Summary: Doom in the car. Doom in the doctor's office. Doom while waiting in line at DMV. Hell, Doom with headphones on, while sitting in the back corner of the lecture hall. Doom for Gameboy Advance is here, making it possible to get your FPS fix while on the go. How is the translation from PC to the GBA? Read our review and find out!
The one that started it all
Wolfenstein might be the granddaddy of FPS gaming, but the genre really didn’t establish itself until John Carmack and company followed up Wolf with Doom. Those of us who are old enough to remember Doom remember it well – the motion sickness, the raw fear induced by the gurgling and roars of imps and cacodemons, the awkward transition from keyboarding to mousing, and the joyous rush of actually being able to blast your friends.
I still fondly remember my introduction to multiplayer PC gaming in fall of my freshman year at UC Berkeley back in 1995. Some of my dorm-mates were discussing getting LAN cards and stringing coax up and down our hallway to set up our own network (yes kiddies…back in the day LAN cards were not standard equipment, and the Berkeley dorms didn’t have built in Ethernet).
Dave: “Hey Bob, wanna get a LAN card and set up a network with me, Dan, and Elias?”
Bob: “What’s a LAN?”
Dave: “It’s a way to hook up our computers so we can play Doom against each other”
Bob: “Wait…you mean…you can do that? We can actually shoot each other and stuff?”
Doom over the years
I was such a newbie in those days. Doom has come a long way since then, becoming the best selling FPS game ever, including all its sequels and incarnations, across generations of different consoles. Remember Doom for 3DO? Atari Jaguar? Super NES? A couple years ago, Doom was even ported over to Windows CE, making it possible to play portable Doom on PocketPC based PDAs. Most of those devices aren’t designed from an ergonomic sense to play games, however, so FPS addicts looking for their fix on the go were still itching for better solutions. Just to head off any flames from anti-console types out there: Yes, of course you can play any FPS on a laptop these days, but you obviously can’t whip out a full PC with mouse on the bus, or the subway, in a doctor’s office, on a cramped, coach-class airplane seat. The GBA slips right into a shirt or jacket pocket – it’s a true portable gaming solution. The same cannot be said of a laptop, period.
FPS purists have long bemoaned console shooters because of the lack of proper tools (mouse and keyboard) for the job. Does anyone remember Quake64? I can’t count how many times I fell into the lava on DM4 (as if that doesn’t happen enough on the PC with rockets bouncing you every which way) just trying to navigate my way around with a controller. Forget about aiming up and down within any reasonable amount of time. So how can anyone possibly control Doom on a dinky GBA?
Fortunately, Doom isn’t a true 3D shooter. This means it isn’t necessary to look up and down, because the game auto aims along the Y axis for you automatically. That takes care of the aiming up and down problem. The game comes with six built-in control schemes – unfortunately you don’t have free reign to map the unit’s four buttons and control pad yourself. The scheme that made the most sense to me utilized the control pad to move forward and backward, and aim left and right. The B button shoots, while the shoulder buttons strafe left and right. A is the multipurpose activate button. Holding A down while moving allows you to run. A is also used to flip switches and open doors. Finally, it is used to switch weapons – hold down A and hit the left shoulder button to swap down a weapon, or the right shoulder button to move up one on your arsenal.
Of course, no controller is going to be as flexible as playing with a mouse and keyboard, but given the unit’s limitations, the control scheme of Doom GBA is quite adequate to the task. Making the adjustment was awkward at first, but within a few minutes I made the transition and was comfortably running around, blasting imps and cacodemons. Inside of 10 minutes I was able to circle strafe around enemies, albeit with some difficulty.
One of my big complaints about the interface centers around the game’s menus, particularly the save system. Predictably, you’re only allowed to save in between levels. While it would have been nice to be able to save in the middle of a mission, the space needed to remember the dynamic state of an incomplete level just isn’t available on a cartridge.
Not bad for 240x160
As mentioned on the first page sidebar, the native resolution of the Gameboy Advance is 240x160. That’s quite a bit smaller than the 320x200 you were used to playing on the PC version (only 60% as many pixels). Surprisingly enough, the developers were able to shrink down everything, including the toolbar with your health and ammo meters, and keep everything legible and relatively easy to read. The game does come off looking somewhat pixellated, but veterans of the original Doom will be able to recognize all items and enemies quite easily. There’s even an option to have dynamic lighting in the game, which will maintain the dark shadows, flickering lights, and creepy corridors that added so greatly to the original’s atmosphere. My only complaint about the low resolution is that enemies in the distance are rather difficult to pick out. You might only have a couple of moving pixels to alert you that a doomed marine way out in the distance is taking potshots at you, or that one of the dog-like pink demons is making a hard charge at you.
