I still measure every first-person shooter that's released today against the two decades-old Doom, or, more accurately, my memory of playing it as a tween.
It was fast, gory, loud, scary, and miles ahead of anything that was out at the time, and thanks to one dedicated fan in Brazil, it still is.
Brutal Doom is a modification (mod) to the original game created by a 24-year-old from São Paulo, Brazil, who goes by the handle Sergeant Mark IV, or SGtMarkIV for short. He uses a variety of unofficial tools to tweak developer id Software's original Doom with better sound, visuals, and countless minor adjustments that amount to more than the sum of their parts.
In the vanilla version of Doom, for example, when you shoot an imp, he always falls over and dies the same way. Brutal Doom introduces a variety of animations and "hit boxes," which detect which part of the imp's body you shoot. This allows you to point a shotgun at an imp's head and shoot it clean off, or shot him in the legs, watch him scream for help, then come close and kick him to death.
It may not sound like it, but there's a very subtle, meticulous craft to SGtMarkIV's imp mutilation. The animations are obvious additions, as are the new and improved weapons, but it's the little things that make the biggest difference. The walking speed, the way blood now splatters and drips down from the ceiling, the extra bass added to shotgun blasts.
Doom was shocking at the time. Brutal Doom gives it back some of that impact
"Brutal Doom is not Brutal because when you shoot an enemy there is a lot of blood," SGtMarkIV told me. "Brutal Doom is Brutal because when you fire a shotgun into an enemy's face, you can feel like your chest is being punched as the recoil shakes the camera, the loud, sharp and metallic sound of the blast rips through your ears, and behind the large muzzle flash, you see the enemy's head being ripped open, with pieces of grey matter, flesh, skull, eyeballs, and teeth being launched all around the room and sticking on the walls and ceiling."
I realize that this may sound a little psychotic out of context, but it's what Doom fans want, not because out a blind appetite for violence, but nostalgia for the original. Doom was shocking at the time. Brutal Doom gives it back some of that impact, and since it preserves the original's old, pixelated graphics, it gets away with things modern games with modern graphics wouldn't.
"I love this mod," one of the many YouTube commenters gleeful over the Brutal Doom v20 trailer writes. "Just played it for the first time a few days ago and I'm addicted. I haven't had a Doom all nighter since 1996…Thank you so much SGtMarkIV! You should put a donation linky on your Facebook page."
SGtMarkIV manages to walk a fine line between modernizing the game with features like looking down a gun's sights (a Call of Duty staple that didn't exist back then), and preserving the original masterpiece. Despite all the improvements, nothing in Brutal Doom looks like it couldn't have been developed in 1993.
As everyone who's played Brutal Doom and as SGtMarkIV himself explains, it's not Doom the way it was, but the bombastic impression it imprinted on your mind when you first played it.
In 2009, the computers in SGtMarkIV's high school lab were too old to run modern games, so he decided to install Doom. In trying to make the game run on Windows XP, he stumbled upon the game's still lively modding community.
SGtMarkIV was amazed at what fans were able to add to the old game: mouse support, jumping, improved graphics, and more. He started working on his own version of Doom, ArmageDoom, which included six maps, new weapons, zombie attack dogs, and huge battles with friendly AIs.
An early look at Brutal Doom v20. Credit: SGtMarkIV
It was very ambitious, and ultimately much more than he could handle as a first mod. Realizing this, SGtMarkIV turned his attention to a smaller project, just something to learn the ropes. "I had just invented a system that could be used to detect damage dealt on monsters based on the location you hit them, and the first test build of Brutal Doom was basically just a mod that would instakill a zombie or imp by shooting it on the head, and spawn some extra blood sprites."
SGtMarkIV hasn't stopped working Brutal Doom since then, constantly releasing new versions with more tweaks. The upcoming Brutal Doom v20 revamps the blood system, adds the ability to dual wield guns, and improves melee combat. The mod also gained a sizeable following over the years. It's rated 16 out of over 23,315 mods on the modding community website Moddb.com, where over 2.5 million people have visited Brutal Doom's page to date.
It of course doesn't hurt that the original Doom is a masterpiece beneath Brutal Doom's modifications. Call of Duty and its imitators look better, sure, but they're inferior to Doom in several ways, most notably in level design. Modern first-person shooters shuffle you along a rollercoaster of scripted, Michael Bay-esque action set pieces where something huge and exciting is always happening, but always on a narrow, pre-determined path. Doom had little to work with at the time but the bare bones of the level's geometry, so maps sprawl out in whacky layouts and no two rooms are the same.
It's still some of the best FPS level design out there, and if you're interested, there's a really good video of id Software co-founder and incredible mane owner John Romero playing through and talking about the levels he designed.
The best thing Brutal Doom can do is show this to younger generations.
"Younger gamers usually don't show much interest in Doom because of its visual presentation," SGtMarkIV said. "Brutal Doom greets them with more familiar things such as aiming modes, smoother animations, sharper combat, new special effects, and other things that makes it feel more 'modern' without losing the original game's essence."
SGtMarkIV said he'd like to return to his original project ArmageDoom at some point in the future, but it might take a while.
"Someday the development of Brutal Doom will come to an end, there will be nothing more to improve, but fortunately, this day still is far away," he said. "I already even have plans for a v21 release."
Brutal Doom is free to download here and is a little complicated to install, but if you buy Doom from Steam and follow the instructions here you'll soon be having the most fun you've had with a game in a long time.