The battlefields of the so-called "War on Christmas" described by Ben Carson and friends rarely amount to more than the sides of Starbucks ventis and courthouse mangers, but for years mods have let players of Doom fight battles for the integrity of December 25 of a more literal sort. And boy, they're a lot more fun.
As you might imagine (considering the ultimate reason for the holiday), demons aren't the biggest fans of Christmas. And thus since 1994 modders have used Doom 2 to craft a variety of scenarios that range from everything from mere demon slaughterfests with the occasional Christmas tree mixed in to fever dreams where Santa Claus himself pumps lead into hellspawn.
Here's a list of some of our favorites, pulled from over two decades of modding tradition. To play them, you'll need a copy of Doom 2 along with the Zdoom source port and the one of the .wad files below. (For a bit of Doom trivia, WAD stands for "Where's All the Data?") To play them, simply unpack Zdoom in your Doom 2 directory, and then (on Windows) drag the .wad file onto zdoom.exe to start playing.
Nothing captures the spirit of Christmas quite like the sight of Santa Claus decking the halls with the guts of a demon and he carves with a chainsaw, all to the jolly MIDI notes of "Sleigh Ride." You'll get all that and more from H2H Xmas, a 1995 followup to Xmas Doom, to say nothing of littered egg nog and rows of Christmas trees. The Christmas cheer (which is never very thick here) wears off long before its 32 short and ugly levels end. Come instead for the challenge. H2H Xmas (named for the defunct Head to Head gaming network) is the work of several developers who all made their own levels, and all were apparently told their audience wanted lots of Revenants for Christmas. Too bad they didn't include the receipts.
Christmas Special (xmas00.wad)
It's hard to tell just what's going on in Christmas Special (xmas00.wad). In one moment Santa's jumping down chimneys and pumping bullets into elves upon landing and the next he's mowing down demons in Santa hats with a chaingun. Is he on the naughty list, going Postal? Or is he simply trying to save us from a reality where even snowmen with shotguns and cyborg reindeer have throwing their lot in with Hell? I found it rarely mattered. Few Christmas Doom mods ooze with the personality found here, with its festive corridors and cacodemons designed to look like Christmas ornaments. It's so lovingly crafted, in fact, that its greatest mystery is why it stuck with the standard UI rather than replacing the Doomguy with something more appropriate as in H2H Christmas.
Xmas Doom 2014
You can find a generous helping of personality on Xmas Doom 2014, which uses many of the same assets as xmas00.wad but pairs them with more intricate level design and (often) better challenges. It even has the more festive UI I missed in its predecessor.
Zoltan "Katamori" Schmidt made Mori Christmas over the course of just two days last year,
Mori Christmas, but that's all it took to create one of the best Christmas-themed wads out there right now. The whole thing only lasts about 40 minutes, but the challenge rarely lets up in all that time, with some of Doom 2's toughest enemies rounding corners as predictably as gifts of socks from grandpa. It's too bad its best moments are stacked toward the beginning. The final fight can be tough, but only if you somehow can't master running in circles around a courtyard crammed with demons while firing off the occasional shot.
Xmas Doom makes this list mainly for its historical significance. Made in 1994, it's one of the oldest Christmas-themed mods out there, and it's also partly the work of Simply Silly Software's Joe Wilcox, who went on to make Duke: Nuclear Winter, an (icily received) expansion for Duke Nukem 3D. It's great stuff, complete with deadly demonic snowball fights and imps that run around sporting Santa Claus hits in their mid to destroy Christmas for everyone. But naturally there's a catch. It's only three maps long, and you have to go through the so-so first two to get to Wilcox's map. It's not exactly a masterpiece of design but it's far more interesting than what comes before. And considering those first two maps hit hard even on the easiest difficulty, there's a good chance you'll never even see it at all.
Image: Leif Johnson/Screengrab
Whitemare (1 and 2)
Demons apparently really want to ruin Christmas for everyone (which I suppose makes some sense considering the holiday's significance), and the two Whitemare wads (from 2011 and 2014) crafted by a team in Russia shows how they go about it. True, most of the Christmas focus mainly comes down to a few scattered Christmas trees (including one that's seemingly made out of viscera toward the end of the first one), but there's a lot to love about the way it yo-yos the Doomguy from roomy battles where where cyberdemons pelt him from afar to intimate encounters where he can punch his way out of trouble. The first version from 2011 relied a little too heavily on humdrum snow tiles, but the team found its footing in the second one and made a deeply exciting experience.
32in24-14: How the Hamburglar Stole Christmas
You'll see a Christmas tree here and there, and the whole wad kicks off with a splash screen featuring the Hamburglar in a Santa suit with no pants while he puts a hamburger on his Christmas tree in place of a star. You won't get much more than that aside from some blocky trees in the corner of boxy rooms, but that's not much of a surprise since this is the work of the fast-paced 32in24 community, which gets its name from its original aim to make 32 multiplayer maps within 24 hours. There are actually over 40 here, and they're good ones, shifting from Egyptian motifs in one map to vertical wintry ones a few down the line. If you need your Christmas laughs, you'll mainly get them from names like "the Krusty Krab Kwanzaa Kaper" and the brutal "How Santa Claus Screwed Up Keycard Valley's Water Supply."