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SummaryHell ain't a bad place to be
The GoodAhhh... Doom is back among us. After years of alpha leaks, mouth-watering promo videos and assorted demos the game that change the face of pc gaming returns once again to set the standard. And believe it or not, it didn't do a bad job at all!
The importance of Doom as a videogame landmark cannot be underestimated even by the most jaded old "grandpas" in the scene. Thus it made perfect sense for id to ride its golden pony once more as a way to promote their new graphic technology by way of a remake (or "reimagining" as Tim Burton would say) of the greatest game ever (sic.). Once again you are placed in the shoes of the ever present Space Marine (tm) who has to fight his way through a demon-infested colony in Mars fighting for your life through many dark corridors and hellish landscapes and once again the technological boundaries have been pushed further.
If the original Doom became famous for being the first game to really bring home the sci-fi tension and suspense of the Alien films, Doom 3 will be remembered as the game that took that feeling and made it actual physical reality (in your monitor of course). There's no overstating just how well the graphics in the game work. I saw most of the demos and was determined not to let them impress me by the time I got my hands on the game but as soon as I found myself exploring the dark corners of the station I forgot all about the pixel-shading effects, motion blurring, specular shading, bump-mapping and stuff like that. Because id pulled me once again in their dark sci-fi world this time thanks to a level of graphic realism never before seen on a videogame. The living quality of the environments is simply amazing. Not only do you get the gritty feel of being on a dark space colony, but also you get the feel that the place is entirely "man-made" as it were due to the fact that very few places are made of "just" textured walls and instead feature all sorts of modeled pipes, panels, wires and moving gizmos. The detail poured in the level design is simply amazing and coupled with a superb photographic direction that maximizes the engine's ability to dramatically light scenes (complete with true 0-light darkness) and an amazing sound design filled with eerie sci-fi cues and sfx that take full advantage of surround setups, the end result is an experience like no other. I vividly recall hooking the computer to my 29" TV, shutting off the lights and cranking my stereo with 4 friends the night I first installed the game and blabbing nonstop about how cool everything was until we got to the infamous "mirror scare"... boy you could hear a pin drop after that let me tell you!
And that's before you start meeting the nice denizens of hell and make a trip there yourself. Fans of horror games will be happy to know despite the imposing brimstone and lava intro to hell, that the game has let go somewhat of it's heavy-metal band inspired inferno and now favors a more Clive Barkerish design, which means more brutally dismembered corpses, ritualistic stuff and trans-dimensional horrors a-la Lovecraft. By far Doom 3 will remain in my mind as one of the most impressive depictions of hell ever, if only for the visceral effect of it all. As for the monsters themselves they are all reworkings of the same baddies featured in the original games only with the same Barker-inspired updates. For the most part all of the creatures gained with the changes (particularly the Imp, who looks far more menacing, and has gained an Alien-like agility) although the revenant looks far too "plastic-made" for me. One of the most impressive creatures in the game however, is an original creation whose name escapes me, but which looks like a cross between a moth and human baby... yes, a cute human baby. One of the most deliciously shocking and disturbing moments in the game is when you first hear the crying moans of a baby approach you and you later see his chubby face and bright eyes coming for you... with no legs...!
Anyway, moving from the visual design of things for a bit we have the gameplay. Let's see, where you betting on it being a straight up, simpleminded shooter? Well good for you! Here's your cookie boy.
Yes Doom 3 is a straight-to-the-point action-heavy visceral shooter just like the original games, but that's not to say that it hasn't picked up a few new tricks itself. While the gameplay revolves around shooting baddies and collecting keys the game plays as a unified whole (without any "levels") and has you following a distinct set of objectives and even asks you to make a choice a couple of times along the way. The game also uses darkness and poor visibility to augment it's emotional punch and believe me that it works. Few things bring such a primal fear to your heart as not knowing what's out there in the darkness, and the limitation of not being able to hold both the flashlight and a weapon at the same time while irritating at first makes sense in the context of the game and adds to the thrill factor.
