Doom II – PC
Developer: id Software
Publisher: GT Interactive Software
Release Date: September 30, 1994 (NA), October 10, 1994 (EU)
Genre: First-Person Shooter (FPS)
Nerd Rating: 8.5 out of 10
With the new DOOM (4) still hot on the market, and my computer unable to run it smoothly without a serious hardware overhaul, it’s a good time to look back at the games that brought us here. If you’re looking for a retrospective that starts with the first game, read NerdBerry’s sterling review of the original (Ultimate) Doom, it’s great stuff. Doom II was my personal introduction to the franchise, and I’ve since gone from a little kid hiding under the table to a guy who beat both original Doom games on Ultra-Violence for the sake of an achievement. It’s really been a long ride and it’s a testament to the series’ power that it still gives the same brand of fun it did when it was released. But what did Doom II bring to the series that elevated it to the next level? Pick up your Super Shotgun, follow me into the press of bodies, and let’s hope we don’t join them, eh?
Doom II, also known as Doom II: Hell on Earth, was made in the year following the original Doom, the perfect time to capitalize on id Software’s latest and greatest creation since Wolfenstein 3D(O). It picks up where the first one left off, with the unnamed Space Marine arriving back on Earth to find it overrun with the Hellspawn that had taken over the Mars properties of the Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC). Of course, since this was before Doom 3, the story is mostly here as a gentle justification for throwing you headlong into thirty levels of pure Hell. There are no human beings to save, no key structures to defend, no actual objectives to reach, the goal is simply to reach the end of the level and not die trying. Gone are the days where you had to start a new episode once you reached the end, so you get to keep your heavy weapons through the entire game, and you’re going to need them, because Doom II brings a lot of nastier demons capable of turning you into so much meat.
Let’s start by taking a look at the new things Doom II will throw at you. Most of these are enemies, and they deserve their own paragraph, so I’ll begin with the new weapon — the Super Shotgun — and the new powerup — the Megasphere. The Super Shotgun is basically a much more powerful double-barreled version of the original. It reloads slower, but in exchange, a single shot has a wide spread and when you fire it at close range, it can reduce even the toughest demons to ground round in short order (though I wouldn’t try bringing down a Cyberdemon with it). One to the face will usually drop a regular Demon, and two shots will fell a Cacodemon without much trouble if it’s close to mid range. It has a bit of room-clearing power, but the accuracy will drop off over a wide distance, so unless you’re aiming for someone big, it doesn’t do much good. That said, it’s a very welcome edition to the Doom series, and once you hear the sound of it blowing some poor sap away for the first time, you might not be sad that there’s no new weapons apart from this. As for the Megasphere, it’s basically a Supercharge that also refills your armor completely along with your health. Not much to say there, but the ability of the game to give you more pleasure usually means it’ll give you a bit more pain in response too. And boy, will it.
Doom II‘s greatest contribution to the series is in the new demons it brings to the table, which helps a lot to diversify Doom‘s demonic invasion portfolio. The “heavy weapons dude”, known more commonly to the community as the chaingunner, will mow you down with a hitscan version of your chaingun if you stand in front of them too long, basically free damage. Later Doom games make heavy use of these heavies, in particular Final Doom‘s Plutonia Experiment has a serious fixation with setting these guys up EVERYWHERE to ruin your day. The Baron of Hell now has a little brother, the Hell Knight, which is simply a Baron reskin with less health, meaning they can throw them at you easier without feeling cheap. I know it’s just a palette swap, but it’s a welcome change to me, since they’re a satisfying target for Super Shotgun blasts. And then there’s the Arachnotron, which is the Spider Mastermind’s offspring, and instead of the super-chaingun big momma carries around, these little guys are armed with plasma rifles of their very own. If you let them shoot you from range for too long, you’ll be a cinder, so either respond with rockets or close range shotgun blasts and they’ll fall apart like a house of cards in the breeze.
Those were just the tip of the iceberg, as Doom II brought in a lot of new demons and the ones coming up are a lot more vicious. The Pain Elemental, for instance, moves like a Cacodemon, but attacks by belching Lost Souls at you. It’s a moving monster factory, and even if Lost Souls are kind of dumb, strength in numbers will tear you to shreds without much effort. Blow these guys up when you have the chance, but do it from afar or they’ll take you with them. The Mancubus is a very fat demon armed with fireball launchers. The shots may be dumbfire, but they fire a lot at once, so if there’s a bunch of them around, it’s easy to see the sky become a firestorm and get hit in the crossfire. They also eat bullets like McDonald’s french fries, so pump a few rockets into them to make them melt into a puddle of obese gore. And then there’s the Revenant, holy balls this freaking guy. He’s another one of the Plutonia Experiment‘s favorite ambush toys, because it will launch slightly homing rockets at you and then whale on you with fast fists if you get too close. Doom II teaches us fast to hate these guys, but there’s one even worse than them… And fans of the game know which one that is.
