Killers on the loose: Slick, sick and dangerous to play, Doom is Sonic the Hedgehog meets Reservoir Dogs. Rupert Goodwins plays the computer game from hell

On the 10th of December 1993, an army of hell-spawned monsters appeared in Texas. Within minutes, they'd spread across the world's networks and invaded thousands of computers; Christmas saw otherwise placid people knee-deep in alien corpses as they battled to save the world in Doom, the computer game. Now, the full version is out and word-of-mouth alone has made it one of the hottest new entertainment products on the PC.

Ah, but the game. In the war between the libertarian play- what-you-like brigade and the defenders of digital decency, Doom doesn't so much follow the former philosophy as lead from the front, turbo-lasers blazing. Kill or be killed as messily as possible is the plot per se, and to that end the multitude of rooms, corridors and halls are encrusted with gore - here a body twitching on a stake, there an amputated, gangrenous limb swinging gently in the radioactive breeze. And you were worried about a holiday in Miami.

The weapons at your disposal - dispensed as the game progresses - are designed with a disturbing attention to detail: sidearms such as the pistol, shotgun and rocket launcher are supplemented by chainsaws, plasma weapons and the BFG-9000 which wipes out every monster in range with just one shot.

Very little of importance happens in Doom without some concomitant danger. As your character soaks up the punishment, his face becomes battered and bloodied, but pick up a medicine pack and he returns to the fray refreshed. Pick up a big weapon, and a grin of maniacal glee breaks out: this is not someone who cowered behind the sofa when the Daleks came on.

Every part of the game has the same mix of painstaking detail and a dedication to maximal gore ferociously distributed. Few shibboleths of political incorrectness have been omitted; you'll find pentagrams and lightly disguised swastikas alongside monsters liberally cobbled together from diverse demonologies. Some are completely novel, dredged from imaginations the equal of H P Lovecraft's: one of the most unpleasant in the bestiary resembles a giant horned floating pomegranate with one eye and a line in high-velocity saliva. Hit them enough times and they subside, blatantly eviscerated, in a pool of blood; the other demons, imps, undead zombies and horned nasties take less killing but spurt bodily fluids just as freely under fire.

All these unsalubrious characters inhabit a three-dimensional world with genuine texture and atmosphere. Granite mazes and crowded storerooms offer countless niches for the alien hordes; there are narrow, claustrophobic passageways and vast marble caverns, well-lit computer centres and abandoned power plants lit by sporadically flashing fluorescent lights. Regular users of the London Underground will immediately feel at home.

The entire game is narcotically addictive and strictly for grown-ups. With difficulty levels including Hurt Me Plenty and Ultra-Violence, this is Sonic The Hedgehog meets Reservoir Dogs. Slick, sick and dangerous to play, it's as technically advanced as it is rich in red corpuscles.

It's already possible to link up to four computers together to play with or against your friends, but work is well advanced to hook players from different countries together across the global Internet computer network. Speak softly and carry a big stick might have been good advice in international politics once upon a time, but when your opponent has a BFG-9000 and an evil smirk you might be better off behind the sofa.

Doom (IBM PC 386 or better), available by mail order from Transend Services Ltd (0274 622228)

(Photograph omitted)

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