Like Wolfenstein RPG before it, id Software’s latest venture into the world of Doom has more in common with turn-based dungeon hacks of the 80’s than with the shooter genre from whence it sprang. Don’t get me wrong – there are guns aplenty here – but instead of relying on twitch-fingered accuracy and eagle-eyed precision, Doom II RPG [App Store] shifts the series focus to strategy and exploration. It’s a strange direction for the franchise to explore, but it works.
In each of the 9 levels presented here your goal will be the same; explore your surroundings until you’ve managed to uncover the exit. How you’ll go about that, however, can really differ from level to level. In some instances you’ll need to find hidden keycards. In others you’ll need to power up doorways or use a robot to explore gas-filled rooms. Level design offers up enough variety that things never really begin to feel stale.
The bulk of the gameplay offers up what you’ve come to expect from the Doom franchise – killing demons with big ass guns. Unlike the rest of the series though, you’ll really need to think about which guns to use in which situations and how best to approach your opponents. Sure you could go in guns blazing, but in a turn-based situation with no ability to gain cover you’re just asking to get yourself killed. Little tricks like hiding around a corner after you’ve been spotted to coax an enemy in front of you, or sending in a robot helper to get a good look at a situation before you walk into it, can make all the difference in the world.
Controls are fairly simple and will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played Wolfenstein RPG. You’ll be able to rotate your character 90 degrees in any direction with the aid of an on screen D-pad and sidestep by swiping your finger in the direction you want to move. Weapons can be cycled through by tapping your weapon icon, and shooting is done by tapping the screen. If you want to activate your inventory to restore some health or apply some armor, just tap on the health indicator. Everything is kept incredibly approachable, with every action requiring only a single touch.
Like all Doom games before it, the story here is essentially Aliens meets The Gate. Hell has once again opened up in space – this time on the moon – and you’re part of the team sent to investigate. There’s a good deal of sophomoric humor in the writing, yet I was surprised at the effort that was actually put into making the story interesting and providing the world with some depth. You’ll encounter different survivors that provide key information on what you’ll need to do to advance through a level. Computer terminals are found around the complex with emails open that give insight into the events that unfolded before you arrived. They’ve really done a bang up job of framing the story in a way that will keep you more engaged than you might suspect.
I was also taken aback by how well they managed to keep me on the edge of my seat with anxiety and occasionally jumpy with fear. When you remove the real-time components of a game like this and opt to keep the visuals campy and old school, your expectations in terms of nail-biting excitement are set relatively low. Yet time and time again, the level design would lead me into a situation where I was surrounded by demons with seemingly no way to get out.
The game also managed to have a few cheap carnival-ride thrills. In one instance I walked into an empty bathroom to refill my holy water gun in the toilet. Let me stress again -- the room was totally empty. But when I looked in a large mirror on my way to the exit there was a zombie standing right behind me! Sure these are cheap carnie thrills here, but it made me jump nonetheless.
Silliness also manages to sneak its way into the game more often than I’d expect. Shooting a demon with holy water, for example, will make his eyes bug out like a Looney Tunes animation. Searching the corpses of demons will occasionally turn up useless items like human fingers and pocket lint. It’s the sort of stuff that would have made me laugh when I was 12, and for some reason it still manages to illicit a chuckle out of me. This is a game where you can throw toilets at hellspawn -- who wouldn’t crack a smile at that?
As you can probably gather from the bulk of this review, Doom II RPG is a game that left me tickled pink from beginning to end. Still, we’d be remiss to not mention the few questionable design decisions that popped up from time to time.
I loved that enemy sprites were cut and paste from 1994, but they looked a little too fuzzy when you got up close. Couldn’t they have been cleaned up just a little for their 2010 re-introduction? Doom II RPG is also in desperate need of an auto-save feature. Each level would take a minimum of 30 minutes to complete, and on more than a few occasions I forgot to save and ended up having to replay huge chunks of the adventure. Also, for a Doom title, the game world is seriously lacking in the satanic scenery found in previous games of the franchise.
Still - with so few complaints, Doom II RPG is a game I enjoyed from beginning to end.
App Store Link: Doom II RPG, $3.99