Taking Turns in Hell

Fresh off my introduction to ASCII roguelikes thanks to the fantastic Brogue, I was eager to dive into another game in that genre. I was, however, a little burned out on fantasy-themed games and one roguelike in particular grabbed my attention because of its source of inspiration. DoomRL is a fairly faithful version of the legendary first-person-shooter, Doom, but of course being a roguelike, the game uses turn-based mechanics. I was especially curious to try a turn-based game that focuses on ranged combat, something I have not seen often.

Shooting Doom Imps with a rocket launcher, just like you're supposed to.

From the start there’s no denying DoomRL’s inspiration. The music, the menu’s sound effects, monsters, weapons— seemingly everything is straight from Doom, except in an ASCII-art format. Very much like the original FPS, sound is incredibly significant while moving through the world as your limited field of vision makes hearing nearby monsters important— hearing a particular, familiar growl is often a clear signal to load a bigger gun than the one you’re using. The turn-based combat means you can take time to read a situation and DoomRL demands that you do so by making many monsters too deadly to fight head-on. Not that DoomRL doesn’t have moments where brawn beats brains, as there are instances when you need to muscle your way out of a crowd—making the shotgun my weapon of choice.

Ultimately my time with DoomRL won’t be long as there isn’t a lot to do in the game, nor are there many moments of emergent gameplay that make many roguelikes long-lasting experiences. DoomRL has Doom’s famous exploding barrels but that’s the extent of the game’s environmental interaction. Ammunition is a little too plentiful so there’s no resource management or need to be conservative with your items. DoomRL’s monsters aren’t exactly the brightest either— they will often accidentally shoot a barrel right next to them, killing themselves before I’ve fired a shot. Even after playing DoomRL for a while now I still don’t quite understand its mechanics for dodging enemy fire. Dodging incoming shots can seem very random, and although it’s bolstered by constantly being on the move and by special perks you receive from gaining experience levels, avoiding damage never feels entirely within your control. Years of playing shooters have made me used to being rewarded for fast reflexes and reflex means nothing in DoomRL.

Secret level in DoomRL

Whenever I eventually grow tired of DoomRL I’ll still check in with the game from time to time as it has been around for years and its creator continues to make updates. Over the few weeks that I was piecing this post together an entire graphical tile-set was added to DoomRL which improves the game’s experience drastically. While I’d love to snobbishly claim that the ASCII-art was better, the original programming used a very limited color palette making identifying items and monsters difficult at times— pistol ammo was a light grey “|” and shotgun ammo was a dark grey “|”.


DoomRL is a lot of fun while you’re up for running around blasting monsters but eventually the limited interaction the game world offers, the fairly small list of available weapons and items, and its simple combat wears thin. I’m not sure the tropes of first-person-shooters translate very well into roguelikes but DoomRL makes a fun attempt of it and is certainly worth a try.