Well, it’s been some time since a superhype game came out to grace our screens, and today we celebrate that day – Doom 3 is upon us. That is, it’s been upon us since August 2nd, but that is but a minor detail. It has arguably been one of the, if not the most expected game of the year (though I imagine it ties with Half-Life 2 for this spot), and certainly of the past several years, what with the other contenders like Duke Nukem Forever fading well into oblivion.
So what do we have in this game? Was it worth the wait? Does it answer all our dreams, wishes and desires? Well, it does and it doesn’t, in a way. As is my habit, I tend to find faults in good games, and find good things in bad games (since it’s simply way too easy to rave about good games and knock bad games), so I’m certainly going to poke at this game and find all the faults I can. Which, by extension, also implies that it’s a good game – but I’m sure you figured that out from my rating already.
I’ll get this off the list first, since this is obviously the most important aspect of Doom 3 – the graphics absolutely rock. It is difficult to explain how much they rock with a simple word like “rock”, but they are absolutely out of this world, no pun intended. The creatures are extremely well-detailed, the weapons are pretty, and the environments are intricately designed (if you manage to see anything in the darkness, that is). It’s also (surprisingly) not as hardware-intensive as the rumours had it, and as we have expected it to be: I was able to get a very good frame rate in the game with an ATI Radeon 9700 Pro All-in-Wonder on High Detail at 1152x864, and, again, a very playable frame rate at 1600x1200 with an ATI Radeon 9800XT/256MB. Granted, if you expect a full, fluid 30fps, you will have to turn down the resolution, but since my new LCD has a native resolution of 1600x1200, I prefer a lower frame rate to scaling. Note that in multiplayer your frame rate will be significantly lower, so lower resolutions will be the only way out.
Doom 3 takes place on Mars, in a human colony. You, a marine, are sent there with some big shot corporate suit to observe some of the experiments taking place and make sure that the colony isn’t wasting any money – or something like that. Basically the story is really irrelevant, since action starts quite soon into the game. Doom 3 does not pretend to be an RPG like Deus Ex, so whatever background there is is only useful if you care, and is not essential to gameplay. To illustrate, the game starts like this: you arrive to the colony, meet the crazy mad scientist who runs the place, get assigned to go check out a missing person, but before you have a chance to actually go look for him, everything blows up and a bunch of zombie monsters start coming out of everywhere. In essence, exactly the same thing as the previous Doom games.
Throughout the game, you will encounter NPCs, but not in the traditional sense of the word, where you would talk to them, barter or something like that. No, you will encounter four types of NPCs: dead ones (the majority, really); dead ones that get up and try to eat your brains as soon as you pass them (quite a few); ones that talk to you through a comm link of some sort (i.e. ones you will probably never meet) (often); and ones that are dying and will say some tearworthy comment along the lines of “I don’t want to die” or “Why, oh why” (occasionally). You do get to read a lot of personal email, video discs, pick up lots of PDAs and so forth. Your character has absolutely no identity in the game – I’m not even 100% sure of his name. But you do get loads of information about other people – love affairs, hobbies, all kinds of random information. It’s often excruciatingly boring, but since often passwords are concealed in them, you have to listen through – and there are no subtitles in the game, so you can’t just keep shooting stuff and hope you notice it. One thing that is absolutely amazing about Doom 3, though, (and this goes back to the incredible graphics engine) are the computer panels. Until now, in most games, when you walked up to a computer panel, you clicked on it and it brought up a new screen where you actually controlled the computer. In Doom 3, you walk up to a computer and your cursor changes – and you can click on it right there, in the game. To top it off, you aren’t limited to just “on” and “off” type functionality: you can frequently navigate a few menus and click a few buttons. It’s astounding. I’m certain it slows down the game on some level, but it’s such a cool feature that it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
Which brings me to my first major beef with the game – the monsters and the whole “horror” theme. Doom 3 is billed as a scary game, and I have even been told by some people that they jumped as often as every 20 seconds. I am overjoyed that they are the primary audience for the game, but to be frank, while the first couple of surprise attacks might be somewhat, well, surprising, the rest are simply expected and sort of take this monotonous “look-it’s-a-dark-corner-let-me-pitch-a-grenade-in-there” theme. Because in Doom 3, whenever you see a purely dark corner, you can bet that there’s somebody hiding there. If it’s semi-dark, then chances are there’s nobody, but if it’s completely dark, then you can bet that someone will come out either when you approach it, shoot a gun, or when you pick up the PDA from the table. It gets to be pretty dull and expected, and the jumpiness sort of wears off about 20 minutes into the game. You do have a large array of weapons to fight them off, but the weapons basically mirror what you had in Doom 1 and 2; and while it’s a nod to the oldskool days of the past, it’s a bit of a tough sale by today’s standards. The weapons are pretty unimaginative (all the imagination was in Doom 1 – this is just a continuation) and are often useless (ever try using a rocket launcher in a small room? Well, there are about a billion small rooms in Doom 3). The BFG is fun as always, of course.
