Let’s talk Doom clones.
Which you should play, and why.
It all started with id Software’s 1993 Doom. A game that revolutionized a genre and literally took the gaming world by storm, spawning near countless imitators. We’re here to talk about those titles: the wannabes, the homages, the successors, and the downright rip-offs. Below you will find a detailing of what can be considered the “cream of the crop”. Should you play all of them? If you are a long time Doom enthusiast as I, the answer may just be, “of course!” You be the judge.
Objectively one of the best doom clones ever made, no joke. Though sadly, this one is not easy in finding a way to play. Your best bet is to utilize the DOSBox emulator, which requires some slightly advanced customization of the default program to run the game properly. If you aren’t familiar, I’m sorry, may your Google-fu be strong, friend. Your only other feasible option is playing the PlayStation 1 or Sega Saturn version, which while graphically superior to the DOS version, is very hard to play control scheme wise. What makes this game so good? It’s Doom with H.R. Giger’s Aliens! You play as Sigourney Weaver’s fan favorite character, Ellen Ripley, loosely stomping your way through the storylines of the three first Alien films. The graphics are pure nostalgia inducing pixelated beauty. The controls are on point, the enemies assuredly horrific, with the overall gameplay being exactly what you would want and expect from a Doom clone. This is Doom, but with an Alien franchise facelift. It is so worth the hassle to find and play. Trust me.
This is just a Doom mod, right? Just more…graphic? No, yes, and no. This is the Doom you love and sooo much more. Overhauling and reworking the entire engine, front end and back. If Doom 2016 had not released and become the loved sequel/reboot we deserve, it wouldn’t have mattered, because Brutal Doom is quite possibly the best version, nay the best Doom, hands down. Why? One word: Refinement, with a capital R. So ultimately intense, so pixel perfect is Brutal Doom that you will go from feeling like just a simple Doomguy, to a rip & tear Doom God. Making all other edgy games before it look meek and childish, I’m looking at you Mortal Kombat. This game now owns Brutality, Fatality and whateverelse-ality, slaps them into a drippy meat hoagie, and beats you with it while playing a sick one handed guitar solo. Brutal Doom IS Metal. Hell, Brutal Doom is so insane, it retroactively reinvented anything and everything badass in human history. In fact, if you noticed, Brutal Doom has a micro subtitle if you look close enough. Grab your monocle, I’ll wait…you see that? Right there: BAMF. That’s right! Play Brutal Doom, now! Well…maybe finish this article, and THEN Brutal Doom should be the first thing you play. I promise you it will be hard not to shout at least one gleeful expletive during your playthrough.
Chex Quest 1-3:
Perhaps the best marketing to come out the 90s, the Chex quest games hold up quite well as Doom clones, believe it or not. The first game even won an Effie marketing communication award for it’s advertising effectiveness! It was also the first video game to ever be included in a cereal package. Specifically targeting children between the ages of 6 and 9, an audience which I belonged to when Chex Quest launched in ‘96. I didn’t even like Chex at the time! But I had to have this game, and it was honestly my gateway into the realization that there were Doom clones. In the series you play as the nameless Chex Warrior, who is supposedly a human wearing Chex armor…though judging by the art, you would never know it. As this human(oid) Chex man, you are tasked with helping fellow humans on the planet Bazoik, more precisely, the colonizing scientists on said planet need your help in defeating the invasion of the grotesque Flemoids. I can hear you now, “Flemoids?? Sounds like mucus.”, and you’d be right! These green goop monsters will even hawk thick sludge out of their Q-bert (or Birdo) style uninostril as their primary means of attack. Gross, right? What do you expect, the target audience was juvenile gamers in 1996, 90% (possibly an inaccurate statistic) of which were boys. With a sequel following in 1997 and a third title spawning from the digital ether in 2008 as a large dose of fanservice by the original developer and art designer, it’s widely apparent this bygone series has endured on pure nostalgia. Which isn’t to say the games aren’t enjoyable. They are essentially complete visual and audio overlay mods of Doom in every sense, love it or leave it. While there is little to differentiate itself from what it seeks to duplicate, it is pound for pound a quality experience for Doom fans. Also, if you’re one who looks forward, a full on HD remake is in the works by the original creators, running on the Unreal Engine 4, exciting, no?
