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Doom Clones – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

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Do you remember when DOOM emerged onto the PC? I certainly do. It was a cold winter’s evening in December 1993, when my eyes were almost burned out of their sockets. How was this possible? Were these TV presenters taking me for a laugh? It was like you could step into another world, without even having to change out of your pants. This was everything I had dreamed I could want from a computer experience, everything and more. It felt beyond a computer game. This felt like it could be a life changing experience.

I swiftly looked across at my Commodore 64 and Sega Master System and the situation dawned. This was completely out of my reach. Only billionaires could afford the type of technology this game needed to run. Christ, even my school’s best 386 systems could barely run Microsoft Word. This technology wasn’t just out of my personal reach. It was outside my entire circle of reach.

You see, IBM-PC compatible progression in the UK, wasn’t quite up to the same pace as our American “friends”. The UK had been brought up on low cost, TV based micro computing, like the Sinclair Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. Fancy, DOS based machines were still a million miles away as UK school kids progressed from their 8 bit machines to the likes of the Amiga and Atari ST… after all, these machines had beaten the pants off DOS games for the best part of 10 years AND you could just whop them straight into a television… who needed a fully fledged PC?!… Well, at that precise moment, I did. I absolutely and unequivocally required an IBM Compatible Personal Computer immediately. I’d never needed one before, but I sure as hell did now. The reality was, it would be another year before one of my friends got hold of a real PC and then a further year before I got my own… we all know the wait was worth it, but in the mean time, something had to be done.

Clearly, this feeling was felt by many more people than myself, because the next 3 years witnessed a plethora of DOOM style games designed for machines which in all fairness, were no where near powerful enough to run them. But who gave a shit if you were faced with pixels the size of your face? As long as you were getting something akin to a DOOM experience, anything would suffice. We just needed that fix.

Thankfully for Christmas that year, I received a Sega Mega Drive. So the stakes had upped. At that point the Mega Drive already had first person style games like Cyber Cop, but they missed the DOOM style by some margin. The question is, was the Mega Drive up to the task of a true DOOM clone?

Well, the answer is; no, not really. I mean a few developers had a shot at it, and the end results on the whole, were pretty darn good. But the machine just lacked the umpth to give you a cohesive DOOM experience.

Zero Tolerance

Was the first game which really caught my eye. A compelling review in Mean Machines Sega made me sit up and think. Yes. This could be what I’m looking for. This could be the gateway to that FPS experience I craved.

Now you have to remember, these were pre-internet days, so all I had to go on were screen shots from a magazine. But the environments looked 3D, the sprites looked good and the atmosphere seemed to be present. But I was niggled by the size of the viewing window. I mean, it’s a Mega Drive, so sure, I expected it. But neither I or my paper round earnings were convinced it was where the true DOOM experience lie. Also, this wasn’t the kind of game you could just rent from your local Ritzs Video store. It would take a good few years for a game of this magnitude to be available in the rental system.

Blood Shot

Was another attempt on Sega’s 16 bit architecture, and to be frank, it upped the stakes in terms of view port size considerably. Here was practically a full screen display combined with recognisable, detailed sprites and textured walls.

There was only one problem. I apparently knew NOTHING about this game at the time. It must have completely passed me by. Because otherwise, I would have been on it, like a shot.

I did acquire a copy a few years back, and it’s pretty mind blowing for the Mega Drive. I mean sure, you haven’t got the fully smooth scrolling which DOOM does so well, but it does a mighty fine job of imitating that DOOM feeling none the less.

By this time it was about Christmas 1994, and Santa, the tubby little marvel, had acquired me a lovely little Atari ST! DOOM had also managed to leap it’s way onto those new mind blowing consoles such as the 3DO, Atari Jaguar and Sega’s 32X… although these always felt a bit late to the party, and I felt the Jaguar was above it, especially being bless with the amazing Alien vs. Predator, which whetted my appetite possibly more than DOOM – so much so that I think I refused to acknowledge it’s existence. But anyway, those consoles were also out of my reach, so what wonders did my new ST system have in store for me in this epic saga?

Well… my eyes lit up in early 1995, when I grabbed a copy of ST Format with a playable demo of…

SUBSTATION!

…on the cover disk! Woahhh. Here was a FPS game for my brand new machine, which although lacking a little bit of texture, was everything I needed. I could gloss over the lack of colour, the lack of resolution, even the lack of game-play, I just needed this almost “virtual reality experience” in my life. The only problem was. IT WAS for STE or FALCON machines ONLY! My piddling little STFM didn’t have the necessary custom chips to even try and get this to run, let alone the extra 512kb needed! Even then, the game had to make use of clever tricks like a floor & ceiling which are completely static… the shading helps to hide this little trick.

God damn it. So close, but yet, so, so far.

Incidentally, long after I moved on from the ST, two clones appear to have popped up called Hellgate, which looks like, god, I don’t know what it looks like, and Destruction Imminent, which certainly scrolls at a good pace for a 1 Meg ST… but WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?! IT LOOKS LIKE A BLOODY GINGER BREAD MAN!!!!