Doom 3 is dark. Very dark. In fact, it is so dark that you basically can’t play the game without a flashlight. Interestingly, it seems that miners have flashlights on their helmets, sewer technicians have flashlights on their helmets, even policemen have flashlights somewhere where they can have a free hand, but marines in the whatever century Doom 3 is set in are deprived of this idea of having a flashlight and a gun at the same time. Writing this, it occurred to me that my marine must be a disabled individual and he must be missing a hand – so I shouldn’t have such a negative attitude. Then again, on second thought, he is able to reload a shotgun, so he does have two hands. There goes that excuse, I guess. What I’m getting at is that you either use a flashlight, or a gun. Theoretically, you can pretend you’re a rogue policeman and run around beating people with your flashlight on God mode, but if you stop and think about it for a second, you’ll realise that that’s not the most efficient way of playing, and it will take you a very, very long time. I tried it and it got old in approximately fifteen seconds (the time it took me to kill one zombie scientist). No guns have a flashlight mounted on them, which means that navigating through the game turns into an exercise of bumping into walls. Sure, you’ll occasionally bump into a zombie and that might make you jump, but all the other times when you’re simply stuck in a corner won’t make it any better.
id has used darkness to such a large extent in the game that you should just not expect to see much of anything right off the start. Many enemies, inexplicably, make the world very dark for you. Hell Knights, who shoot fireballs, get lit up by their first fireball and by your flashlight, but thereafter are completely concealed, and for some reason, your flashlight will not light them up for a few seconds. Same for zombies and most other enemies: after they give away their initial position they cloak like a Romulan battlecruiser and you just have to guess where they are. The monster AI is good in some situations, and pretty bad in others, so your chances are good. Ranged weapon enemies do crouch and dodge and roll to avoid your fire, but they do it in a pretty predictable pattern, so it’s not much of a challenge to hit them.
On the other hand, if you are looking for something where you just run around and shoot lots of zombies, then this game fits the bill very, very nicely. It is difficult to come up with a more beautiful environment (and, with the Ultra Quality mode that uses uncompressed textures and requires 512MB of video RAM, id is making sure that even future cards are bogged down by the engine), and the presentation, overall, is impeccable. The 5.1 sound is very, very cool (and useful!), since it gives away positions of enemies (more useful in multiplayer, though, since you can figure out where the action is by the sounds). I really wish there was a soundtrack, like NiN or any of the other groups that were used for Quake, but, unfortunately, there is just some mood music and no real soundtrack. Haven’t the people at id watched Fahrenheit 9/11? Marines listen to Bloodhoung Gang when they blow stuff up, and “Burn, motherf***er, burn” would work quite nicely – and the game is rated M for mature, anyway.
Speaking of marines and team action, I feel I have to knock the multiplayer in the game. It is quite shocking to me that id, who basically created multiplayer deathmatching as we know it, has dropped the ball so hard that it made a big hole in the floor. I’m certain I will get many emails telling me that I know nothing of oldskool gaming and that I’m not “elite” enough to have known multiplayer in Doom as it was. Well, I did, and I even was ghetto enough to play multiplayer Wolfenstein 3D – one person controls the arrows and CTRL key, and the other one aims with the mouse, on hardest level, making sure to get 100% of all secrets. So yes, I know of oldskool gaming. I like it exactly like that, oldskool – meaning in the past. I was expecting lots of fun from Doom 3 multiplayer (not in the least a co-operative mode – you can’t tell me THAT wasn’t in Doom 2, now can you?!). Imagine my surprise when I realised that someone forgot to fix a bug somewhere that didn’t allow you to join servers? It was pretty neat, but apparently, not only limited to me: you were equally likely to get a “Server Full”, “Server Needs Password”, “Server Connection Failed” or connect successfully, which means there was a 25% chance of getting into any given game. Apparently connecting directly by IP solves the problem, and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since; that’s obviously not a solution. Moreover, the server browser is completely useless, since often the sorting doesn’t work (I’m not quite clear how it sorts the results, it must be some algorithm from Hell). Once in the game, it’s your run-of-the-mill Doom, except instead of zombies you have other people running around killing each other. Initially, the maximum player limit was 4, which was much too small for the huge levels that the multiplayer maps are; it appears that that has been hacked recently, so now 12 players is more common.
Not everything is bad, though, and I shouldn’t be so negative. While Half-Life always aims to be realistic to a point where you can pick up and throw objects (Half-Life 2 demo video), Doom was always more about action. And you get a lot of it, particularly in the later levels. The first levels are much too narrow and claustrophobic, and it doesn’t make the game creepy or terrifying – it just makes it annoying because you can’t see walls in front of you, as mentioned above. But as you progress, the levels get a little bit larger, the game becomes less of a zombie hunt and more of a shooting fest, and the culmination makes it all worth it. The visual effects are spectacular, the 5.1 sound is very impressive, and the game has a variety of small touches that make it a great game nevertheless, even with all the defects that I mentioned above. The feeling, the atmosphere of the game is unmatched, and even if it weren’t a successor to the game that started it all, it would still be great; the fact that you get to meet some old brainwashed friends just makes it be that extra little bit more fun.
To sum it up, Doom 3 is a game well worth buying. I don’t see anybody replaying the campaign mode more than once (or twice, if you want to try Nightmare mode), but with all the mods that are bound to come out for the multiplayer version (and possibly single-player ones, as well), I expect that it will gain replayability value with time. I sort of wish they published it on one DVD instead of 3 CDs, though. It would have made things much easier in terms of installation.