Warning: some spoilers!
Unless you’ve only recently escaped from the womb, chances are you’ve been hearing about the release of Doom 3 for the last several years. Indeed, Doom 3 is one of two games (Half Life 2 being the other) that the video game industry is banking on to bring in some heavy revenue this year. With the history and brand recognition that the Doom franchise possesses, it is only logical to believe that the industry made the right bet.
Doom 3 is part of the “next generation” of video games that began with the release of Far Cry earlier this year. Next generation refers, in general, to making use of the latest in video and sound technology while developing smarter and more compelling enemy AI and storylines. As our review noted, Far Cry was an excellent first entry into this field with a strong story line, excellent graphics and sound and a great enemy AI that increased the playing challenge. Doom 3 is expected to meet and exceed any standard set by Far Cry; after all, it’s FPS Godfather Id developing Doom 3, not some unknown Eastern European developer, a la Far Cry.
Unfortunately for the gaming public, Doom 3 only got it partly right. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty here, shall we?
Let’s not mince words: the graphics are fabulous. My system is a P4 3.0c with 1GB of DDR RAM and a Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB video card and I am running the game at high quality at a 1024x768 resolution. The game recommends medium quality and 800x600 for my not-too-shabby machine, which leads me to believe that Doom 3 will expand with your hardware upgrades gracefully for a least a while. With the higher quality and resolution settings, I experience only occasional slowdowns in game play when a lot of action is happening on-screen at the same time.
You have only to look at the screenshots to see how nice the graphics are. Of course, you can only appreciate them in small doses, as a large portion of the game is spent in near-total darkness. As is usual with the Doom games, you’re spending a lot of time in nasty places. In this case, it’s a base on Mars that seems to be nothing more than a giant section of steam pipe tunnels with occasional security checkpoints. Every once in a while you’ll pop out into the harsh Mars surface running from one airlock to another before your suit’s oxygen supply is depleted.
By the way moms and dads, this game truly is rated M for a reason. Unless you want Junior to be checking out an eviscerated corpse nailed to a ceiling while bloody tentacles writhe on the walls, you might want to pay attention to what's on the box. Oh and by the way, the eviscerated corpse thingy is really cool!
Astute gamers will notice the pervasive usage of the goats-head pentagram, made popular by the Satanic Bible. You’ll see this evil little beastie cropping up in all sorts of places, so it is kind of fun to watch for...if you’re a freaky little bastard like I am. Oh, and for some reason Id uses a symbol associated with HP Lovecraft’s Necronomicon (albeit not one Lovecraft ever used) on their official Doom 3 website. It’s kinda mix-and-match evil.
As I mentioned, this is one dark game. A lot of the lights in this Mars base no longer work, and the ones that do tend to do so in either a spotty or a downright creepy manner. This really does help build an atmosphere of tension and dread, but it also means you’ll have to have your flashlight handy a great deal of the time. You’ll also need your reflexes in tune, because you’re going to have to drop that flashlight in favor of your shotgun mighty fast in order to shoot the snarling thing that just jumped out around a darkened corner. As I understand it, there’s already a user mod that gives the player an off-hand flashlight in order to make life a little less tiring on the eyes – definitely a good idea, but it might cut down on the “jump-factor” a bit.
While the games graphics are intense, the developers nailed the sound perfectly. From the hiss of broken pipes to the clicking of spider’s feet on metal grates to the creepy disembodied voices whipping past your head and urging you to “save me”, Doom 3 truly delivers on the sound. I’m almost tempted to go out and buy a 5.1 surround system and card for my computer purely to experience more of the sound. It’s that good.
Combined with the moody atmosphere evoked by the graphics, as mentioned above, this game truly excels at placing the gamer into a spooky world where you’re just waiting for the next thing to jump out at you. And it will, believe you me. There are definitely some great seat-jumpers in this game, and it’s one of the few games I’ve played that actually delivers some cheap scares. There’s also some sick thought put into other aspects of the game that I love (eg: the zombie eating the body of another zombie. Shoot zombie A and once he’s dead, the munched-upon zombie will sit up, climb to his feet and come after you...kinda nasty-creepy when you think about it a bit).
The interface is pretty standard fare. You can remap the keys to your heart's delight, but it's setup by default as a WSAD/Mouse combo. What's more important is the gameplay.