The Arch-Vile. Oh my god, no “standard” monster in the Doom series approaches this fudge-nut as the maximum source of hate and loathing. He’s about as bad as the Spider-Mastermind and the Cyberdemon, except that he’s small enough to shove in a normal monster closet and still powerful enough to make you cry blood. It’s not just that the Arch-Vile has a hitscan fire attack that blows you skyward and takes off a huge chunk of your health if you don’t get behind something, that’s fair. No, what this chunderpunt does is resurrect dead enemies! I’m not made of ammo, dude! I don’t have enough time or health or armor to blow up that Hell Knight again! Stop raising him from the dead! I SAID STOP!! At least these guys are few and far between, but Doom II will teach you to absolutely dread stumbling into these wackos, cause as soon as you learn their wake-up sound, you’ll know you’re in for a world of hurt. Oh yes, and the Plutonia Experiment gives these guys their own flipping level where you have to hunt them through a labyrinth and it’s just a flying mess all over.
Since Doom II is basically a longer Doom with more enemies, most of this review covers what it did that was new, but there’s still the level design to look over, and I have to be honest: Even as a kid, I knew that these levels were kind of out of whack. The rationalization that id Software used was that since Hell’s taken over, the demons have brought their reality with them, warping and twisting the environment. By that virtue, it should mean that the later levels should look like a mix of actual city environments mixed with the later levels of the original Doom, because those were well-designed levels. But instead, you have these surrealist impossible to imagine environments that don’t even look like they were ever supposed to be actual buildings. You’re more likely to recognize actual building layouts in some of the mods being made for this game than you are in the original Doom II. I mean, it’s pretty bad when the level “Suburbs” looks nothing like a cul-de-sac. I mean, I didn’t walk down my street to the dead-end and see a giant stack of black boxes, an acid pool, black sand on the ground and that sort of thing. There’s also a lot of key-based backtracking that, while it was present in the original Doom to some extent, frankly overstays its welcome in Doom II. While this game does excel at giving us more dangerous creatures to fight, the questionable level design is a disappointment to many otherwise content fans, myself among them.
That said, Doom II is still a very powerful game made by competent industry legends like John Romero, Adrian Carmack, and Robert Prince. Apart from probably having a fever while they came up with the level ideas, they were very clear-headed and smart. The multiplayer deathmatch setting was, on release, far more friendly to LAN and online play than the original Doom, made for out-of-the-box functionality. And the engine itself is a very powerful and operable tool, with many programs available that let you build your own levels and worlds and populate them with monsters of your own design. Because of this, Doom II has had a life far beyond most games by means of community modding. All you have to do is download a program like FreeDoom, ZDoom or GZDoom and by doing that alone you open up a whole new universe of Doom accessibility. You’re essentially loading up brand new community-made campaigns and giving yourself countless hours of replayability and fun, which is especially handy if your household is strapped for cash, kind of like mine was when I was a kid. So yeah, I have to give props to a game that still manages to surprise me after ten years.
So what about it? Is Doom II worth the grade I’m giving it? It may not have had the same industry-breaking power that the original Doom did, but as far as a follow-up act, it does a really nice job. What it does for the whole series is perfect the Doom formula, as evidenced by my little forays into talking about how Final Doom really took those new creatures and ran with them. Doom II elevated the experience into something a lot more unpredictable and a lot more deadly. Every step you take could open up a hidden door full of your worst nightmares, and every door you open could spit out seven kinds of Hell at you even moreso than the original. While the level design is admittedly rather painful at times, the thirty levels of Doom II are still Barrels ‘O Fun (I’m so clever) and still very much worth playing through. And if you get through to the other side and decide that you want to spice things up, the game’s IWAD also acts as a base for many of the better mods and megawads out there. Load one of those in and enjoy a whole new game!
In conclusion, I recommend Doom II as an essential item on any shooter enthusiast’s gaming library, and a great fallback choice for anyone who bought the new DOOM before their computer was able to run it. Seriously, I know your pain, guys. It’s almost as bad as finding out an Arch-Vile was let lose in a room you thought you already cleared, and remembering that there were once-dead Revenants in it. Almost.
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