Spare me a light, sir?
The most difficult part about playing Doom is dealing with the poorly designed screen of the Gameboy Advance. As you may already know, the screen isn’t lit internally – you rely on the reflective properties of the screen to get enough light to your eyes so that you can see what’s going on. The problem, as is well documented on a number of different sites, is that the protective plastic covering on the screen is highly reflective as well, creating a perfect environment for glare. To play effectively, you need a non-direct source of light (overhead fluorescents are the worst), and to tilt the screen at an angle such that it’s lit, but not reflecting or glaring light back over top of the viewable area.
Dealing with all of these limitations with a turn-based game like Advance Wars is one thing. Having to deal with it while playing a fast paced game like Doom is something else entirely. In order to combat the problem, the developers thoughtfully included a brightness adjuster, which can basically gamma correct the screen to help with visibility. Even with this adjustment cranked up, it can still be difficult to view all of the action in all but the most perfect lighting conditions. Changing the option from Dynamic to Static lighting can also help matters, but this takes away from the game’s atmosphere, and doesn’t represent a real solution. Overall, the poor implementation of the screen hurts Doom GBA’s value a good deal, but hopefully enterprising folks like the ones at Portable Monopoly can give GBA fans a permanent solution to the visibility woes.
Getting back to the game itself, one other notable issue is framerate. For most of the game this isn’t an issue at all. Doom GBA runs smoothly, and as Kenn said “better than my 486 used to run it.” There are certain occasions when lots of enemies (over a dozen) are on screen where you’ll see notable chunking. But this doesn’t happen often enough to affect the gameplay a lot until the later levels. The developers did a superb job at shrinking things down to accommodate the GBA hardware.
The sound effects that kept you up at night
All the original sound effects and music from Doom made the transition from PC to GBA intact. The clicking of the flickering lamps above create a stark contrast to the gurgling of imps lurking around that corner ahead. Or was it that corner behind you? Are you sure you checked every nook? *Whoosh* That was a fireball that just whizzed past your head. Barons of Hell scream out menacingly as they toss their green plasma at you. Pink demons snarl and growl as they charge headlong into the rat-a-tattat of your Chain gun. Feeling nasty? Whip out the chainsaw with its satisfying whirrrr as it cuts through your enemies.
The music in Doom GBA is also faithfully transferred over from the PC version. The catchy tunes never seem to leave your head – you’ll find yourself humming them during idle moments if you play too much, just as you might have done years ago. To give you an idea of how closely the sound and music match the original: one time I brought my GBA to campus with me and started playing a little Doom before class. It didn’t take 30 seconds before the guy three seats away from me asked “you can play Doom on that little thing?”
For the most part, the gameplay in Doom is unchanged from the original. The levels are laid out as you remember them (with some slight variations), enemies are the same and found in the same places. All the secret areas and secret doors are in the spots you so painstakingly discovered them in the PC version. The only thing that seems to be missing are a couple of the bigger bosses at the end of each episode.
All the original weapons are in the game as well – you start the game off with your pistol and you fists, then immediately find the shotgun, which will be your bread and butter throughout. The chainsaw, chain gun, rocket launcher, plasma rifle, and BFG are all in Doom GBA too. If you were going to buy Doom GBA looking for some new experiences, new weapons, or enemies, don’t bother. It’s pretty much the same game, only in ultra portable format. You walk through the levels, shoot everything that moves, find the colored keys to open the colored doors, then hit the end switch and move on to the next level. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ah…aren’t old school shooters wonderful?
About the only noticeable difference is the gore factor. Blood shows up green in Doom GBA, dead bodies disappear immediately, and there’s no gibbing. As you may recall, in Doom for PC, bodies would break apart into unrecognizable piles of bloody flesh when you hit them with the rocket launcher, blew up a nearby barrel, or punched them while in Berserk mode. These kills would also be accompanied by a nice squishy sound, as opposed to the usual grunt or yell of pain. No such dismemberment occurs in Doom for GBA.
Doom on the go:
Hard to see the action:
|<% print_image("32"); %>||<% print_image("33"); %>|
|<% print_image("34"); %>||<% print_image("35"); %>||<% print_image("36"); %>|
|gallery||Page:: ( 7 / 7 )|
|© Copyright 2003 FS Media, Inc.|