Friday, 11 June 2010

Doom II (XBLA)

The original Doom, released at the end of 1993, was such a revolutionary event that the inevitable sequel could only ever really hope to evolve the template, rather than blast out further into uncharted gaming territory. This wasn’t a problem of course. Doom’s innovations were so significant – its use of technology, subject matter, FPS world design – that with it id Software earned themselves a virtual lifetime pass of goodwill. While we wouldn’t go so far as to accuse them of resting on their laurels, Doom II certainly bears the hallmarks of a young, upstart developer vindicated in their pursuit of such a radical approach.

That was in 1994, some 16(!) years ago. Doom II played today is inevitably found lacking when compared to today’s mega-budget offerings, with its original un-embellished visuals squashed into a smaller screen and the ironic perkiness of the MIDI tunes maintained, but that of course is besides the point. Whereas 4J Studios’ conversion of Perfect Dark was an effective attempt at giving Rare’s 2000 title fresh relevance, Doom II on XBLA is unashamedly focussed on preservation.

The sheer speed of movement and absence of a vertical axis will be familiar to veterans of this era, as will the maze-like non-linear nature of the levels. Though there’s a familiar feel to the play now, these are factors I was unprepared for when I started to play the similarly authentic XBLA conversion of Nazi-slaying classic Wolfenstein 3D (in my defence, having grown up without a PC for gaming, my FPS education effectively began with GoldenEye 007).

Despite the leap in what developers can now inflict on space marines, there still can’t be many games as genuinely nerve-wracking as Doom II; on the higher difficulties the ratio of enemies to ammo regularly reaches Resident Evil-like heights of panic, something compounded by the disorientating design of the levels. If the absence of signposting and often confusing array of corridors and locked doors will be a shock to most modern gamers, then the satisfying crack of a shotgun to the face of a Cyberdemon will speak to any gamer who’s ever laughed manically while killing a Brute/WWII grunt/Helghast in the name of digital justice.

Played in the right spirit Doom II is still a cracking action game. This XBLA re-release, at 800 points, represents good value for money. The generous bonuses include online multiplayer, a co-operative mode and an extra chapter entitled No Rest For The Living which fits neatly with the tone of the original. Recommended for anyone interested in discovering where the roots of contemporary FPS gaming began.

Original D+PAD Magazine review here.

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