Most videogamers of a certain can’t help but remember Doom, the seminal first-person shooter by Id Software that spawned a whole genre. Castle Wolfenstein may have preceded it, but in terms of sales and success, Doom is the game remembered. This game, after all, gave a lot of people the first inkling that Windows PCs were a viable platform for games.
Those gamers of a more geeky bent may have encountered one or more roguelike games (from the original, eponymous game Rogue, designed back when a single computer filled a large office), top down ASCII roleplaying games with no graphics at all, very strategic and turn based. Famous and popular examples would include Nethack, Angband, and Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM).
You wouldn’t expect Doom to have much in common with Roguelikes, and you’d have been right, the games are from completely different genres. There are points of similarity between them, but arguably you could find points of similarity between Microsoft Flight Simulator and Sonic the Hedgehog. Both use… pixels, for instance.
And then, pretty much out of left field, Kornel Kisielewicz decided to combine the two and give us DoomRL (sometimes called Doom, the Roguelike). The basic premise is exactly the same as Doom; you play a lone marine making his way through a base on Mars, fighting off the minions of hell, and finding what weapons and armor you can as you go.
Kornel takes these elements of Doom and adds them to a fairly basic roguelike environment. Everything is now turn based instead of ‘live’; until you press a key to move or perform an action, the game is ‘frozen’. Nothing is going to sneak up and kill you while you step away from the screen a make a sandwich. Oddly, the action seems a lot faster paced and frenetic than you would expect; the sense of speed is entirely artificial, given you’re effectively pausing between every move, but nearly everyone I know reports the feeling.
The view is top down rather than first-person. Upon entering a level, much of the screen is blank, but as you move around, areas in your line of sight will become visible and remembered. Combat with the various nasties on the level (all of which will be familiar if you’ve played the original Doom, be they represented only by letters of the alphabet in DoomRL) tends for the most part to be ranged rather than melee, unusual for a roguelike. Fortunately, the interface for shooting at things is simple and intuitive, which is more than can be said for most roguelike games.
Various other aspects also break the roguelike mold; all the sound effects from Doom have been imported and used to great effect, as have the MIDI music files; options exist to use the MP3 music files as well. Unlike Nethack and the like, there’s no puzzling out what items do what; medkits are medkits, shotguns are shotguns.
In summary, DoomRL manages to straddle the fence between shooter and roguelike pretty well. It doesn’t have the frenetic gameplay of the former, and it doesn’t have the complexity to keep you coming back of the latter; for a diverting few minutes between other things however, it’s a marvellous way to waste time.