There’s more to Brutal Doom than gore

There are few constants in videogames quite like the original Doom (or Doom 2, if we’re being picky) – a grand leap forward in FPS design that has somehow remained timeless and enduring even in the face of countless successors. Quake, Call of Duty, sequels and even full reboots have come and gone, but the original 90s Doom still stands strong, scaleable, adaptable and eternally self-reinventing.

Between countless engine upgrades thanks to Id generously releasing the source code and a seemingly endless stream of mod and level releases thanks in part to continually updated tools, the original Doom (and its engine-sharing derivatives) still boast one of the most active mod scenes out there, and one mod in particular has risen to such ubiquity that it has spawned a whole parallel mod scene of its own; the splatteriffic Brutal Doom.

Chances are you’ve at least heard of Brutal Doom, but you might have written it off as being just a tacky gore mod as its early trailers put the focus heavily on Mortal Kombat-esque fatality animations. For some, the gratuitous grimdark splatter action was an immediate hook. For others, it’s off-putting. Either way, it’s not really representative of the mod as it stands now.

Over the years, Brutal Doom has evolved into a total rework of Doom’s gameplay, leveraging most of the features of the GZDoom engine variant. Almost everything is overhauled, from weapon handling and balance (faster, more deadly guns, and with reloading and alternate fire-modes) to enemy behaviour and movesets. In more recent versions, the much-touted fatality moves are rarely seen performed by players now, although are a more common sight amongst infighting monsters, and any demon lucky enough to finish you off.

Due to the increase in aggression and power on both player and monster sides, Brutal Doom flattens the power curve somewhat; a common criticism of the mod, although equally defining. Lone Imps are now capable of tearing chunks out of you, but Hell Knights are much faster to bring down with just a couple headshots (locational damage is a thing now), making it better suited for play on level-packs with above-average enemy counts with a good number of ‘popcorn’ enemies such as zombies and imps to chew through.

Unfortunately the systems BD uses to handle locational damage and gore makes it unfeasible for most mortal PCs to combine it with the dense throngs of monsters you see in dedicated ‘slaughter’ levels where most of the players time is spent with finger welded to the rocket or BFG trigger, so it’s a bit of a balancing act finding the ideal BD experience. An issue that’s mitigated by the mod now including its own full-length campaign, with future updates promising remixes and revisions of classic maps as well.

Brutal Doom is very much a game in its own right at this point – an evolutionary offshoot of the genre. The full length campaign has no shortage of flashy setpieces including a Normandy-style beachhead assault on Hell itself, accompanied by swarms of NPC marines and quite a bit of free-roaming urban combat. It feels like a hybrid of classic Doom, the 2016 reboot (which may in part have been inspired by BD), and modern tactical shooters, with a dash of Duke Nukem for the campaign level design.

Brutal Doom’s creator, Marcos ‘Sgt Mark IV’ Abenante of Brazil, certainly isn’t resting on his laurels either. He’s established his brand through this mod, despite some public comments seeing him banned or at least rendered Persona Non Grata on several major Doom community hubs. Such is the bad blood that mention of Brutal Doom and its derivatives is often met with chilly dismissals, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the mods overwhelming, headline-hogging popularity.

As such, Brutal Doom has made its home on ModDB, outside of the usual community circles, and has spawned its own little scene of spinoffs and derivatives, several by ‘Sarge’ himself. Some are as small as plugins and unofficial patches (you’ll probably want this if you want to use a newer build of GZDoom), custom HUD elements or music packs that replace Doom’s MIDI soundtrack with full instrumental arrangements and remixes, but some might as well be whole new games in their own right.

Most notable of the official releases is Brutal Doom 64, which is a complete remake of the wildly underrated N64 game in the series. It replicates the entire N64 package, as well as adding new enemies, weapons and secrets to the mix. This even earned Id Software’s official endorsement and promotion after it was nominated for Best Fan Creation at the Video Game Awards last year, although again, perhaps crowding out other such attempts to port or adapt Doom 64, such as Doom64 EX, a direct port of the original so accurate that it requires you to feed it the original N64 ROM file.

