FBT is knee-deep in the dead again. It’s his happy place.
At Previous Weapon, we’re all about revisiting older games, memories versus new experiences. So Sigil, which has been out a week isn’t exactly our aesthetic, as the kids say those days. But those kids weren’t around when Doom came out, and this is from John Romero, who like, totally invented gaming. And it’s free, so shut up.
Doom needs no introduction (we already covered it here), but for the kids … 25 years ago Doom changed everything. And that’s enough story. Now, Doomguy is back in episode five, Sigil, transported to Hell to answer for stopping their invasion of Earth.
A quarter of a century is a lifetime in gaming. Sigil is built on the standard Doom engine, with the same art-work and game limitations, but even with the ageless Romero behind the wheel, and riding the spate of old-school throwbacks like Dusk and Ion Maiden, is this an on-the-money return or a Doom-dad-dance?
There’s just something grand about knowing this came from Romero; I am excited. Hey, I’m allowed a little fangirling. He even got Buckethead to score a special edition, but downloading it with a MIDI soundtrack like a shareware just feels like the retro way to do it. I read the Read Me – read me doc, how cool is that – and I was up and running. And running and running and dying.
I’m back to 1993. It’s like watching an episode of Stranger Things and yelling ‘I had that!’ at something in the kids’ bedrooms. It feels familiar; I’ve played plenty of fan-made Doom WADs, and many were brilliant but this just feels Romero. The tone, the pace, the lay-out, it’s oddly comforting. I know I’m being hoodwinked, warmed up, lead on and it’s all going to go to hell – but when it happens, I’m happy about it. The Surgeon’s still got it.
Once past the first few levels – there’s 9 in total - things seriously heat up. Well, my quick-load key is heating up. There’s old friends Troopers, Imps, Shotgunners, Lost Souls, Pinkies, an unfair number of Cacodemons and Hell Barons. It’s like playing all of Doom in a few levels - the learning curve is steep but unless you’re a Doom fanatic, why are you even here? It’s a wake-up call after all those lightweight shooters with their checkpoints and replenishing health. I’ve missed Doomguy’s death scream and him sinking to the floor.
The level designs are as dangerous as what’s in them, and it has a bleak look even for Doom; floors and ceilings have cracks where lava shines through, it’s jagged and confusing, there’s mazes, baffling layouts; you just kinda venture in, hoping for the best. It’s always the worst. Romero is playing with you. You can picture him cackling as you play, lost yet again and getting your ass handed to you. High parapets, close-quarter corridors, dead-ends and double-bluffs, trap-springing corners, acid and lava everywhere; literally, Hell. You’re not safe anywhere, ever. Those eye icons are now shootable switches, and often I don’t want to shoot them because they’ll invariably release more nasties. Ouch face.
There’s Cacodemon corpses around the Baron of Hell areas, and Baron bodies around Cacodemon haunts; those guys seem to dislike each other, I remember that in the original; Sigil really does hit the tone. There’s monster in-fighting, they’re in cages, around corridors, behind you, and the sound of doors opening and creature hisses are constant. Perhaps more than the original, you feel like this place is out to get you.
It’s not all proof that Romero is God though. There are bits that you can tell he designed on a Monday. One level has an entire section of tight corridors. And crushers. And shotgunners. And Romero I hate you. There’s a lot of dark as well; not scary dark, just under-lit where an Imp fireball is the only thing lighting the way. It’s not quite as cool as it sounds, it’s squinting dankness and often I miss corridors and exits because I can’t see where the hell I’m going, and just roam and lose the energy. Other times I fall into acid or lava and can’t find a way out, and there’s some areas where there’s just so many creatures I find myself dangerously close to typing iddqd … There is method to his madness though, even if it’s maddening.
Later levels just turn you into mincemeat. Some have learn-by-death moments, where even the most experienced Doomer would get torn to shreds and you have to reload and prepare yourself this time - or in my case make the mistake of not saving for an age because you were having too much fun, so you have to start so far back that by the time you reach that point you’ve forgotten and just get killed again – and didn’t save again.
But I can’t stay mad for long. There is a period midway through where it seems as if everything is another trap, but just as I think it’s getting too much, it dawned on me; this is a gauntlet Hell is making Doomguy run through. It’s payback. Well, Doomguy and I are gonna pay them back for the payback. I’ve still not forgiven them for Daisy.
One level has me going back and forth through transporter after transporter on increasingly narrow ledges and there’s shotgunners and troopers and Lost Souls and Imps and they’re going through the transporters as well like a chase scene from Scooby Doo. It’s bedlam, and that’s the joy of Sigil, and the original Doom, something that’s missing from sour-faced shooters nowadays; sheer mayhem. I was happy to get fragged, gibbed and flattened in that level because it was good old-fashioned chaos.
Romero seems to be as much of a fan of transporters as he is Cacodemons. In one, I keep picking up berserker packs as I go through transporters, and then it dawns on I’m headed for a tiny cage with a Baron in it - Dammit Romero. So you’re charging to get there with the Berserker active in time but just as you do, it runs out. I transport in and … Sigil is so metal.
I loved disappearing down this ultra-violent memory lane. I do have to wonder if I’d have the same reaction if I played without knowing Romero was behind it; is nostalgia creeping in? It’s not perfect, and the ending is a little lacklustre, but Doom isn’t perfect either and if one of those modern kids were to play all five episodes for the first time, they’d not know Sigil is 25 years late to the party. It’s timing, toughness and insanity have all the hallmarks of classic Doom. The daddy of FPS is now a five-episode game.
If you’re a Doom fan why are you wasting time reading a review of it – you could be gibbing instead. You know Sigil is great before you’ve loaded it. Suck it down. Now, Romero, that’s enough mucking about - where the hell is Blackroom?
Oh … I missed the secret level. Now I’m gonna have to play it again…