Brutal Doom in a nutshell: Doom 2's familiar (iconic?) Icon Of Sin battle re-purposed into the very image of heavy metal excess; No longer just a wall texture, the monster bobs and sways, protruding out from a wall of giant intestines surrounded by torrents of blood pouring into the arena, all whilst the player gracefully extends a middle finger on each hand.
It's been nearly two years since this juggernaut of Doom modding saw a major release, with its creator taking some time off to remake Doom 64 in the interim. Missing Halloween by just one day, this week saw the release of version 21 (albeit in beta form) and it feels like a milestone in its transformation into something almost entirely new, and distinct from both Doom of 1993, and Doom of 2016.
The change-log for the newest version of Brutal Doom is large enough to make repeating it here an exercise in foolishness, but the key changes are your usual sack of graphical upgrades, a handful of new guns (including a particle-spraying automatic shotgun), a dual-wielding system and an interesting focus on optimisation. No longer will even decent gaming PCs creak at trying to render the smoke and blood effects, unless you really overdo it.
Probably the most interesting addition this version is a map-altering scripting system that allows the mod to (optionally) remix classic levels, adding new details, areas and even vehicles. You can disable these changes if you see fit, but the changes are interesting for the most part. Most heavily over hauled are the city levels - arguably Doom 2's weakest point - which have seen a slew of upgrades to make them look more city-esque. Funny how an open-air corridor starts to look like a street with just a couple cars and signs.
The end result of all these cumulative changes is a faster, twitchier game that feels strangely familiar, having just finished up Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. Automatic weapons spray bullets with wild abandon, and enemies are wildly inaccurate when presented with a moving target. It's still Doom - with elements here from both the original and reboot - but it's something else as well. A strangely blend of the familiar and the new.
If you choose to run the mod through the Zandronum (included in the download - just add Doom2.WAD and you're good to go), there are a pair of interesting new options. You can finally swap out Doomguy for Doomgal - new character sprites, shifty-eyed face, voice and all, although no taunts yet - in a rare bit of inclusion. There's also the option to play a few rounds of deathmatch on all new maps against customised bots. A little fast and twitchy for my tastes, but I've always preferred my multiplayer a bit slower and more tactical.
As hefty a package as this may seem, this is still just a partial release of Brutal Doom v21. The final version is due sometime in December, and will not only include scripts to remix more of Doom and Doom 2's classic maps, but a full game-length campaign of its own - Extermination Day - which will lean further into the pseudo-tactical shooter angle of the mod. We saw an early version if it released with version 20, but the developer reports that a huge amount of work has been poured into it since its last iteration.
You can grab Brutal Doom v21 beta on ModDB here. While a retail copy of Doom 2 is ideal if you want to experience all the remixed maps, the mod is designed to be fully compatible with the copyright-free Freedoom data files, so if you're one of the five people on earth who don't own this pillar of PC gaming, you can still enjoy the subtle joys of defenestrating demons.