| id Software launched the original Doom PC game in the early
1990s. The ultra-violent game featured revolutionary graphics, sound,
and game play. Doom has served as the basis for imitation and improvement
over the years, spawning the famous Quake series (also by id), its
closest competitor Unreal, and countless knock-offs, laying the
foundation for the "first-person shooter" genre as we now know it.
By today's standards, Doom is antiquated, its once-cutting-edge
graphics dull and chunky; its level-design trumped by dozens of
successors. After a forgettable Doom sequel and a few mid-90s expansions,
id's Quake series stole the spotlight, and most gamers never looked
The entire first-person shooter (FPS) genre has behaved a lot like
its main characters, moving steadily along a linear path, collecting
a few upgrades along the waythe biggest power-up being the
ability to stage large multiplayer battles over the Internet. Outside
of networked gaming, we've seen steady improvements in audio-visual
quality, level of detail, and the artificial intelligence of computer-controlled
Doom 3, which has been bubbling in the id Software cauldron since
the turn of the 21st century, rewrites the simple plotline
of the original with bleeding-edge cinematic style. Launched August
2004, Doom 3 represents one of the largest leaps in the first-person
shooter genre since the release of its predecessor, sporting the
sleekest game engine ever seenrobust, smooth, and sexy enough
to cause more than a few gamers to upgrade or replace their computers
for the sole purpose of playing the game. Like the original, Doom
3 will change the face of FPS gaming forevermore. Unfortunately,
today's gamers are about to discover that looks aren't everything.
Doom 3's storyline, retold by sci-fi writer Matthew Costello, is
much improved from the original in terms of scope and depth. Costello's
challenge was making an future invasion of Mars by the legions of
Hell seem plausible, and to his credit, he has provided a number
of interconnected story breadcrumbs, gathered along one's Doom 3
journey in the form of email, audio files, and video disks. Costello's
individual passages were written well enough, but the big picture
is still lacking. There's just no hope of putting lipstick on this
pig of a sci-fi horror plotless likely events have spun more
masterfully in literature, cinema, and even other games. But if
we cared about such things, why would we be playing a first-person
Gore is taken to near-pornographic levels in Doom 3, where people
are turned literally inside-out for our viewing pleasure. Rorschach-blot
bloodstains are the appropriate and satisfying result of blasting
and grinding enemies to death. There is as much versatility in mutilation
as the first Doom-all the original weapons are back, mostly with
the same effects as before. Which is too bad, because there've been
a lot better weapons in Doom's wake since the 1990s: most shamefully
lacking is an alternative fire method for any of Doom 3's weapons.
Alt-fire (found in many other FPS games) gives players the ability
to zoom sights to varying degrees, shoot a different projectile
from the same gun, or perform a secondary function with the same
gun. Without such features in Doom 3, seasoned FPS players may feel
like they're only getting half a weapon. Nevertheless, each firearm
and melee weapon does its job well in the proper environment.
Add to the game's rather uninspired arsenal an equally lackluster
control scheme. One high point is a fatigue meter, which runs out
while making mad dashes around the levels. Conservation of your
energy is important, and bleeds dry at inopportune times if you
aren't paying attention. Aside from this, we're left with the bare
minimum of FPS controls: Much like the original Doom, your character
can jump, walk, crouch, and "strafe" (sidestep) in quite standard
ways. Certainly you're playing a human marine, but given the apparent
ease with which he dispatches the legions of Hell, you'd think the
guy could pull off a few hot dog moves now and again. Possibly the
best aspect of operating the main character is receiving damage.
You can almost feel every blowthe camera shakes and flies
off-kilter; the more abuse your character takes, the worse the effectwhen
you're close to death, the screen becomes reddened and blurry. The
resulting visual trauma is enough to make anyone want to stay out
of harm's reach.
Doom 3's carnage unfolds inside a vast, militarized Martian research
and development base. The complex, and other, more interesting areas,
were thoughtfully designed by the folks at id Software, from the
coffee cups and display terminals in worker-cubicles to the blood-soaked
toilets in the lavatories. There are no comfortable places in the
Mars base, rather every edge is hard and riveted, every pipe heavy
and ribbed, every computer keyboard a throwback to the 20th
century. The maze-like corridors, nooks and crannies of the installation
are awful enough when the lights are on-when All Hell Breaks Loose,
the entire complex begins to degrade, short out, and sputter. A
combination of film noir and the Alien series, Doom 3's sets deny
the player full visibility of what's around the corner--familiar
territory for veteran Doomsters.
Given the Byzantine layouts of Doom 3's levels, there are plenty
of places for creatures to pop out and scare the daylights out of
players. Nearly every space has at least one jarring shock. In the
short term this is simultaneously terrifying and delightful. In
the long term, however, game play becomes predictable, tedious,
and in many cases silly (there's a monster hiding in nearly every
closet). The Mars station environment becomes monotonous itselfsome
areas must be traveled through repeatedly, and there isn't much
break from the gray-on-gray colour scheme. Compared to games such
as Unreal and Halo, Doom 3 feels like a one-act play, which is unforgivable
considering the power of the game engine.
Like its levels, Doom 3's characters are highly-detailed, from
human researchers to 30-foot-tall behemothsthe modeling, textures,
and animation breathe life into the game, but as seems to be the
theme with the game's design, there is an overall lack of variety.
Garden-variety zombies and a small pantheon of demonic legions are
all that stand in your way. Some are genuinely creepy while others
are just plain goofy-looking or unimaginative. While this may be
the best Hell can muster, it doesn't really matter how laughable
a monster is when it jumps fifty feet across a darkened room and
bites you in the face. Unless of course, it's happened for the fiftieth
time, and then it's just tiresome.
Ex Nine-Inch-Nailer Chris Vrenna provided Doom 3's soundscape.
Sounds are derived from contextual sources (for example, creaking
metal in a loading bay) and those manifested by the supernatural,
such as unearthly chanting, gongs, and indescribable murmuring.
Not quite a soundtrack, but more than merely ambient effects, the
audio hovers menacingly in the background, subtle enough to avoid
being noticed; waiting for an opportunity to strike. It's the sneaky
counterpoint to the rest of Doom 3's dynamic audio, which is comprised
of weapons fire, creature screams, human cries, and other incidental
effects. Like the original Doom, Doom 3 gives hints about what lies
ahead in the muted grunts, moans and mutters of invading Hell-beasts.
You'll want to play this game with headphones or surround-sound
for maximum effect.
Doom 3 is at the top of its game genre from a technical standpoint,
with many of its creative elements done up beautifully by the id
team, from set design to the level of detail in the character models.
The game has many strong "wow" moments from the outset, but dulls
quickly, becoming all-too-reminiscent of the original Doom in its
game play and "feel." There is innovation here, but it won't benefit
Doom 3 players. Instead, we're left hoping that other developers
will pick up id Software's torch and burn outdated game play to
Walsh is a Toronto-based freelance Jack of all Trades, practitioner
of the Arts, avid gamer and renegade digital anthropologist. He
keeps a near-daily journal at clickableculture.com
but lives at secretlair.com.
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