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Doomworld's Cacowards showcase a dazzling 25th year of Doom mods

We are eternally Doomed, and loving it

It's Doom's 25th birthday, and Id's classic FPS has grown up along with me. While I've enjoyed modern iterations such as 2016's reboot, the original's ever-mutating open source foundation and lively mod scene just won't let me go. When John Romero announced he was releasing a nine-level Doom episode built to 1993 spec, I shrugged, because that pales in comparison to what the Doom community have built this year. Let's dig into the winners of the 2018 Cacowards, Doomworld's annual mod ceremony, including some standalone, freeware games - no Doom mod experience needed.

Cover image for YouTube video

I've previously covered some of Doomworld's best-of-year picks, including the cartoony Adventures Of Square by BigBrik, an entirely standalone freeware FPS built wholly out of cheese and geometry puns. Also on the lighter and fluffier side was Doom: The Golden Souls 2 by BatAndy, a beautiful Doom riff on Mario 64. One of the year's best has to be the viking-themed Rekkr by Revae - Doomworld call it "the missing link between Ultimate Doom and Heretic", and it's a brilliant piece of work that feels authentic to the 1996 limits it was built to.

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Also covered here were the twin juggernauts of Quake Champions: Doom Edition by DBThanatos & Michaelis, which saw a new major release this month. It's a retro adaptation of Id's arena shooter reboot, and arguably a better game thanks to its huge number of maps, bots and support for co-op against multiple sets of monsters. The Cacowards also had to come up with a new award category - The Spaceship Of Theseus - for Total Chaos by wadaholic, a stunning survival horror adventure that does things with GZDoom that nobody imagined possible - it's no longer Doom, and now it's an entirely standalone freeware game.

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Avactor by Eradrop is one that flew under my radar until the Cacowards, but after a quick run through its first couple maps, I'm sold. An oppressive jungle-horror atmosphere, a skull-masked set of tropical demons and some enormous ziggurats give this one a distinct look, albeit just purely cosmetic. Under its swamp-worn skin, this is Doom, and masterfully crafted Doom at that. The twelve enormous maps will take ages to get through, offering hundreds of monsters, plenty of ammo and just barely enough health to make the occasional mistake.

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Credit to YouTuber "Guineu Trapella" for Avactor footage.

Struggle - Antaresian Legacy by Antares031 is the one I saw the most nominations for, and I can see why. It's an enormous beast of a game. Some familiar enemies in there, mixed in with a lot of new stuff, a heavily remixed arsenal and a look and sound of its own. It has its own distinct rhythm - you'll want to quicksave often, as its enemies are a deadly bunch, countered by your own ability to pour damage onto them. Unlike some of the fancier productions here, it's unmistakably Doom, but puts enough of a spin on it to feel new all the way through.

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Credit again to YouTuber "Guineu Trapella" for the Struggle vid.

The runners-up contain some real gems, too. Umbra Of Fate by YukiRaven is a single map that pushes GZDoom to its limits, with some stunning architecture and more coloured lighting than you can shake a stick at. The Alfonzone by Pinchy is a sprawling adventure through ten different episodes of wildly different theme, each level inspired and soundtracked by a MIDI speed-composition by Doomworld regular Alfonzo. I previously featured Ashes 2063 too, the first episode in a post-apocalyptic total conversion series, featuring dialogue, trading, motorcycles and tons of 80s style.

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And all this was just the tip of the 2018 Doom iceberg - the best of the best, according to a small panel of Doomworld alumni. If you've exhausted the Cacowards proper (this year or past) and are still itching for more, check out the massive Cacoward nomination thread over on Doomworld's forums for hundreds more possible best-of-the-year candidates. There's even one from me for Sonic Robo Blast 2 Kart, another Doom-based standalone freeware game which I'm still regularly playing online. I consider it a runner-up for the Starship Of Theseus award.

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To run these mods, Doom 2 plus the latest version of the flexible GZDoom engine will get you into 98% of them. A rare few require the first Doom. The Doom Classic Complete bundle on Steam and Humble gets you both for £10/€15/$15. Probably the best ten quid you can spend in games, in my opinion.

PSA: Friends don’t let friends play GZDoom mods with blurry textures. Follow this little guide video to get those pixels pin-sharp in just 30 seconds or your money back.

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Dominic Tarason