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  • Of all the games in my collection,

  • few raise my excitement level at the mere sight of it like this one.

  • Doom II: Hell on Earth,

  • developed by id Software and released to North American retail

  • by GT Interactive Software on October 10th, 1994.

  • Exactly ten months after the shareware release of the original Doom, which was still wildly

  • profitable despite only being sold via phone or mail order.

  • And that's one reason Doom II happened so quickly

  • publisher GT Interactive really wanted a copy of Doom to sell

  • by the 1994 holiday season.

  • They'd worked with id Software already, having distributed these registered full versions

  • of Commander Keen: Goodbye Galaxy and Wolfenstein 3D.

  • But Doom was another beast entirely, able to rake in $100,000 worth of orders a day

  • without any retail presence whatsoever.

  • To put it bluntly, id Software didn't need a publisher for Doom.

  • GT was adamant though, and after a couple of meetings that went nowhere,

  • an agreement was reached.

  • Doom II would be developed with a $2 million marketing budget, and id Software would retain

  • all intellectual property rights, creative control, and company branding on the front

  • of the box instead of the back.

  • Another part of this deal was that, unlike the original,

  • Doom II would not get a shareware version at all.

  • Developer John Carmack for one seemed fine with this, stating that “A lot of people

  • consider themselves to have 'finished Doom' when they just finished the shareware episode.”

  • Doom II was explicitly a commercial release,”

  • so they'd left the shareware model behind this time.

  • And well that worked out, considering Doom II was the best-selling game of 1994.

  • Demand was so high that its initial print run of 600,000 copies sold out in a single

  • month, with total copies sold surpassing 1.5 million by the end of the '90s.

  • And it was this original US release that I first saw around Christmas of '94, proudly

  • displayed on a front endcap in the PC gaming section at a local K-Mart.

  • It stood out for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was its box art, painted

  • by acclaimed fantasy artist Gerald Brom.

  • That gruesome cyberdemon with its weird exposed abdomen, Doomguy wielding his shotgun and

  • that utterly bonkers haircut, smashing cinder blocks with his butt.

  • And of course it stood out because dude, it was Doom, Part Two!

  • Something I had no idea existed until I saw it on the shelf for $50,

  • with the original game nowhere in sight.

  • Kinda strange in retrospect, but before Ultimate Doom came around in 1995, the only version

  • of Doom for sale in stores was Doom II, and maybe Doom I shareware.

  • A fact that seemed to cause some confusion if these newspaper ads are any indication,

  • check out this mixup by Staples. Whoops.

  • Doom II was also the first time I'd seen this new thing called an ESRB rating, this

  • imposing black and white 'M' on the box.

  • Yep, this hit shortly after the big video game ratings debate in the US, and Doom II

  • was one of the first to earn itself a Mature rating.

  • Something not seen on the UK release distributed by Virgin Software,

  • lending this particular cover a cleaner overall look.

  • Then again, it doesn't have that shiny, embossed cardboard that the American one has, so eh.

  • You win some you lose some in the worldwide Doom II box art department.

  • Anyway, enough persnickety packaging ponderment!

  • Inside the box you get Doom II itself on either a CD-ROM or a quintet of 3.5” high density

  • floppy disks, with each format sold as its own SKU.

  • There's also this 8-page manual addendum booklet with plenty of DOS-related setup tips

  • and frequently asked troubleshooting questions.

  • And then there's the Doom II instruction manual, with 14 full-color pages of backstory,

  • gameplay tips, and listings for each weapon, item, and enemy in the game.

  • Fantastic stuff, but I'm beyond ready to play now so let's get to it!

  • Doom II for DOS starts off the same as its predecessor: a vivid 256-color splash screen

  • with depictions of demonic destruction and some overly ominous music.

  • [ominous OPL3 music]

  • That's just the Sound Blaster version.

  • It also supports the Roland Sound Canvas and other MIDI devices of course,

  • but there's something about the combo of Doom

  • and Bobby Prince's creepy OPL3 music

  • that makes me the happiest.

  • From here you can start a new game by selecting your difficulty, and... that's it!

  • No episodes to choose from this time, instead it's a continuous 30-level campaign.

  • Straight away the action begins, with a pistol in your hand and zombies in your sights.

  • [shooty mayhem commences]

  • Or you could take the opportunity to look around and soak in the environment, which

  • inevitably brings your attention to this spot over to the left hiding the chainsaw.

  • Yeah I pretty much always go chainsaw.

  • [chainsaw death noises]

  • If you're paying attention, by the end of level one you'll have a pistol, a chainsaw,

  • a shotgun, a rocket launcher, a bunch of armor, and full health.