Outside of BD64, there’s even been an official attempt to adapt Brutal Doom’s gore system and some gameplay alterations to Doom engine-cousin Strife (sadly abandoned after one beta release), and a small side-project called Ketchup which detaches the gore system from Brutal Doom so that it can be used in conjunction with other projects as you see fit. I’ve even seen patches released to further allow Ketchup compatibility with other visual mods – it seems one of the few points the community can agree on is that Brutal Doom has some very satisfying splatter effects.

Of the BD Community’s own output Project Brutality is probably the best known. Using BD as its foundation, it layers on new systems, weapons, gadgets, enemies and even some features trying to simulate the use of a high-tech suit of combat armor. At the core of Project Brutality is the progression system – as you play through any given campaign, it gradually ups the ante by spawning in more efficient weapons, as well as replacing regular enemies with deadlier variants or even completely new alternatives. Few Doom players know the fear of fighting a dozen railgun-sniping, jetpack-equipped Revenants, inspired by Doom 2016’s especially agitating skeletons.

Brutality’s overall feel is that you’re gradually levelling up over the course of the game, and are fighting higher tier enemies to match. Of course, all of these new monsters are compliant with Brutal Doom’s locational damage and gore systems, making for an especially cathartic experience when you break out the really big guns late in the game. It also offers a vast amount of customization, allowing you to toggle most of its features and additions as you see fit. It’s a flexible and fun package, and due for a major new release alongside the upcoming Brutal Doom V21.

There are plenty more variants and spinoff mods easily found in the Brutal Doom page on ModDB, but few (if any) seem to be quite as full featured as Brutality. That’s why the mod of a mod was chosen as the foundation for yet another mod – The 555 Project – a power-trip fantasy which mashes up the enemies and progression system of Brutality with another, non-Brutal mod – Guncaster – to great effect.

Guncaster replaces the vanilla space marine with the modder’s fursona a fire-breathing dragon-man, capable of levelling up, casting spells, hoarding gold from slain enemies and using it to buy some absurdly beefy firearms, including possibly the most satisfying revolver I’ve ever used in an FPS. The only real issue with Guncaster is that it’s too much of a power fantasy; by starting powerful and levelling up from there, you end up outmatching the vanilla enemies, so it’s a mod match made in heaven. Project Brutality’s progressive enemy spawns keep you pressured even as you learn the more apocalyptic spells.

With at least three Brutal gameplay variants to play around with, you’re probably going to exhaust the included campaign’s value before too long. If you’re after more levels to play, there’s plenty to pick from although very few designed explicitly for play with Brutal Doom. Among those few are the Maps Of Chaos series, which are remixed versions of the classic Doom 1 & 2 maps with additional areas and much larger enemy groupings. This pack was formerly known as Brutalized Doom, although it changed branding after they realised it works pretty well with just about any gameplay mod.

Also worth a play is Redemption of The Slain. A single large level (effectively 3-4 smaller maps chained into one) designed explicitly for play with Brutal Doom. It’s high on spectacle, but has a bit of an arcade bent to it, often shutting you in an arena with several successive waves of enemies to clear out before nudging you towards the next battle. It’s designed around the full GZDoom feature-set too, so expect areas where you’re asked to jump and duck to navigate the environment. Some performance issues in the later sections aside, it’s well worth a stab.

Beyond that, you’re spoilt for choice with the old Idgames archive offering tens of thousands of maps, although I’d personally recommend Hellbound above others. It’s an enormous campaign that really runs with the ‘Hell On Earth’ concept. On the higher difficulties playing ‘vanilla’, there were a few too many Hell Knights to be comfortable, but Brutal Doom’s balance makes it flow better, with the beefier enemies feeling more like speed-bumps than solid walls of angry meat. Matching gameplay mods to map packs is like matching wine to a meal – what are your favourite pairings? Share your thoughts, recommendations and more in the comments below.

39 Comments

  1. Lord_Mordja says:

    A lot of Doom purists hate BD, but it’s a lot of fun. In my mind, there’s plenty of room for both and I vary it up depending on what campaign I’m playing and what I’m in the mood for.

