It’s difficult to be too hard on a re-release and very easy to be emphatic. When you hear a game that you love is getting the re-release treatment, that little voice inside of you never fails to trick you into thinking that you can experience all the joy, all the sadness and all of the thrills of the first time you booted up Jet Set Willy or Metal Gear Solid or Halo. You can’t of course. Experiencing something for a second time will never be as immediate or engaging as the first and how could it be? You understand exactly what to expect from the play, have memorised the twists and turns of the story, know whether you like the package as a whole. If you’re new to a re-release though, you’re seeing everything fresh, warts and all.
So here comes Doom II for XBLA, with ID Software’s website boldly promising players the ability to ‘relive all of the heart-pounding action of this classic PC title’. Except that I’m new to Doom II, and I can see that it isn’t the ‘classic’ that it might have been, the action is a lot less intense and pulses won’t be rising like they might have done sixteen years ago.
Time, you see, is a cruel mistress, and shooters have moved on one heck of a lot since the days of kill rooms, red key cards and heavy metal aesthetic inspired visuals. The modern FPS title can require you to forge your own path into a tropical landscape, question the fundamental theories of Objectivism, accurately portray the horrors and confusion of war, or have you performing Parkour across the ultra clean roof tops of a near-future Orwellian society. Doom II was among the earlier forays into the first person genre, so while it was an important stepping stone in shooters, in terms of sheer mechanics the title feels significantly more aged than many action, strategy and platformers etc from that time.
There is, for example, no possibility for aiming vertically. Read that sentence again. No. Vertical. Aiming. It would be unthinkable to create a game with shooting at its very heart and not have the ability to look up or down these days, but Doom II is of an era where this was standard, which gives probably the most obvious example of just how old in design D2 is.
However the biggest change in FPS design has to be in how objectives are sign-posted. When playing Call Of Duty 4 for instance, though the game gives an illusion of freedom, the area of play is fairly limited, with your goal at each stage being abundantly clear at all times. Go back to the original Half Life and, though the game does open up a little in some areas, back tracking is minimal; Valve constantly drive you forward, constantly rewarding you with tangible progress. Doom II however is broken into 30 distinct levels with progression ultimately boiling down to the successful completion of an area. In addition, levels look so similar throughout, with repeating wall textures and few visual clues as to where you are located that you can easily become disorientated, lost and frustrated at not being able to find a specific switch or key to open the door to the next area. There’s an in-game map which should alleviate this issue, but due to having muddled design and little in the way of annotation, this is practically useless. The game’s structure consequently becomes tiringly repetitive; clear an area of bad guys, wander aimlessly, stumble upon a key, wander aimlessly, open a door, clear the next area, repeat, yawn.
However these criticisms are purely at the original title within a modern context, because if you know all this about Doom II going in and are happy to re-live this, albeit on a modern console on a nice big HD screen, then this is a really quite superb port. The game comes with a whole new campaign to explore, runs as smooth as silk, includes split screen and online multiplayer and has some sweet little avatar items that fans will crave for their Xbox Live personas. Controls are fantastic and responsive, however weapon switching can be a little cumbersome which, under pressure, can be a bit of a hassle.
To go back to the description on the ID Software website, their claim is that the game is perfect for if players are ‘looking for nostalgia, or ready to experience the game for the first time’ and, unfortunately, only the former is true. If you’re new to the series or haven’t experienced a pre-Goldeneye FPS before, then liking Doom II in any iteration at all is going to be hard. Fans of the series and those that have fond memories of playing the game the first time round, can add three points to the score below, as this is everything you could possibly want from a re-release of one of John Romero’s finest outings. For these people, at 800 space bucks, this is an essential purchase.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: XBLA Release Date: 26/05/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Doom II for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on an Xbox 360 Pro. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.