It is a truth universally acknowledged that every 1990’s console in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a Doom clone. So Jane Austen may have written if she’d experienced console gaming as the 32-bit era dawned. She might have also added that, in most cases, they really shouldn’t have bothered. Still, developers tried and often became fine examples of Dr Ian Malcolm’s most famous quote: “They were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
PO’ed for the 3DO does not fall into that category. Well, not quite. Released in 1995, PO’ed divided critical opinion and, twenty four years later, you can still see why.
The story, such as it is, sets you up as a lone survivor on a spaceship which has been boarded by aliens. As a cook, you have little in the way of weaponry, aside from a frying pan to begin with. All you have to do now is fight your way through level after level, killing aliens, picking up additional weaponry (a throwing butcher’s knife, power drill, flame thrower, pulse gun, etc) and having to deal with an absurd ship layout. To help you along, you have a three dimensional wire-frame map that, to be honest, is more of a hindrance. Game play is both sedate and frustrating. Sedate in that the controls treat you like a shopping trolley with a broken wheel: when you want to move, you move slowly but then at times, you’re off to the races! Frustrating in that this game cries out for analogue controls with that trolley handling. Then there is the lag. There is a tiny delay between pressing the pad and the on-screen result occurring, which you can kind of adapt to but at times, especially the jumping sections, it’s…arrrrggghhhhh!!! This also makes any long distance shooting a chore, and considering the open nature of some of the levels, that doesn’t make the game any easier to play. It must be said that the 3DO pad isn’t of the best quality and the many controls required means the use of a combo button (in this case, C) to access the map, weapons selection etc.
As for enemies, well, these are a varied lot and provide a good challenge. The Ralphs are cannon fodder, but when you only have a frying pan and there are half a dozen of them, your health takes a battering. As for the Incubus, that is just nasty. Small, agile and quite powerful, they get very annoying, usually right before you die. And this is on easy. The harder difficulty levels are just that. Much, much harder. The enemies do, however, encapsulate the game’s humour very well: Butthead – a backside on legs that shoots poo at you. Yep, that’s your humour level right there. Subtle, it is not.
Graphically, this is a 3D game in the basic sense, with low resolution textures and heavily pixelated enemies. Texture warping is almost migraine inducing (something the 3DO was renowned for) and the floors lack texturing altogether, but at least it keeps the frame rate up, until either the enemy count on-screen goes up or you reach one of the more intricate levels.
Sound wise, this game is nothing special. Title and menu music are present but there is none in-game. Sound effects are also basic and get a little wearing after a while.
You may be wondering then, why the review if this game is so bad. The thing is, despite the dodgy presentation, poor controls and questionable humour, PO’ed is actually a very forward looking title for its time and has the kernel of a decent game. That may be damning with faint praise but there wasn’t much to compare against on the 3DO itself. You had Wolfenstein 3D, a title that wasn’t going to compete with anything in the graphical stakes at the time, and Doom, the 3DO port of which would arrive in 1996 and be regularly considered the worst of the mid-90’s console ports. Then again, the tale of the 3DO port of Doom is a legend in itself.
The design of PO’ed really shines though, with the ability to look up and down. This was a big thing at the time. This permits the levels to have a degree of verticality that few contemporary titles offered and all of this on a machine that compared poorly to PC’s of the day, the then main home for Doom clones. PO’ed tried to give the player more to do, more puzzles, more varied enemies, even different strategies within those levels that were relatively open in plan and large in scale. It tried to advance the genre (it had a jet pack!) and whilst it ultimately failed, it shouldn’t be forgotten for that failure.
What PO’ed for the 3DO demonstrated what that, within the confines of the technology available to home consoles, you could have titles that gave Doom a run for its money. Yes, it’s challenging, and no, if you have a low frustration threshold, you should maybe avoid this one. But at the end of the day, it is still quite enjoyable and for what the developers wrung out of the machine, they should be applauded.
Sadly, PO’ed was released on a dying platform, and not even a very decent PlayStation port could rescue the title. The game lacked many things: decent controls, a decent controller set-up (a basic PS Dual Shock from 1997 would, in my opinion, make this game far better as well as provide the number of inputs required) and hardware to do the vision justice. For all that though, I fall into the group that believes this game is definitely worth your time.
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With challenging gameplay and very dated presentation, PO’ed is not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of the genre and want to see what console alternatives to Doom were available, I highly recommend acquiring a copy, if not for the 3DO then for the PlayStation.