  • Armed to the teeth after the very first level, that's the Doom II experience right there.

  • [gratuitous Imp death]

  • You're prepped for the upcoming slaughter right off the bat, with Doomguy boasting speed,

  • agility, and overall control that remains as satisfying as it was in the original Doom.

  • No surprise since Doom II is built on the same tech and pretty much acts as a standalone

  • expansion pack to the original game.

  • It has the same 2.5D id Tech 1 engine running underneath, the same technical limitations

  • in terms of not being able to look up or down or have rooms over rooms.

  • There's no jumping, no vertical aiming,

  • no special moves to pull off or skill trees to unlock.

  • And that's all awesome in my book.

  • Shoot demons, find key cards, unlock doors and secret rooms, find more key cards, reach

  • the exit and move onto the next level to do it all again until you reach the end boss.

  • Well-balanced FPS goodness, so why fix what ain't broke?

  • Because unbroken things can always be fixed with more guns, I guess.

  • This was made in Texas, after all.

  • Yeah it's time we talk about Doom II's big fat arsenal: truly one of the great joys in life.

  • Beyond the aforementioned fist, chainsaw, pistol, shotgun, and rocket launcher, also

  • making a triumphant return is the chaingun, with its rapid fire room-clearing abilities

  • proving as useful as ever against enemies near and far.

  • There's also the plasma gun, frantically firing energy cells as quickly as the original

  • Doom, but popping up far earlier this time, on the fifth map.

  • And of course, it isn't Doom without the BFG, and again you can find it faster this

  • time, with level eight and onward becoming your personal playground

  • of glowing green plasmic destruction.

  • And then, ohh-ho-ho, and then.

  • We've got the one and only, the often imitated but never duplicated,

  • double-barreled Super Shotgun.

  • [demons being super shotgunned]

  • Introduced near the beginning of level two, this monster of a weapon

  • is pure triple-filtered bliss.

  • Sure it takes twice the ammunition as the regular shotty, but it's more than twenty

  • times as satisfying so the trade off is a no-brainer.

  • Just two metal barrels held together with a piece of wood and explosives in the middle,

  • it undersells itself on aesthetics and completely over-delivers on power.

  • More often than not, a single well-positioned shot is all it takes, and that's for the

  • majority of the enemies in the entire campaign.

  • [BOOM]

  • It's little wonder why it's called the Super Shotgun,

  • because that's just what it is!

  • Though I suppose technically it's the combat shotgun,

  • going by the included documentation, but

  • Eh that term brings to mind a whole 'nother category of semi-autos and self-loaders, so

  • I'm glad they gave this side-by-side a more appropriately super name in the actual game.

  • And what good is a big bad new weapon without a big bad new lineup of satanic minions

  • to shoot in the face?

  • Doom's original ten monsters were pretty great, and they're all still around, including

  • creatures like the Cyberdemon that used to be bosses but now just show up to ruin your

  • day throughout the whole game.

  • But Doom II rounds out the enemy roster by doubling down on demons, and as a result it

  • really feels like the whole gang's here now.

  • The Heavy Weapon Dude wields a chaingun and can absolutely wreck your life if you're

  • not careful, that hit-scanning is no joke.

  • Hell Knights are like weaker, tanner versions of the old barons of hell, nothing terribly

  • threatening so I welcome the target practice.

  • The Mancubus is a big old blob of terror with dual flamethrowers and a whole lotta hitpoints,

  • slow but effectively nasty.

  • Arachnotrons are versions of the old spider demon, this time much smaller and shooting

  • blasts of green energy, which are thankfully easily dodged.

  • And Pain Elementals, now these just suck, being another floating blob like the Cacodemon,

  • but spitting out lost souls instead of ball lightning.

  • Way more annoying due to that, what a pain...

  • elemental.

  • Then you've got the Revenant, a tall lumbering skeleton beast

  • with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers and blood for pants.

  • Not too hard to kill, but its rockets are basically homing missiles, so there's that.

  • And finally, there's the big daddy chaos bastard of Doom II, the Arch-vile, which is

  • not only terrifying to look at, but deadly to look at as well.

  • Simply making line of sight contact with the thing can result in you being set on fire

  • until you explode, which is not ideal.

  • Arch-viles can also bring lower-tier enemies back from the dead if you let them stick around

  • long, so don't do that.

  • Kill 'em hard, kill 'em fast.

  • Oh yeah, and there's a couple secret levels that include killable Commander Keens hung

  • from the ceiling, and even SS troops from Wolfenstein 3D.

  • But these are more like easter egg/in-joke kinda things, you won't be seeing any keens

  • or nazis wandering around the streets of Earth or the spaceports of Mars.

