D O O M 3
Developed By: Id Software and Splash Damage
Published by: Activision
Players: 1-4 Default
Official Release Date: 3rd August 2004
Formats: PC, Xbox (coming soon)
Three words to sum up the game: Atmospheric; Beautiful; Intense
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
In many ways, Doom 3 is very much like the new and improved cacodemon you encounter during the game. Yes, it's still a big floating strawberry that regurgitates fireballs at you. In fact, it looks more like a big floating strawberry than in the original Doom. But what a gloriously rendered, demonic and hugely entertaining strawberry it is. You've never seen strawberries like this before, and other strawberries cower before its mighty presence. In other words, Doom 3 is a good-looking, fun game that doesn't deviate too far from the tried and tested formula Id set down many years ago, and is a great example of how to do a good FPS.
Doom 3 is a remake of the classic first person shooter video game Doom, released in 1993, both of which were created by id Software. You play a newly recruited marine who has just arrived on Mars, at the Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC) research facility. The facility is used for various moral and immoral (and illegal) experiments, one of these being teleportation experiments. Soon after you arrive, an experiment goes wrong, and demons from hell invade the base. Of course, you're one of only a handful of survivors, and soon enough the fate of Earth itself rests in your hands.
Aside from a few alterations and additions (for example in the original you were sent to Mars as punishment), the plot remains largely unchanged from the original. The introduction of characters does nothing more but provide a vehicle for the plot to explain itself a bit, as well as give id creative licence to not explain things from the offset. Players must put the pieces together themselves if they want to appreciate the whole picture, from the occasional cutscene and from Personal Data Assistants (or PDA) scattered across the facility. These provide insights into the everyday life of the workers before the accident, as well as some humorous distractions in the form of e-mails and audio logs (one memorable e-mail describes how a shipment of jackhammers was scheduled, only for the facility to receive chainsaws. "Why would we need chainsaws on Mars?!" the author proclaims). Truth be told, there isn't much plot here, and any extra details gained from reading PDAs are not mandatory for understanding what happened (even though they are interesting to read).
Of course, intricate storyline and plot are not Doom 3's objective here. Id Software set out to create an action-packed horror game, and indeed they have. This game is intense, and there is never a moment in which you feel safe or not alone. Thanks in part to the incredible graphics (more on that later) and great use of sound (ditto), this game is a very claustrophobic, atmospheric (and ultimately scary) game. You spend almost all of your time inside the base, crawling through dimly lit corridors and laboratories, with the occasional run through the incredibly harsh Martian atmosphere outside (some of the best parts of the game funnily enough), in which you must run to the next airlock before your oxygen runs out. Because you can never have a weapon and a flashlight out at the same time, you spend a lot of time switching between the two as you try to pre-empt any potential demon that might jump out at you from a dark corner. Some people consider this a hindrance, but I found it as a great way to heighten tension. Would you rather be able to defend yourself, or be able to see clearly? Besides, it only requires a quick press of the "f" key to switch between your flashlight and last previous weapon, so it's not as much of an annoyance as some people might portray it as. And if you can't see what you're shooting at, a quick grenade throw clears things up.
The gameplay itself is not that different from the original. All of the original weapons and monsters are back from the original game, with a few extra additions (which I'd prefer not to spoil for you). However, the most you do is walk through corridors and shoot enemies that slowly advance towards you, popping out of walls and dark corners. This is one of the few problems of the game; the AI is less than stellar. I realise that there isn't much you can do with demons that just want to kill you quickly and violently, but still, there seems to be some wasted opportunity. For example, in a lot of cutscenes, you see the imp creature climbing on walls and ceilings. Why don't they do this when you're fighting them? The most they do is pounce at you, and this in itself is rare. They usually just walk towards you throwing fireballs. Also, the marine zombies could have used some more group tactics, as they are certainly more intelligent than normal zombies. But again, the most they do is hide behind crates. It would have been great to see them support each other and give you a good battle, but alas, this never happens. Also, the way the monsters are delivered could have used a bit more imagination. Most of the time, the monsters either spawn behind you, or pop out of a "monster closet", which is when you set off an invisible trigger that allows a seemingly normal wall to fly open, unleashing hidden zombies and monsters in tiny cramped rooms. This sort of thing can quickly kill the atmosphere and "believability" the game creates. Though, fair enough, if you believe the forces of hell are attacking Mars, I'm sure you'd be able to suspend your own disbelief for the cheap ways in which monsters appear.
At first glance, the gameplay might seem repetitive and unoriginal, and thus boring to some people. Thankfully id software really know how to make a game enjoyable in other areas. While the gameplay might seem dated, the atmosphere created is quite the opposite. Just like a good movie, if you get immersed in it enough, you can see past its negative aspects and enjoy it for what it is. This is exactly the case with Doom 3. I'm being quite honest when this is the most immersive experiences I've had with a video game. I would attribute most of this down to the few opening levels, which are nigh on perfect. When you arrive at Mars City at the beginning of the game, the detail is just unrivalled. You can see people walking around getting on with their business, watch promotional videos about the facility itself, talk to people, overhear conversations, read news bulletins etc. Id obviously learnt a thing or two from Half-Life's memorable opening scenes.
