Sunday, 24 November 2013

Doom II: Hell on Earth (MS-DOS)

Doom 2 title screen dos
Oh crap what have they done to Doomguy's hair? It looks like some demonic head-crab has attached itself to the back of his head.

It might seem like a strange choice to play Doom II when I already have Doom I on the site, as the games are fairly identical. But if I remember right this second game actually has a number of refinements over the original, such as... uh... well they give you an extra gun! Also there's a few new monsters I believe, a couple of extra pickups... plus they've turned off most (but not all) of those little red lights that used to be scattered across the blue region of the logo text.

I'll give it an hour or so anyway; long enough for me to find out first hand whether it's a true sequel or an expansion pack in disguise.

Doom 2 entrance hall
Well here I am on sunny Earth! Though to be honest it's looking a lot like the inside of a demon infested research base on a moon orbiting Mars. It's nice to see that Doomguy's got his old hairstyle back in his restless little HUD portrait though. His entire face is art straight from the first game in fact (and the poor guy still can't keep it still for a moment), so that's a tick in the 'expansion pack' column then.

Like in the original Doom I've started off with just a pistol and 50 rounds. I guess the rest of my arsenal was lost in transit, probably sent through the wrong portal and teleported to Pluto or something.

I could take a step forward off this ledge and shoot these zombie gentlemen dead, but that would be a mistake as the first secret in the game requires that the player looks behind them before they leap.

doom 2 level 1 chainsaw
Another chainsaw for me to play with! Probably a little more rusty that my Martian one was though, seeing as someone's just left lying it outside, exposed to the elements. Why does anyone need a chainsaw in... wherever we are, you might ask. Personally I'm more curious about where this place actually is.

Ah, the manual says that we're at a spaceport (on Earth), fighting through a demon invasion to turn off an energy barrier preventing the last survivors of humanity from evacuating their planet forever in a fleet of giant starship arks. So I suppose no one will mind if I borrow this for a bit.

Doom was a big step up from Wolfenstein 3-D in technology, showing off angled walls, textured floors, lighting effects, different ground heights etc. Doom 2 on the other doesn't seem to have taken quite so much of a leap from its immediate predecessor. In fact I'm struggling to notice any difference at all. They haven't even added in iron sights yet!

I was thinking of throwing in a screenshot of Doom 1 in here to show how the games compare visually, but there really is no point. The games are practically identical, even down to the stone texture on the HUD.

By the way there's a secret up there behind that grey wall and I've never figured out what opens it. It'd be nice if the game could at least flash up 'a secret has been revealed' or something when I inadvertently trigger these things so I can have some clue what to do next time.

This first level is actually tiny; basically just three rooms and a corridor to drop players into the game gently. It also continues Doom's fine tradition of not looking anything like where it's supposed to be. The architecture isn't constrained by anything resembling sense or realism.

Hey the imps are back too, entirely unchanged. I suppose I could go run behind some cover and pop out to take shots with my pistol, but his slow moving fireball attack seems designed to encourage running and gunning. And the way enemies freeze up when they're in pain seems designed to encourage me to run up and an insert a chainsaw into his demonic nether regions.

I gave in and looked up how to open up that secret door by the way. All I have to do is flick that switch over yonder, ride a lift up to that alcove, and then take a running leap over that platform in the center of the screen and the door shall open. How the fuck would I have ever connected doing that to the secret door in another room swinging open?

doom 2 level 1 entryway finished victory screen
Well the level stats are back, but they've taken out the map that showed my progress so far and have replaced it with the cover to a metal album. It's like they're not even trying to make this look like more than a rushed mission pack.

Doom 1 had the maps split between separate episodes accessible from the menu, but in Doom 2 the entire game plays out as one unbroken stretch of levels (like most games). Personally I liked the separate episodes, if only because it functioned as a basic level select. Episodic chapters did make a return appearance in Quake after this, but then disappeared from id games forever.


LEVEL 2: UNDERHALLS.



Look at this shotgun guy; he thought he was safe from my chainsaw just because he's clearly standing well out of range. The poor naive fool.

