Mod of the Week: Doom Reborn, for Doom 3

There are a number of ongoing efforts to mod older games into newer engines. Black Mesa , for instance, rebuilt much of the original Half-Life in the Source Engine, and the modders behind Skywind are painstakingly crafting Morrowind in Skyrim's Creation Engine. With Doom Reborn , modders have been working diligently to recreate Doom and Doom II in Doom 3's idTech4 engine. They recently released a pre-beta version, so I thought it was a good time to see how the first FPS I ever played looked with a facelift.

Doom II represented a number of firsts for me. It was the first FPS game I ever played (I played Doom II before I played the original Doom). It was the first game I needed to create a boot disk for, just so I could run it on whatever toaster I was using as a PC back then. It was the first multiplayer game I ever played, and I recall an evening spent talking to my friend Mark on the phone, then taking the line from the phone and plugging it into my modem, then dialing up Mark, not getting a response from his modem, then replugging the line into the phone to call him again to troubleshoot (we eventually got it working, had a complete blast, then plugged our lines back into the phones so we could talk about it afterwards).

It may seem a bit dubious to rebuild a classic FPS -- the classic FPS -- in an engine that doesn't look particularly pretty these days (I think Source has aged much better than idTech4, probably because Source has been continually refined over the years), but I'm impressed at how comfortable and familiar the mod feels. The levels are immediately recognizable as the layouts are identical: I enter Doom II, immediately turn around, run around the corner to the right, and collect the chainsaw without even thinking about it, even though it's probably been fifteen years since I've actually done that.

In fact, while running and gunning through the rebuilt levels, I found all sorts of ancient muscle-memories kicking in. I'd stop and stare at a wall, or hesitate in front of an alcove, or gaze across a bridge, knowing there was something to be done but not quite remembering exactly what. I think it's a pretty good indicator that the levels have been rebuilt faithfully if, even in a different game engine, long-dormant triggers are still firing in my brain.

As for the gameplay itself, I expected it to feel slow and sluggish when compared with the original. And it definitely is a bit slower: guns seem to take too long to reload, enemies seem to take a while to react. After a couple levels, though, it starts feeling more natural, more slick, more in keeping with the breakneck pace and corridor-gliding action of the original game. It's not as fast or smooth as it was back then, no, but on the other hand, neither am I.

You may have seen the gameplay video which shows the enemy AI, in some cases, completely absent, but in this pre-beta a lot of that seems to have been fixed. I didn't really encounter any brain-dead enemies. Sure, most of them weren't exactly brilliant, but no one just stood there helplessly watching while I killed them. And, nicely, one of the most entertaining bits of the original Doom games is still there: enemies accidentally hitting each other and then fighting each other to the death while you watch. I don't know if that happened in Doom 3 (probably) or if the modders had to code it themselves, but who cares? Monsters killing each other means I can save a little ammo here and there.

The mod is still in progress, so not all the levels from the original games are present, though I was happy to find the secret Doom II Wolfenstein level in there. What can I say, it's fun killing monsters in front of Hitler portraits for some reason.

I'm sure this mod isn't for everybody, but I think that can be said for any mod of this nature. People who love Doom from the old days will probably still prefer to play the original games. That's how I felt about Black Mesa: while I enjoyed it and was impressed at all the work involved, it never quite clicked for me. When I want a nostalgia trip, I'd prefer full-fare. Doom Reborn is still worth checking out, though, and I enjoyed it (more than I actually enjoyed Doom 3, even).

Installation : What's the best kind of installation? Self-installation! Just download the pre-beta (what is a pre-beta, anyway, if not an alpha?). When prompted, just point it at your Doom 3 folder. Piece of cake.