    Of course, I only actually started playing any sort of Doom early last year, and since then I’ve been going through megawads with a wide variety of weapon packs, TCs, and gameplay modifications. You just have to figure out which ones pair well together!

    It’s crazy how many different experiences you can have thanks to the game’s vibrant, creative community. I’m a relative newcomer to the game, but Doom and its multitudinous spinoffs is absolutely one of my favourites of all time.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Yeah, BD isn’t a mod for purists, but you could argue that anything outside of PRBoom+ compatible map packs isn’t either. It’s surprising how it’s grown into its own game now, though, with its own splinter community.

      I do hope to cover other, less well known mods in the future, if RPS will have me. There’s a lot of big projects brewing, some of which have their own orbiting scenes. Megaman 8-Bit Deathmatch in particular is due for a major new release soon, and that walks the finest of lines between Mod and 100% New Game.

      • dethtoll says:

        I would rather no Doom mods be popular than Brutal Doom be popular, but if you could cover mapsets like Sunlust or Ancient Aliens (which IIRC was actually trending on FB for a hot minute) that would be nice.

      • Kinsky says:

        IMO DOOM purism is kind of throwing the baby out with the bathwater – vanilla DOOM is pretty great, true, and I might even say (probably due to my own prejudice stemming from growing up with the game) one of the greatest shooters of all time, but the modding scene is so vibrant and so much of the enormous amounts of (FREE) content available is awesome in its own way. Modded DOOM is one of the most varied and colorful experiences you can have in gaming.

  2. Jay Load says:

    I’ve defended BD many a time on these hallowed pages. I’d love to think that the naysaying crowd are actually basing their hate on an early version of the mod.

    I just don’t get how anyone who loves Doom could not love the absolute balls out of BD and its many buzzy-fly little upgrades/mods. IT’s BRILLIANT.

  3. Dominic Tarason says:

    You should all really try The 555 Project at some point. It’s the Sonic 3 & Knuckles & Knuckles & Knuckles & Knuckles of FPS mods, but it somehow works against all odds.

    Plus, it makes the already addictively powerful Guncaster handgun feel appropriately powerful when it can reduce most enemies to a red haze.

    Oh, and one other thing that I was running out of space so had to cut:

    Vulkan, Episode 1
    link to forum.zdoom.org

    A new setpiece-heavy Doom campaign using everything the GZDoom engine can do. While very much its own mod, it does use chunks of the Brutal Doom core. It’s not a full derivative, but it’s a fine example of even stuff outside the BD scene using bits and pieces of it.

    • Kinsky says:

      I downloaded Project 555 after reading this article and can confirm it is a fair bit lunatic and IMO pretty fun as a result. The weapons are kind of all over the place as far as how fun they are to use (the auto-shotgun’s alt-fire is a ridiculous good time) and the shop system is a little weird at first, but overall it’s an interesting flavor of game play. Also, the handgun is awesome.

      P.S.: I found that starting out can be pretty difficult on the UV equivalent unless you learn how to use the smash attack – jump to a decent height and double tap your crouch button and you’ll instantly ass blast anything underneath you, gibbing enemies at the point of impact and knocking down those nearby. Save your ammo, you’ll need it.

      P.P.S.: If you’re playing at modern resolutions, make sure you upscale the text in Options > HUD Options > Message Options so you can actually read the shop tooltips.

  4. Drib says:

    I had tons of fun with Brutal Doom. I played it a few months back, or a bit more. Through the original Doom 1 campaigns.

    It really makes the game new and exciting, fast paced and fun. Doom 1 was fast paced on release, but… expectations have changed.

    I’ve heard that Sgt Mark is kind of a jerk, but hey. I can enjoy content outside of liking the creator.

    • The Chadillac says:

      He’s a fucking racist and the brutal doom code has notes like the following:
      // Watch how the plasma magic can instantly turn an average white guy into a nigger faster than Rap.
      // Plasma Deaths.

      I’m not surprised Dominic has no moral qualms with boosting the work of a white supremacist, he was always the most idiotic craven worm on forumid=44.

