"Still the king, forever the king."
A number of years back, I was completely into playing the various fan-made WADs created using the Doom 2 engine. As a huge fan of those iD Software shooters, it was awesome to be able to relive them over and over again -- except that I'd be doing so through different levels made by talented independent programmers, some of whom impressed the right people so much that they were commissioned to create the two full games that composed Final Doom.
One day, on a whim produced by boredom, I decided to purchase the Xbox Live Arcade port of Doom 2. It'd been a while since I'd had some Doom action, and I figured I might more fully enjoy revisiting the old classic if I used a controller instead of the cramped keyboard available on my laptop. Unknown to me, this port contained more than just the actual game. It also features a nine-level episode titled "No Rest For The Living" made specifically for this version, and later offered to some subsequent Doom offerings. One of my all-time favorites PLUS new content? Sign me up!
The cool thing is that "No Rest For The Living" is a pretty strong (if short) game all on its own, boasting a decent bit of challenge throughout its well-designed levels. From the beginning, it was easy to see what I was in for, as its opening stage placed me in a base loaded with cramped corridors, as well as tons of enemies and secrets. It's easy to compete this stage without even seeing large portions of it. You'll want to find as many of its secrets as possible, though, as there are only nine levels and the difficulty steadily increases as you progress. Without exploring thoroughly, you'll be stuck fighting the toughest monsters sans the better weaponry. For example, in this stage, you have to do a fair amount of work to access the yellow keycard, which is not necessary to actually reach the exit. However, by getting it, you'll be able to snag the powerful Super Shotgun. Of course, this being Doom, accomplishing that feat produces a few side effects -- such as a lot of new monsters flooding the level, forcing you to burn through your new toy's ammo in a desperate bid to reach the exit. Get used to that.
"No Rest For The Living" reminded me a lot of some of the more artistic WADs I'd played in the past, along the lines of Requiem or Alien Vendetta. The levels were tightly designed, full of switches to hit and absolutely loaded with monsters. For a great example of cunning design, just look at that secret level, "March of the Demons". Most of the stage takes place in a massive chamber with several side corridors branching off from its main mass. You'll run all over the place, looking for switches to hit in order to open the way to the next one… and release more monsters into the room in the process. Early on, most of them are ammo-eating nuisances such as Demons and Imps, but as you get closer to the exit, they get more powerful, until finally you're fighting for survival against powerhouses such as Barons of Hell and a Spiderdemon. This episode might be generous with ammo and health, but that's true for a reason. These levels are far more fond of large-scale confrontations with powerful foes than most of the ones included in the actual Doom 2.
Not that my comment there is meant as a slight against Doom 2. If not for the original, there would not be "No Rest For The Living", after all. And the greatest thing about the latter is simply that it's a "mission pack sequel" that legitimately improved upon the original. The levels were more creatively designed, and the new monsters added a lot to the experience. The powerful and durable Barons of Hell were fun foes in Doom, but tended to be used sparingly as if they were considered mini-bosses. And so Hell Knights were "created" as a palette-swap with less health. Arachnotrons were introduced as smaller, weaker Spiderdemons; while the grotesque Mancubus and aggressive Revenant also vie to win Hell's crown for most space marines killed. Chaingunners are more lethal than other former humans, able to decimate your life in seconds. Pain Elementals don't attack, but still can make your life pure misery, due to their love of emitting Lost Souls to provide crucial distractions. And just when you get the upper hand on all of those, here comes an Arch-Vile to bring them back to life!
With 30 levels (plus a pair of hidden ones based on iD's previous Wolfenstein 3D), you'll find a mixed bag as far as quality goes. Most of the levels are good (or at least competently designed), a decent few are great and the inclusion of a handful makes me scratch my head in disbelief. It might be 22 years since the original edition of this game was released, but I still haven't figured out how "The Chasm" could be considered worthy of being released alongside something as great as "The Living End". The latter is a tour de force that features your space marine gradually working his way around a vast pit while virtually every creature in the books is trying to stop him. Each switch you hit allows you to progress a bit further, opening new paths or lowering barricades blocking you from traversing old ones. Of course, doing all of this adds challenges, such as when you sprint over a gap to land on a platform, only to find that action released a few Cacodemons from their pens, forcing you to immediately go on the offensive before they realize you have next-to-no cover and burn massive amounts of health off your skin.
Meanwhile, large portions of "The Chasm" find you trying to walk along extremely thin platforms, desperately hoping you don't fall off and have to reload your last save again. What fun… Almost as much as the game's finale, "Icon of Sin", which is little more than an exercise in which you repeatedly ride a slowly-ascending platform in order to shoot rockets at the enemy-spawning lord of Hell's weak spot, hoping you connect enough times to finish him off before running out of invulnerability spheres and getting overrun by massive amounts of opposition. It's the sort of thing that makes one wish that "The Living End" concluded Doom 2.
A few duds don't ruin a game, though. Not when you have "Dead Simple" placing you in cramped confines with multiple Mancubi, followed up by a collection of Arachnotrons. Or "Downtown" placing you in a small city. Secrets abound in its many buildings, while foes stalk the streets and Imps rain fire down on you from roofs and windows. Think the standard pistol-packing zombies are pathetic? Then visit "Refueling Base", where one after another will get the drop on you from the many, many cul-de-sacs strewn throughout the level. One fun trick in the game is to lure a monster into shooting another sort of foe, causing them to fight amongst themselves, ignoring you in the process. In "Tricks and Traps", you can lure a massive Cyberdemon into battling a horde of Barons. Later, in "Gotcha", the stakes get raised. Now, you can make Mr. Cyber go one-on-one with a Spiderdemon in a true clash of titans. Doing things like this is encouraged; especially on higher difficulty levels, as it saves both ammo and health for future battles.
As someone whose original experience with the world of Doom came via computers, I was a bit nervous about playing on a console and using a controller rather than a keyboard, but things worked out well in that regard, as well. The control pad served as an adequate way to select weapons, with each direction signifying a certain kind of gun. Push Right to choose between the pistol or chaingun, while pressing Up gives access to the regular and super shotgun. In the options, you can turn on the ability to always run, which proves beneficial. Over two decades of Doom-ing have indoctrinated me into believing a keyboard is THE way to play this game, but I adjusted to different controls quite quickly.
It's always fun going back to the classics, especially when they hold up as well as Doom 2 does. I don't mean from a technological standpoint, as the graphics are really dated and you won't be doing such things as jumping or even aiming your weaponry beyond making sure it's pointed in the general direction of your target. I'm talking more about the pure fun factor I have, playing a shooter where the focus is on the single-player campaign. Where you have a total of over three dozen stages, many of them intricately designed with cleverly-placed monsters and traps, as well as useful items hidden everywhere for players willing to explore every nook and cranny. Let others enjoy their Call of Duty games with their pretty graphics, shorter campaigns and focus on multi-player competitions -- this is the only FPS that needs to be on my hardware!
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (November 03, 2016)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
If you enjoyed this Doom II: Hell on Earth review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!