But things really get interesting when everything starts to go wrong. Quite possibly the most intense opening in an FPS ever, you're fully convinced that the shit has hit the fan. Your radio is full of garbled messages from marines screaming and dying in battle, security cameras showing normal workers becoming possessed zombies, with you trying to fend off zombies and imps while avoiding explosions and malfunctioning machinery all around you. And once you manage to get outside through an airlock, the stinging wind noises and radio messages combine to create an incredibly hellish environment. You really feel alone, and are left wondering just what the hell is happening to everyone.
And the great thing about this is that the tension never really wears off, although things do become a lot less hectic. Just when you feel like you've seen it all before, something happens to heighten the tension and immerse you even more, for example whispers in your ear, or the sound of a baby crying without any visible source, or the lights going off and hellish laughter ringing all around the room. The effect this sort of atmosphere creates is incredible, and will definitely stick with you long after you've experienced it. It gets even better when you travel to Hell, with things becoming so intense it's almost unbareable. However, as with other games that try to scare you, it doesn't work for everyone. Not everyone is as easily scared as other people, and some will see past the cheap tricks and find that there isn't much else to the game. Indeed, if you play in the wrong sort of environment, for example with the window open and listening to music, you won't be scared. If you want to experience this game in all of its glory, take Id Software's advice and play alone, at night, with the lights off and the door locked. You will most likely only enjoy this game if it scares you.
For once, the gameplay isn't what makes this game enjoyable. The two main components that make this game so great are the sound and graphics. I think the graphics speak for themselves, and if you've ever seen a screenshot or a video, you know what I mean. Bump-mapping is used on almost every surface, giving things an incredible detail you just wouldn't notice with flat textures. Specular and diffuse lighting are used to great effect, and are really shown off later in the game. However, the main star of the show is undoubtedly the fully dynamic lighting, which adds an element of realism you wouldn't get with a game that uses pre-compiled shadow maps. Every single shadow is rendered in real-time, and makes otherwise fantastic looking enemies and environments into unbelievable spectacles. You can never fully appreciate it without seeing it in motion.
The use of sound is equally impressive. Rather than use pre-defined music (beside the Main Menu music, composed by Tweaker), the game utilises ambient sound effects created from things inside the base. These include things like machines whirring, lights flickering, wind blowing through vents, monster screams in the distant etc. Hell, even the sounds the game makes when picking up armour are loud and jarring. Coupled with 5.1 surround sound support, the effect created is timeless, and only adds to the immersion and tension.
However, probably the thing that's on everyone's minds is whether the game will run on their PC. The minimum specification is somewhat more demanding than competing games like Far Cry or Half-Life 2, requiring a 1.5Ghz processor with a 64MB video card and 384MB of RAM. However, contrary to Stavr0's comments (not to imply he's wrong), multiple benchmark tests have shown that if you meet these minimum requirements, you should be able to run the game at low detail on 640x480 resolution at a somewhat playable rate (and it will still look incredible). If you get low fps in the opening levels, then that is because of the amount of detail that is packed into them. Your fps should lighten up later on when you can't see as much. However, it is no secret that this game is demanding, and if you want to get a better experience, you'll want at least a 2Ghz machine with a DX9-ready video card (preferably one from nVidia) and 512MB RAM. Luckily most computer retailers usually don't sell computers that are below this specification, and if you have a fairly recent computer i.e. bought within the last year and a half or so, you'll be fine.
But what about Multiplayer? Well, it's not much. Id have always said they want to focus on a single-player experience with Doom 3, and as such the multi-player feels tacked on, with only 5 maps and at default only 4 players at once (although some servers have up to 16-player support now). What is more suprising is that Id had a seperate company (Splash Damage) to develop multiplayer for them, and it still turns out to be a large let down. The dynamic lighting and weapons don't offer anything new outside of a Quake 3 deathmatch, and coupled with a somewhat rushed netcode and easy cheating, it's surprisingly disappointing from a company with a reputation for fun multiplayer. In other words, don't buy Doom 3 looking for a great multiplayer, because you won't get it. Also, the lack of a co-op mode is also surprising, as one of the original Doom's most popular aspects was its co-operative mode. However, Id Software have said that this will appear on the XBox version, and it isn't on the PC purely because they envisioned it as a purely single-player game. Apparently co-op gameplay is more of a console thing. Don't shoot the messenger. However, althorrat informs me the fast-growing mod community is developing some form of co-op for the PC, which should excite some people.
However, besides these few annoyances, Doom 3 is very much the game Id Software promised us; an incredibly detailed horror action game, that focuses on delivering an intense single-player experience. The single-player portion should last you around 15-20 hours, and while the multiplayer itself is lacking somewhat, the mod community should help fix this. Don't expect to get the second coming in Pc video games; because Doom 3 will disappoint you (that title should hopefully be reserved for Half-Life 2). This game was simply designed to scare you, not be the single greatest game of all time. As long as you don't expect oranges when buying apples, you'll love it. Doom 3 is scary, good-looking, atmospheric, and above all, great fun.