If you’ve ever played a Doom game before, you’re going to recognize the gameplay of Doom3: straight-ahead run and gun. There are a few times when you’ll have to circle back to complete an objective, but you’re mostly going to be running around shooting the crap out of several varieties of zombies and demons and bosses. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad time but this is hardly next generation gameplay. It looks and sounds next gen, but it plays like everyone’s classic ol’ Doom.
There’s an effort at a storyline here, and there has been an attempt to get away from the “find the yellow key” standby. Unfortunately, the yellow key has been replaced with PDAs (and there are still times when you have to find an access-card, read: yellow key). Your character has a PDA, which allows you to watch videodisks, check emails and listen to voice recordings. Of course, you can’t actually send email, make videos or record anything, but should you find someone else’s PDA, you can download all their data to yours (apparently the future is as lax about security as the present). This is convenient because you’ll also be able to upgrade your security clearance by stealing someone else’s via the discarded PDA. And by convenient, I mean mandatory because oftentimes access to new areas is only possible by finding the proper PDA. The emails and voice recordings on found PDAs will give you information on how to access locked cabinets (filled with armor, weapons and ammo even when the PDA owner was merely an engineer) and video disks will give you an idea of what the Mars base was used for before it became infested with hellish spawn. That’s where the storyline comes in: as you progress you’ll hear more and more about the mysterious Delta Labs where some sort of strange stuff was being done. You’ll also be privy to a spat between one geek who lent another geek his 10-sided die and who wasn’t even invited to play (we nerds love to reference our own nerdy pasts, I guess). Some of the audio files do add to the atmosphere of the game, so overall it's a positive, but the story really seems secondary to the linear-shooter style of the game.
Beyond the PDA’s, you’ve got a commanding officer who chimes in over comms every once in a while to remind you to get your ass to the next objective. Overall, none of this really solves the inherent game play problem: all you’re doing is running through one level after another, blowing away successively more and more varied demons/zombies before reaching a boss and moving onto the next area. Sure, you have objectives, but they’re secondary to shooting everything that moves and then waiting for more stuff to pop out of dark corners or be suddenly summoned to your location. It’s entertaining for a bit, but it begins to get a bit old after a while. After all, haven’t we played this game before?
On the box, Id touts the “killer AI”, but I've yet to encounter any evidence that this “killer AI” exists. Maybe it's because you spend so much time fighting zombies and demons who rush at you until they die that it's hard to believe the AI is so great. I've seen bad-guy marines take cover and act slightly smart, but then they generally rush you or sidestep a few times. This, to me, did not equal a killer AI.
Multiplayer doesn't appear to be as well developed as the rest of the game (and I've been told that Id didn't focus on multiplayer as much as the main game). There’s only a few multiplayer game-types to choose from: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Last Man Standing and Tournament. The first three are pretty self-explanatory. Tournament is basically a Rocket Arena Lite, wherein two players fight one another until one is toast. The winner stays in the map while the next player in line joins in to fight him. As it stands right now, there isn't much in the way of multiplayer variety. Limited models are available for selection as well as a short-list of maps.
Originally Id had limited multiplayer to four players and under per server, but mod makers have already increased that limit server-side. In fact, mods are the only way I see the multiplayer angle of Doom 3 becoming popular. We can hope that Doom 3 will be the basis of several great mods, but that will take some time. In the meantime, you're likely to get better action sticking to your old standbys (CS, DoD, UT2K4, etc.) or waiting for the next Tribes.
Doom 3 initially immerses the player into hell-on-mars, but eventually the thrill gets old and the demons spawning nearby get more repetitive than intimidating. It's not a bad game by any stretch, but with the amount of time they spent on the excellent presentation one would hope that there would be a storyline to match. That said, Doom 3 is still an excellent time waster and a great way to shoot the piss out of things, if that's your gig. I'd really hoped that Id would raise the bar on both the aesthetic quality of their game (which they definitely did) and the gameplay. They got half of it, which is why I can only give it 3 out of 5. I'll be interested to see what the mod community does with such a great base to work from. In the meantime, if you're reminiscent for the FPS' of old, or if you want to see where all the hoopla really began, picking up a copy of Doom 3 might not be a bad idea.
« Back to Game Reviews