Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cheap Thrills: DOOM II (XBLA)

My inexpensive downloadable gaming time has recently been dominated by the XBox Live Arcade release of id's classic first-person shooter, DOOM II, courtesy of Bethesda Softworks and Nerve.

I'm a big fan of id's early run-and-gun raycast 3-D shooters -- the fight-or-flight gameplay always gets my adrenaline going, and I still love the audiovisuals of the DOOM universe.  Nothing has been redone for this release, and everything still holds up remarkably well, thanks to fundamentally bold and thoughtful creature and sound design back in the lo-res 90's.  That said, while I've played the heck out of the original DOOM on a variety of platforms, I had only ever partially played through this sequel.  So a lot of this content was new to me, and the XBLA version includes a set of brand-new levels packaged as a supplementary No Rest for the Living "episode."  It's been a genuine treat sating my nostalgic FPS jones with some brand-new territory to explore (yes, I know there are WAD files galore available in the wild, but I have to draw the line somewhere.)

Part of the reason I'd never finished DOOM II was that it's considerably more difficult than the original -- if memory serves, my last set of saves found me in a difficult situation, loathe to die and lose my weapons, but so low on ammo and health I couldn't fight my way to a better position.  But I was still motivated to play at the Ultra-Violence difficulty level this time around, for the sake of an XBLA completion achievement. 

And let me tell you, it was NOT easy to get through it -- DOOM II is a more sophisticated design than the original DOOM, with heavier use of puzzles and traps than its predecessor, and at the Ultra-Violence level ammunition and med kits are relatively scarce.  This meant that I had to rely much more on dashing into a heavily-monstered area, stirring the pot with a few random shots, and running back out to let the demonic hordes battle it out amongst themselves for a while, while fending off any surprise attacks from the rear.  I also had to backtrack to earlier, healthier saves on several occasions, taking advantage of exploratory knowledge gained to survive the onslaught with a little more of my dignity, health and ammo intact.

DOOM II has some genuinely nasty setups -- Carmack, Romero and company are fond of placing tempting items on release switches, and following one wave of nasty creatures with an even nastier group.  Elevators and pits drop the player into ambushes, narrow platforms make navigation precarious, and keys are invariably guarded by platoons of imps and minotauresque Hell Knights.  Resurrected skeletons called Revenants deliver heavy blows up close and dangerous semi-homing missiles from a distance.  And another new creature, the Arch-Vile, has the unfortunate habit of resurrecting enemies we've already dispatched; I managed to end one level with more than a 200% kill ratio, because the population included several of these yellow magicians, and I had to put quite a few monsters down more than once.

Still, I fought through it all, and enjoyed every minute of it.  Perhaps more than my share of minutes, actually -- I also discovered that beyond a certain point, the game stopped counting play time precisely and simply displayed it as TIME: SUCKS when I finally reached the end of the level.  But I'm an adventure gamer at heart -- I generally dispatch any immediate threats, then explore as much as possible before deciding which batch of nasties to take on next, so I'm never going to beat id's designated PAR time on a regular basis.   

So I have finished the game once, but am still playing it for the sake of remaining achievements.  I managed to collect all the achievements for XBLA DOOM, but I'm not sure I'm going to be able to pull that off with DOOM II.  I managed to earn one by completing the first level playing on Nightmare difficulty, mostly by dodging shots and fireballs and running to the exit as efficiently as possible.  I know I can get up to 100 kills in deathmatch mode if I play enough, despite my generally pathetic one-on-one fragging skills, and killing 20 enemies in berserker mode will be doable if I find the right situation.  Killing a cyberdemon with my fists proved less tricky than I expected... I thought I would have to whittle him down with missiles and the BFG, saving frequently, and then use invisibility to sneak up from behind to avoid his back-knocking missiles and deliver the final few blows mano a mano.  But my wife did a little research and tipped me off that the Tricks & Traps level has a perfect room for the purpose, with plenty of invulnerability icons and tight quarters that keep the Cyberdemon from launching many missiles.

So that's one tough one down, but I still have a couple to go before I will feel like I've finished DOOM II for now.  But I'm looking forward to the remaining challenges.  Hell is fun!

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