Old School Cool – E1M1 Magazine review

First-person shooters have been the go-to game design of choice for decades, right back into the Nineties when the magazines on your local newsagent’s shelves still called them all “Doom Clones” (my goodness I’m glad that trend ended). They remain one of the most popular genres around and so many developers have produced games in this genre that it’s hard for one person to even keep track of them all.

E1M1 Magazine Issue 7 cover

That’s where E1M1 comes in. The magazine styles itself as the “world’s first old-school shooter mag” and it’s packed to the gills with first-person shooter reviews; interviews with game developers; previews of upcoming shooters; and more. It’s staffed by veteran games journalists and well-respected FPS veterans. These guys know their stuff and they aren’t afraid to show it.

When E1M1 sent me issue 7 to review, I didn’t know what to expect – it’s never been my thing to pick up game magazines for just one genre, so I wasn’t sure how thick the magazine would be, how large the pages and whatnot. Part of me expected a small, fanzine-style publication like the ones I remembered from the early Nineties. Wow, was I wrong!

E1M1 is big, thick and packed with information. Its pages are the size of a traditional games magazine and it weighs in at 72 pages. This is a full-scale, professional production and it demonstrates just how much love, care and attention these guys have put into it. Each page is printed in full colour, with clear and easy-to-read fonts. It’s a pleasure to pick this up and flick through it.

It’s actually difficult to find any downsides to the reviews – they are open and honest. If there’s a problem with a game, they don’t skirt around it, which is exactly what you want. If there is one thing I’d change with them however, it’s the backgrounds on the review pages. Each two-page review has a nice background that fits with the game being discussed; which makes these reviews stand out from the rest.

The one page and half-page reviews don’t have this, they share a more generic, industrial background. That looks good and doesn’t detract from the text but it would be nice to see some more variety on the pages; such as taking a background from whichever of the games being reviewed is superior and using that for the page. It’s a very small criticism but, as I said, there’s very little to not like with this magazine so small things are all I can really provide here.

The formatting is good, with a clean, modern layout that works very well. Game reviews come in three sizes: a half-page, mostly for previews where you don’t want too much given away too early; a full page, for notable examples of the genre; and two-page reviews for the stand-out classic games (plus Daikatana). Games are given a rating out of five stars, with a short summary that’s very useful if you’ve never heard of the title before and want a quick idea about it.

One more thing that’s notable is the layout of the magazine is the same all the way through. That may sound like a weird thing to say but when you’re reading it all in one go, as I tend to do with magazines (I used to think everyone did that but apparently not), it becomes noticeable. Two-page reviews have a wide block of text on page one, with a large screenshot beneath; then on page two it’s a long block of text to the left and four small screenshots to the right, with the summary box below them.

It’s an effective use of space but the gaming magazines I grew up with used multiple layout options in order to ensure visual variety on the pages. It draws the eye in when flicking through the magazine more than a standardised layout does. Again, it’s a very small criticism because the content is very good but having a couple of different layout options for each type of content would prevent the sections flowing into one-another. Maybe that’s just me, though.

The features are well-written, informative and actually quite surprising at times. I wasn’t aware that E1M1 had its own game jam until I read about it in this magazine and they’ve made it sound like something you don’t want to miss. The games produced for it look fun and I’m now going to have to take some time to actually find and play some of these. For someone with a busy game reviewing schedule, that’s quite an achievement – so well done, guys!

Similarly, the interviews are informative and, again, demonstrate the level of knowledge and love for the genre that the interviewers bring. Magazine interviews can often end up coming across quite stale, presented in a simple question-and-answer format that doesn’t bring the subject to life but here they feel like you’re part of the conversation.

All in all, I’m very impressed with what the E1M1 team have put together here. It’s a fun read that highlights a lot of games I didn’t even know existed, as well as covering the classics that everyone remembers. Whether the game is a much-loved shooter or one that flew under the radar, it’s treated with the same level of care and respect; which has made me want to track down some of these hidden treats to give them a shot myself.

Can I recommend E1M1? Absolutely. If you’re a fan of first-person shooters, there’s a lot here you’re going to love. Check them out over at www.e1m1magazine.com.