When John Carmack got his first games enabled cell phone, naturally the thing he immediately wanted to do with it – being a man greatly interested in pushing technology to the limits – was run a killer app of some sort. He quickly ran into a troubling dilemma at the time: none of the titles currently available for mobile devices were anything remotely resembling the sort of game that he desired to play. So John Carmack – the legendary creator of Doom – set out to do what he always did when the game he wanted to play did not yet exist, he got together a team of programmers and made something himself.
Working within the extremely strict limitations of most cell phones circa 2005, he came up with a plan for an impressive title that simultaneously abided both the power and input constraints present. His mission was to combine the first person gunplay of his legendary Doom series with the turn based logistics of the classical Dungeon Crawler genre, thus giving way to what we now know as the first Doom RPG title. Despite the inherent oddness of the concept – which did manage to raise many an eyebrow when it was first announced – the game quickly took off, paving the way for John Carmack’s team to make three more dungeon crawler titles for mobile devices.
One of those three follow up titles – Doom II RPG (out now, $2.99) – would later on be given an enhanced port to the iOS platform in 2010, and this is the game that we’re here to cover today. Set a few months after the outbreak that occurred at the United Aerospace Corporations’ Mars research facility – not that the game expects you to know anything of the first title’s plot – all finally seems to be going well again, or at least that was until a distress signal is received from a UAC facility on Earth’s Moon. Taking on the role of either Blazkowicz the Sergeant – Kira the Major – or O’Conner the Scientist, players will have to travel to the very depths of hell and back if Earth is to be spared once more.
Of course, nothing is ever going to be that easy – as if a trip to hell was ever easy to begin with – for the player’s selected hero is going to be cut off from the rest of their squad almost immediately after landing. From here on it is up for them to scour about for keycards, discover secret compartments filled with ammo and other supplies, procure an ever growing arsenal of weapons, peruse the e-mail conversations of the recently deceased, and deal with a plethora of both survivors and monsters. All while dealing with VIOS, a horrible demon that – thanks to UAC’s meddling – is trying to enter into our world through the United Aerospace Corporation network infrastructure.
The iOS port of Doom II RPG has rather effectively managed to boil down the original edition’s 12 button keypad control scheme into something far more manageable for a touch screen. The bulk of the inputs have been competently condensed down into a single on screen virtual d-pad, which – other than the act of sidestepping – handles almost all of your standard movement commands. This works especially well on a touch screen since – like all standard Dungeon Crawler titles – the action in the game waits for you to make each choice, although I furthermore never had any hang ups with the D-Pad even when I was quickly traversing through already explored locales.
Firing upon enemies in front of you is as simple as tapping the center of the screen, when not engaged in combat this also doubles as the input for interacting with anyone/anything that happens to be nearby. While your currently equipped gun can be changed by going to the inventory menu, you can also conveniently scroll through your collection – at no personal risk – merely by tapping on the ammo remaining gauge in the status bar. You’re definitely going to appreciate this functionality since most of the enemies present are more strongly affected when attacked by the proper weapon, of which there are many: chainsaws, assault rifles, shotguns, chain guns, rocket launchers, plasma rifles, sniper rifles, the famous BFG 9000, and more.
Other than running around shooting stuff, and occasionally talking to people and/or grumpy AIs, players will also sometimes find themself using the various training equipment and/or vending machines laying around. This generally leads to mini games such a virtual shooting galleries, where player can go for headshots to improve their accuracy; taking jogs on a treadmill to increase their agility, which has thankfully been made less tedious than it was on cell phones; or hacking vending machines, so as to decrease the price of the valuable energy drinks contained within. I must say, one has to wonder why the UAC vending machines – the game’s dispensaries for valuable stat boosting energy drinks – all seem to be well stocked with a product that is quite bluntly labeled Hell Knight Sweat.
At this point I would like to take a moment to say that I have some very good news for any who played the previous Doom RPG – which was infamous for being so easy that it generally took some serious effort on the player’s part to fail at – as Doom II RPG is far harder than the original release, at least so long as you play on a difficulty higher than easy. This time around a large part of your success will be determined by your ability to conserve ammo, as well as strategically maneuver enemies into places where you can tackle them from relative safety. On the flipside, I would furthermore like to point out that this title is – quite thankfully – still far easier than the oppressively difficult Wolfenstein RPG (the iOS release of which is sadly no longer available).
As for the story of the game itself, Doom II RPG features a rather wonky b-movie action plot – filled with moments of silly humor – that keeps things moving forward via a handful of quick cut scenes. I especially loved all the e-mails you can read at mainframe workstations, which – in the process of ranging all over the place – even includes conversations of people blaming each other for mundane things such as missing lunches. Even better are the positively horrified looks of abject bug-eyed terror the demons will display when you spray them with your mighty Holy Water Pistol (of course, that might just have been because I kept reloading it from the toilets in the bathroom)! At least the game has pulled things back a notch from the implausible levels of ridiculousness seen throughout its predecessor, so this time around you won’t be subjected to any tunnel systems that were excavated to specifically say ‘1337’ when viewed on the mini map.
While the previous basic cell phone edition of Doom II RPG was already a rather impressive looking game to begin with, at least in regards to the hardware it was running on, the appearance of this iOS port has been greatly improved by the addition of HD graphics and a much higher frame rate. This is furthermore complimented by a complete remastering of all of the various sound effects that comprise the game’s soundtrack, especially since the only music you’ll ever hear in Doom II RPG is on the title screen. As yet another extra, exclusive to the iOS edition is an optional mini on-screen comic book that visually tells the game’s back plot – previously only available as a short text crawl – while also giving more information on the title’s three playable protagonists.
The end result of John Carmack’s package is an entertaining – and highly accessible – Dungeon Crawling experience that can easily be immensely enjoyed by anyone, which is a bit of rarity in a genre normally known for being hardcore to the max. The selection of three different playable characters – complete with different starting stats, as well as somewhat different things that happen to them along the way – also gives the game a nice bit of replay value. Once you get over the fact that this isn’t a first person shooter – even if it at first looks like one – you will quickly realize that Doom and Dungeon Crawlers were two great tastes that were always meant to go together, so here’s hoping they deliver a third entry at some point in the future.
iFanzine Verdict: While the Dungeon Crawler genre has often been of very niche appeal, Doom II RPG – with its wonky humor, amazing visuals, and tight controls – is a stellar example that pretty much anyone can enjoy. So go out there – crack open a can of Hell Knight Sweat – and then rip a toilet from its foundation, because a chunk of porcelain to the face is always a good solution to problems involving demons. If that doesn’t work, just spray them all with your Holy Water Pistol and watch them freak out as they run all over the place like some sort of demonic take on a Benny Hill sketch.