(Game Boy Advance Review) Doom

Developer: id Software
Publisher: Activision
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1-4
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: Nick Stewart

Overall: 9 = Must Buy

Although Wolfenstein 3D practically invented the first-person shooter, Doom is the title that brought the genre to the forefront of the industry, shaking fresh-faced and jaded gamers alike with its gore, its hellish themes, and its wall-to-wall, nonstop action. Since then, it’s hit any number of console systems in an attempt to reproduce the magic offered by the original. Now, a decade after it first hit the PC, Doom has found its way onto a handheld system; can the Big N’s Little System That Could handle this trip to Hell?

Considering the game’s age and legendary popularity, describing the basic idea behind Doom would be completely pointless, or at least it would be if the idea wasn’t as straightforward as they come. You know the drill: you’re a space marine, armed to the teeth, and you’re surrounded by hellspawn. As you blast your way through level after level of creatures that would like nothing more than to eat your face, collecting keys and heavier weaponry along the way, you’re not really aiming for any particularly complex or enlightening goals. This time-tested formula holds true to the Game Boy Advance version, where just about every imaginable aspect of the full-blown original has arrived intact. From secret passageways to hidden guns to much-needed health packs, just about everything you remember can be found in the handheld. That also includes the faithful end-level scoresheet, so gamers who aren’t satisfied with merely surviving can also aim to kill more, faster, and more efficiently. Despite the game’s age and the complete lack of any new content, Doom is almost as visceral and fun as it was when it first hit the shareware scene.

With the exception of some slowdown, it’s fast and plays extremely well, which is surprising, all things considered. In fact, once you get used to the new size, it’s hard not to get sucked back into the game, even after all these years. There are only a few noticeable differences that stand out ever so slightly, such as the fact that bodies disappear almost instantly, and that you’re only able to save after completing a level. As you might recall, the levels aren’t so big that you’ll have to wander for hours before stumbling upon the exit; as a result, the succeed-and-save system works quite nicely, and helps to maintain the tension without killing the fun. Of course, the Doom experience would be incomplete without a multiplayer component, and fortunately, there is one. All in all, it’s a ton of fun, and a terrific way to spend your handheld gaming time.

Much like the gameplay, the graphics look terrific and are exactly the way you remember them, with the exception of some blurriness in anything that’s a fair distance away. This makes it nearly impossible to recognize far-off enemies, which is an inconvenience at first, but becomes less of a problem as the game goes on, since you just end up strafing and shooting everything anyway. Also, the framerate has a tendency of chugging somewhat whenever you come into a large level or face numerous enemies, both of which are extremely prominent in the last third of the game. Still, it’s not so much of a problem as the lighting, which is something that will haunt this system until somebody can come up with a truly functional workaround. On the PC, Doom is dark; on the Game Boy Advance, it’s almost unbearably so. To try and compensate, you’re provided with a brightness option, but this can only do so much. As a result, you’ll often find yourself switching the lighting from Dynamic to Static, which makes things visible but has a significant trade-off in atmosphere. The Game Boy Advance itself presents a no-win situation for this particular aspect of Doom, which is a bit of a shame, considering how excellent the graphics truly are.

While the sounds and songs aren’t quite as solid as they were on the PC version, the system does an extremely admirable job of bringing back every last grunt and death wail, and with as much style as you’d hope for. You can talk about the game, and you can even march around the first level for a while, but it’s hard to understand just how great this version of Doom really is until you’ve pumped off a round from your shotgun and heard the familiar roar ring through the little speakers. Yes, it’s now impossible to use sound to determine just how far away your enemies really are, but considering the relative power of the hardware, this is as good as it’s going to get.

It’s difficult to get used to playing Doom without a keyboard; thankfully, the control scheme is so comprehensive that, once you do get a feel for the setup, you’ll find yourself doing circle-strafes without breaking a sweat. It also doesn’t hurt that the game is really responsive and handles well, which is an absolute must when the action gets as frantic as often as it does here. The only knock to this category is the weapon-switching. In order to cycle through your armory, you have to hold down both shoulder buttons and press up or down on the pad; this might not sound tricky, but when you’re suddenly ambushed by Cacodemons, the extra handful of seconds it takes to ditch your shotgun for something a little more effective can mean the difference between life and death. It’s a somewhat minor but still noteworthy issue in an otherwise solid setup.

It’s a testament to the versatility and power of the Game Boy Advance that great titles such as Doom can be squeezed into the system’s tiny carts and still prove to be almost as good as the original. Given, there are a few chinks in Doom’s armor: the inevitable blurriness and slowdown can sometimes stand out a little too much, and the title’s inherent darkness actually works against it more often than it helps. Still, once you put these relatively minor issues aside, it’s all too easy to enjoy the game for the classic experience that it truly is. It’s not as ground-breaking or important as Ecks Vs. Sever, but it’s definitely entertaining, and is a class act all the way; all Game Boy Advance owners should check it out at least once just to see what their handheld is capable of.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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