  • Speaking of which, another thing to touch on are the levels themselves, the atmosphere

  • they provide, and the overall pacing throughout the 30-level campaign.

  • Because, well, this is where Doom II is kind of a mixed bag in my opinion.

  • Don't get me wrong, it's still a really well-made bag

  • filled with all sorts of fun goodies to play with.

  • It's just that inside the bag are a couple of questionable pockets filled with odd-shaped

  • doohickies that you don't quite know what to make of.

  • My biggest qualm is that around a quarter of the levels are rather unappealing to me,

  • specifically the ones that are supposed to be based in our realm.

  • I mean, for a game titled Hell on Earth, I expected a lot more Earth, with like,

  • hell on it and stuff.

  • Instead we've got a barely-connected selection of levels that are loosely sanctioned off

  • into three episodes: The Space Station, The City, and Hell.

  • Again, for the most part I have a lot of fun playing Doom II, over and over again.

  • Martian space stations and pixelated hellscapes, aw yeah, gimme more of that!

  • But then you've got levels like Downtown that just... what is this?

  • Props for trying something new I guess,

  • a metropolitan area and skyscrapers in the Doom engine is kinda neat.

  • But it's a slog to navigate and there are far too many enemies right above your line of sight.

  • Then there are maps that largely exist to promote some level design gimmick, like Tricks

  • and Traps, The Chasm, and Barrels o' Fun.

  • Stuff like monster infighting, teleporter logic, tricky platforms, skinny walkways,

  • hundreds of explosive barrels strung together, it's like being stuck in a lab experiment.

  • Maps like these are bizarre, sorely sticking out from the rest.

  • I don't wanna call out any particular level designer here (Sandy Petersen)

  • but the more I've played these maps over the years, the more I dread enduring them again.

  • That's not to say all the new map styles fall flat, though.

  • There's a lot more experimentation than Doom 1 with enemy quantity and wide-open spaces,

  • enabling these ridiculous battles with dozens of demons attacking, screaming, dying, and

  • in-fighting while you circle strafe around picking them off, I love this stuff.

  • A side effect of these larger, densely-packed levels is that the performance suffered on

  • lower-end machines back in '94, leading to higher system requirements for Doom II

  • compared to the original.

  • What better reason to grab a 486 Overdrive though, right?

  • Some levels also play with darkness to an excessive degree, making for one fittingly

  • foreboding atmosphere, and granting greater justification for the existence

  • of the Light Amplification Visor.

  • However, the creep factor is somewhat lessened by your amped-up firepower, not to mention

  • the new Megasphere that boosts your health and armor to 200%.

  • It's dark, sure, but not to the point of unfairness.

  • Anyway yeah, even though the occasional map design makes me scratch my head in bewilderment,

  • the overall Doom II experience is one that I cherish.

  • And I freely admit that the super shotgun silliness has a lot to do with it,

  • as arguably overpowered as it is.

  • But it's just too enjoyable for me to care!

  • Maybe it's another story dealing with it in multiplayer deathmatch, but the main draw

  • for me is the single player so I'm all for it.

  • Then you add in the expanded bestiary of baddies and huge retail presence, and it makes sense

  • that Doom II took off in a way that even its predecessor never did.

  • And I'm talking strictly in terms of community engagement, not like, sheer quantity of installations

  • or overall cultural relevance.

  • Obviously Doom 1 has its place in history, but Doom II is the one that formed such strong

  • community bonds that remain active to this day.

  • The sheer number of custom maps and total conversion WADs made for it is staggering,

  • both back then and into the present.

  • And the proliferation of them has only increased since the source code was released in 1997,

  • resulting in source ports and fan-made upgrades like GLDoom, ZDoom, Boom, Chocolate Doom,

  • Skulltag, Zandronum, and beyond.

  • I'm currently quite fond of Crispy Doom in particular, for when I want to play on

  • a modern machine instead of original hardware, and find myself wanting a few extra quality

  • of life improvements without ruining the original feel of the game.

  • And then there was the retail side of things, with Doom II expansions and addons hitting

  • shelves for years after its 1994 launch.

  • The first official one being Master Levels for Doom II in 1995, consisting of 20 WADs

  • promising to be masterfully-made, and nearly three thousand fan-made maps

  • downloaded from the fledgling internet.

  • Also has this rather radical poster expanding on the box art.

  • Then there was Final Doom in 1996, an officially licensed standalone product featuring two

  • new episodes, TNT: Evilution and Plutonia Experiment,

  • and which was in reality far from the actual final Doom.

  • Because next was the Depths of Doom Trilogy in 1997, packing Ultimate Doom, Doom II, and

  • Master Levels into one beefy big box package.