To me, Devil Daggers is unofficially Doomguy’s ultimate end game. My headcanon fanfiction come to life, if you will. Fighting diabolical demonic monstrosities ad nauseum, in perpetuity, forever. Was that a redundant description? In the spirit of Devil Daggers, it should be. But here, repetition doesn’t mean bad, or lacking in quality or fun, by any means. Doing the same thing over and over is the whole point, the hook if you will. Sporting a wonderfully deliberate nightmare fuel aesthetic and music that will literally make your skin crawl, you, after touching a shiny spinning dagger, will be transported to a dark ominous level of hell that there is absolutely no coming back from. But you won’t roll over and play dead, you’ll use the mystical archangel esque power of your dagger/s to lay waste to every slimy, boney, demented creep in hell, and you’ll do it with STYLE. But don’t get your hopes up yet, Devil Daggers is hard, hard as the Hades itself. Most struggle to survive a run of 30 seconds! Therefor, you can see why I myself and more than happy with my personal best of 95.7 seconds of survival. Which unequivocally amounts to nothing, as the best player in the world currently, if you would believe the leaderboards, has astonishingly racked up 861.4 seconds survived. You might be thinking, “This sounds short. Not worth it.”, but if you are the competitive type and love a challenge, in a mechanically perfect game, with a very intentional retro design, then you MUST play Devil Daggers!
Duke Nukem 3D:
Duke. The Duke. A swollen blonde man child created from the attitudes or an era (thankfully) behind us. But for as droll, sexist, and irritating as the remarks made from the protagonist are, it’s hard to deny that there is a legitimately great game behind all of Duke’s horrible puns, one liners, and tacky remarks. Why great? Because the gameplay itself is fantastic. Every weapon hits with the right amount of “bang”. Enemies are unsightly, hateable, creepy, and fall before your weaponry like evil alien meat bags. Seriously, the cartoon gibbed death animations of the enemies are almost second to none. Held together with impressively progressive level design, and unexpectedly deep environmental interactivity, it’s a shame the main character is so grating. While Duke is intended to never be taken seriously, the delivery comes off as if the game worships at the feet of misogyny and chauvinism, which in this day and age, really holds it back. Regardless, if you can overlook Duke as another dumb drunk uncle, there is definitely a game to be enjoyed here.
Your every bullet is important in the higher difficulties of any Doom game, in Heavy Bullets they are EVERYTHING. A punishing title that is more inspired by elements of Doom, rather than an intentional clone. Regardless, it deserves attention if not for the level of patience, skill, and nerve required to play. For having such a bright neon 80s color scheme, the game can be quite terrifying due to the level of aggression from enemies, your lack of substantial health, and always limited ammo. The main gameplay differential is that your bullets are reusable once fired. The only problem is that you start with a 6 shooter revolver, that you must reload constantly. When aiming at an enemy, a miss can be fatal, requiring you to run to the location where you shot your bullets to reacquire them for use, before reloading. Earn coin from downed enemies to spend on health, upgrades, etc., but don’t get too attached, as this game assigns itself to those age-old Roguelike mentalities. You die…you start over. The story premise is droll, but hey, you’ve played Doom…no one plays these games for story. You play as an employee at a corporate building overtaken by monsters and malfunctioning security measures. Your goal is to make it to the 8th floor and reset the whole facility. GOOD LUCK. You’ll need it.
If there is one Doom clone on this list you know of, it’s got to be Heretic, right? If you answered no, you’re missing…a game I had to secretly download as a child to play. That’s correct, to my mother, Mortal Kombat and Doom were “no biggy” as violence was concerned, but the name Heretic alone was enough to conjure thoughts of the diabolical, and how it would assuredly warp her “little boy”. All said, looking back, Heretic is pretty darn tame in that regard, especially by today’s standards. Story wise, you embody Corvus, the warrior wizard of the Sidhe Elves, as you take on the demonic army of D’Sparil, youngest of three demon lord brothers (Serpent Riders), who seek to control the world of Parthoris through pure genocide. Among games in this niche, story is never a strong suit, however Heretic tries and honestly succeeds in narrative world building. Beyond story, I can’t say it’s the best Doom clone…rather, it simply IS Doom with a different coat of paint, but with a main character that actually has a real name and voice. In that, Heretic fits itself firmly in my own little subsection of awareness as: Fantasy Doom. Is one better than the other? Are neon colors better than pastels?? Could a gorilla kill a unicorn??? …Does it matter? Look, sometimes you wake up and you want a waffle instead of eggs, the same mental ideology enacts itself with Doom vs Heretic. When the mood so often strikes that I wish to sit down for some good ol’fashioned “shoosting” (not a typo), it’s often a tossup as to whether Heretic will outweigh Doom. Which is my way of saying, Heretic is essential.
