs, arms and hearts explode as you fire in a circular motion, chipping the walls and ceilings along with the bones and brains. The scene is illuminated by your behemoth of a weapon, shining a light on the cold, dim corridor. You think it’s over but there’s two left: one is lying on the floor, shooting rounds at you from his deathbed. The other is still standing. You switch to your melee attack and kick the floored undead marine. You watch yourself brutalise the last man in thirdperson, like an astral projection, tearing off strips of meat like a bare-handed butcher.

Brutal Doom is a gameplay mod for the first two games in the series like no other. Rather than tinker with the core map layouts and level design, it overhauls the gameplay to heighten and enhance the pace and punch of the game’s timeless loop of run-and-gun mayhem.

The speed, blood-splatter and Y-axis look are the most striking changes to Doom’s core on first contact, but discovering the subtleties of the mod’s careful renovation work is akin to hunting down those hidden rooms and orbs back in 1993. The HUD gets smeared and cracked. Rockets and barrels light your way. And just wait until you try out the enhanced Beserk mode… or take a human shield for the first time. Or hear those spine-tingling, demonic tones utter “I smell fear” as you approach a corner.

It feels like a great videogame ‘what if…’ as you unpack its treasures. What if the advances and trends in the shooter of the past decade were popped on a floppy, tied with a ribbon and sent back in time to the id Software boys hard at work on their 1993 opus? What if the game that influenced and defined a genre was repaid, revised, with some tweaks and perks from its distant ancestors?

Returning to a game so long after its debut with your guarded, glossy memories of those lost hours together at the forefront of your mind can be a crushing, sobering experience. Perhaps that why the recent remake and HD rerelease culture has been so popular of late, as developers attempt to offer us experiences that live up to our memories when the originals don’t.

Brutal Doom’s genius is that it adds some of the modern gloss that was never there to begin with, without meddling too much or going too far. Rather than a paint-job, Brutal Doom attains its own delicate balance: you’re always outmanned but never underpowered. It’s also a mod that will open the game up to a newer audience with more twitch-gaming tastes and less patience. And for players birthed into the age of social and communal gaming, Brutal Doom features the mod-cons of co-op, horde and deathmatch modes, too, with stable servers rumbling beneath all the controlled chaos.

Videogame culture is littered – sometimes plagued – by “what ifs”. What if Miyamoto had acquired that Popeye license? What if Obsidian’s Aliens RPG had seen the light of day; would it have changed (or saved us from) Colonial Marines?

Brutal Doom answers one such scenario by realising it as best a fan can. It’s faster, louder, more intricate and bloodier. But one thing remains the same: It’s dark and hell is hot.

Brutal Doom is a freely available Doom mod, available here.