"Hell made Heavenly (again)"

Ah…Doom. I can still remember the day my mother took little me to our local “PC World” to buy an ink cartridge or other such triviality for our 386 PC. Up on display was probably the darkest, creepiest, most violent game I had ever seen! And I was still getting to grips with Wolfenstein 3D!

Doom defined a generation of gaming – it was simple, pretty, but amazingly accessible. It ran easily on most PCs (except, I cursed, for my 386!) that, luckily for iD Software, were just starting to come into their own on the home market. When I finally badgered my parents to upgrade to the heady heights of a Pentium 100, well, I grabbed the recently-released sequel, and was finally Doomed…

The following review will attempt to judge Doom II on its merits as the peak-of-technology excitement fest it was when I bought it.

Gameplay – 9/10

What can one say? You could pick it up and play it – but on so many levels! I started off using the keyboard, the standard arrow keys to move around. But that began to become sluggish as I advanced, so I moved to the mouse. Walking around with the mouse became tiring for my wrist (spare me the humour), so in the end, confident and snug, I took to murdering the denizens of hell with a combination of the two; mouse for evasive combat manoeuvres, keyboard for those long hikes to find the exit…
The levels were, in hindsight, a vast improvement on those of the original game. iD were even able to use their (arguably ageing) technologies to fool us into imagining city structures, real-world forts with moats…there was something less ambiguous but still (I assume, intentionally) creepily abstract about the whole thing. It was certainly, though, welcome to experience more than simply space base after space base…my purchase of Ultimate Doom afterwards was a definite step down.
Populating these rather sumptuous new levels were many of the old crowd, but enough additions to really add to the atmosphere. The seemingly eight-foot tall, shadowy figure of the Revenant shambling towards you…yes, you run the other way! Lose him round the corner. Think again – yes those rockets home in on you. So not only does he scream like a lobotomised giant skeleton probably would, he also doesn’t even need to chase you down. Clever – and very, very scary. The Arch-Vile, who not only razed you to the ground if you got in his line of sight, could also resurrect dead monsters. Yes sir, iD certainly redefined “terrifying” with this one.
As for overall difficulty, though, the largest problem I had was with the puzzles – sometimes being stuck for three days solid just trying to escape from a level. I’d like to cite rather misleading level design for this, and that’s what I’m knocking a mark off for. I like a challenging game, but I don’t know if that extends to knowing which random candle or wall panel to press just to get the hell out of there!

Story - 3/10

Utter rubbish. But that didn’t matter in those days. As with the first game, it seems that iD tacked on this sorry excuse for a plot after they developed the “hella cool” levels. The “sub-plot” for the secret levels made me laugh though.

Graphics – 9/10

Very dark, still very scary. But the Cyberdemon still didn’t appear to have a proper face, and you could still lay into monsters with your chainsaw who were miles above or below you. And for these kinds of matters Doom II loses a mark from perfection – it’s feasible that, after a couple of years, John Carmack could have made some small modifications to the graphics (and physics) engine to allow for some improvement. They wouldn’t get away with it these days! Na ah.
Even so, a wonderful job was done in taking their existing resources and just making them even spookier! I’ll never forget the bit where one of those twitching bodies is hanging in a poorly-lit alcove, a heart (his heart?) mounted on a pedestal before him. Or those weird red/orange triangle skeleton things. The random scattering of miscellaneous hellish artifacts just reinforces that powerful ambiguity of the game’s design. Classic stuff.

Sound – 10/10

In fairness, leaps and bounds were never much of an expectation with sound from a game to its sequel, so I’ll let them off here. The sounds work perfectly anyway – the blood-curdling scream of the Revenant, I mentioned. Other highlights include the extremely frightening cutting of the Spider Mastermind’s chaingun as he rips you to shreds, and the subtle inclusion of far more Cyberdemons that, when activated (sometimes through grilles etc. where they can see you, but you can’t see them), let out their characteristic demonic whine…well, there are times when you just want to go home. The soundtrack also is no letdown – atmospheric dirges of misery, or low, rambling tunes that still never seem to let up on the panic as you get completely, utterly lost.

Replayability – “then” 10/10, “now” 5/10

I suppose the game would not take long to complete nowadays – the AI looks extremely basic next to what we’re now treated to, and the mission objectives laughably reduced to “find key, find door”.
But when it was still a relatively new concept, the game took me personally a couple of weeks. After that, I just never stopped. Yes, I played Doom II almost constantly for nearly two years! I completed it on all difficulties but Nightmare mode, and it was still my preference when Quake was released (where are all the enemies? Why is it all so brown?). At the time, it was surely the wealth of expansions that kept Doom II going. One will recall Simpsons Doom II – a mod which changed most graphics and sounds into Springfield-themed comedy. There was also, of course, a host of extra levels, and after a while total conversions of the game – including graphics, sounds AND levels. Heck, I even had a stab at creating some of it myself. Just like games today, Doom II (and of course Doom before it) had an entire sub-culture revolving around its popularity. It is arguably the prototype subculture – the one that started the norm for the “mod community”. Perhaps it is the euphoria of being a part of that which makes me rate Doom II as highly as I do. I’m not entirely sure.

Summary

Taken on its own merits, Doom II is still, in my opinion, a lesson in how to make an audience scared. Its atmosphere remains unrivalled to this day (until, perhaps, Doom III?). Any and all FPS aficionados should still give it a try, just to see where this genre began before it exploded into several shelf-fulls of poor imitations in your local games shop. Just play it “neat” and not through some graphically-enhanced engine modification. Mouselook will allow you to make real fools out of those Revenants!

Overall, I’m going to skip the plot and just give Doom II a solid 9/10 – mostly because of my little niggles concerning its lack of development from Doom, and that occasional annoying level design! But overall a fine, fine game. Classic.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 01/26/04


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