If Oliver Stone were a game programmer, he might've come up with something like DOOM II: HELL ON EARTH (id Software/GT Interactive Software, $69.95, for PC and CD-ROM for PC). Just out in stores, and sure to invoke the wrath of parents and congresspeople alike, Doom II is probably the furthest thing imaginable from the New Agey spirituality ladled out in heaping servings by the wildly popular CD-ROM Myst. It's the multimedia equivalent of Natural Born Killers: a relentless rock & roll gorefest, a raw thrill-of-the-hunt experience that just happens to have some of the coolest 3-D graphics ever designed.
Of course, it wasn't just the harrowing search-and-destroy missions that turned Doom into a smash video-game franchise. It was the way the original game was marketed like a drug dealer's twist on the supply-and-demand theory. When Doom was released in December 1993, id Software made the game's first episode available on the Internet, allowing gamers to download it for free. The idea was to get 'em hooked and make 'em come crawling back for the other two episodes, for which they would have to cough up 40 bucks.
And it worked. People came back for their next Doom fix, and a cult was born. Soon after Doomers on the Net finished all three episodes (and before id could pump out Doom II), players took to inventing their own versions of the game, often with hilarious spins on the original. In one such scenario, the game's blood-gurgling monsters are replaced with that purple kiddie dinosaur everyone wants to take a shot at: Barney. Heck, even the suits caught on: Now there's a series of novels coming from Pocket Books, and a feature film in development at Universal (which is also scheduled to release a film based on the Street Fighter video game).
What's the plot? Well, with a movie deal you'd probably expect more of one, but here goes: After a mammoth blood-spilling on the moons of Mars (chronicled in the original Doom), you return to Earth, where the same beasties you spent your time wasting in space are running amok. This time, they're joined by zombies, and the only way to save what's left of humanity is to clear out an infested, labyrinthine spaceport and evacuate the survivors from Earth. How? By locking and loading an arsenal of menacing machinery, natch. Start off with a pistol and brass knuckles, move on to a shotgun, and eventually escalate to weaponry like chain saws, rocket launchers, plasma rifles, and the granddaddy of them all the BFG (it's an acronym don't ask) 9000.
But while a slew of other point-and-shoot game titles like Ground Zero Texas and Lethal Enforcers provide the same time-killing high of mindlessly blowing opponents to a pulp, what really sets Doom and Doom II apart from the pack is their graphics. Using 3-D modeling and scrolling, Doom II gives you a real feeling of space and speed as you zoom down the game's claustrophobic, mazelike hallways. Maybe even too much speed.
Also, should you ever actually tire of straight-ahead dooming (yeah, right), you can enjoy one of the neatest features available on both Doom and Doom II the ability to play head-to-head on-line ''DeathMatches'' with anyone else who owns the game and has a modem, no matter where they are: down the block, in Gstaad, or on a Martian spaceport.
Of course, the real reason why Doom has created an uncomfortably large posse of drooling addicts is that its goal is unapologetically and without remorse to hunt, chase, and kill anything that moves. And to be completely honest, that's plenty fine with me. I can't in good conscience pretend that Doom II has any redeeming social value. It doesn't save the lecture. I'll even confess that in the middle of writing this review I had to stop and take a Doom break. Is it good for kids? Absolutely not. But is it the most exhilaratingly over-the-top game on the market? And then some. A