Level two is the first appearance of locked doors and keycards, an ingenious trick that allows for sprawling level design requiring backtracking without leaving the player confused where they should be backtracking to. Or at least it would be if they'd marked the colour of the bloody doors on the map, so that I could ever find them again once I've collected the key.

This level's called 'Underhalls', but I'm beginning to realise that's just a fancy way of saying 'sewers'. Here's a fun and interesting fact that may or may not be true: blue water like this only shows up on one stage in the original Doom and it burns you like acid if you step in it, so being able to safely wade through sewage is a brand new feature! There's something they could've bragged about on the back of the box.

The engine doesn't actually support swimming though so the water's basically just a blue carpet, and I'm starting to wonder if I should raise the brightness a little as I can't see those hitscan rifle-wielding enemies down here any more. But then I get the impression it's actually meant to be this dark.


LEVEL 3: THE GANTLET.


If there's one thing that never gets old, it's being attacked by invisible enemies in dark rooms. By the way this place would be even darker if I wasn't illuminating it with hundreds of rounds of automatic machine gun fire.

Also you can get a good clear look at Doomguy's hair in his portrait here, looking nothing like it does on the title screen. You know, I'm amazed the guy is still so quick on his feet considering how many pints of blood must have poured out of his nose by now.


LEVEL 4: THE FOCUS.


Crap, I'm almost entirely out of ammo now, just the one rocket left. This isn't a problem I had in Doom 1, at least not in the first episode. But then in Doom 1 I could actually see what I was shooting at most of the time.

Fortunately I don't need ammo to fight these dumb imps as long as I've got my trusty chainsaw. One thing I am having a slight problem with though, is the fact that I can't get up onto these boxes to get the red key because I can't bloody jump. Who makes a first person shooter without a jump key anyway?

There's this switch on the wall behind me, but it's not being very helpful. It's a shame I can't just push that tiny box over and use it as a step to get up, because it's kinda useless where it is.

Oh duh, I've solved it. I stepped on the tiny box and it lowered one of the larger crates into the ground to give me a lift to get up. You know, I don't mind them having ridiculous triggers for secret walls but I'd appreciate it if they could leave them out of the main path. Because how the fuck was I supposed to figure that one out logically?

Oh shit, it's a chaingun zombie, capable of cutting through my health in seconds from across the room. He's the first new type of enemy I've found in the game and he'll be the last if I don't drop down from this ledge and get my ass behind a wall with haste, as I'm kinda low on ammo here.

I dropped down, ran around the corner, whipped out my rocket launcher and leapt into a teleporter down the corridor...

... which brought me right back up to where he was standing a second ago. Did I telefrag him?

Nope! The teleporter deliberately put me standing in front of him with my back turned. Firing the rocket launcher at this range wouldn't help my situation one bit.

I think I'm going to have to reload a quick save and come up with a better plan here. It's possible to restart a level after dying, but it starts you off armed with just a pistol and I'm struggling enough for ammo as it is.

Aha! This time around I tried to be more diligent with my post-massacre loot gathering and came across some supplies I missed first time around, plus shotgun ammo dropped by dead zombies.

One criticism made against games without regenerating health, is that backtracking around an empty level to hunt down a health kit is a pain in the ass and ruins the pacing. Personally though, I like running around with 20hp desperately scavenging for health and ammo, especially in a game where the levels tend to transform as I play, with new secrets revealing themselves.


LEVEL 5: THE WASTE TUNNELS.


Crap, the level transformed as I was playing! The floor dropped out from under me, trapping me down here with Spiky and Snarly, with barely enough space for me to line them up for a one shot takedown with the super shotgun. I try to take groups out with one shot if I can help it, not just to conserve ammo, but because this is the only weapon which makes you wait through a reloading animation.

Oh by the way, this new toy is the only weapon exclusive to Doom 2. The super shotgun uses twice the ammo as the shotgun and has to be reloaded after each shot, but damn it's like a sawn-off rocket launcher! Anything caught in its cone of death is shredded.

Oh come on, now it really is just taking the piss. Who the hell would think that the best way to improve on Doom would be to turn out all the lights?

