The early ’90s were a pivotal time in my game-playing development. While I enjoyed the likes of Mario and Sonic, and the home consoles they championed, I was also strangely curious of these “Pee See” games I had heard so much about. The rumored better graphics, excessive gore, and digitized breasts sold this pre-teen boy on the platform at once. However, outside of our old Windows 3.1 machine, my family never obtained a computer with which I could enjoy these games. Sure, I was able to play a few minutes here and there at friends’ homes when fathers would wander away from those glorious giant white and off-white boxes, but I was never quite satiated. Doom, Wolfenstein, Duke Nukem: they were nothing but words to me.
By the time I was able to convince my mom that we desperately needed a new computer, it was 1998. If you are unfamiliar with PC gaming, this year was kind of a big deal. StarCraft and Half-Life both released that fateful year, and with them the PC’s gaming abilities rose to a whole new level. With my Voodoo video card strapped in to that vacant PCI slot, I experienced something entirely new and revolutionary. I would later go back to check out those games forsaken to me as a child… but they paled in comparison to what was going on presently. After discovering this, I never once went back to them.
With all that in mind, I was actually pretty excited to download Doom II, which was recently released on Xbox Live Arcade. The XBLA version is virtually the same as the game released back in 1994, with the exception of a new set of levels created by the team behind the port. This means you get all the pixelated gore and 4:3 display ratio you could possibly want. Frustratingly, this also means there is no ability to manually aim. Instead, the right thumbstick only moves your view along a horizontal axis. That’s no problem when simply exploring the levels or even fighting enemies up close, but when you attempt to pick off an enemy at a distance, it becomes a bit random; sometimes you’ll hit them dead on, other times you will fire way off target. With ammo a precious commodity in Hell, it would have certainly been nice if the ability to aim had been added.
One thing that struck me about playing Doom II for practically the first time is how much attention went in to the level design. I had always remembered the game as a strictly linear affair, but that couldn’t be more wrong. Levels will have you searching for different color key cards throughout a number of dark rooms and corridors, while also bringing you back through areas you’ve already explored to enter once inaccessible doors. Add in secret passages and shortcuts, and there is certainly enough variation to keep your interest. Though this does prove a little tiring in later levels, as navigating becomes quite difficult, usually resulting in a moment or two where you just press A against every single wall, searching for a hidden switch or door.
Hampering your exploration of each level are a variety of demons all bent on your destruction. Some hurl projectiles, others prefer melee encounters, and more still would rather deploy minions while hiding in the back. There are enough types of enemies that each encounter can feel fairly unique, depending on the assortment that inhabit a room you walk through. Once you get the Super Shotgun, the foes don’t really pose too much of a threat individually, but be careful; should you die, you will restart the level with only the pistol. Then the game goes from fun to frustrating in about a second.
The XBLA version of Doom II also includes both online and split-screen multiplayer modes. The split-screen mode is serviceable, but with little ability to customize each match, it certainly won’t keep your attention for long. I wasn’t able to play the online multiplayer, but from what I’ve read on forums it doesn’t sound like there are a lot of people playing. So be warned: it’s best to approach Doom II as a single player affair.
Actually, serviceable is probably the best word to describe this port of Doom II. It works just fine, and there is nothing wrong with the game outside of the limitations of its time. I would have liked to see a little more work put in, especially in terms of aiming, but I can also appreciate presenting the game as-is to those who, like myself, never got a chance to enjoy it back in 1994. So if you were born in 1990 or later, I’d say Doom II isn’t a bad way to visit one of the grandfathers of FPS gaming. However, much like visiting your own grandfather, don’t be surprised if you don’t want to stay too long.
Things We Liked: Mostly interesting level design. A great variety of enemies. Fun — if mindless — gameplay.
Things We Disliked: The lack of manual aiming! Nothing is really added — just a straight port of the PC game.
Target Audience: Those nostalgic for the good ol’ days. Younger gamers who are curious about the lineage of FPS gaming.
(Doom II – Developer: id Software. Publisher: Bethesda Softworks. Available on Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Unfamiliar with CFD!’s review system? Read our newly revised explanation here.)