As long as this series doesn’t make you motion sick from the poor choice in field of view, you should be golden in experiencing some of the best Doom clones out there. Hell, this is the beginning of the famed Bungie, and verily led to two of the biggest franchises in gaming history: Halo and Destiny! I mention motion sickness because with the combination of the head bob with the aforementioned low field of view, many who play one of the three Marathon games, find themselves quite queasy within minutes of play. I myself love the series, but fully admit I feel like I need a barf bag, or a nap after about 15-30 minutes of play. Which is a damn shame, honestly. If you are one of the few that has never, and will never have motion sickness from any game, then you are in for a flipping treat, my friend! If nothing else, these games function as history and a great reference point for Bungie’s style and foundation for future titles. Not to mention, you can get all three games for FREE, that’s right, free, 100%, no catch. All you have to do is visit the Bungie site for the series and download away.
This game is known mostly for the notable controversy surrounding its launch, rather than being the indie gem that it is. Which is a damn shame. I guess it’s almost obligatory at this point to lay out a frame of reference, as simply Google searching the title will result in you be subjected to boundless naysaying. You see, the original lead developer, a fellow by the name of Mike, may have lost his cool on social media and tweeted things that he was “going to do” to Gabe Newell, all following the game being mistakenly released as “Early Access” on Steam. This of course can come down to the fact that as humans, we often think before we act, we say things we don’t really mean, but we must still deal with the consequences of our actions. This cause and effect rendered the game removed from Steam’s storefront, and leaving the title with countless amounts of bad press. The developer has since departed from Paranautical Activity’s development team and sincerely apologized for his unacceptable behavior. But here is the thing, Paranautical Activity is actually a top tier doom clone, and a genuinely great game. It’s a procedurally generated Roguelike shooter with chunky voxel graphics (liken unto Minecraft). Expect near infinite replayability, multiple character playstyles, permanent unlockables through achievements, over 40 different enemy designs, fierce boss battles, and an over-the-top (take it or leave it) dubstep soundtrack. This title had a rough upbringing, but that doesn’t take away from it warranting your time and hard earned shekels.
Rogue Shooter – The FPS Roguelike:
This little diamond in the rough came out of nowhere. I accidently happened upon it by mistake, not even thanks to Steam’s own recommendations, which is honestly criminal. Rogue Shooter is a fantastic indie homage to Doom, with Roguelike and RPG elements. For a game with such an intentionally bad title, I’ve unintentionally, completely fallen into indie love with this game. No, it’s not perfect, no, it’s not the best Doom-like game, but it is a cornucopia of genres that pays reverence to its inspirations without ever considering “rip-off” as a takeaway. On your tongue-in-cheek journey through a space station that has gone tits up with angry aliens and robots, you will gain levels and choose perks, hack datapads, upgrade your weaponry, and unlock new characters (or as the game calls it: new backgrounds), all with a humorous aesthetic and befitting hand drawn, purposely “shareware” cartoonish art. For $5, Rogue Shooter is a no brainer, and has no right being as entertaining or well built as it is. For being designed, drawn, and programmed by one guy, I can’t help but love this game.
As if the puns in Duke Nukem were juvenile…Duke may have met his match in Shadow Warrior’s Wang. No, I’m not attempting vulgarity, that’s honestly the protagonist’s name, Lo Wang. Because of this, the game intentionally sets out to make itself a walking dick joke. (*ah hem*) My apologizes. How do we look past this? For starters, Lo comes equipped with a nifty katana that slices demons in two. If you haven’t noticed a trend yet, demons go part and parcel with Doom-like games, just embrace it, the logic circuits in your brain will hurt less. The story is cookie cutter as can be, even more so when you account for the Hollywood style oriental influence. This is developer 3D Realms we’re talking about, the very same studio behind capital offender, Duke Nukem 3D, so just know Wang is an ex-bodyguard for a corporation run by a very bad man named Master Zilla. A man indeed hell bent on taking over Japan using that which he has summoned from the “dark side”: demons, duh. Wang has demons hunting him after his decision to leave the employ of the maniacal Zilla, who fears Wang’s power…I’ll give you a second with that double entendre. Incidentally, Wang’s master is killed by Zilla’s underlings, you know, because you can’t have a stereotypical Asian action plot without a revenge story. Coincidentally, this adds to the game’s memorability. Essentially, you will come to the realization that you’ve been playing a bizarre mashup of Doom & Big Trouble in Little China, and who doesn’t want that???