Doom 3 also makes heavy use of scripted events to increase the survival-horrorish feel. Interaction with the gameworld is, as expected, paper-thin but it's there. I remember cringing in fear of another "Quake" when word got out that Carmack had decided to do away with the "use" key yet the end result is far more classy and innovative than I could have imagined. Basically you interact with computers, panels, etc. with your mouse, the way it works so charmingly simple and well-thought that it's a wonder nobody thought of it earlier. You just walk up to the screen and once you enter the correct "use" distance you loose control of your mouselook abilities in favor of controlling a pointer on the screen. You interact with the thing as in your basic flash-made web interfaces and once you got what you wanted you just walk away! Simply beautiful! I can't wait for other games to start including interfaces like this.
All of these nice features also help the game from a storytelling point of view. Sure, all of us well-adjusted individuals understand that we really don't need a story to enjoy Doom, but there's no denying that it enhances the experience quite a bit. So yeah boys and girls, there's a story here! Yeah! Can you believe it? It's no masterpiece of literary fiction as you might have guessed, but it's still pretty entertaining fare and par for the course as far as fps storytelling goes. id also made the right choice of forgetting about some of it's design mantras and adopted some ideas from previous games like Half-Life and System Shock. With a long-intro in which you can chat with npcs, explore your surroundings before all hell (literally) breaks loose, a few surviving npcs and scripted events that move the plot along as well as clues and logs which you can save in your PDA and which expand the gameworld and help build the atmosphere as in SysShock.
The BadThere is no point arguing the finer technical flaws in the game because they take us to a level of anal retentiveness reserved only for film CG talks. The truth of the matter is that the game is technically brilliant and a landmark of 3d gaming. Trolls everywhere in forums make it a point to pit D3's engine against HL2's Source engine but while it's true that the later can push more polys (Doom 3's models when closely inspected are revealed as quite blocky) the overall shading quality in D3 far surpasses any shortcomings in its modeling. If there is one real shortcoming with the engine is that it really requires a monster system to play with all its bells and whistles. I can play Riddick: EFBB and HL2 at max detail and 1024x768 but D3 still chugs like a bastard if I attempt to go over 800x600. Physics are adequate for the game, without the overkill that is playing through Half-Life 2 and with just enough to satisfy the average player (with such hallmarks as bodies falling down and realistically piling over each other). The AI has taken some flak from some people and I agree that it's pretty predictable at times, but quite frankly I can understand hellbound monsters acting like you know... uhm... monsters, instead of spec-ops operatives!
If there is one flaw in the game that really annoyed me was the heavy-handed use of scripted events. It seems id really loved those moments in Half-Life, System Shock and similar fps where you walk down a corridor and as soon as you step on the correct place a monster falls down from the ceiling instead of just being there. However instead of carefully planning each encounter and set-piece as in those games, they filled the maps with dozens of cheap scares which work in the same manner: walk down a corridor, hear a door opening behind you and wham! See a monster emerging from a secret room! Ha-haaa, got me there id! The first 100 times at least, then it just becomes boring not to mention incredibly stupid as you start wondering just what the hell was the monster doing waiting for you to pass by while stuck in a closet? There are some nice, original scares but they get downplayed by the cheap-o "Peekaboo!!" scares that literally haunt the entire game, and that's a real shame.
As a minor bitching note, I could have used the double-barreled shotgun and the Mars surface areas are extremely well done (those are actual rocks I tell you!!) it's a shame they are so short.
Oh and yeah, it doesn't exactly "evolve" the genre into any direction and if you want multiplayer action D3's flimsy 4-player deathmatch mode doesn't exactly cut the mustard. D3 is, for what it's worth, a singleplayer game.
The Bottom LineIntellectual bitching aside (duuuh!! It's just a shooter, there's no character development and you just kill things!), techie-geek bitching aside (duuuh!! I already saw stencil shadows on "X" and engine "Y" gives better framerates with comparable looks!) there's no denying that Doom 3 is one hell of an interesting game.
Yes, when you look at it closely it's a game that takes incredible technology and adds to it some already explored (and better realized, really) design ideas to try to rejuvenate its stagnant gameplay, but does that matter if the end result is one of the most intense and thrilling experiences in recent memory? We all knew Doom's shortcomings even before we played it, and the fact that even after that it manages to be a fun experience to play is proof positive that it's not even close to being a bad game.
If you have the computer and nerves to play it (I myself avoided playing the game for more than 30-40 minutes straight due to the intensity of it all) you just have to give Doom 3 a try. It's not the second coming or anything, but it's one hell of a good ride and really, that's everything Doom has always been about.