Why DOOM Holds Up After 20 Years


A year ago I played through DOOM and DOOM II for the first time and did a Late to the Party post on it here. Since the original game turns 20 this week and everyone else is reminiscing about it I thought I’d offer something from the perspective of a total newcomer to the franchise — a look at why classic DOOM holds up so well today.

I spent most of my first post talking about why I never got around to playing DOOM back in the day and how the controls felt. The smoothness of those controls was really my first impression about the game. My second was the overt “gameyness” of the whole experience contrasted with the strife for authenticity in today’s first person shooter. As I’ve eased into the mentality of classic DOOM while reading about how the game works, I really have noticed a sharp contrast between the philosophies of DOOM and those of the shooters of today.

What really started it off was the series of YouTube videos “If DOOM was done today.” Initially I just saw it as a jab at how linear and scripted today’s shooters are, but the second and third parts of the video series really nail the design conventions and mentalities of games like Call of Duty and everything that ripped off COD: the scripted events, predator drone sequences, in-game cut scenes, tutorial modes, artificial walls, dialogue, abstract story sequences, the whole deal. Essentially the videos show what many of these games are — an attempt at using the medium of first person shooters to tell a story, but in DOOM graphics.

The effect is that it strips away the shiny modern graphics today’s shooters use as a selling point. All that’s left is the gameplay, which looks extremely inane compared to DOOM. The end result is what looks more like an interactive movie than a video game. In the context of today, and from the viewpoint of someone who’s been playing modern shooters and then goes back to play DOOM, that’s what DOOM feels like — an FPS that only cares about being a video game with good game design.

At the same time I’m getting into DOOM I’m also getting into classic 2D Mario games, and I think they share some basic principles. Mario is a game with environments that throw themselves 100 percent into absurdity for the sake of simply creating challenging levels. Later classic Mario levels have you explore this absurdity in ways that rely on the crazy rules of its world like looping through areas to get power ups or taking advantage of specifically arranged enemies. I see the same things going on in DOOM.

This week I decided to try out Master Levels of DOOM II and a fan-made PC port of DOOM 64 for the first time, and they both exemplify this mentality. All the levels are, really, puzzles, which is something I don’t think I can say for the overwhelming majority of first person shooters.

And it makes sense I guess. DOOM didn’t have much to go off of in terms of shooter design.  I wouldn’t be surprised if classic DOOM took significant inspiration from Nintendo’s games, which would explain why it has much more in common with Super Mario Bros. than any modern shooter.

Another great write-down on this subject is a criticism of the popular mod “Brutal DOOM” which I can’t find right now. I’ll admit I haven’t found the time to play Brutal DOOM yet, but it’s often described and shown to be DOOM but with added gore and significantly rebalanced weapons and enemies — a spectacle version of DOOM essentially. The criticism of it basically states that while Brutal DOOM makes the horror and atmosphere very upfront, classic DOOM and many of the best DOOM fan levels (like those included in Master Levels) do so implicitly with thoughtful or unnerving level design. It makes it seems like a contrast between classic DOOM in general and the shooters of today.

The main reason DOOM holds up so well is because shooters today don’t take its approach. There was indeed a whole era of “DOOM clones” like Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, Rise of the Triad, Star Wars Dark Forces, and Quake, but that pretty much ended with the advent of Half-Life, Halo, and Call of Duty 4, each one popularizing its own wave of trends. To be fair you can’t blame those games themselves. I think HL2, the Halo games, and COD4 are excellent in their own right because their mechanics make sense in the context of the games they were designed for. You can’t blame a game for all the games that try to rip off of it.

Still, the contrast between DOOM and today reveals a lot that can be learned from the past.


  • Signed up for MiiVerse under “RedSwirl.”
  • Fan art by “Agent Scarlet.”
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One thought on “Why DOOM Holds Up After 20 Years

  1. Great article! DOOM will be DOOM and forever will be the pixelated grandfather of FPS. Indeed, good question. What if DOOM was released today? I doubt it would have the same success it did back in the pixelated era :D

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