Hey, so remember back in July of 2019 when Bethesda suddenly and unexpectedly released Doom, Doom II: Hell on Earth and Doom III on PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch?
Remember how it took barely a few minutes for this exciting announcement to be considerably dampened by the terrible discovery that these new ports had some sort of God-awful implementation of an “always-online” system in place for no apparent reason? Remember how this made the Switch version completely unplayable on the go if you weren’t connected to the Internet?
Yeah. Well. Not only has that been fixed, these ports have been given a considerable upgrade… plus a bunch of awesome bonus content, too. So it’s probably time to take another look, no?
As everyone knows by this point, the original Doom is a legitimate, all-time classic of gaming — not to mention a title that was absolutely instrumental in helping to define a genre of gaming that would go on to be incredibly popular. That’s why it was such a shame that the new ports of it and its sequel seemed so half-arsed; Doom deserved better.
Okay, aside from the Bethesda.net nonsense that made the original release of the Switch version almost completely non-portable… they were serviceable and playable. But that’s about it.
They ran at a locked 35 frames per second, the aspect ratio was wrong, the lighting sometimes looked a bit weird, the sound effects occasionally went a bit squiffy and the really anal Doom fans thought that the music was a fraction too slow.
Given that the highly customisable PC versions are so readily available — and that superior ports have previously been available on less powerful hardware such as the Xbox 360 — all this seemed kind of inexcusable. A lot of people immediately uninstalled the game in disgust, swearing never to fall for the nostalgia trap ever again.
But let’s give publisher Bethesda some credit here. They’ve done a lot of really stupid things in their lifetime… but they knew that fucking up Doom was a PR disaster, and that they really needed to make this right.
They explained the Bethesda.net login was intended to provide bonus content for members of the “Slayers’ Club” upon the release of Doom Eternal, and said that they were working on a fix for the things people had been complaining about — most notably the necessity to remain online while playing, even when playing with the Switch in portable mode.
This was a decent start, but it wasn’t until they actually held true to their word and patched the game so that the Bethesda.net sign-in was no longer mandatory that people started to think they might be serious about trying to regain people’s trust. The ports were still a bit bare-bones, sure, but at least now they could be played without interruption.
Bethesda could have left it there. They could have been satisfied with addressing the main, game-breaking complaint that most people had been upset about, then leaving the rest of the issues with the port as-is.
But they didn’t. They continued working on things, and those things have made what was once a right clunker of a port into something rather wonderful.
It now runs at 60 frames per second. You can now choose between the original 4:3 aspect ratio and the new wider 16:10 view — though oddly there’s no 16:9 option. You can quicksave and quickload. You can select any level to start at rather than having to play through the whole thing. The Bethesda.net integration now actually unlocks the bonus goodies that were originally promised. And the game behaves itself when the console is not connected to the Internet. Oh, and they added 75 new levels.
I’m sorry, what?
Yes, you heard correctly. Both Doom and Doom II now have the option to download “add-ons” right from within the game itself — and you don’t need to be connected to Bethesda.net to play them once they’re downloaded. These aren’t paid DLC — they’re completely free. And at the launch of this new feature, both Doom and Doom II have access to the two 32-level “megaWADs” that made up Final Doom — previously a separate commercial release.
And that’s not all. Doom also has access to Sigil, an unofficial 9-level “episode 5” released in 2019 by John Romero himself in celebration of Doom’s 25th anniversary. Doom II, meanwhile, gets No Rest for the Living, a 9-level expansion originally released for the Xbox Live Arcade version of Doom II on 360.
Bethesda says that more add-ons are coming to both games in the coming months, too, and the company is actively encouraging Doom community members to make new content and submit it to them for inclusion in these versions. While this isn’t quite the great untamed frontier that is the PC version’s mod scene, the advantage of this approach is that add-ons submitted via Bethesda will go through a QA process and only be released if, y’know, they actually work properly.
In the meantime, there are some amazing new levels to play if you’ve never had the pleasure of exploring Final Doom, Sigil or No Rest for the Living.
I’ve been spending most of my time with the Romero-designed Sigil so far; this is an ambitious project with some beautiful, intricately designed levels that really show what it’s possible to create using the original Doom’s “2D map rendered in 3D” engine. And there’s a ton of variety and creativity on show, too; one would expect nothing less from one of the game’s original designers, of course, but it’s seriously impressive quite how good these new levels are.
Romero is particularly fond of making clever use of moving floors and ceilings to create the illusion of levels dynamically shifting their layout according to your progress, and his excellent use of space can often make you forget Doom’s engine is incapable of having rooms above other rooms, bridges or other such things we take for granted today.
Particular highlights of Sigil include the level Cages of the Damned, which is an excellent example of this “level metamorphosis” at work; Paths of Wretchedness, which features three markedly different (but equally perilous) “routes” you need to clear in any order you please; and Abaddon’s Void, a very clever (and confusing) trip through a series of buildings on some islands floating in a sea of lava. In the latter you get to telefrag a Cyberdemon. I bet you always wanted to do that, huh?
Special note should be given to the music for Sigil; James Paddock’s atmospheric MIDI soundtrack is a far cry from Bobby Prince’s never-ending pursuit of the perfect twelve-bar blues, as iconic as that is, and his tracks complement the on-screen action well. The complete score explores a variety of different styles, ranging from classic Doom MIDI rock through KLF-style electronic dance to a distinctly Super Metroid-inspired creepfest. It really makes the experience of playing through Sigil something rather special — and makes it quite genuinely unnerving at times, particularly when combined with the strong focus on Satanic imagery throughout the episode as a whole!
Bethesda has well and truly gone above and beyond with these updates to Doom and Doom II. Yes, it’d be nice if they also added online multiplayer too — it’s still local only — but with the amount of quality single-player content on offer here, and the promise of more on the way, it’s hard to get too upset about that.
While the original problems with these releases shouldn’t have existed in the first place, they’re fixed now — and what we’re left with are some fantastic ports of some classic games… and a reminder that Doom’s speedy action is just as fresh and exciting today as it was back in 1993.
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Thanks for reading; I hope you enjoyed this article. I’ve been writing about games in one form or another since the days of the old Atari computers, with work published in Page 6/New Atari User, PC Zone, the UK Official Nintendo Magazine, GamePro, IGN, USgamer, Glixel and more over the years, and I love what I do.
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