Quake, Unreal Tournament, Half Life--and even Bungie's Halo--owe their prominence to a single early 1990s PC game: id Software's Doom. Although prefaced by Wolfenstein 3D in 1990, id's 1993 release of Doom defined the archetype for all subsequent first-person shooters. Texture-mapped surfaces, mazelike levels, gory monsters, and seamless multiplayer gameplay helped Doom and its sequels leap onto no less than 10 different gaming platforms. Now, thanks to Activision and David A. Palmer Studios, the game that coined the term deathmatch is now available on the Game Boy Advance.
On the Martian military colony of Phobos, a horde of hellish demons has obliterated the entire human population, save for one lowly space marine--you. Stranded alone, you're out to reap some revenge and flee with your hide intact. The single-player portion of Doom features 24 full levels of shotgun-toting, plasma-blasting 3D shooter action--but that's not all. Each level also supports four-player deathmatch or two-player cooperative modes with the use of a link cable. Despite a few minor alterations from the PC version, this handheld port contains the same gory gameplay that helped its ancestor launch a genre.
To be fair, Doom isn't an exact port, nor is it flawless. Although the majority of the game's 24 levels are straight out of the PC version, three were axed and one was heavily edited in order to cram the game onto a single cartridge. The massive Cyber Demon and Spider Mastermind bosses are missing as well. Other changes include green-toned blood and enemies that dissipate after death. Generally, the music is the same, although some selections are played out of order. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Doom and its progeny, this means action-packed, stylized MIDI and tons of synthetic bass. The sound effects are loud and ugly--highlighted by shotguns, grunts, growls, and an assortment of samples you've probably heard in recent car commercials.
In terms of setbacks, the game's overall resolution is somewhat pixilated, similar to the PC version on its lowest setting. There is also a noticeable amount of slowdown and choppiness in large areas, and it's compounded further in spots loaded with monsters. The presence of brightness and lighting toggles is a welcome addition, although the muddiness of textures is more obvious with dynamic lighting disabled. The GBA's button layout presents another obstacle to overcome, mainly because it's not as responsive as a mouse or analog controller. However, the controls generally lend themselves to Doom better than they would its successors--mainly because the game itself predates the vertical aiming of modern shooters.
Regardless of its shortcomings, Doom's strength lies in its raw gameplay. There are eight weapons to use, including your fist, a chain saw, the pistol, a shotgun, the chain gun, a rocket launcher, the beautiful plasma rifle, and the beautifully devastating BFG-9000. Conversely, there are seven monsters present in various quantities just waiting to absorb your ammo. They include former humans, zombie sergeants, ghoulish imps, pudgy demons, ghostly lost souls, floating cacodemons, and the Minotaur-like barons of hell. Even though the aim of most levels is tediously searching for keys, the cathartic release of blasting heads is a great equalizer. On the game's toughest difficulty setting, nightmare, there are more than 3,000 enemies to obliterate.
Cool 3D visuals and violent gameplay aside, the best way to play Doom is to enlist a few friends and take part in its multiplayer features. All of the game's single-player levels are available in both deathmatch and cooperative varieties--provided everyone has his or her own cartridge. Even with four human characters and scads of monsters onscreen, the frame rate never stutters any more than in a single-player match. There aren't any onscreen indicators in the multiplayer modes, but the action is so fast and the overall effect so priceless that you won't mind.
For those of you who are totally burned out on everything Doom has to offer or who have totally abused the GBA's multiplayer capabilities, Doom may be a bit too dated and/or simplistic to draw you back in. However, if you appreciate the beauty of straightforward gameplay, happen to have a few feisty friends, and absolutely adore your Game Boy Advance, Doom is an excellent choice.