In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Phil explains why the Doom modding community is still the best.
What's you favourite game for mods? Maybe it's Skyrim, which offers robust fixes and improvements, new quests and items, and a safe haven for perverts. Maybe it's Half-Life 2, which provides such flexibility and variety via the Source SDK that a myriad different tones, styles and genres are available. If you're anything like me—or, if you're anything like me in regard to a very specific appreciation of an aspect of PC gaming—it's Doom.
If you're unaware of the scope and scale of Doom modding, you're probably thinking about Brutal Doom (opens in new tab) right now. That's totally understandable. With its ultra-absurd violence, it makes Id's 21-year-old shooter (or Id's 20-year-old shooter if you're playing it with Doom 2) feel over-the-top and subversive again. But there's more to Doom modding than blood dripping from the ceilings. The community has been active for all of its lifespan, and they're still going strong.
Want a small sampler of what's out there? Pirate Doom (opens in new tab) is like a cross between The Secret of Monkey Island and, well, Doom. It's brilliant: jolly music clashing against the disintegrating corpse of a flintlock'd pirate.
For something more Doom-y, there's Doom The Way Id Did (opens in new tab); a collaborative community compilation. The idea was to create new maps that mimicked the style and design philosophies of the original game's creators. It produced an instant familiarity, but one that was nestled inside something new.
Maybe you need something more modern for your retro FPS. Project MSX (opens in new tab) 'upgrades' Doom to feature modern weapons, NPC barks and, of course, regenerating shields. It's a joke made playable—a satirical bullet fired from the gun of the game that helped first popularise the genre.
There are thousands of these. A two-decade strong community has kept making and improving their output—changing the game in every way imaginable, and then refining on that process. It's not like they had little to work with to begin with. Doom is still an incredible game. I'd argue it holds up better than most early-'90s shooters. It's fast, but not unbearably so, with a precision to its movement that helps you to navigate the labyrinthine layouts of rooms and corridors.
It's weapons are great, too. Sure, they're not fetishistically detailed—every nut, bolt and cranny meticulously recreated. There's a more primal enjoyment than that. Put simply: they're a hoot to shoot. Each feels direct and snappy in a digital way that rejects realism. Point a gun in a man's direction and you will probably hit that man. It's a game that doesn't want you to worry about the small details. The action isn't a precise technical challenge, as much as its the lubricant that greases the exploration and discovery.
That's an extremely strong base from which to base a mod scene on, and it's little surprise the community has been as enduring as it has.
If you want a direct route to the best Doom maps and mods, the place to go is the Cacowards (opens in new tab). Every year, this Doom World event recognises the ten best mods, as well as a variety of other, special categories. Through it, you can discover gems like DemonSteele (opens in new tab)—a frantic weapons mod that gives you a sword, a health system and a lot more enemies.
The Cacowards are a playlist of the finest works from the last 12 months, covering a variety of looks and styles. The Adventures of Square (opens in new tab), for instance, isn't recognisably Doom. It's the Adult Swim version of Doom, in which a purple rectangle grabs his trusty paint gun and sets out to put an end to authoritarian circles. What makes TAoS great, though, isn't just the way it changes Doom's look, but also how Doom plays. It's as much a platformer as a shooter—filled with wide gaps and jumping puzzles.
Other mods are less visually striking, and more technically amazing. Going Down (opens in new tab) is a 32 map megawad—an epic achievement in level design that packs in more variety than should be possible from a single high-rise building. These aren't just good Doom levels, they're good game levels. They toy with and tease you in a way that would be unthinkable for anyone who hasn't been following what's possible in these games.
I'll leave you with the best, most surprising, most consistently enjoyable experience I had with Doom last year—direct from the Cacowards 'Play Thy Role' award. It's in recognition of the perfect mod combination. This year, it went to combined might of Doom RPG Mod (opens in new tab) and DoomRL Arsenal (opens in new tab). One brings stats, levelling and currency to the game, while the other adds new weapons, items and player classes. Together they combine into an absurd overhaul, and a great showcase of why the Doom modding community still has plenty of life left in it.
To play these mods, you'll need either Doom or Doom 2 (or both), which are available through Steam. You'll also need GZDoom. Got both of those? Follow these instructions (opens in new tab).