Suddenly Doom 3's stark lighting is making a lot more sense to me though, as the logical progression from this game's almost total darkness is absolute inky blackness. But at least that game gives you a flashlight! All I've got here is muzzle flash.


LEVEL 7: DEAD SIMPLE.



Huh, it's boss fight arena time already? Doom 1 always put the the bosses on level 8.

Whatever these creatures are, they definitely weren't in the first game and I'm not sure I like the way they're filling my screen with fireballs. I think this time I really had better had get my ass behind cover, then pop out to take shots when the opportunities present themselves.

My reward for killing the fireball monsters was an army of cyborg brain walkers. I mean they were sent out to kill me as well, not to do my bidding. Which is kind of a shame as I wouldn't have minded taking it easy for a bit and letting my cyber minions slaughter all those who dare oppose me.

Then again I'm not sure I'd even want something called an 'Arachnotron' if it only came with four legs. Doesn't sound like I'm getting the full package somehow.

Anyway I ran for cover and unloaded my plasma rifle around the wall until all the spider monsters were dead. It wasn't the greatest struggle, but it took a few retries so it'd be nice to get back to some more chilled out enemy shooting for a bit.


LEVEL 8: TRICKS AND TRAPS.


HOLY SHIT, WHAT?

Doom II features a new type of enemy called a Hell Knight that resemble the Baron of Hell, the Episode 1 boss from Doom, though with far less health. Basically they're a nerfed version to throw into levels as a surprise mid-boss that won't take a ridiculous amount of ammo to kill.

These are not Hell Knights.

This right here is a room filled with the third toughest boss enemies in Doom, with the toughest boss hanging around in the background to cheer them on and fire off rockets at me. In retrospect it might have been a smarter move for me to try to get them to fight each other instead of just jumping right in with a rocket launcher.

Man, I'd be in real trouble here if there wasn't a temporary invulnerability power up sitting about a foot to my left.


LEVEL 10: REFUELLING BASE.


Okay, hiding necessary keys behind unmarked secret walls is crossing the line. Hide game-changing weapons, hide life-saving health packs, hide entire levels, whatever that's fine. But hiding the item I need to exit the stage in a game like this just isn't good game design.

I was running laps of the empty level for ages trying to find this thing, before I gave up and started walking around with the map open instead, pressing space on any wall showing up as yellow. It's the kind of tedious secret hunt that's only remotely fun when it's your own dumb idea and you're not forced to do it to make progress.

And I must make progress, as I'm not quitting this game until I see a building that actually looks like it belongs on this planet.


LEVEL 11: 'O' OF DESTRUCTION!


Wow, a lone Arachnotron cyber-spider firing his easily dodgeable plasma bolts at me, it's like Doom II isn't even trying to kill me anymore.

Though I've also found a tree! Finally some actual evidence that this is set on Earth this time and not a small rock orbiting Mars. To be honest it really is just more reused artwork from Doom 1, but I'm going to pretend it isn't.

Oh hang on, this guy definitely isn't from Doom 1 and he appears to be setting my screen on fire from across the room. This must be that fearsome Arch-Vile I've heard so much about. I mean on the internet, not in the game. I don't think any of these enemies are actually mentioned by name outside of the manual.

He doesn't seem so bad though. I mean yeah he's fast, he doesn't flinch when I shoot him, and he can instantly cover me in flames without even having to go through the formality of launching a fireball my way, but the fire doesn't actually seem to be hurting me and... oh shit he just clapped his hands together and took off half my health!

New plan: next time I see the flames appear, I go find a nice solid wall to put between me and him.

Oh, plus he can raise the dead and his dark powers of demonic resurrection even works on pissed off cyborg spider walkers. I spent so long making all of those things dead and now he's ruining everything!

Yeah, I think I'm going to have to get out the ol' BFG for this one.


LEVEL 13: DOWN TOWN.


Yes! I've finally reached a level in Doom II: Hell on Earth that looks like a place on Earth! Well, kind of.

These are the futuristic city streets of Doomguy's home town and I'm already being shot at by tiny specks on the distant buildings so I should probably start running now.


SEVERAL DEATHS LATER.


