Doom II: Hell on Earth (PC) review
"Halo can match the scale of its battles, and Doom 3 can copy as many of the tricks as it wants, but no game since Doom II has struck a perfect balance and I doubt that any other game ever will."
Doom II cuts to the chase, immediately foregoing now-obligatory tutorial crap in favor of some bloody carnage. In front of you wait two zombiemen with their backs turned to you, and in an alcove behind you lies a chainsaw. Put two and two together, math majors, and tear those fuckers apart limb from limb! Turning the poor saps into a pair of mutilated corpses has its appeal, but it's the message lingering in the corner of your screen that perfectly sets the game's mood: "A chainsaw! Find some MEAT!"
Itís a cool moment, but few more will play out in your favor thanks to all the different tricks and traps that Doom II is filled with. Consider the aptly named eighth level Tricks and Traps, eight rooms of mayhem connected by the circular hub that you start in. Behind one door lie a dozen Barons of Hell: enormous, fleshy, plasma-lobbing mutants a pair of whom served as an end-of-episode boss battle in the original Doom. When they and their Cyberdemon compatriot (goat-like monster; rocket-launching arm; not friendly) get a good glimpse of you, you wisely decide to back away from their lair and go explore a different part of the map instead.
But itís too late. You suddenly hear the sound of something teleporting in behind you, and then a hellish roar. Several, in fact. Before you can even look, a green ball of hand-flung plasma hits you square in the back while two more go flying past you. And then another teleportation sound. And another. Those bastards! Retreat through a different door and you'll find a long rectangular room with nothing in it but a plasma rifle. Time to fight fire with fire, you think... but you should have known better. The moment you nab it, a horde of floating red Cacodemons pile in from hole in the wall and spew fireballs in your general direction. The Barons are still moving in for the kill, if you've forgotten.
And then sometimes, Doom II just doesnít play nice. The Citadel is downright sadistic. Not because of the portly, decayed chaingunners in the windows, not because of the invisible flesh-eaters lying in of the moat--no, these don't help, but the real kicker is the way the exit is set up. Youíll probably find it early on in your romp, but itís blocked by three side-by-side pillars that you need three skull keys to open... or so youíd think. They're deviously hidden, but the red and yellow ones aren't that much trouble to find. The blue key, on the other hand, lies tauntingly in an alcove raised above a courtyard that youíll be killing your way through, far too high for you to reach it. I never found a way to get it, to be honest, but on the other hand I didn't rack my brain over it any time through the level but my first.
See, only after much swearing ensued did I realize that the opening left by the two pillars I could already move was big enough to waltz on through to the exit any time I wanted. I should have known better! Coincidentally, the next of the gameís thirty-two (!) levels is called ďGotcha!Ē--not that Iíd have blinked an eye if any of the others had the same name.
But were Doom II to constantly trick you, to mess with your head until you came to expect it, itíd be a dull one-trick pony, and a rather annoying one at that. Developer iD Software wisely kept parts of the game predictable for the sake of unpredictability, though, often throwing us into hectic battles with grotesque monsters that play out in a refreshingly simple manner. In Dead Simple, for instance, we wonít even have to find some meat; the meat finds us. This almost rudimentary map is little more than a square arena with four pillars in the center. Unfortunately for you, each pillar holds one of the vile Mancubi: obese monstrosities who blast pairs of flaming rocks thatíd tear holes through an armor-plated tank. There is no trick, and there is no trap. Itís just a straightforward but intense battle thatíll have you pumping double-barreled shotgun slugs into your fat foes until they (or you) become nothing but a splatter on the ground. No, the trick comes afterwards, when the outer walls open up to reveal a group of steel-legged brain spiders (with plasma guns, duh) that are suddenly surrounding you. What? You should have known better.
Doom IIís devilish design isn't even its biggest selling point. Itís a game that keeps on giving, a game that Iím able to go back to and enjoy even a decade after its release. Normal mode--er, sorry, Hurt Me Plenty mode--too easy for you? Give Ultra-Violence a shot, itís got enough enemies packed into to it give Dynasty Warriors developer Koei dick envy. Feel gypped of your hard-earned ten bucks because two or three levels were mediocre key hunts that you cheated your way past? Make up for it by downloading two- or three-thousand of the user made maps out there, some of which are so insidious that they beat the originals at their own twisted game! Or, if youíre getting tired of fighting your way through the hordes of hell all by your lonesome, grab a buddy or three and play some co-op! It'll even out the odds against those Mancubi... just make sure friendly fire's off before you go for that last box of chaingun ammo.
Even outside of the sweet bonus features, though, this is still one of the few FPS games of its era thatís worth coming back to today. Its charmingly simple graphics blow Quakeís ugly polygons out of the water, its lovably cheesy midi-rock excites and haunts, its technically poor AI works wonderfully for its sheer ferocity... but donít kid yourself. Itís the devious design that makes this one a classic. Halo can match the scale of its battles, and Doom 3 can copy as many of the tricks as it wants, but no game since Doom II has struck a perfect balance and I doubt that any other game ever will.
Staff review by John L (July 30, 2005)
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