Doom II is back again, this time brought to Xbox Live Arcade by Bethesda Softworks and Nerve and though it showed up sporting some new polish, some tweaks to the multiplayer, and tweaked cooperative play, it remains to you to judge whether this latest release of the classic game is worth 800 Microsoft points. Doom II does show up on Xbox Live with a new bonus chapter - No Rest For The Living - and some unlockable goodies for your profile avatar - but this isn't the first time Doom II has been available on Xbox 360. Doom fans who paid the ten dollars extra for the collector's edition of Doom 3 five years ago got a perfect port of the original Doom (with bonus chapter) included on the disc, and the followup Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil less than six months later included perfect ports of Ultimate Doom, Doom II, and Master Levels of Doom, all with splitscreen multiplayer. The hardcore Doom fan looking to indulge their nostalgia probably has already picked up one of those, or downloaded the Xbox Live Arcade port of the original Doom four years ago when it was first offered up in Xbox Live Marketplace. The new or casual gamer who may have never seen or played Doom, as unlikely as that may seem, might not be able to get past the now-dated gameplay and visuals. So, I'm left to wonder where the potential
audience is for this re-release of a respected and revered classic shooter.
If you ARE one of those rare people who have never played Doom before, a brief history lesson: Doom is a first person shooter developed and released by Id software in 1993 that was an absolute revolution in action games: though there had been games played from a first person perspective prior to Doom, none of them came close to the success or level of public awareness of Doom. Doom was fast-paced. It had revolutionary graphics, with variable lighting (dark, scary rooms with flickering lights), networked multiplayer, and solid design values that meant levels that were intriguing and challenging, and lots of different weapons. The game felt genuinely threatening to play, with levels populated with a bestiary of demons and monsters that would attack you in massed, angry hordes. Doom was released through a distribution model common to PC games of the time - the publisher would distribute a shareware version of the game (in Doom's case, the first of the three chapters the game was broken up into) and you could download the free first act from a BBS or purchase it on a couple of floppy discs. Then, if you got hooked on the game (and millions did) you ordered the full version of the game directly from Id. Doom's incredible success led them to do a retail release of the game - a version you could walk into a video game store and simply buy and take home. Doom II included new monsters from Doom, and some of the boss monsters from Doom returned to Doom II as regular enemies in the levels. Doom II also introduced the double-barrelled shotgun, which chewed up shotgun ammo pretty quickly but chewed up packs of enemy monsters even quicker. Doom II differs from Doom in another way; since you were buying the full game at once, the game didn't get broken into three separate acts like the first Doom - you played through the full progression of the game level by level until the end.
The gameplay of Doom is pretty simple and well-known - you are a sole-surviving space marine fighting your way through levels of demons unleashed from hell. You're armed with a variety of weapons picked up during the course of gameplay, ranging from a simple pistol sidearm up through shotguns and plasma guns all the way up to the infamous BFG; the big daddy of killer weapons. Each level is populated with a set number of monsters and enemies as well as health kits, ammunition, and colored key cards - red, blue, and yellow - that when found unlock doors that let you proceed further into the level. In the end, it's simply a race to blast your way through as many monsters as you can and get to the very end of the level, where there is a wall switch that will end the level, give you a scorecard showing how many enemies you killed, your accuracy rating, time it took to complete the level and some other stats. Graphically, the game was revolutionary at release - the game moves at breakneck speed, and no game before it had showed the amount of detail in the textures in the environment, or the spooky, environmental lighting. You had a visceral delight in walking into a room with a shotgun, and watching packs of your enemies explode in clouds of (very pixelated) blood. The game also made use of sound in the gameplay - monsters had distinctive grunts and moaning sounds, and you would get nervous when walking into a dark passage or unlit room and you'd hear the snuffling of an angry imp demon in the dark, looking for you, getting louder and closer.
Doom II's probably as well remembered, if not more remembered, for its multiplayer play. I'd be willing to bet there's at least one college student from Doom's heyday that lost at least a grade point to late-night Doom Deathmatches, and at one point in the mid-nineties there were more copies of Doom shareware installed on computers than there were copies of Windows installed, as people across the country sunk hundreds and hundreds of hours into deathmatch combat in Doom. Doom II for Xbox Live Arcade still features Deathmatch play (and of course leaderboards) but also has cooperative play for up to four players. The co-operative play is probably where you'll find yourself if you're craving old-school Doom multiplayer, as you won't find a lot of matches to drop into online at all.
All in all, it's difficult to say if Doom II on XBLA is your game. Doom II's been playable on your 360 before this, and though the new added levels are a little more challenging and are well-designed, they're still, well, classic Doom. It's fun to revisit this game, and I've got an immense respect and fondness for it, but we've already been treated to a Live-compatible Doom, and I'd sooner see the followups like Doom II, Final Doom, and Doom Master Levels offered up as DLC supplements to the original than an 800 point purchase. It's always fun to see Doom II again, but it doesn't make the big splash that it did seventeen years ago. The review score might seem harsh, but it's not a reflection on Doom's legacy, longer than co-creator John Romero's ponytail. It's a question of how well Doom II stands up against other offerings available to you today on Xbox Live Arcade, both for multiplayer and single player experience. Still, if you haven't seen this important piece of gaming history for yourself before, or if you're looking for a good four-player co-op game just for some casual party play with some like-minded nostalgia buffs, this one might just be for you.