Review – Doom 3

I didn’t understand all of the hype surrounding the release of Doom 3. So the graphics were cutting edge (assuming you wanted to drop $500 to get your memory and graphics card up to snuff), it was still a game based on a series well-known for having repetitious play and no story line whatsoever. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved playing the first Doom games/expansions, but I had a feeling they wouldn’t hold up if played them years later. I found my fears were correct as I tried to play both 1 and 2 off of the “Special Edition” Xbox game that comes with the entire set on one disc. Fun for the nostalgia, not so much for the gameplay. I made it about fifteen minutes in before moving on to the new game.

HA, I told you guys I could scare him off by myself …. what do you mean “turn around”?

Doom 3, though still quite repetitious, was a little better in the plot area and ended up being much more entertaining than I thought it would be. Visuals were quite nice and I would imagine their being even better on a PC that can handle all of the bells and whistles, but what really got me was the sense of atmosphere. They nailed the outnumbered, under armored hero in a creepy space station feel that made the game seem like more than the sum of its parts. Nothing about the weapons or the controls were different than the other run-of-the-mill space shooters out there (which I’ve been playing most of, for some reason). Even the enemies were nothing more than updated and more pissed off versions of the original games. I guess it all came down to pacing and great level design, two things I think more and more games flub lately. It’s not non-stop crazy action (Serious Sam) and it’s not so slow you lose interest (Painkiller), a pretty difficult balance to reach.

It’s hands down the most jump-inducing game I’ve played since System Shock 2 (one of my favorite games, still). About 80% of the monsters come at you from pitch black corridors or crawl spaces while you making you way through an incredibly detailed and eerily deserted space station. The ambient sounds are quite disconcerting and made me backtrack on more than one occasion just in case that noise really was something following me (which the monsters will do from time to time). Evil cackles and unsettling moans abound. Scripted events of NPCs being snatched or brutally maimed before you play out and then transfer seamlessly into the game, a nice cinematic touch.

An average fire fight has you squaring off against about six to ten monsters before slowing the action down, but it’s never the end of the ambush as there are usually a couple of smarter foes waiting out of sight to sneak up behind you as you move along. One gameplay aspect that’s taken a lot of heat but I actually enjoyed was the fact that you can’t wield your flashlight and a gun at the same time. The flashlight is absolutely necessary, as over 90% of the game happens in the dark and it’s where any self-respecting demon would be hanging out anyway. Add to this the fact that you’re almost always low on health and ammo and the game can be quite difficult at some points, but never enough to discourage playing.

Meet future Mars Abbot and Costello … they want to eat your face. You’d better laugh.

Plot is doled out through in-game cutscenes and voice-overs gathered from PDAs found scattered about the station. Sometimes a hapless engineer gives you the codes to restricted ammo lockers or doors, and sometimes you listen in as they are attacked while logging their progress reports or complaints to the management. The voice work is done perfectly, with the right blend of humor and horror that makes you want to find more PDAs to continue the story (imagine that in a Doom game!). All in all, the single player portion of the game took me about 20 hours to beat and was quite enjoyable. But that was only the first half of the playing experience.

I originally bought the game because it was $20 and I could play co-op over Live with my friend who already had the game. I’ve yet to play any online deathmatches or whatever other game types you can find, and actually played through the co-op before playing through the single player section. It almost seems like the game was made for co-op play. Even more fun than the solo campaign, the addition of another person adds a completely different dynamic. Monsters are incredibly strong and their numbers almost double, while ammo seems to be only slightly more available.

The aspect I liked the most was the ability to have one player (usually the one with the most armor and least ammo) be the bait and flashlight monkey while the other player hung back and waited for the ambush. Having to put your virtual life in the hands of another player made the tension seem even more urgent and the rewards much more enjoyable. I’ve played many squad-based multiplayer games but I’ve never relied on a partner as much as in this game. Having to check ammo and health after every fight before dividing pickups; figuring out which weapons complimented each other in certain situations; casing a room for good pinch spots before triggering an obvious trap that would flood the area with enemies. Great fun!

Developers, are you having a hard time keeping the framerates up with all of those lush, detailed environments? Just turn all of the damn lights off.

I was even more surprised to find out they actually included a different plot for the co-op game. Because of the differences in game play abilities (mainly the lack of PDAs to listen to) plot had to be given through audio cues from another marine who was making his way through the complex to meet up with your team, or from kiosks found throughout the area. Not only was the plot different, the actual levels and your progression through them changed dramatically, meaning you pretty much get two games in one (as long as you have a friend to play with). Add that to the very entertaining single player campaign and it’s an easily recommended title for the $20 and under it can be found for at this point.

Very entertaining and one of the few true co-op games out there, I think Doom 3 got the right hype but for the wrong reasons. A solid FPS horror shooter in a genre of generic and simple-minded competitors.

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17 years ago

Doom III definitely freaked me out, especially with a 5.1 surround sound system. I remember playing it on the PC when it was first released. I was pissing myself nightly, I have to say. But the one thing that gradually came apparent was that half the game wasn’t needed. I go back and look at the list of levels, and I have no recollection of more than half of them. They have no discerning difference when going from level to level. The only chunk I can think of off hand was the last few levels, where Mars shows its true colors. I think id did a horrible job on level design. They looked great and somewhat realistic, but playing the game was a pain. Sometimes I wouldn’t know which way to go. After hearing your review, however, I would love to go back and play co-op with it. That sounds really fun, but how long do people generally play for? I can’t imagine playing for more than an hour before having someone say they need to leave. Did you have a problem like that, or was everyone really into the game?

17 years ago

It was just one other person as there’s a two player cap.  We played for about two hour blocks, usually late at night when we could coordinate being home.  They shorten the length a little as well as change the plot to accomodate the speed, but it still took us a good three or four weeks to get through it.  And you’re right about the surround sound system.  This is one of the few games I’ve played that practically requires a good sound setup to get the whole package.
As far as level design, I actually liked the fact that I got lost on more than one occasion … something I could easily see myself doing while running around a deserted Mars space station in the dark.  I also don’t remember much of the initial levels, but I think that’s because of in-game information overload.  There were so many people to talk to and kiosks and PDAs to grab for me to really take in the scenery, and then all hell breaks loose and you don’t really have a chance from then on in.