      • DeepSleeper says:

        Well, here comes the SomethingAwful Asshole Brigade.

        It was a good article, but pack it up and move along I guess.

      • PoulWrist says:

        Let’s not equate the artist with his art.

        • dethtoll says:

          Sorry, that’s bullshit. “Separate the artist from the art” basically boils down to “excuse and tacitly support the moral failings of the art because he made something you like.”

          I like film noir but I’m never going to watch Chinatown because Roman Polanski is a convicted child rapist. You might say that’s irrational; I say, I have better things to do than support a convicted child rapist.

          • Kinsky says:

            Sorry, that’s bullshit. “Separate the artist from the art” basically boiling down to “excuse and tacitly support the moral failings of the art because he made something you like” basically boils down to “I care more about jamming every life situation into my absolutist moral code and the self-satisfaction I derive from it than I do actually experiencing things.” Nobody else is impressed by your quest to shame other people for liking a thing made by a dickhead.

            Besides, Brutal Doom is free. Who, exactly, are you supporting?

          • dethtoll says:

            Roman Polanski is just a “dickhead,” he says. As opposed to convicted child rapist?

          • Scumbag says:

            I think the point is (and this is not something I agree with) is that an artist / creator should not be given any form of return of any kind for their views, be it financial or social capital because of their views and statements. In this the only morally correct actions you can have toward Brutal Doom or other such things is either ignoring their existence or, if you want actual action, the removal of their goods from all outlets and a limitation on their ability to spread any kind of art or thought in any kind of outlet.

            Bear in mind this is third hand information based on a number of conversations I’ve had with people who were anti freedom of expression for social purposes and I personally, someone who sticks to the idea of death of the author, disagree with them heavily.

      • Kinsky says:

        So you came here just to shit-talk the author based on his reputation on a site nobody has cared about in over a decade, because you disagree with his opinion. And he’s the problem. Got it. I’m sure RPS will promptly sever ties with this man and ask you to write about your obviously superior video game opinions in his place.

  5. Flappybat says:

    Project Brutality is brilliant. It’s almost Brutal Doom for Brutal Doom. The weapons are a refinement of BD’s arsenal, the enemy variants keep the gameplay fresh and the whole thing ratchets up over the map pack (tuned to the length of the wad!).

  6. Michael Fogg says:

    Adds a giant swinging ballsack to the shotgun. Best mod ever.

  7. Scumbag says:

    I’m very happy about Brutal Doom 64 coming out. It should be noted that even if the gore and mechanical changes to Brutal Doom put you off, they are toned down a degree in the 64 version. If anything it seems like if you took the general basis for Doom and mixed it with the tone and feel of the original Quake. While Brutal Doom has the exciting degeneracy of listening to some silly gore-grind album, BD64 is far more subtle and, for some reason, is really, really unnerving. Maybe its just the soundtrack, the changes in lighting or extra effects on the phantom imps / spectres but while not outwardly horror, it does get under my skin a little.

  8. dethtoll says:

    [anime girl puking gif]

    Brutal Doom is little more than Doom: Klebold and Harris edition, completely missing the point of what makes Doom great. I’m not a purist by any stretch of the imagination, but I AM an adult, and I’ve got zero patience for this kind of puerile garbage, much of which was plagiarized from other modders.

    • PoulWrist says:

      OK. But John Romero said it was brilliant and that it was what he’d have done if it as possible at the time of Doom’s original development.

      • dethtoll says:

        He was also an overgrown teenager in the early 90s (seriously, read Masters of Doom, he was basically Otto Mann with programming skills) and went on to create Daikatana. I firmly believe that the reason Doom has stood the test of time is precisely because it didn’t go for the buckets of blood style Mortal Kombat did.

        • Kinsky says:

          Doom was absolutely buckets of blood in its time. In fact, it became one of the primary faces of violent video games. You name dropped Harris and Klebold, so surely you remember Doom specifically being accused of brainwashing kids and programming them to be psycho killers with its Extremely Realistic Violence.

          • dethtoll says:

            I do. And I’m telling you that Doom pushed the envelope in just the right amount to weather years of controversy without drowning in its own need to be edgy.

