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Lens, Wheels, Skates, Keyboard

Doom 3

The original Doom introduced a whole new world to video games. It had a vast, immersive, incredibly realistic environment which gave the player an experience closer to reality than anything else had been able to achieve (having non-orthogonal walls helped). In retrospect, the drawbacks of two-dimensional graphics and comical looking monsters didn’t detract much from the overall experience. Doom might not have invented the first-person shooter, but it made it a bona fide genre.

Fast forward to the present. In a world where the first-person shooter is held to the highest scrutiny and players have elevated standards regarding graphics, level design, and game play, Doom 3 comes out amid great expectations that it, again, would reinvent the genre.

When it comes to graphics, this is certainly true. This game has perhaps the most visually impressive environment of any game. id games have always had the reputation for being well-polished and they certainly have outdone themselves on this one. The attention to detail is incredible. The textures look so real you almost want to reach out and touch them. There is an endless variety of them and no two places look exactly alike, just as in real life. What’s even more impressive is the lighting. id set out to reinvent lighting and succeeded. The moment you caught a horrifying glimpse of a monster’s grinning visage as it crosses a shaft of light, you’ll see what I mean.

Sound is another dimension all together. In an environment of dark corridors, dimly lit with the beam of your flashlight or with a flickering overhead light, the effect of sounds becomes magnified. The environment is alive with sounds — the background hum of machinery, the sparks of exposed electrical wires, the whoosh of doors sliding open, your own footsteps, the distant screams of dying humans, the hisses and roars of monsters, the hair-raising groans of zombies, creepy whispers by who-knows-what, and on top of it all the pounding of your own heart. All these make for a truly terrifying environment. I’ve had to jump out of my seat several times. id has definitely raised the bar when it comes to making sound effects an essential feature of the game environment.

For the most part, Doom 3 is a remake of the old game with the storyline fleshed out with several added twists. The year is 2145. The game opens with the protagonist on a drop ship enroute to a Union Aerospace Corporation installation on Mars that houses both scientific and military facilities. This is where cutting-edge research in physics are carried out that would revolutionize human civilization. Everything seems routine, though you soon learn of experiments seemingly gone awry and disturbing happenings around the facility. Soon you’re ordered to descend below ground to search for a missing scientist, then all hell breaks loose.

In the original game, the imps were brown humanoids with a very human rear end, while the pink bull-like monsters were perhaps a shade too pink, and I always thought the giant floating balls with eyes were a bit outlandish. The monsters are now truly terrifying. They’re bigger, faster, meaner. Pinkie, now appropriately flesh-colored, rushes headlong into you and turns you into human pulp.  The imp crouches low before lunging at you with his claw-like appendages outstretched, threatening to swipe your head off. Undead humans and hellish creatures such as the spider-like Trites, the two-headed Maggots, the missile-spewing Revenants, and the hulking Hellknights stalk the dark hallways and make Doom 3 a very unsafe place to be. If there’s any complaint at all, it’s that the skin of the creatures can appear somewhat rubbery or plasticky.

Nothing, no matter how great, is free from flaws, and Doom 3 is no exception. In this case, this has to do with game design and game play. In concept, Doom 3 is akin to a house of horrors, where you have no control over you environment or where you go; you’ll have to fend off pre-set traps and play along until you’re out. You go from one area to the next, clear out monsters, move the next area, do the same, rinse and repeat. While the experience may be enthralling, the process gets tedious after a while. Other shooters may entice you with a variety of environments, a variety of missions, a variety of characters, or a variety of vehicles or equipment to operate. In Doom 3, it’s the same mission and, except for a few excursions, mostly the same environment. Your only rewards are additional weapons and bits and pieces of information which reveal a little more of the storyline. I kind of looked forward to fighting alongside other teammates, but the only thing close to that is following a robotic sentry which blasts everything in its path.

True to the house of horrors analogy, Doom 3 is replete with surprises and traps. Approaching a cache of goodies would trigger the lights to go out, the wall panel ahead to slide open revealing its unpleasant inhabitants and more often than not some demon is spawning behind you. Now you can’t see and can’t move because you’re confined in some corridors. The only way is to try and blast your way out of there, find some health kits, take a deep breath and prepare to do it again. Some players may find this thrilling, others may feel frustrated at the lack of control and, yes, the repetitiveness of it all.

The other complaint has to do with game play. The designers could have had their pick of the features common nowadays in shooters, such as the ability to peer around corners, a secondary fire on weapons, or even additional weapons like flame throwers, trip mines or for god’s sake night vision goggles would be welcome. I suppose they decide to stay faithful to the original repertoire of weaponry (with one additional weapon), even though the monsters have now grown more numerous and deadly. The designers also require the player to hold either the flashlight or the weapon, but not both. So one is faced with the predicament of being able to see and not fire, or being able to fire and not see. For some players this is a feature which enhances the experience. Others, like me, are left to wonder why our hero can’t hold the flashlight with the non-weapon hand, or find some duct tape to attach the flashlight to his weapon or armor. On the other hand, monsters, even those that are formerly humans, have no problems seeing in the dark. The odds aren’t good for you.

As much fun as the game can be, it gets monotonous after a while for me. Maybe when mods start coming out from the enthusiast community, then we’d really see the true potential of this fantastic engine.

Originally posted January 19, 2005 on Amazon.com