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Doom (Sega 32X) artwork

Doom (Sega 32X) review

"(Probably) Not the Doom youíre looking for."

And then, there was Doom.

Doom was a big deal. You know how every game released these days is accused of powering the patriarchy machine and subtly influencing all gamers to become bug-eyed sexists? The mid-nineties were slightly less ridiculous and instead laid the claim that videogames cause Satanism. The foremost example of turning kids towards the Dark Lord (pre-Potter) was iDís little shooter that could Ė ironically, a game about doing battle against the very forces of hell that uptight luddites insisted were out to claim impressionable young Timmyís soul. Doom is a first person shooter. Itís the First Person Shooter. It earned its genre those capital letters.

Itís not the first Ė earlier iD efforts can attest to that Ė but it was the one that launched the FPS. In spite of the controversy surrounding it Ė perhaps, somewhat, because of it Ė everyone played Doom. At least, everyone who had a PC. Or had access to a PC (or, in my case, was able to cobble a makeshift PC together with the unwanted parts of other peopleís PCs and a bootleg copy of Windows 3.1 spread across a library of floppy disks). The louder people complained, the more money was thrown at it. As such, it was bound to happen. There soon came mostly ham-fisted efforts to bring the PC titan to the home console market.

Some machines were able to pull this off better than others. Of the first wave, everything was built off the Atari Jaguarís foundation Ė which, itself, worked directly from the PC NEXTSTEP engine, with direct work on the port done by the people who helped make Doom in the first place. Why am I sharing this boring tech nonsense? Well, it was somewhat out of the ordinary to have even neutered direct ports at the time; the hardware simply wasnít as compatible so the usual option was to remake the game from scratch using the limited toolset at your disposal. The god-awful SNES port, for instance, built the Reality engine from scratch so it could do some genuinely remarkable things for such a lower hardware spec, like offer a decent sized window and present the best iteration of the soundtrack outside of (or, perhaps, even including) the PC. Hell, if you were one of the seven people who owned the XBAND console modem, you could even have a go at multiplayer so long as you were happy to pay $4 an hour for it. You just had unique little trade-offs like, oh, I donít know, none of the enemies having backs so they always, always faced you and infighting happened exactly never. They were also rendered deaf which would have made sneaking up on them comically easy aside from the fact they can always see you because only their fronts are animated and they literally have eyes in the back of the head.

But Iím not here to rant about the SNES version. Aside from the fact that I already have Ė though, to be fair, I have a lot more bile inside me. Before both the SNES version that was tailored directly to the limitations of its hardware and the Jaguar version from which it borrows its neutered direct-from-PC engine came the 32X version. And I can feel all the bile I just swallowed re-rising.

Itís safe to say Iíve played a lot of Doom over the years (HAIL SATAN!) and morbid curiosity has led to me to spend time with most of the numerous ports so I could chortle at them between readjusting my monocle and taking sips of forty-year-old cognac like a good hoity elitist should. So Iím super qualified to say that the 32X strain is pretty awful. Itís not the worst of the bunch; it does various things better than the SNES version, for instance, and nothingís going to take the title of worst Doom so long as the 3DO version remains a thing (the only way to get that mess to run at a decent speed is to run a game window a bit bigger than a fourth of your screen. There is a full screen mode, but it runs like garbage and is only accessible via a cheat code), so thereís that.

Thereís really not a lot more praise to go around. Doom 32X is largely neutered, and thatís to be expected. Of the originalís three chapters, the 32X manages to shoehorn in seventeen stages taken from only the first two. This means that the game never progresses far enough to organically obtain its trademark overkill weapon, the BFG. This doesnít stop the gameís manual from featuring it.

I suppose it has some excuse; you can still add it to your arsenal via cheat code but, like the original, any kind of cheat stops you from seeing the gameís ending. So do a lot of things, in theory at least. One cool addition the 32X version has over almost everyone else is that is features a level select that allows you to pick and play your favourite stages, but is smart enough to stop people just picking level 17 and charging headfirst into glory. Want the ending propor? Play the game from start to finish like youíre meant to! Serial offender, the manual, unreliably tells you that progressing past 17 by skipping any of the levels means youíll just get warped back to stage 1 to start the loop anew. It is, of course, a habitual liar, All it does is bring up a broken DOS prompt. Not a lot you can do with that.

Though their new accessibility is appreciated, the levels themselves have gone through a major downgrade in order to survive on lower specs. A lot of detail has gone AWOL - not just purely cosmetic stuff, but sections of significant architecture has been sacrificed. Things like some steps, elevators and bridges are quietly shuffled away alongside some of the secret weapon caches and a couple of pitfalls. Several enemy types are also retired. No one will really miss the spectre, who was just a reskinned bull demon, but the lack of big threats like the Cyberdemon (half demon, half steam-powered mech. Has a rocket launcher grafted to its arm) or the Spiderdemon (angry sentient brain, stomping around on a massive spider-like exoskeleton) mean that previous stand-out moments evaporate into nothing.

With a keyboard now out of the question, the flat pad interface means that circle strafing is impossible as you need to hold down a button to turn ye olde digital pad from basic movement to Gangnam style sidestepping. Unless youíre using the old(er) three button pad, in which case good luck doing anything at all. A lot of these issues were down to failing ambition; of trying to to run as close to the original source as possible despite the gulf in processing power and is, in a sad, backwards way, kind of commendable. But then thereís things that just make no sense, like the awful, mumbling soundtrack that should have been miles better on a system with a proven audio pedigree (for cart-fed consoles, anyway). Or how about how the soldierís portrait is sometimes mirrored and sometimes not, making his hair parting dance around during damage animations? Or, howís this for a trick-shot: any rocket you launch is fired backwards. Because why the hell not?

Maybe there was a time when 32X Doom earnt a recommendation through sheer necessity. It was one of the forerunning ports to the home console market, and it does manage to outperform some of its brethren. Even if it was unlikely that you would own a 32X over a PC, surely such people existed, right? But that era is long gone - it is the current year and you can literally play purer versions of Doom on wristwatches. Its middling stature among the ports doesnít even grant it an oddity value. Itís just a bad version of a good game, doing the best it can on hardware that canít handle it and you donít own. Not much of a legacy, is it?

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (May 13, 2016)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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Nightfire posted May 13, 2016:

An entertaining article, Gary :)

I also remember taking one look at the 32X version of Doom and said "Nope".

Though I still remember how hard they marketed it. The TV commercials ran incessantly for a while. I guess they just thought it would be a sure sell because it was a Doom title. Sadly, they were probably right.
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EmP posted May 14, 2016:

It's weird, because the 32X got no real advertising here. Certainly no TV spots that I can recall. It was just there, sitting on shelves, being quietly forgotten about. There was some good stuff on there, hidden away. Doom was not one of them.

Thanks for reading!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 14, 2016:

I don't recall seeing the 32X commercial much myself (which had a bunch of meat industry workers talking the game up), but I did see the Jaguar one a lot. "The best Doom ever." Somehow I doubt that....
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Nightfire posted May 14, 2016:

LOL... I never saw that one... That commercial's actually pretty clever!

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