September 13, 2018 // 1 p.m.
Mod Focus is a new feature that highlights the best and brightest video game mods available on the PC. To kick things off, we’re diving into the guts of one of the best mods ever created – Brutal Doom.
Many mods are dedicated to preserving the feel of a classic game, to finding a sweet spot between how a game originally played and making it tolerable to experience with modern hardware and expectations. Returning to a 20 or 30 year old game in its vanilla state can be quite a shock given the brain’s annoying tendency to polish the past. This is why there are swathes of mods designed to nip and tuck those ageing stars in just the right places so that your brain is tricked into thinking that this is how it played the first time around.
In a way, Brutal Doom does the same thing, only using a completely different set of tools. Where most mod retouches perform their makeover with a scalpel, Brutal Doom opts for a sledgehammer.
Normally, splattering the patient across the surgery walls would not go down well. For Doom, however, it’s the only reasonable approach. 25 years ago, Doom was the most shocking game ever made. Its depictions of man-on-demon violence caused all manner of controversies and scandals. It wasn’t the first scapegoat, just as it wasn’t the original first-person shooter. But it is the iconic one.
Quarter of a century on, it’s hard to see why Adrian Carmack’s art caused such a fuss. Pixelly pools of blood interspersed with the occasional exposed ribcage? Pfft, shut up, grandad. Games have out-gored and out-gibbed Doom countless times since 1993, to the point where bursting a group of imps with a nearby explosive barrel is practically quaint.
What Brutal Doom does, essentially, is show you what Doom looked like to 1993 eyes. Created by a South American modder going by the tagline Sergeant_MK_IV, it overhauls the game’s guns, gore, and giblets, reviving it as the blood-soaked adrenaline rush that everybody experienced it as upon first release.
For the first few moment of E1M1, it seems like nothing has changed. Brutal Doom retains the overall aesthetic of Doom, pitting you against largely the same enemies in largely the same places. That all changes the moment you unleash your first pistol shot. 'Hey, that sounds different... wait, where did that guy’s head go? What if I shot that barrel over ther-OH MY GOD.'
It’s difficult to break down exactly what Brutal Doom changes, because it changes so much. But like a blast from a super-shotgun, perhaps it's best to start from the barrel and spread outward. All the weapons have been revamped, with meatier sound effects, new sprite models, firing animations, and the ability to reload. The chaingun is now an even more powerful minigun that pushes your aim upward as it pulverises your opponents. There are even entirely new weapons, including an MP40, a grenade launcher, and a ridiculously powerful railgun.
Where the guns all look and sound different, enemies look the same. Until you shoot them. Whereas blasting an imp with the shotgun in the original Doom would simply make them collapse, now they fly across the room, plastering the walls in gore and giblets as half their flesh is shredded off their skeleton. Blood decals have been entirely altered to make them appear that much wetter, while giblets will stick to walls and ceilings, dripping fleshy ooze onto the floor.
In addition, all enemies now take localised damage, which means you can perform headshots and shoot off limbs, each triggering a bespoke animation. You can even acquire powerups that enable you to perform grisly executions, such as kerb stomping an opponent, or outright ripping them in half.
There are two aspects of Brutal Doom that I find particularly impressive. The first is just how deep its killer rabbit-hole goes. Brutal Doom has received six years of (fairly) consistent updates, covering almost every imaginable method of killing a demon. Brutal Doom adds flamethrowers, dual-wielding, AI companions, cooperative play, “ragdoll” physics, custom player deaths, new explosion decals, particle effects, liquid simulation.
The list goes on and on and on. You’re constantly discovering new things you can do. Shoot an Imp’s leg off and then kick its face to pieces? Check. Punch a shotgun zombie’s head from his shoulders and then throw it at an enemy? Check. Brutal Doom even adds a driveable tank.
That said, a list of features is worth nothing if those features are poorly implemented. The majesty of Brutal Doom is found in how well these additions are integrated into the core structure. Brutal Doom elegantly rebalances the original to counter for the player’s far greater power. You might deal more damage, but so do enemies, and there are many more of them than there are of you. The ensuing action unfolds beautifully across Doom and Doom II, with the mod constantly finding new ways to escalate and intensify that original experience. It’d be so easy to ruin Doom’s pacing with this slurry of additional content, and the way the mod carefully threads it through the games is to be commended.
There are a few tiny things I don’t like about Brutal Doom. The audible footsteps are one of the few poorly implemented new features into the game. This is largely because they aren’t original effects, and instead are borrowed from other well-known games like Half-Life and Thief, and they’re so distinctive that it's quite distracting. Also, while the mod is at the “release candidate phase”, meaning its basically feature-complete, it’s still not quite finished, so you do encounter the odd bug here and there.
To get Brutal Doom running, you’ll need a copy of Doom and/or Doom II (although the mod also works with FreeDoom). Either way, you’ll have to download GZDoom and the latest Brutal Doom file. Then you need to add the Doom and Doom II WAD files to the GZDoom directory, along with the Brutal Doom PAK file, and then drag and drop Brutal Doom onto the GZDoom executable. You can create your own Brutal Doom executable, but unless you’re running lots of different Doom mods, drag ‘n’ drop is the easiest way to do it.
There are people who say that Brutal Doom is better than Bethesda’s rebooted Doom. I say those people are spoiling two equally excellent cakes by fretting over which one tastes better. Nonetheless, the fact that Brutal Doom is even considered to be remotely on the same level of quality ought to tell you what an exceptional mod it is. If you’re a Doom fan, or even vaguely interested in first-person shooters, it’s an absolute must-play.