I’d like to preface this Podcast Challenge handed to me by Delano with the following intro: Doom is a wonderful franchise that first found life on the PC and I wholly applaud id Software for helping to completely reinvent the shooter genre back in 1993 and lay the groundwork for the modern shooter (along with those that came before it, like Wolfenstein 3D and Ken’s Labyrinth). It’s a tragedy that this franchise hasn’t seen anything really new since Doom III and honestly, it’s still going to be as good as you remember when you played it 20 years ago. I also never played Doom II, having only ever played Doom and Doom III.
With that said, though, I’m so glad this challenge is over and I can go back to thinking about what hat of shame I should wear because by God, I lost this challenge by a country mile.
On our last podcast, Delano turned the attention to me and told me to play Doom II, but with a twist – play the game with mods installed and try survive. As he was saying this I thought to myself, “How hard can this be?” Well now…
- You need to play Doom II or FreeDoom. I strongly recommend playing with Doom 2 rather than FreeDoom. It’s a far better experience.
- Next you’ll need a modern source port like Zandronum. This allows you to play Doom in hi-resolution with WASD, mouselook and other modern touches.
- Next you’ll need Brutal Doom. It tweaks the gameplay and monster/weapon behaviours.
- Finally, you’ll need a map pack (.wad) called Hell Revealed II. It has insane monster counts.
- You do not have to finish all 32 levels, but get to at least level 20.
- You have to play on the penultimate difficulty (12 on a 10 scale of badness).
I foolishly accepted this challenge.
Doom II brought kicking and screaming into 2014
I didn’t run into any major hiccups getting the game to work on a base level, but FreeDoom isn’t exactly the original title. It’s a free port of Doom II for the modern-day PC using the source code of Doom that id Software released to the public in 1997 under the GPL licenase, three years after release. Doom is pretty much the entire reason why we have shooters, mods, DLC and custom maps at all. The gaming community latched onto the Doom engine’s ability to run id’s custom, but highly accessible WAD (Where’s All the Data?) file format and people took this and literally tried every combination of theme, story and art style to create different games using Doom and the Doom engine.
WADs were distributed across the internet with impunity and the popularity of some of the mods, like a Star Wars themed one, pretty much prompted George Lucas to sit back and stroke his beard and say, “Hmmm… we should make our own version of this game and sell it for lots of money!” (thus simultaneously spawning Bobby Kotick, fully formed, from his mane) 
Doom effectively spurred LucasArts into making Star Wars: Dark Forces, thanks to the community’s love for it and its modding capability. Doom also morphed into a special multiplayer version of the game created for the US Military and made available to the public, creatively titled Marine Doom, which had you and three other co-op players run through missions ranging from storming an enemy bunker to destroying a tanker to rescuing hostages from an embassy.
The funny thing is that the US Military only ever needed to buy four store-bought copies of the game to be able to develop and run their simulation. Doom didn’t have any DRM protection and although Doom engine could be licensed, it was much cheaper to buy single copies of the game and mod the WAD files instead, so it was easy for their simulations team to rip into the WAD file, completely customise the game and have it run in the Doom engine without paying id Software a single cent more.
Even without mods, FreeDoom run through Zandronum (which can also run any other game based on the Doom engine) was already a fun experience and I can see why so many people loved this game and still play it to this day. It retains a balance between being challenging and accessible and the very primitive graphics and simple gameplay means that it’ll run on pretty much anything. Also, it’s really weird to see a game take up a mere 100MB on my SSD.
Run, Jump, Die, Repeat! Run, Jump, Die, Repeat!
Regular Doom II doesn’t try to insult you as much as Hell Revealed II does. The mod immediately starts off with a loading screen showing flaming red skulls and a pentagram in the background, along with a background shadow of a demon that looks a little like Stampede from the Bravestarr movie. Honestly, when a game starts off with that kind of loading screen, you know it’s going to be tough.
When I first loaded up a new game, I was treated to my first insult about how bad I am at this game. Power-fantasy? Wut? This isn’t Total Recall you troll, get outta here. Completely ignoring my instructions, I decided to choose Black Metal for my first playthrough and I pretty much stuck to that for three days before realising my mistake. But hey, I managed to complete the first level on the hardest difficulty with 34 HP left, so that’s an achievement in itself.
I also got so excited at this achievement that I didn’t screenshot the ending of that level to prove that I did it so you’ll have to take it at the word of my brother Matthew, who proceeded to watch me die multiple times at the start of map 02.
Zandronum changes the formula for Doom quite a bit. You can now aim down the sights, you can freelook around the viewport, there’s support for mice with higher sensitivity and it handles really well on modern operating systems. There’s also online multiplayer for up to 64 players, jumping (not available in the base game), custom key bindings and it supports rendering through OpenGL or the Doom software renderer. Its only failing is that there isn’t a port for Zandronum on iOS or Android or Windows Phone, but there are other Doom engine emulators that do the job just as well there.
