It had been a little less than a year since id software's hugely popular Doom had hit the shareware scene like a hot pancake ready for love. And the masses, they spake, and request they did more visceral carnage. Well, masses from sixteen years ago, do I have news for you. Enter Doom II: Hell on Earth.
If you'll recall, by the end of the first Doom game you, as an anonymous space marine, successfully avenged the death of your pet rabbit by annihilating all the forces of hell you found on two Martian moons and even in hell itself. Sadly, while you were working on that, the demons were busy invading Earth and doing a pretty darned good job of it. Apparently by now they've killed off billions of humans on the planet, and the rest are trapped in a spaceport trying to escape the planet. The demons know this and have shielded off the spaceport to trap them on Earth, dooming mankind forever.
Of course, the legions of hell didn't count on you being a part of their plans. When you emerged from hell at the end of the first game (in the bonus episode, especially), instead of coming back through the Deimos gate you entered in, you emerged from a gate on Earth. So here we go again. I would like to then take note here that the entirety of Doom 1 and 2 are continuous, beginning to end. This means this space marine never eats, sleeps, pees, takes a drink of water to our knowledge...anything. Though I guess from seeing the stills at the end of Doom 1 we realized he never had to breathe while on the surface of the Martian moons, so maybe basic human functions are just too mundane for a guy so clearly badass that he can take on hell and win - twice.
The violence is definitely ramped up in this one. Because the graphics and engine and all other technical aspects of the game are identical to the first, the increase in savagery had to be accomplished through quantity over quality. By this I mean the monster count in Doom II is staggeringly high, making the first game look downright tame by comparison. It's odd then that only one weapon was added to the game. That weapon though, hilariously, is the "super shotgun." The shotgun was like the second best weapon of the game already! But now you can get a double-barreled version that takes twice the ammo but delivers about 150% more pain. That's a bargain, folks, and when you see how quickly this bugger knocks stuff out, you'll be hooked for the long run.
Which brought me to a very unexpected problem as I played through the game: low ammunition. Now don't get me wrong, ammo was littered around the levels at least as liberally as it had always been. But the sheer number of monsters this time around had my bullets and rockets constantly streaming forward, and ammo conservation suddenly became a real issue. And this was decidedly in the game's favor. The first time around, of course, I just saved ammo on everything by shotgunning everything down and by the end killed the last boss in three quick BFG hits. But here I occasionally found myself running on my last 5 rockets and nothing else, and it was exhilarating.
Of course, success is a little more difficult to come by when that's where you find yourself, but at this point you start to realize that success is always fleeting in Doom anyway. Sure, you cleared Phobos, but now there's Deimos. Sure, you cleared Deimos, but you still have to delve into hell yourself. Sure, you killed off half of hell, but now they're taking over Earth. And the story in Doom II works largely in the same manner, with you actually reaching the spaceport and allowing that ship to escape, then resigning yourself to death with a pat on the back. What? I mean, I get that you're tired and probably pretty hungry, but your planet is swarming with demons. And you're cool with it now? At least the dudes in space have a conscience and radio you to go track down the other hell gate and destroy it. Strangely, they keep referring to the demons as aliens - not sure what's going on there, but whatever.
But this does bring up a great point of divergence from the first Doom, and quite a welcome one - because Doom II is supposed to take place on Earth, in cities, the levels are no longer just cramped corridors of some moon base, but are often very large and open. A couple of the middle levels make good use of various tall buildings to decorate the city, all of which are accessible, while the main area still provides tons of breathing room. It's certainly a pleasure to get away from the confines of tight metal halls once in a while.
And while Doom II only introduced a single new weapon, it went a little crazier on adding new enemies, actually doubling the number of non-boss demons in the game. There is now a "heavy weapons guy" with a chaingun, skeletal revenants with twin shoulder-mounted missile launchers, floating jerks who incessantly spawn flaming skulls and spit them at you, an obese mass of flesh with its arms replaced by flamethrowers...but the most infuriating new enemy is definitely the Arch-Vile. This dude has the fastest move speed in the game, the highest health of all standard monsters, literally sets you on fire from any distance he pleases, and resurrects other monsters at will. Freakin' A, man. Cut me some slack. It even makes some creepy whispering noise when it knows you're there. Unsettling.
In fact, a lot of the game is "unsettling," though never in a bad way. The level design is far more clever in terms of setting you up for a surprise or an "oh my gosh" moment than ever before. For instance, there is a level called "Dead Simple" which has you spawn in an enclosed room with four of the aforementioned Fatty McFlamethrowers (officially called a Mancubus, but I like my name better). This is the first time in the game you see them, and when they start launching their crap at you you'll wish it were the last. Instead, killing them merely opens the walls around you. At this point several "arachnotrons" come after you, which are little brains mounted on steel legs with rapid fire plasma guns. Yeah. About that. Not cool.
Or IS it? Doom II's designers got so giddy with this sort of thing that they began riddling all the maps with traps of all sorts. There's even an entire level called "Tricks and Traps" which features, amongst other things, the room here pictured. That is absurd, guys. Need I remind you that the big guy in the back of the room is the baddest boss from the first game, and that all the pink guys in the middle are also bosses? And there's an army of them? What? Know what's worse? When you finally finish the rest of the level and run to the exit, the walkway drops as you go. If you hesitate in the slightest, you end up in lava and get to restart the whole level. That's cold. There's one level in which you can find a health pickup that puts you back to max health, which naturally is extremely valuable. Unfortunately, collecting it triggers a loooooooong series of monster teleports. I'm not exaggerating when I say you'll soon be besieged by about forty monsters of various types all at once, just because you picked up the health you so desperately needed in the first place. It's brutal.
And my point is that this is actually a good thing. You start to become paranoid of picking up any helpful item for fear that it will only ruin you to do so. Which is precisely the sort of vibe a game like this should give you - fear and uncertainty. Luckily, there are also a couple ridiculous levels like "Barrels O' Fun" which exist solely to enjoy crazy situations like, say, rooms lined with monsters as well as explosive barrels, and a little phenomenon we like to call "chain reaction."
One of the best touches of both Doom games so far that gives both of them that extra little edge of enjoyment is monster infighting. Let's face it - demons are demons for a reason. They're not going to be very loyal or reliable, even to others of their own ilk. So if a demon attacks another demon, tempers are gonna flare. You as the player can abuse this at will, catching demons in the crossfire of other demons and then watching them ignore you so they can rip each other to shreds. On levels like the game's final showdown, in which monsters spawn infinitely and continuously in a relatively small area, this tactic is almost even necessary for survival. And it results in some downright nutty kill percentages when all is said and done.
All in all it's a little surprising how much new stuff Doom II was able to cram in there without actually changing anything from the base formula of the game or any of its technical specifications. There were a lot of new and fresh ideas injected into Doom II; even subtle touches like doors that will only open when you shoot them (and yet these were somehow the obstacles that stumped me the most). Plus, unlike in Doom 1, the final boss doesn't die in four shots from the BFG-9000. In fact, Doom II's final boss is immune to the BFG. It's like a real boss for crying out loud! Crazy talk! The main complaint with the first game was the repetition and tediousness of much of the stage design. Somehow all of that is gone now; even key hunts aren't boring or monotonous, since the range of locales to explore is so heightened. Doom II is the perfect example of taking something old and making it new without really even changing anything at the core. Except the difficulty. Gird those loins, guys. This one's a challenge.
Bottom Line: 16/20