Anyway, I think it was this close call which made me proclaim the need for another new machine just a few months after, for my birthday. That machine was the stubby, but immense, Amiga 600.

Now, if you weren’t a PC owner, then the Amiga was where it was at. These machines were still fairly well supported at this time. Christ, there were even more than dedicated 2 magazines available for it in newsagents! Thankfully, the developers knew there would be a big fan base on these machines, and so, lots of DOOM style clones were released for it.

Sadly, however, most required the frickin’ AGA chipset, which was only available in the new (and expensive) Amiga 1200 and CD32 models! Arrrrghhhhhh! Still, there was one glimmer of hope for my 600, in the shape of…

DeathMask

Apache Software clearly knew there would be a heap of pissed off non AGA Amiga owners looking for a slice of DOOM, so they made the smart move of releasing this little gem.

Now, in terms of fluidity, it’s long way off the mark. Additionally the screen is always split in two…. but you know what that means? Yep, split screen action! This was where this game shone. DOOM was fantastic played over a network, and frankly DeathMask was fantastic in it’s own right on 2 player, split screen mode.

Even more key is that this game managed to capture a gloomy and dark atmosphere. So between playing this and frequent trips to my friend Michael’s house, who had recently become a PC owner, everything was almost rosy.

But DOOM still wasn’t truly in my grasp, and I continued to be drawn in by what seemed a multitude of new clones for the Amiga 1200 and CD32 throughout 1995. Now, I was firmly on the computer beats console path at this point, but let’s not forget that DOOM was actually released on the Super Nintendo this year too! The frickin’ SNES! Just to rub salt in the wound…. but at the same time, a pretty staggering achievement on Super FX 16 bit hardware, even with the letter boxing, and in many ways better than even the 32X incarnation.

Fears

Was one of the earliest and flattest FPS experiences to arrive on the Amiga. Developed by BOMB Software, it perhaps did bomb a little against it’s competitors, featuring a shotgun which had a particular and somewhat upsetting lack of recoil action when you fired, so much so, that it kinda detached the whole experience for me – call me picky. But it did supply you with full screen action. Something which I found particularly impressive, despite the low resolution graphics.

Gloom

Another 1995 release. This is arguably the most famous, even if it’s just in terms of it’s hand clappingly good name. Frankly, this game is pretty much spot on. You can forgive the massive pixels in full screen mode, you can even forgive the sound effects which have blatantly been extracted illegally from Aliens…. but that’s mainly because they work pretty well.

This game IS DOOM. But yet it’s not. It manages to be what DOOM is, with less resources, less memory and less potential profit, but yet somehow manages to be it’s own game. Also, top marks for the cover art.

I played it recently, and was hooked for some considerable time.

Alien Breed 3D

Alien Breed was by this point a well established top down shooter series on the Amiga. And it was ripe to be made into a first person shooter. In fact, it would have been a crime had they not.

Team 17 drew on their programming skill to create a very playable DOOM style game, which fitted the Alien Breed world like a glove – although the gun sound effects seem to come from Star Wars more than anything else. It’s true, most of the screen is taken up by a large HUD display, but we were accepting of this. After all, the Amiga had kicked ass over DOS games for so long, it was only fair to let the new 486 processors outshine in capabilities, especially for the cost!

Both Alien Breed 3D and Gloom spawned improved sequels, with Alien Breed 3D 2 in particular being a massive improvement over the original. These games eased the tension for non DOOM owners, and really started to make use of the Amiga’s AGA chipset. There were also releases such as Behind the Iron Gate, Citadel, Monster and Breathless, not to mention games like Nemac IV which really thrived under high powered Amiga systems. But by 1996 things had started to change, and 3D technology was progressing at what seemed a rapid pace… new consoles like the Playstation and Saturn landed which seemed like they could almost run Doom in their sleep. Games like Dark Forces & Descent had already arrived on PC and Duke Nukem’ 3D was imminent, not to mention QUAKE! But more importantly, things were looking much rosier for me….

DOOM!

I had opened up my first IBM compatible PC for Christmas 1995, and DOOM (albeit the Shareware version) was finally in my reach. I didn’t have a sound card. I didn’t care. I had DOOM, I could run DOOM. DOOM was now my life (almost literally), and in an way, it remains my life up until this day. Every time I see it I get a fuzzy feeling of excitement, that only DOOM, a 486 processor and a VGA CRT screen can reproduce. I could happily play the first few levels over and over again, possibly never ending, and still not lose the deep excitement.

Incidentally, the first time I managed to play DOOM at my friend’s, on his spanking new IBM Colossus machine, it was everything I had hoped for and more. I think we spent most evening’s after school just taking it in turns absorbed in this alien landscape. Still wondering how it was possible, whilst ever more affirming my need to own this hardware, this game, and this experience. It’s something I will never shake off. Doom was, and remains a masterpiece of gaming history.

DOOM for life baby.

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