Id Software’s classic, genre-defining First Person Shooter recently received a spin-off. It came in the most unlikely form, and happened on the most unlikely platform. The “Doom RPG” retains the first-person perspective of the classic shooter, but now adds a turn-based RPG element… and, it’s only available for mobile phones.
Id licensed the game and all that comes with it to JAMDAT Mobile (now EA Mobile), and a US developer picked up the grunt work. The result is surprisingly above average, and certainly higher than any expectations I originally had for the game.
But let’s start with the ugly stuff. I’m asked to put a score to Sound, but I have to ask, what sound? On my particular cell phone, this is what I observed: other than the classic Doom theme playing during the opening menu, and a dinky sound effect that is made every time you pick up an item, the game doesn’t have sound! I have read that there are some more sound effects and another song in the game, but these were apparently incompatable with my cell phone.
You have the option to enable or disable sounds in the game, but there’s not much a difference between the two options. Of course, I didn’t expect the game to have a phenomenal soundtrack, given the medium through which the game is played. But still, with all the fancy ringtones out there, one would think the game could offer more than one music track, and allow it to be played throughout the game!
The graphics are also a little rough. Technically speaking, the graphics will vary depending on the quality of the phone you’re using, but that doesn’t excuse all the problems. The images are almost all directly ported from the original Doom that I used to play in DOS mode of my PC; the animation, however, is anything but smooth. This port allows you to move from square to square on the map, and each movement has the image change twice. Enemy “animations” usually involve a slow switching from one still image to another; this rule also applies to weapons usage. There could be a lot of improvement in this regard, even for such a handheld platform as a cell phone.
When I downloaded the game (which cost me a trifling six US dollars), I learned the whole package was a mere 270 kilobytes. That’s about the size of your average NES cartridge. When you consider this fact, it certainly explains the low graphical content; it does not, however, excuse the problems. Even for such a small device, the aesthetic features could have been much better.
That said, nearly everything else about the game ranges from “pretty good” to “fantastic.” Let’s start with the storyline.
You control that generic Marine who is the protagonist of all the Doom games. You are sent to a base on Mars run by the UAC where some suspicious things have been going on. Some scientists have been fired, others have been hired, and everyone is suspicious of everyone else. When I say “everyone,” I am referring to the array of civilian, scientist, and military NPCs found throughout the game. This emphasis on story is one of the few things the Doom RPG does to feel more like Doom 3 and less like its plot-lacking ancestors.
For the first half of the game, you are thrown back and forth between helping one doctor (Dr. Jensen) and another (Dr. Guerard). Is one good and one bad? Are both good? Are both bad? The answer is determined before the end of this ten hour adventure.
The written dialogue is really what keeps the game interesting; and when I say interesting, I generally mean humorous. Along with the NPCs, you find yourself frequently interacting with computer terminals. You read emails, enter codes, and even get a mock primer in SQL coding. The people at Fountainhead used a lot of jokes that appeal to a tech-savvy crowd, and they also make frequent allusions to older Doom installments. The plot is generic, but stays true to the Doom series without creating any continuity problems. Overall, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the story to the game, simple though it may be.
The control interface is seamless, and it works very nicely for the cell phone. Nearly every button on a standard cell phone is put to use, and they are all worth knowing and using. It felt very intuitive to me.
The meat of the game works exactly as the genre describes: first-person shooter plus turn-based RPG equals first-person RPG. Each time you move or attack, a “turn” is taken, and enemies on the field can also move and attack. As you progress through the game, you pick up better weapons, all the way up to the BFG. Instead of the chainsaw, however, the melee weapon is an axe. You can also get pet dogs to join you with a one-use dog collar in your inventory. The dog becomes a weapon selection that also takes damage in your place.
The inventory feature allows the player to carry medkits and other items that can be collected and used at a later time. This, too, gives the game more of an RPG feel.
Exploration is much like the original Doom. Secret doors (indentations in walls, usually) can be found in every area. There are colored keycards that you have to collect to progress further in the game. There are also a few basic puzzles to solve. It’s all typical dungeon-crawling fare.
The battle system is what makes the game truly worthwhile. Revisiting all your favorite demonic foes (and a few new ones to boot) and fighting them in such a way that you can gauge the success of your attacks makes the game a whole new ball of wax. I quickly discovered that certain weapons work better on certain enemies. Like the rest of the Doom games, ammo conservation is critical, but the short-range axe is a surprisingly powerful tool that can be used almost to the point of exploitation so that you can save ammo for major challenges.
As you fight, you gain experience points. Experience points are also awarded for finding secret doors and clearing fires with a fire extinguisher. Each time you gain a level, you gain more maximum health, maximum armor, and increased statistics. Further statistical increases, along with ammunition, can be purchased at the “Junction” (the area from which you go to any enemy-infiltrated zone) with credits. These credits (money) are not easily found, so one must spend sparingly.
I thoroughly enjoyed playing through the game, and would not be surprised if a sequel or two came to follow up on its success. It’s not too challenging, but it certainly is fun, and it helps pass the time in many boring situations. For a one-time cost of six dollars, it’s also a reasonable purchase. If you haven’t checked out the mobile gaming market yet, don’t let yourself fall too easily into the skepticism that all the games are bad by default. On the contrary, I found the Doom RPG to be an enjoyable pastime from day to day, and I’ll probably replay it a few times to find all the various secrets the game has to offer. I’d recommend the game to just about anyone.