Strife – Quest for the Sigil, now known as,
“The Original Strife (Veteran Edition)”:
Whether this is the origin of the hybrid First Person Shooter/Roleplaying Game genre is debatable, what’s clear is this game was way ahead of its time. Speaking of time, this game is worth yours, even by today’s standards. Created in 1996 on the Doom engine itself, the game features full (wonderfully appropriate) voice acting, and a completely handcrafted open-ended, hub world design. The story is complex and intriguing to say the least. In the world of Strife a virus has ravaged the planet, having been released from a comet that struck the planet. Afterward, many of those who were left began hearing what they believed was the voice of God. They took up arms as The Order, and under their war banner of technological advancements and military might, they set out to kill ALL women and children, period. Pretty crazy, no? Those women and children who survived went subterranean for protection, while the surviving men became hopeless beggars. A mobilization of freedom fighters ensues against the religious zealots, going by The Front, this guerrilla warfare organization lacking all the advancements and strength of The Order. You start the game as a vagrant mercenary that’s wandered into the wrong town, having chosen to nap in an area where The Order has decided to “clean the streets” by collecting anyone deemed questionable. Though negligent they were to the knife you keep hidden on your person, and your aptitude in using it. Enter the town of Tarnhill, and get ready to change things for good!
A modern indie title that shows its homage to Doom through every second of your play time. You play man’s man, Kain, a ginger by design, a badass by playstyle, as he mows through robots and lizardmen as quickly as possible to take advantage of Wrack’s super damaging attacks, via combo system. In addition to the usual arms you would expect from a Doom clone (pistol, shotgun, etc.), our main character starts the game with a “Hyper Blade”, for those instances where ammo is low. For storied Doom fans, I recommend pumping the difficulty right up to max from the start, as the lower difficulties are no challenge for a Doom pro like yourself. Featuring a full story mode with Mega Man style boss fights, you can opt to play in Time & Score Attack modes, competing in the leaderboards against friends and other players. Not to mention, this is possibly one of the best looking titles on the list, thanks to its stylistic “comic book to life” art style, not entirely dissimilar from Borderlands. To top it all off, the game has full Steam workshop support, which I highly recommend taking a glance at, if not but to download the full, player created Doom episode 1 in Wrack’s engine/gameplay.
Holy $#&%, do I love me some Ziggurat! If we are talking rewards for modern design with retro aspirations, this game has it in spades and wins a medal. Have you ever asked yourself, “What if I slapped a wad of Doom meat and Heretic cheese in between thick chunks of Fable and Harry Potter bread?” Huh?…You haven’t? Okay, well neither had I, but that’s essentially what you are getting, only better. Being of the Roguelike variety, replayability is key, with your death as likely to come from an enemy as it is to cruelly be delivered via a miscellaneous trap. One of the things worth noting about Ziggurat, are the stellar, intelligently designed, white knuckle boss battles. The whole premise is provocated in your being a young acolyte sorcerer who must prove him/herself in the labyrinth of Ziggurat for initiation into your order. Gain perks and level up in a “choose your build” approach, increasing your combat prowess and efficiency; battle with wands, staves, and epic spells tomes as you topple everything from floating skulls to evil living carrots. Yes, you read that correctly. Evil. Living. Carrots. Ziggurat is fantastic, and a masterclass of Doom-like & Roguelike philosophies. Buy Ziggurat! Honestly, if I had to pick just one title from this list…Ziggurat would plead a very good case for number one.
Special Mentions [Still in development.]
Ever wanted the bunker building and expansion of Fallout Shelter dripped into your Doom-like? Ok, me neither, until now that is. In Bunker Punks you take up arms as a gang surviving in the wastes of a post-apocalyptic world where you must scavenge and salvage weaponry, armor, and anything else in your quest of survival. While the game is fully playable, being an Early Access title, it is incomplete. Overall the minute to minute gameplay is smooth and fulfilling, the enemies are well designed, and the FPS/RPG/management-sim amalgam really works to its benefit. Designed with the randomness of procedural generation in mind, you’ll assuredly be coming back for more. So, keep this one in your sights, as I predict when this title hits its final build, this will be a Doom clone to be reckoned with.
Strafe is slated for an early 2017 launch, but has already garnered much attention, mainly due to its over-the-top live-action marketing trailers, but also from gameplay experienced by those who have been lucky enough to demo the game at conventions. Strafe is ultra-violent, ultra fast, and ultra creative, with a crazy-cool gameplay implementation in what I can best describe as “gun parkour”. Strafe also features permanent gibs and gore from slaughtered enemies that won’t derez and fade away over time. The developers behind Strafe wanted blood to not only be a bold visual statement, but to play a role as a gameplay mechanism. As some enemies will bleed glowing acid blood (cough’Alien’cough), to survive, not only must you keep yourself from being doused with their inner liquids, but you must also utilize red blood to cover or drown out the acid spilt. Sporting a look more akin to Quake, Strafe generalizes in its inspirations, functioning as a best of Doom/Quake style experiences, and the community sure is teaming to get there hands on it! Keep this one on your radar and/or add this to your Steam wishlist.