    • Kinsky says:

      I feel sorry for anybody who’s too ~adult~ to enjoy Brutal Doom.

  9. DevilishEggs says:

    A lot of “purists,” which I’m taking to mean anyone who actually plays of lot of Doom, don’t use BD because 99 percent of wads were designed for the original mechanics and guns in mind. And the only reasons to play a lot of Doom is to play a large number of wads. Most people don’t want to map with BD in mind (for a lot of reasons), but one important factor is the way it makes Doom more of a cover-based shooter.

    And please get off my lawn.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      This pretty accurately sums up my feelings, saving me from having to repeat myself again. Cool.

      I would add that I really have no problem with people liking BD – I actually enjoy playing it, myself, although I haven’t tried the most recent version. My problem is with it getting (and I don’t THINK I’m being hyperbolic here but correct me if I am) more coverage than the rest of doom modding put together. There is so much stuff out there that does far more interesting and frankly more fun things with Doom than just… just this.

  10. Be_reasonable says:

    For people who don’t know, how do you get started playing? I’m not sure which pieces here are necessary.

    • Kinsky says:

      Start by installing GZDoom, and pick your poison from there – map packs, game play mods, etc. Note that you’ll need the unofficial Brutal Doom patch to run it on newer versions of GZDoom (2.2 or higher). From there, you can play the old WADs to get a feel for the differences, or jump straight into a new WAD – for Brutal Doom or Project Brutality specifically, I would recommend the Brutal Doom Hell on Earth campaign or Maps of Chaos. To launch it, either use ZDL, or just create a shortcut to gzdoom.exe and list all the files you want to load at the end of the file path in the target dialogue on the shortcut tab (i.e. C:\Games\GZDoom\gzdoom.exe hellonearthstarterpack.wad brutalv20b.pk3 brutalv20c_UP.pk3 DoomMetalVol4.wad). The GZDoom launcher will let you select one of the vanilla WADs, and note that the choice does matter depending on which mod you’re using (e.g. a mod requiring assets from Doom II will freak out if you only load the original Doom WAD)

  11. ChampionHyena says:

    “He’s established his brand through this mod, despite some public comments seeing him banned or at least rendered Persona Non Grata on several major Doom community hubs.”

    Let’s not split hairs, here. Sgt Mark IV gets banned because he puts racist rhetoric into his code comments and tells people to kill themselves. “Some public comments” is a little bit of a disingenuous way to put his toxicity.

    Granted, plenty of people can handle the whole death-of-the-author thing just fine, but I can’t. I used to love Brutal Doom, but learning more about where it came from made me queasy.

  12. jeremyalexander says:

    I’m sorry, but violent crime aside, if there was one group of people I would like to see punched in the face daily, it’s anyone that hates something because it’s popular, or gets popular. You are the scum of the Earth. Why would anyone ban someone because what they did got too much recognition? How sad, pathetic, lonely, and soft as baby s^%t do you have to be for that concept to even enter your mind? Accessibility and recognition are not dumbing down, they are smartening up.

    • shocked says:

      Well, “hate” is a strong word, but of course there are often very good reasons to be sceptic when something you like tries to be popular. “Popular” in games often means dumbed down game mechanics, not being too surprising, trading “individuality/character” for a more mass compatible style. Popular is often somewhat boring and catering to a few tastes. It means easily digestible, not too complex, easily marketable, etc.

      Popular can also mean that the style and atmosphere of a community changes, and that can be very disruptive.

      If you like all these qualities, that’s all good. But many people like more complex, quirky, disruptive, surreal, explorative, creative works and they are not necessarily so “sad and pathetic” as you make them out to be.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Scum of the Earth is a bit harsh but I agree. Hating the popular thing usually gets dropped by most people shortly into adulthood.

    • PoulWrist says:

      Well, the author of the mod is somewhat deranged. Rather openly racist and homophobic. So that’d be the reason for the author’s banning.