Look at these bastards, thinking they're so clever just because they've got homing missile launchers on their shoulders and they keep managing to blow me up with them. Well I'm onto their game now. Now that I know that their missiles turn to follow me I've adjusted my strategy from long range sniping to close range strafing.

Which basically means I'm going to run laps around this building shooting in their general direction until they either die or I run out of ammo. Or until one of those other monsters shooting me from the rooftops gets a lucky hit in I guess.

Well I'm satisfied, I've seen a city and I can turn this off now. Though it didn't look much like a city did it? Maybe the next level will look more recognisable.


LEVEL 15: INDUSTRIAL ZONE.


"Industrial Zone" they call this level... it has wooden walls, battlements and a lava moat! You can still see the skyscrapers in the background though, so we haven't gone far.

This level's getting on my nerves a bit at this point, as it seems I need the yellow keycard to get anywhere and that tricksy little authorisation card is nowhere to be found. What's worse is that I'm fairly sure it must be back on the other side of the lava moat and I don't much feel like wading through a river of burning death watching my health steadily tick down as I press the space bar on every bit of wall looking for a hidden escape lift.


LEVEL 16: SUBURBS.


Well fuck... THAT took a lot of ammo. The corpses stretch on behind me as well; this was a proper blood bath. I've heard the Serious Sam games being compared to the Doom series a few times and it never seemed entirely fair to me, as the Doom games may be fast but they never put you against that many enemies at once, surely?

It appears that I may have been wrong.

Fortunately it had also given me another invulnerability power up at the start, so the whole thing was fairly pointless really. Oh well.


LEVEL 19: THE CITADEL.


Okay this is obviously a castle in the middle of a city, they're not even trying to pretend otherwise any more. I mean it's even called "The Citadel"!

I really am going to turn this off soon, I just wanted to complain about something on this level first. If you look on the left side of the castle there's a wall sticking out about two thirds of the way up. To complete the level I have to run along this wall to jump the moat; which is fair enough as that technique was introduced way back on the second level when I had to leap through a window to get the red key from inside a fortress in the sewers.

But that bit isn't the problem.

The problem is that to get to the wall I have to open up this secret door over on the left, which is kind of a dick move as IT'S A BLOODY SECRET. To my great shame I had to look up the solution to this one in the end and it's made me sad now.

I'm going to have to keep playing a little longer and shoot some imps to cheer myself up.


LEVEL 20: GOTCHA!


Oh hey, it's the two toughest Doom bosses in the same room together, with as much health between them as 120 imps. Well, I had a good run but I suppose it had to end somewhere.

Though they seem more interested in killing each other right now than turning their guns against me, so maybe I have a chance here... no no I really am turning this off now, before I accidentally finish the whole game.


Alright then, it's time for me to come to a final decision on Doom II: Hell on Earth. Is it just a Doom expansion with a handful of new enemy types and a shotgun, or does it do enough to earn the right to be a sequel in its own right? Well it's got a full 30 brand new levels, new enemy types, a new weapon, a new story, it doesn't need Doom's executable to run, and it has a 'II' in the title, so it has ticked all necessary boxes to be a sequel as far as I'm concerned (unlike Final Doom, which totally just an expansion pack). But if you could insert these levels into the original game the transition would be absolutely seamless.

Not to say the actual levels haven't evolved from what I saw in Doom's first episode. There seems to be more a little complexity to the architecture this time around, plus a fair amount of cavernous rooms and wide open outdoor areas. The game feels like more of a twisted puzzle box this time, designed to challenge people who have already outwitted the original episodes. It pushes it a bit far at times, forcing players to find secrets in the walls or fight off 15 million enemies at once, and there's still no way to locate colour-coded locked doors on the map, but somehow it utterly failed to put me off playing the next level anyway.

In fact I'd say that the game doesn't just hold up today, it's actually grown on me over the years. I wasn't entirely won over by the game back when I first played it, but I appreciate it more now. I think I was mostly annoyed that they made a point of mentioning that it took place on Earth, but then carried on with Doom's abstract level design regardless, while games like Dark Forces and Duke Nukem 3D demonstrated some actual effort put in to make them look like they took place in some sort of functional universe. But after a decade or two of realistic first person shooters, I'm finding it easier to appreciate a game that just makes up its own reality to play in, putting style over sense and gameplay over everything.

