Movies inspired by video games often feel like a quick cash-grab, carried out by producers and directors who never seem to understand the source material. Many a passionate gamer has suffered through cinematic wrecks such as the countless Resident Evil sequels, Street Fighter: The Revenge of Chun-li, Double Dragon or – sigh – Alone in the Dark.
But, to be fair, there had been a few good things associated with game movies. In particular, coinciding with the release of the Doom movie in October 2005, Fountainhead Entertainment released a Doom RPG for Symbian OS and Java-compatible mobile phones. Well, that was a trip to hell definitely worth one’s time.
MARS IS UNDER ATTACK. AGAIN.
Designed by Matthew Ross (who to this day works on the series!) and David Whitlark, the game takes place in 2145. The plot specifically states that the main character is the very same unnamed marine that we have all grown to love from the previous Doom titles. However, Doom RPG – right from the title – does feel quite different from anything else that came before. Story-wise, though, there’s nothing new under the martian sky. The UAC Mars base is, once again, under attack by the demons and the now qualified demon-tearing expert is called in to help. Let’s be clear, from the beginning: yes, make no mistake, this is a serious first-person turn-based RPG.
Movement is carried out by 90-degree turns, using the d-pad (or the joystick on the gone but not forgotten powerhouse Nokia 6600). The player can look around freely, but movement and actions always cost a turn. As this is an RPG, talking with characters and using computers (much like in Doom 3) is an important mechanic. It allows the players to learn the story, as well as find passcodes, and hints on how to proceed. There is some humor here and there, and limited pop culture references but, for the most part, Doom RPG plays things straight. While there are no puzzles in the strict sense of the word, there will be keys to find and doors to force open.
RIP AND TEAR BUT LEVEL UP FIRST
Levelling up is done automatically. Once the marine gains enough experience points – his stats increase. These consist of HP, Defense, Strength, Agility and Accuracy. All work as expected. Strength affects how much damage we deal; Agility allows the character to avoid enemies’ attacks; While Accuracy increases the chance to hit targets.
Doom RPG also, handily, keeps constant track of all the secrets and monsters on the current level. As such, the players don’t have to wait until they finish the level to find out whether they’ve collected everything. There is an automap, too, which you can download from the terminals, just like in the main series. It can be consulted at all times with the press of the “back” button on the phone.
Two new minor gameplay features introduced in Doom RPG are the axe and the fire extinguisher. The former can force open jammed doors. The latter can come in handy to put out fires that will, otherwise, make some rooms impossible to explore, without dying. As mentioned, interacting with terminals is quite important. They allow the players to open doors and collect secrets. Especially if you remember the year of the original Doom’s release! Aside from these two mechanics, everything else about the mobile title will be, for the most part, immediately familiar to the players of the series.
COMBAT OF THE LUCIFERIAN VARIETY
As I’ve mentioned, combat is now completely turn-based. Yet, it’ll immediately strike a chord with anyone who’s played an FPS before. Select a weapon from the inventory, then fire away as soon as an enemy enters the field of view. As with the main game, all weapons use ammo, which the players will have to search for throughout the levels. It is worth remembering, also, that shots taken from a distance are less effective. In addition, the marine has an automatic dodge mechanic, controlled by Agility, along with the armor level. Med kits are stored in the inventory and can be used whenever necessary.
Since the enemy and the marine each take turns, moving or shooting, the resulting combat doesn’t feel that much less frantic than in the original Doom. It can surely make for some quite exciting battles to the death. Usually, the game doesn’t swarm the player with tens of enemies at a time, as the titles from the main series were wont to do at high difficulty levels. Then again, a large number of sprites could easily slow down the old phones. Also beware: even two scrawny Imps may very well turn out to be a deadly encounter.
The enemies are mostly of the same variety as in the original series. So, the players can expect all the regular Imps, Pinkies, Lost Souls, Zombie Marines and so on. The sprites are a bit different though. Doom RPG uses colors to indicate the “rank of an enemy”. This’ll give players a rough idea on how difficult the upcoming fight will be. Fountainhead also introduced new names (which don’t seem to have ever been used again?) Like the Malwrath – a weaker Cacodemon, or the Apollyon – a high-ranking Archvile.
TURN BASED THANK YOU VERY MUCH
Graphically, the game does look very much like a simplified version of the original Doom. The levels, though, feel less atmospheric, lacking sky boxes and animated sprites. As a result, these are definitely less varied – since open areas were out of the question. Clearly, many of the game’s sprites were also reused. Despite the base and the hell levels, this feels very much like a “dungeon RPG” – so perhaps some dungeon synth may be appropriate.
What music does the game itself use, you ask? Well, Doom RPG is mostly silent except for sound effects. The only jingle played is the Doom theme, which shows up when gaining a level or finishing a stage. Perhaps the silent treatment was meant as an homage to the 3DO conversion…
Jokes aside, Fountainhead managed to successfully rework ID Software’s frantic first-person shooter into something that the mobile phone users of the 00s could easily enjoy. To this day, it does feel like a unique flavor of rip and tear, a rather fresh experience. Unfortunately, Doom RPG has not been converted to any modern platform, but you can check out the Doom RPG remake project.
Anyone who wants to play it today must arm themselves with a Java phone emulator and the game’s ROM. Five years later, a sequel came out – Doom II RPG. The title was exclusive for iPhone and iPod Touch. It shares the gameplay with the original and just some passing references to the story. Wolfenstein RPG is also available, but that’s another story for another day.