I recently wrote about the realism mods that exist for already hyper-realistic games, fastidiously detailed projects that are the perfect distillation of the PC modding spirit. There's beauty in adding the real, recorded sounds of train engines to Train Simulator, or adding the effect of moisture to bullet velocity in Arma. But what about mods that defy the intentions of an unrealistic game and forcibly mold it into something wholly different? A reader pointed us towards a hallowed Doom mod called Hideous Destructor as one of the most grueling realism mods ever, and I'm here to report back that they were totally, totally right.
Hideous Destructor grounds Doom in believable military strategy. We're talking vanilla Doom. The DOS shooter that came out in 1993. Obviously Doom is not a franchise known for its tactical wealth, nor is that an element demanded by its fans. The 2016 reboot stripped all the innovations and flourishes down into a minimalist blood orgy—a depraved celebration of quad-damage and chained melee kills that seemed to tell an alternative history of the last 30 years of FPS innovation. Hideous Destructor, which is available and designed for the popular ZDoom engine port, rejects that legacy entirely.
Originally released back in 2007, the mod slows Doom into a wicked, anxious crawl. Doomguy must now tap a keystroke if he wants to pick up the ammunition and health packs on the floor. Doomguy's aim wobbles when he's hurt; his vision flickers, he struggles to walk in a straight line. "Use slot 9 or look down in case you're bleeding to death," the mod's quickstart tips advise.
Doomguy is forced to page through an inventory before manually applying medical kits to his body—which restores his lifebar slowly over a period of time. I'm sorry. Did I say lifebar? There's no lifebar in Hideous Destructor. Doomguy can only tell how damaged he is by instinct.
Oh, and you can aim up and down. That alone should blow your mind.
The central fantasy of Doom starts and ends with the unimpeachable valor of the player. Honestly, that's the only feeling you can get when you single-handedly repel a demonic invasion (on Mars!). 2016 Doom leaned into that even harder, with its amazing, tongue-in-cheek christening of the Doomguy as some sort of prophesied deity. Hideous Destructor is the opposite of that fantasy. In fact, the game that Hideous Destructor reminds me the most of is Dark Souls, as cliche as that comparison's become. Both games feature an ordinary dude in a dying world, hoping against hope that salvation might lie across the chasm. The mod keeps all the aesthetic trappings from Doom—you'll still be shooting cacodemons and lost souls—but the Doomguy is humanized, vulnerable, and frightened.
That makes for a fascinating design challenge. The creator of the mod is a guy named Matt, who's in his mid 30s and lives just outside of Vancouver. He tells me that he views Hideous Destructor like something of a "Doom fanfic."
"Virtually every design decision comes from asking this question," Matt says. "Given Doom has *blank,* but also has or doesn't have *blank,* how do we harmonize those facts in a way that makes the setting plausible, and the gameplay fit the setting?"
What Matt means by that is Hideous Destructor is still very much a Doom game. He hasn't edited out certain enemies or weapons that might eat away at the tight verisimilitude he's after—instead he's done his best to rationalize a world of demons and monster closets. What would it really feel like to go toe-to-toe with Satan?
"[Hideous Destructor] is a generic 'Doom improvement' gameplay mod, I try to ensure that every canon weapon is represented in some way," he says. "Meaning there are some weapons that I *must* use, like the chainsaw or super shotgun, which you wouldn't even think about adding if you were designing a tactical milsim from the ground up."
As you might expect, Hideous Destructor is extremely difficult. In fact, it's recommended that you wade through the three-part bootcamp put together by YouTuber Hard Knox before jumping in. He details the subtle flourishes Matt has added to each of the weapons; the external cell pack required to power the chaingun's motor, (powered by the alternate fire key,) how you're forced to manually pump the shotgun every time you pull the trigger. It's all ridiculous and excessive. There are well-respected PC shooters like Counter-Strike and Rainbow Six: Siege that require less tactical upkeep than a Doom mod, and that's a beautiful thing.
Matt is still an active participant in Hideous Destructor's development. His work has attracted a small but dedicated group of fans. Right now he's updating the mod into a programming framework called ZScript, which is "an ongoing attempt to unify as much of ZDoom's functions as feasible into a single comprehensive runtime-compile scripting language." There are also more gameplay tweaks on the horizon, and Matt tells me that the mod has been through a number of iterations and tones over the years. "I might reach a point where I might expect to start telling myself I'm finished, but that's turned out to be a lie before," he explains.
The lingering question I was left with was, simply, what's there to gain from creating a hyper-realistic Doom mod? Surely if you're after technical, demanding, slow-paced shooting there's a wealth of options available. Why apply that to such a ridiculous setting, draped in ancient source-code? Simply put, Matt appreciates the relative straightforwardness of Doom—there's power of taking a game we all know by heart to its absolute extremes.
"I take a lot of pride in trying to come up with ways to make Hideous Destructor as responsive to the player's input as possible without a multiplicity of buttons to memorize," he says. "I find so much 'realistic' fare unplayable when you've got a key to lean left, lean right, go prone, crouch, crouch slightly higher or lower, tuck your elbow in, start breathing voluntarily, etc. etc. etc. It just starts to feel like I'm trying to pilot a vaguely man-shaped remote-controlled robot."
The immediacy of Doom, blended with the hardcore stakes of a co-op Arma shootout. Hideous Destructor might not be for you, but I'm glad it's for someone.