It doesn’t seem rational. does it? Along comes a fairly simple 3D perspective maze adventure/shoot ‘em up, and suddenly hundreds of grown men start acting like they’ve never seen a videogame before – and even the normally sober PC press are turned into gun-mad fanatics. Huge ratings, rave reviews across the board… No one could deny that Id Software’s Doom has caused quite a stir – on both sides of the Atlantic. And that’s before the full version is even out in the shops.
It’s got to go down as a marketing coup: by releasing the episode of their new game as shareware, Id have managed to whip up and control a vast torrent of nigh-frantic bulletin-board trading. Well, you write a game as immediately playable as Doom and ship it with the message, ‘please distribute like crazy’ and you’re guaranteed a big audience.
And Doom looks like following its forerunner, Wolfenstein 3D, in becoming de rigeur games software in offices and homes throughout the Western world. Basically, the way it works is that the episode of Doom: Evil Unleashed is free. Anyone can get hold of it, and they can play it until they’re sick of it – or can just discard it straight away if they don’t like it. The next two episodes you have to pay for. So get hooked on Doom and you’ll probably want to buy the rest of it. Interestingly, though, Id Software are also planning to release a more conventional all-in-one, version of Doom later this year.
One thing that this distribution policy ensures is a vast, vast audience. Almost every PC in the world seems certain at one time or other to have the code to Doom ticking away on it. That obviously means that the game needs to be kept simple. You don’t want anyone losing interest, or being unable to play, because they don’t have the manual, or a joystick, or a sound card, etc, etc. And the real beauty of Doom – and yes, even a game as undeniably violent as this can have an element of beauty – is the way it works so well within this limitation.
Doom will run okay on almost any hardisked PC, but play it on a high-end system and it is immediately recognisable as a very, very impressive piece of software, with graphics technology way up there with the Strike Commanders and Comanches of this world. And the speed at which it all works is nothing short of breathtaking.
The differences between Doom and the now primitive Wolfenstein are obvious at first glance. Firstly, ld have got a lot better at clipping sprites in three axes – which means simply that the action in Doom happens on more than one level. There are stairs for you to climb, lifts to and aliens firing at you from windows and balconies high above the ground. This adds major new depth to the action – go back and play Wolfenstein and you’ll laugh at the horrible 2Dness of the 3D perspective. It also makes games like 3DO’s new Monster Manor look totally passé before they’re even out in the shops.
That said, though, there are problems with the game (Edge has no intention of joining the rabble mindlessly praising Doom beyond its worth). Yes, it is good in fact it’s a very, very technically impressive piece of programming but where’s the genuine 3D (look up and down) of Ultima Underworld? Where’s the variety in the gameplay (it’s all just kill, kill, kill)? And looking at it coldly, what is there really in Doom (apart from the graphics) to set it above even the most average, most highly repetitive and tedious 2D shoot ‘em up?
Okay, there are some visual touches in this game that will literally blow your mind like the scaling and parallax on the distant mountains – but then everyone said much the same about the hi-res images in The 7th Guest. They may look great, but what do you do with them? You don’t ever get to explore those distant mountain ranges – they’re really little more than impressive padding (as in The 7th Guest, you’re just meant to watch them – in awe).
Doom is certainly a gorgeous-looking game – it has also, incidentally, made serious advances in what people will expect of 3D graphics in future. But the gameplay is as narrow as it gets: you run along beautifully parallaxed corridors and through stunning 3D rooms shooting at a near endless supply of green lizards. That’s it. Still, we’re not going to deny that there is a worryingly addictive fascination in watching the frantic despatching of those little green guys.
On the plus side, some of the lighting effects in the game are truly scary. Everyone at one time or another has described some videogame as scary – and as we all know, they’re never scary to anyone with an IQ above, say, 12. Well, that’s one generalisation that Doom shatters: walking through the computer centre with the lights flashing slowly and rhythmically, and turning to see one of those hideous pink beasts running behind you is a seriously intense videogame experience.
It’s just a shame that the number of enemies is fairly limited. After a while, the multiple pump-action, blood-spraying demise of yet another pink monster is only marginally satisfying. lf whenever you turned a corner you could be met by some new, more grotesque|y deformed creature than the last, then at least Doom could boast that it had replaced gameplay with real horror.
As it is, once the power of Doom’s graphics has worn off (they’re amazing, so give that at least a week or two), you’lI be longing for something new in this game. lf only you could talk to these creatures, then perhaps you could try and make friends with them, form alliances… Now, that would be interesting.
This review originally appeared in E7, April 1994.