Because it’s not the original game files that I’m working with, the textures are not original, so things look a lot muddier and less clear. It’s a good enough experience if you want to recreate the traditional Doom experience, but it’s not perfect. But it’s very hard to enjoy the updated visuals thanks to Brutal Doom and Hell Revealed II because you keep getti-
Shit. I died again. One thing about this challenge is that Delano actually expected me to finish, but I’m clearly cut from a different cloth. I barely make it out the first level because there’s no time to just admire the scenery – it’s kill or be killed or be killed just a little later by this giant asshole of a monster who shoots green energy at you and turns you into slime (he’s like a large, fat Slenderman and it scares the bejeesus out of me when I see it). On the Black Metal and 12 in a 10 point scale of 2 difficulty the enemies are faster and are able to do more damage more quickly so you’re pretty much screwed from the first second.
I’m not telling you that you can dodge bullets, Neo. I’m telling you that even when you’re ready, dodging bullets in this game just gets you into the firing line for another enemy to pepper you with more of them. If you dodge that one, you’ll just get brutally murdered later on.
You think you’re a crack shot just because you can nail a camper 500m away in Battlefield 4? Come try this and see how quickly you beg for mercy, or just a little respite from the chaos that comes with certain death. I think that may be the charm of Hell Revealed II – you know that you’re going to die, you just try to extend the periods between deaths as long as possible so you can finish a level.
And that’s really all that I got with this challenge – certain death. When I got to map 02, I couldn’t progress very far because all of the muscle memory I had learned from the first map had to be forgotten. Yes, the game mechanics are still the same but your progression through the map changes drastically. First you have to worry about the enemies on the bridge to your left sending a volley of bullets and green energy your way, then you have to jump off the platform you’re standing on keeping in mind that the game is plagued by object clipping issues that cause you to just blindly jump against the fence hoping that eventually the game engine allows you to clear it so you can run for the hazmat suit and OH CRAP I died again.
As I progressed through my 98 attempts to complete the second level I realised that this is damned difficult game. Its simple to get into and to learn the basics but beyond that it brutally tortures you with every WASD key press and constantly makes you ask yourself if you’re worthy enough to even start the launcher. Dark Souls, Demon Souls and their ilk of mind-numbingly unforgiving games at least give you a sense of progression because you can feel yourself get better at it with each try and each death and the experiences you have in the game will inform you in ways to conquer your enemies and not die every other second.
I did learn that the levels in this game are very well crafted, however. Nothing is out of place, there’s nothing placed here to just look pretty, it all has a purpose and a reason for being. Balance is a key part of the map design and id Software had this down to a T. You have to be smart about finishing the level you’re on and there’s no way that mowing your way through everything will guarantee success. You may get somewhere with that but perhaps the next map throws you a curve ball and requires you to teach yourself new skills and moves in order to survive.
But eventually, I gave up. I’m not the kind of gamer who likes a challenge so severe that it debilitates me and causes insane rage and agonising gnashing of teeth (particularly when I’m due to have my wisdom teeth removed in about two months). Hell Revealed II fills a niche for Doom II fans who want that difficulty curve and who want to play the game they love on the highest difficulty possible to test their skills. Its a similar mindset to the groups of friends and colleagues who get together in their spare tine in order to figure out how to speedrun a game
Sure, I can see value in it and developers watching the speedruns get a lot of insight into how their game works and behaves when you’re breaking the laws of its physics in order to complete it in as fast a time as possible, but I won’t personally do it myself. I once clocked Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty on extreme difficulty in 1:57:34 on a PS2 and that’s good enough for me. The only games where I employ extreme difficulty levels are almost exclusively in the racing genre when I have a wheel and pedal set, because usually the AI on regular settings is way too slow for me.
Beating Hell Revealed II on the penultimate or even Black Metal difficulty requires skills that I simply don’t have. It’s like me trying to reach the top of the Unreal Tournament 2004 scoreboard when Chippit is playing because most people never get the best of him. I’ll admit freely tha-
… I’ll admit freely that Doo-
I’ll admit freely that Doom was an inter-
Sigh. Alright, look, Doom II was a game-changer for the industry and I still find the FreeDoom and Zandronum port fun to play and it’s an interesting look at how much game developers managed to do with the limited hardware and primitive instruction sets and tiny, tiny hard drive sizes and shitty operating systems back in the day. Anyone who’s remotely interested in PC gaming should play FreeDoom with Zandronum for no other reason than to educate yourself on how different things were back then and to plain enjoy the single-player experience as it was back then.
No DLC to download. No subscriptions to buy. No game clients to sign into. No internet connections to be allowed through your firewall. No always-online restrictions. No hackers. No campers. No noobs (except you).
But I’d like to stress that while Hell Revealed II is a work of art and a great accomplishment by the Doom II fans who made it, the higher difficulty levels aren’t for me. I’ll stick to playing it on Harsh because I’d actually like to just lean back in my chair and enjoy the game, not fight it every second in order to validate my existence in it. If you’re looking for a challenge then by all means, do it, because it’ll certainly wreck you.
I’m just not that kind of gamer anymore. But perhaps you are!