First person shooters require, above all else, a precision interface. The heart of their gameplay is all about putting a crosshair on something quickly and accurately. This is, unsurprisingly, not the sort of thing that is easy to do with a cell phone keypad. Others games have tried to force dexterity-based aiming and dodging onto the unwilling interface and the resulting experience has always been a thumb-cramping exercise in futility. Which is why Doom turning RPG for its cell phone incarnation is such a relief. It doesn’t bloody mindedly cram a style of gameplay onto a platform that just plain isn’t up to it, but replaces it with something that actually works.
A turn based, stat driven FPS is a chimera that could only be born of necessity, but works surprisingly well. Doom RPG has kept the first person perspective, but where pixel perfect movement and aiming are next to impossible to accomplish with a cell handset they’ve been replaced with space-by-space movement and 45 degree turns. Combat and movement are both turn based, which allows players to make decisions at their leisure or look away from their phone if they need to without worrying about getting ripped apart. It should all be very familiar to anyone who played Bard’s Tale or the old D&D gold box games. The crucial difference is that gameplay in Doom can be really fast if the player wants it to be. Attack animations finish quickly, and movement through caverns and corridors happens just as swiftly as the player can tap the movement keys. The mini-map of the original game is also present for anyone who gets disoriented, and moving around while it’s up is a great way of getting through cleared areas even faster.
The results of combat are determined by typical RPG stats that increase when the Marine gains xp from killing enemies. It’s completely possible to play through the entire game without worrying about stats at all, however. What’s far more important than raw numbers is figuring out which weapons are most effective on which enemies. Using the right one provides a significant bonus to damage. Imps really hate shotguns, and flaming skulls are always particularly vulnerable to the fire extinguisher. This adds not only a welcome layer of strategy, but ensures that weapons don’t ever really become obsolete. Even the after acquiring the biggest guns in the game the lowly fire axe is still worth taking out again when confronted with a zombie.
Almost everything that makes Doom distinctly Doom has been retained, and all the familiar sights and sounds provide a rush of pure nostalgia. The formula of exploring demon filled corridors, collecting weapons, and then unloading them into anything that gets in the way hasn’t been compromised at all.
The entire cast of enemies from Doom and Doom 2 are here, with the exception of arachnotrons and the spider mastermind. Strangely, the dogs from Wolfenstein 3D are also present, though this time around they’re called Hellhounds. Each of the dozen or so different monsters has three variants of increasing toughness, differentiated by color. It’s easy to dismiss color swapping enemies as a cheap way of padding out a bestiary, but even without it Doom RPG has a pretty impressively large cast for a game on a platform with severe memory limitations.
All of the weapons of the original Doom have also returned, with one notable absentee. The trademark chainsaw is regretably missing, perhaps because its idle animation and sound wouldn’t have been quite as practical or attractive on a cell. The addition of several new tools and weapons more than makes up for its absence, however. A fire axe has taken its place as the close quarters melee weapon while doubling as a means of opening jammed doors. The fire extinguisher is necessary for clearing a path through burning portions of the complex and is also an effective weapon against flaming enemies. The most remarkable new toy is a dog collar used for taming demonic hounds. Once captured they act as both a weapon and a canine shield, and while selected any damage taken will be inflicted on the dog instead of the marine until its separate life gauge runs out.
There were only ever two essential elements to Doom’s plot. A lone Marine is on Mars, and there are demons there with him. As an RPG Doom seems obligated to flesh this out a little bit more, and encounters with scientists and other soldiers occasionally break up the action. Many of these are scripted events that send the player on short errands, which provide a welcome break from simply collecting colored keys as well as supplying a little more of the story behind the demon invasion. The plot is still pretty thin, but for the most part these encounters are a welcome addition.
Finishing Doom RPG should take, at the very least, about five hours. That’s only if a player blows through everything as quickly as possible without backtracking or trying to uncover all of the game’s secrets and hidden areas, of which there are a damn lot. Finding them all is a good excuse to go back through areas that have already been cleared and doing so adds a lot to play time.
Even though it offers a much more extended experience than typical cell phone games, it’s possible to play Doom RPG for just minutes or seconds at a time. The game can be saved at any point with just a few couple key presses. The ability to save in the middle of a level or even in the middle of a firefight means that players need not worry about losing any progress when they’re interrupted, which is inevitable in the kinds of situations where most people play cell games.
Doom RPG certainly isn’t the same Doom, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun if it was. Compromises have to be made when bringing a game over to mobile, and it’s to Doom’s credit that most of these don’t feel much like compromises at all. It plays to the strengths of the platform while gracefully overcoming the shortcomings, which is the most that anyone can ask. It’s probably not quite as much fun as playing classic Doom at home or on more dedicated gaming devices, but it’s hands down one of the best games to be found on a cell.