Thatcher’s Tech Base (TTB) is a Doom II modification that was released on Friday the 24th of September, with the help of the websites how to install guide after ten minutes of downloading and extracting I managed to get the game working. Six hours later I had made it to the end screen and a sequel hook. My final runtime was just over an hour, the other five hours were me reloading after dying. I’ve enjoyed Doom, Doom II and Wolfenstein 3D for years, ever since I found them installed on a computer in my town’s internet cafe. Though sadly I was never very good at them, so if you were an old school Doom pro you’ll probably beat my time, and if you’re not a pro then copy my strategy of saving in rare moments of peace from slaughtering everything in a room.
TTB feels like Doom II, its pacing, its maze and gauntlet mix for level design, the soundtrack is original but aside from a few tunes inspired by old British patriotic jingles like Land of Hope and Glory are just like the soundtrack to the original Doom II. The webpage has a bandcamp that plays some of the tracks and I’ve been listening to them while writing this. The levels are covered and I do mean covered in detailed sprite work that’s gory and gross, and full of highly detailed 1980s propaganda posters and graffiti. The only parts of the game that show that it's a 2020's modification and not from the 1990s (when shareware mods were common) are the things it does that were simply impossible back then. Other than a short opening section in a demon prison where Thatcher and her acolytes have escaped, the entirety of the game including boss battles and secrets is in one level. That’s over an hours worth of gameplay with dozens of unique assets with no loading in between. The sprite work that covers the walls of this world is just too crisp and clear for an older machine to have run, you can read most of the gravity and text on the vote Tory posters.
The plot is very simple, Thatcher has gained control of a part of hell and is attempting to return and bring an army of demons and party activists with her. Its the players task to go to the tenth circle of hell ie. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to stop her. The demonic horde is quite diverse, most of the roster of enemies from Doom II are here but have been given a light blue makeover. Jokes aside the world of TTB does look like a hell version of the late 1980s/1990s UK. Apart from some very brief text boxes the old Doom games told their stories through environmental design and TTB maintains that tradition. You can tell Thatcher has escaped because the prison at the beginning has a lot of corpses of guards and busted open cells and damaged machinery. You can tell you’re getting closer to the final confrontation the more closely the scenery resembles a Tory party HQ and the British government. The final showdown with a Cyber Thatcher (see the box art) is in the House of Commons complete with both aisles full of sycophants willing to fight to the death to protect her.
Though this does mean that the game has a target audience of people who are already intimately familiar with the legacy of the Thatcher’s government and her successors, something the game acknowledges by being dedicated to them, and since this is a modification of a licensed property, instead of payment which is illegal due to copyright law, the game devs at Doom Daddy Digital recommend that you donate to one of several charities on their webpage. The charities are ISWO support for Mining families, Stonewall, The Hillsborough Justice Campaign, ICTJ The International Center for Transitional Justice, Living Rent, and the Scottish Refugee Council. This might at first glance seem a bit of random list but they all represent some of the victims of the Thatcher government, Mining communities were ripped apart and occupied for over a year, queer Britons were left to die through AIDs with the UK government only taking action once it had definitely started affecting heterosexuals, but even after that gay people were still criminalised and scapegoated (Ed. Google Section 28), Hillsborough was ofcourse where the police managed to kill 97 Liverpool FC fans, which was covered up by the government in 1989 and to this day the families of the deceased are still battling government indifference and inertia, the ICTJ campaigns to expose systematic human rights abuses and given that Thatcher’s administration escalated the conflict in Northern Ireland and turned parts of Britain into militarised states. Living Rent is one of the many groups dealing with the ugly aftermath of one of the Conservative government’s flagship policies, mass selling off of council housing and deregulation of the housing market, and the Scottish Refugee Council, well in addition to using Scotland as a test bed for most of their reactionary policies before rolling them out to the rest of the UK, the Tory party of the 1980s was also openly hostile to refugees, which to be fair is an example of the continuity of British government rather than a break with tradition.
I’m old enough to remember the lingering effects of the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s partly because the Labour governments that followed did very little to change or counter act that legacy. So I ate everything TTB was serving me. I understood that the NUM stickers on the walls were about the 1984-85 Miners strike, I understood the graffiti that were references to the IRA and the fighting in Northern Ireland, I understood why the 1% health pick ups are milk cartoons and why the words “you’ve snatched some milk” flash on the screen when you pick them up. I also chuckled a little when I noticed that the evil base full of dripping acid and exploding barrels has health and safety at work signs. And I understood what the red baiting vote Tory posters were getting at. But I don’t think that’ll be easily understood by someone playing this without that prior knowledge.
To take just one example, there’s a really clever part of the level that’s a BBC communications room, in it there are two banks of monitors with images of the UK and groups of blue uniformed soldiers at the desks. I enjoyed seeing this, but if you didn’t know just how overtly pro government the BBC was during this period and how the Conservative party used it to manipulate the population I think a lot of the messaging is lost. I do wonder what a Doom completionist who plays TTB with no real knowledge of Thatcher but loves the game and its modding scene would think. Hopefully the strengths of the game and the sheer never ending examples of just how hated Thatcher and the Tory party were will pique their curiosity and they’ll learn more about it when they’ve made it to the end screen or gotten a 100% of the secrets. On my first full playthrough I only managed 11% of secrets, and there’s an entire path of the level locked behind a series of doors that needed a red key card to access which I never even saw, so after finishing I dived back in, though I will probably have to wait for someone else to write up a walkthrough.
In summary, if you like the old Doom games you should play this game its in the top tier of mods and games inspired by them. If you remember the Thatcher administration and its austerity and police state actions, you should play this game even if you don’t like Doom games. It’ll take a few minutes for you to adjust but once you’ve got the hang of using a Winchester rifle and grabbed the Trident missile launcher you will find some catharsis. If neither applies to you, I would still say give the game a go, even if the game play doesn’t click and you don’t come away with an in-depth understanding of the damage the combination neoliberal economics and patriotic traditionalism and respect for authority can do to a people, you will at least get a taste of how varied and visceral the resistance to it was.
You can learn more about Thatcher's Tech Base and play it yourself via their Github.