The DOOM series is widely credited as bringing FPS gaming to the mainstream. Early titles in the franchise ran on light hardware and still entertain today. They have an air of simplicity that does away with today’s obsession with narrative, writing and acting and replaces it with fun entertainment. Even today, people keep on coming back to it because it’s just a joy to play.
Developers and publishers have realised this and have ported the series to more platforms like the GBA and most recently, the Xbox Live Arcade. The DOOM port surprised everybody. It played just like the original and had all the fancy high-tech grubbins that get fanboys all riled up. It came back to the central DOOM ethos: it was fun and challenging to play. Nerve Software (the developers in charge of the port) got it. People wanted DOOM without anything superfluous, just the same great gameplay. DOOM II delivers on this premise too.
For those of you not fortunate to have played the original’s port, the urge to try to look up and down when you play DOOM II may overtake your gaming sensibilities at first. Also, you may feel it frighteningly basic, but once you settle in you quickly realise this is the game in its simplest form. The only thing to change from the originals is the audio track, which is surprisingly fun and adds some nice retro beats to the old-school fun. It doesn’t sound overly different to the original but there is definitely a hint of something new there. However, what’s most surprising every time you pick up this game is that realisation you get when you realise it has 30+ levels, and that’s only in one episode.
This release contains two episodes, with the second being brand new. However, it doesn’t seem quite just as fun to play as the pre-existing one. The level design doesn’t get overly complicated and the map is still wonderful to use. The level design is typical DOOM: difficult enough to demand having a quick browse on some occasions, but not so difficult that you have to traverse the entire game in map view. Games these days don’t even allow you to move while looking through a map so it bizarrely feels fresh to be able to do it again, even if it was in the DOOM port too. Die-hard DOOM fans will see that the health kit logos have changed to a red and white pill as opposed to the traditional red cross. It doesn’t make a difference to gameplay but it has surprisingly been making some fanboys mad.
There’s also a four-player split-screen multiplayer mode (offering Deathmatch and Cooperative), which is every bit as chaotic as you would think and runs well. There can be some slowdown with the game at times though, but this is mainly limited to the end of levels. They’re a minor hiccup, but you’ll definitely see them every single time you play. You would think that a game of this age would work without any problems on this hardware, especially as everything else like saving and loading is nearly instant.
On the online side of things, there are leaderboards that allow you to compare yourself to your friends as well as the rest of the world in both the single player and multiplayer modes. These work well, but it would be nice if they could’ve conveyed your score in-game somehow instead of having to jump out and going to the leaderboards to see how you’re doing. The pause menu was designed for this sort of thing, so it’s surprising not to see it included. Regardless, it works and adds a little extra dimension to the game.
The online multiplayer component offers up two modes: Deathmatch and Cooperative, the same as the split-screen multiplayer. Deathmatch can be played in either ranked or “player match” flavours, and takes place through a variety of the game’s levels. It supports up to a maximum of four players, with games being based on frag limits and/or time limits. Unfortunately, matchmaking can be a little sloppy, in that it will search for a game but then just plant you in your own lobby where you have to wait for people to wander in. Waiting for other players to join your lobby can be a pain. Despite this, it does give you enough time to invite your friends and it provides connection indicators of your fellow players, giving you a hint to how laggy the game’s going to be.
However, it has to be said that playing online is currently a laggy mess. It takes everyone to have a full connection (conveyed by the indicators) to have an acceptable match, or otherwise expect movement to be delayed, kills to not register and some awful collision detection. This is such a shame, as the rest of the package is wonderful. We’re not sure if this is caused by connecting to players overseas, but it’s just not playable as it stands. Hopefully an update can be applied to fix it, as many gamers will be downloading this to try out the multiplayer and they will be left disappointed.
Verdict: DOOM II itself is every bit as fun as it used to be in single player. The multiplayer component lives up to the billing in offline split-screen, but the online component leaves a lot to be desired. Look out for fun features like the game automatically recording gameplay and playing it back to you in the background of the main menus. If you haven’t played it, now is the time.