That being said, Doom 4 had better have some mundane realistic down to earth urban environments to contrast with the high-tech future bases and nightmarish hellscapes, or else I'll be pissed.

    


TLDR: Doom II is a game where you play as an arm that floats down corridors and shoots monsters. Anyway, you guys should totally leave a comment here, you know, if you want. Feedback is always appreciated.

10 comments:

  1. You're an amazing writer, you know that?

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    1. Honestly I had no idea, but I'm willing to take your word for it.

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  2. Now this is what I came for! Bang, bang. Good choice, good call, entertaining throughout! Good times.

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  3. "I'm not sure I'd even want something called an 'Arachnotron' if it only came with four legs"
    And only two eyes. A total rip-off!

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  4. Amazing stuff, well written. I remember this game as a tyke. Was simply too terrified to play.

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  5. The Angry Internet13 December 2013 at 03:07

    The GBA version of this is weird. It wasn't done by the same team that did Doom 1 for the GBA, and it uses a completely different engine (the one from Duke Nukem Advance). They were basically recreating the game instead of porting it, so it has a lot of odd little differences, though it's more complete than the Doom 1 port: http://doom.wikia.com/wiki/Game_Boy_Advance#Doom_II

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  6. The 19th level requires only 2 keys out of 3, so that secret leap is not nessesary to do.

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  7. "Who makes a first person shooter without a jump key anyway?" "It's a shame I can't just push that tiny box over and use it as a step to get up, because it's kinda useless where it is." How dare the developers not work outside the limitations back in the day.

    "Because how the fuck was I supposed to figure that one out logically?" You're making it sound like you're really not cut out for Doom.

    The final boss of Doom isn't the Cyberdemon, it's the Spider Mastermind.

    "But hiding the item I need to exit the stage in a game like this just isn't good game design." You haven't played much of the first Doom, have you? And honestly, the wall hiding that blue opens up just by walking up the stairs, not by having to manually open it. So it doesn't even fit your point.

    "The problem is that to get to the wall I have to open up this secret door over on the left, which is kind of a dick move as IT'S A BLOODY SECRET." Not at all, when it should have been pretty clear to anyone who's played the game properly (and even the predecessor) that the game's a lot about exploring... and this secret wall is very obvious.

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    1. I was being disingenuous with my complaints about the missing jump key and block pushing, but my frustration in that room was real because it WASN'T being Doom. If Doom wants you step somewhere it'll have a glowing pentagram with a rocket launcher on it, not a tiny crate over in the corner. It's not logical because the game hasn't been designed that way so far and a real storeroom would never be designed that way.

      If it opened a secret door I'd have absolutely zero problem with it, as it'd give observant players a reward for noticing something was out of place. But as it is, it's stopping players progressing with the game and that's not satisfying at all.

      You're right about me getting the final boss wrong, I'll correct that.

      Also exploring is one thing, but pressing the action button on every wall is another. I obviously didn't find it obvious enough, and running around an empty level trying to find something the designer's hidden inside a wall doesn't fill me with joy.

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    2. I don't see what a real store room has to do with a section in a map that isn't based on a store room, but that also isn't based on realistic architecture. As far as it being obscure, that can't be any more ridiculous. Considering the fast-paced nature of the game where you move around a lot, how this level is cramped in space (especially at that point), and how several triggers throughout the previous game and even this one are based on stepping on/through certain parts of the ground, it shouldn't at all be a novel concept that you should try walking all around. It's even a very small room and listening to sound cues is a familiar aspect with progression in the levels. I doubt it's a widespread issue, if at all, considering thousands of custom maps (and even maps in later official releases) employ this element. Again, in a game where exploration is a big factor, you're frustrated that progression requires exploration.

      Also, I didn't say anything about pressing the action button on every wall. You just need to be observant. Most secret doors have some visible clue that indicates them as such. In the examples from your post that I cited above, they both don't fall under the category you're describing. That you didn't find it obvious doesn't make it an actual problem with the game; again, so many others have no issue with this since they notice the patterns, etc.

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Semi-Random Game Box