Doom RPG Mobile Updated Hands-On

Welcome to Mars, Marine. Wait, no. Hell, not Mars.


Jamdat Mobile CEO Mitch Lasky's relationship with id Software--the developer behind a few minor hits like the Doom and Quake games--actually started several years ago, while Lasky was still working for id's console and PC publisher, Activision. Apparently, the possibility of a Jamdat-produced Doom mobile game had been under discussion since 2002, when the very first download-capable color handsets were coming out, although the two companies decided that the technology wasn't good enough at that time. Well, it's now the tail-end of 2005: The handset tech has arrived, game-quality levels are rocketing upwards, and the release of a Doom movie (starring The Rock) is imminent. The waiting period is over; it's almost time for Doom RPG Mobile to go live. We've conducted an in-depth preview of a final version of the game, and we think that it's definitely ready for prime time.

Turn-based, schmurn-based. This is Doom.
Turn-based, schmurn-based. This is Doom.

Doom RPG Mobile has undergone a subtle metamorphosis since our first preview at E3. Jamdat, id, and developer Fountainhead Entertainment have added many new features to the mix. There's the obvious stuff, like the plugging in of the ceiling and floor textures, as well as the fine details of dialogue, weapons balance, and level layouts. The final version of the game stands at 10 levels, including a rather long tutorial area. In all, Jamdat tells us that Doom RPG Mobile will take most mobile gamers between five and eight hours to complete.

After an extended play session, we believe them. There's just a ton going on in this game--more, in fact, than there ever was in the original Doom. The dialogue exemplifies how much depth has been added to the experience: UAC's Mars base is populated with civilians, scientists, and fellow Marines, all of whom seem to have multiple things to tell you. Some initially reticent non-player characters will open up and give you hints if you keep bugging them; others will tell you to get lost at first, but will become more talkative if you return at a later point in the game. Plus, Doom RPG Mobile borrows the idea of e-mails and security codes from Doom 3. The useless computer terminals from the original game have been tricked out with all kinds of capabilities. Most of them will display one or several e-mails between base personnel, thereby advancing the story (yes, Doom now has a storyline). Others will prompt you for a numerical keycode to open a nearby door, which you can punch in using your phone's keypad, or serve as a download station for a full level map. This map function is a fantastic touch--you can actually play the game from the map screen, if you want to rapidly backtrack through an area. The game will automatically return you to first-person shooter mode if you encounter an enemy.

Several of the game's brand-new weapons allow you to interact with the environment. For instance, the axe, a great melee weapon that replaces the original game's chainsaw, is also good for busting open broken doors, while the fire extinguisher douses the many small fires that break out all over the station. Each particular weapon has its own characteristics, too--the axe is most effective on zombies, which it can easily split in half, while the fire extinguisher is the best weapon you can use on flaming enemies. The game's collection of 10 weapons mostly consists of old favorites like the shotgun, the rocket launcher, and the BFG (the latter two inflict splash damage), although there's some really interesting new stuff in there, too. Our favorite was the Cerebus. At one point in the game, you can pick up a special dog collar that's been infused with mind-control technology and use it on any doglike enemy you encounter. Once you do so, the evil canine is in your thrall, and it may be selected like any other weapon. Its bite makes for a devastating melee attack, and it'll also absorb any damage that was meant for you, as long as it lives.

Doom RPG Mobile's 10 areas branch off radially from an initial staging area called Junction. You fight your way to Junction in the tutorial level, and from there, you have to try to collect the right keycards to enter more advanced areas. It's also possible to buy items and stat upgrades from vending machines in Junction, should you find enough UAC credits scattered around the levels. As in any good RPG, Doom RPG Mobile's levels are convoluted and filled with enemies and secrets. For example, we finished the tutorial level thinking that we had done a reasonably thorough job of discovering the secret areas--when in fact, we had only found two out of six. Leveling your Marine and boosting his stats are also very important parts of gameplay. You gain experience for dousing fires and opening certain doors, but the bulk of your leveling will take place during combat, which can be just as insane as it was in the original. Enemies will burst out of nowhere--even into areas you already cleared--and they'll gang up on you. A single critical hit from some of the tougher ones may be enough to drop you, too; we opened a secret door on the first level, only to be mowed down instantaneously by a cacodemon. It pays to save often.

Where does hellspawn go when it dies?
Where does hellspawn go when it dies?

The most amazing thing about Doom RPG Mobile is its overall level of fidelity to the original game--yes, it's turn-based, but it really looks and sounds just like you're playing Doom. We played the game on an LG VX8100, and we were impressed by the smooth scrolling in between turns, the sprites, and the special effects when you blow something to smithereens. The sound effects, from death growls to the imps' heavy breathing, are positively flashback-inducing. Jamdat told us that there are over 100 sound effects from Doom, as well as an opening MIDI.

Doom RPG Mobile gives off every impression of being a major achievement, and it could be interesting enough to get a lot of gamers into mobile for the first time. If you've never paid attention to mobile games before, this might be the one that breaks down your resistance. We'll have our full review ready as soon as the game comes out, which could be as soon as next week. Stay on your toes.

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