  13. Syrion says:

    I have a very simple view on things. I’ve always kind of liked Doom, but never really played it until last year, when I purchased the originals on GOG and played through them using Chocolate Doom, and had a great time. I’ve also played a bit of Brutal Doom and liked it a lot, BECAUSE while working on the foundation of the original, it turns it into a very different game, unlike a majority of other Doom “total conversions” (lots of which are also very cool).
    Brutal Doom 64 is also terriffic as it is much more “vanilla” than Brutal Doom itself, especially staying true to the creepy atmosphere in every regard that made the N64 game so famous.
    I’ve also enjoyed my time with Project Brutality, especially with Doom Visor and weapon wheel mods, but it seemed a bit over-the-top for my taste, already juggling something like 20 different weapons and variants in only the second third of the game or so? But, maybe The 555 Project is worth it then, going by a similar concept, but making it especially good?

    So, I guess to some up my feelings, which don’t include any kind of long-term love for any of the projects or otherwise emotional involvement: Lots and lots of great games, tons of fun to be had! Good times!

  14. thathomestar says:

    Here’s the history of Brutal Doom from someone who is at least a little involved with the Doom community.

    Some time ago, Sgt Mark asked the community for help making a mod, and some people agreed to help him. Mark refused to credit those people for years and claimed their work as his own for quite a while until he caved to pressures from the community to have some basic human decency. I believe his terrible patchwork of code still has some stolen lines in it to this day.

    Mark also wanted to make the gore as realistic as possible, so he digitized actual real-life images of gore from actual real-life car accidents to put into the mod. Once this was found out, Mark removed these sprites after the community threatened to remove his mod from all Doom community websites.

    After that, Mark thought it would be a good idea to comment racial slurs in his code. Once again, he removed it after the community found out about it. Are you seeing a pattern here?

    Outside of Brutal Doom, Mark wasn’t exactly the nicest person either. He has an extremely abrasive personality, coupled with a large ego. Mark was eventually banned from the ZDoom forums after telling a community member with severe depression to kill themselves and linking to articles on how to kill yourself via asphyxiation.

    That is the kind of person Sgt Mark is. Now let’s talk about the average Brutal Doom fans.

    Imagine you are writing a story. You’ve spent a few months on it and you decide put up a rough draft of it on a forum for criticism and peer review. All of the responses you get are that you should put Deadpool in your story and that they will refuse to support your story if Deadpool isn’t inserted into it. Imagine being harassed daily for saying that you don’t want to put Deadpool in your story because it wouldn’t be compatible with what you’re trying to make. This is pretty much how every single Doom mod and map maker felt for a period of about 4 years before most Doom community websites relegated all BD discussion to it’s own thread, if not banning it outright. A lot of modmakers have to include “anti-Brutal” checks in their mods in a last ditch attempt to get through to people that no, this mod will never have Brutal Doom compatibility, and even then that doesn’t stop the harassment.

    So I have to ask: why does BD get all the attention? What does it do better than other Doom mods? The reality is not much. Tweaked weapons and enemies, iron sights, and gore. I’ve give credit where credit is due, I quite liked the gore system in BD. I imagine that’s what most people like about the mod. But the rest of it is just kind of blasé. The weapons themselves sound and feel powerful, but aren’t actually all that powerful in terms of actual damage. I remember the minigun being absolutely worthless for the amount of ammo it chewed through. The enemies all move, react, and fire ultra fast, but the player moves around at about the same speed as normal, if not a bit slower. That paired with the iron sights and reloading grinds gameplay flow to a halt as you have to constantly stop and pop to simply survive.

    All of this combined is why people do not like BD. Not because of jealously, but because we’re just sick of it already. If you’re a big BD fan and you actually bothered to read all this, I only ask you to think of five other non-BD inspired Doom mods (not levelsets, actual gameplay mods) that have come out in the past 5 years without using a search engine. If you cannot do so, I ask that you maybe look up some of them and give them a go, because there’s so much more to Doom mods than BD and BD derivatives.

    I’m going to end this by saying that Sgt Mark once cried a bunch on 4chan that Doom 2016 stole from Brutal Doom and that they should pay him for “making Doom popular”, which is completely ironic given how much he has stolen from the Doom community. Thank you for your time.