Believe it or not, DOOM wasn’t always an ultra-frantic shooter with a big, clanging pair of gore-stained balls swinging to and fro alongside Vince McMahon esque strides. Indeed, there was a time when over a decade ago, id Software dipped its toes into the RPG genre by releasing DOOM RPG – a labor of love that was pretty much the most unexpected marriage of things since David Arquette and pro-wrestling.
Long before Android or iOS-powered smartphones were a thing, id Software would bring DOOM RPG to mobile devices that were powered by Java, and the now-defunct SymbianOS. However, in order to do a proper job of it, id Software would enlist the talents of mobile developer Fountainhead Entertainment, who would fill in the technical gaps that The House That DOOM Built would naturally have in dealing with such an unfamiliar platform.
The end result was that DOOM RPG was every bit the blood-soaked off-genre homage to id Software’s magnum opus that we all hoped it would be, and more importantly, it was a game which inarguably showed that DOOM could exist outside of its FPS genre comfort zone. Of course, it didn’t hurt that DOOM’s leap to the RPG genre reassuringly included all of the cornerstones of the core DOOM experience.
With the action unfolding from a familiar first-person perspective, DOOM RPG once more casts players as Doomguy who, just like in the mainline series, must blast his way through a demonic horde and close the portal that links our reality to that of Hell. Bolstering the familiarity of its setting is the fact that DOOM RPG also brings back many of the recognizable weapons and monsters from the core franchise too, including the shotgun, rocket launcher, zombie troopers, imps and even the Cyberdemon for starters.
Beyond that near and dear collection of villains and premium bang-bang, DOOM RPG strikes out into titular genre territory in earnest and this is most noticeable in how the game handles the twin cornerstones of the DOOM franchise – movement and combat.
In the case of the former, movement is no longer rooted in the free motion style of traversal that was championed in the 1993 original. but was instead replaced by a turn-based system that permitted the player to turn in 90-degree increments while they move from space to space. It’s a system that is miles away from the super frenetic shooter beats of the main series for sure, but in the case of DOOM’s new RPG digs, taming player agency in this way made a lot of sense from a pacing standpoint, too. Think traditional DOOM meets something like Dungeon Master or classic Bard’s Tale, and you get the idea.
Likewise, combat was similarly reimagined in this way. No longer permitting the player to freely put shotgun to face and pull the trigger at a split-second whim, in DOOM RPG players were instead required to face their grotesque enemies in turn-based combat scenarios where depending on the weapon and armor you were using at the time, the damage you would do to your foe and also receive from them would adjust accordingly.
Now, before you start vomiting in your mouth at the very thought of DOOM’s iconic gunplay being slowed down to an orderly plod, allow me to assuage you to the contrary – though turn-based, the execution of both movement and combat in DOOM RPG remains reassuringly rapid. Certainly, moving around the environment and vanquishing enemies with all manner of iconic DOOM weapons such as the shotgun, plasma gun, and even the mighty BFG9000 feels much swifter than you might expect, and manages to go some way to encapsulating the essence of id Software’s transformative shooter.
Other traditional elements of the core experience have also been tweaked and modified to fit this new DOOM, too. Take the enemies for example, though they’re a familiar bunch they are each color-coded to provide an indication of difficulty that scales as you press on through the game. While another neat wrinkle to the proceedings came in the form of a new mind-control dog collar, as it allows Doomguy to enthrall Hellhounds and direct them to attack his enemies with reckless abandon or defend him from incoming attack – it was almost like a not-shit, demonic Dead to Rights. Almost.
Anyhow, this being a genre effort, DOOM RPG wasn’t going to let you get away without doing RPG things and so players could expect to get stuck into a fair amount of talking to folks and using computer terminals to progress through the story. In fact, in many ways DOOM RPG’s story-driven exploratory beats somewhat mirror those seen in DOOM 3 – the difference, of course, being that when id Software released DOOM 3 in 2004, they forgot to append the ‘RPG’ bit on the end.
Ultimately a beautifully odd little curio, if anything the existence and subsequent modest success of DOOM RPG proved that there is still sufficient creative latitude in the DOOM setting to fashion games that exist outside its traditional FPS mold – so let’s try something like that again eh?