With developers taking their design cues from Half-Life
in the past few years, it's curious to see id Software revert to its roots with Doom 3
. The very first Doom
, sitting on the shoulders of Wolfenstein 3-D
, which launched the first-person shooter craze in 1993, was a simple yet brilliant game in many regards. It had no manual Y-axis, so you couldn't look up or down. Enemies cheaply popped out of hidden doorways as you passed them. Very little of the environment was interactive. And the visuals, while maybe good then, are distinctly painful to view now.
So then, why should we waste our time with the return of an old dinosaur? What can it possibly deliver that hasn't been done before? Why go backward, not forward? In a way, Doom 3 offers nothing new at all. It's much like its predecessors. The gameplay is mostly linear, there are fewer enemies on screen than in previous iterations, the environments are almost all non-interactive, and the arsenal of weapons and the cast of characters leave little to the imagination.
So, WTF? id's Doom 3 focuses on a few simple concepts and it does them extremely well. Carmack and company have created a dynamic atmosphere, laced with tension and fear, using sensational lighting and top-notch audio work. It delivers perfect controls, great interfaces, and supremely high-level production values resulting in an unparalleled presentation. It strikes at your primal instincts, perfectly playing the chords of your fight or flight feelings like a masterful classical pianist. And, even knowing its shortcomings, Doom 3 provides an enormous sense of entertainment. It's not perfect. It's not the greatest thing ever. But it is damned good. Perhaps, with the exclusive two-player online cooperative mode, it's great.
Want to see the game in motion and hear our analyses? Check our full video review.
Arriving first on PC in fall 2004, Doom 3 was hyped and adored, criticized and flogged, but in the end the result essentially went like this: The gameplay is a little simple, perhaps a little gimmicky, but what id does with presentation, sound, and graphics is truly unreal. The same holds true for the Xbox version. Only on Xbox the effect is more profound. Few games look, feel, or sound as good as Doom 3 on Xbox. Few games offer an online cooperative mode, and few games are as scary, tense, visceral, or as engrossing as id's Doom 3.
Much like its predecessors, Doom 3 follows the story of a military and scientific experiment gone wrong. Under the guidance of the cynical mega-corp United Aerospace Corporation, future scientists on Mars have tapped into warp tunnels and unstable doorways into unknown worlds. Unwittingly, they've tapped into hell. While giving you very little story and no real answers to why, how, and what's next, id once again has slipped gamers into the boots of an unnamed soldier prepared fight the legions of hell itself. Needless to say, the story takes a back seat to the action.
Instead of Halo-esque cutuscenes and scripted events unraveling deeper and deeper storylines, Doom 3's beauty is its simplicity. You're a marine, and you're trained to kill anything that gets in the way of your mission. Thus, you plunder through an endless succession of dark, flickering hallways and corridors, and you learn the three basic tenets of Doom 3. A) If the new room you enter has dark spots, hellspawn is guaranteed to form there; B) Your shotgun is your best friend, keep it loaded at all times; and C) Enemies will continue to spawn behind you. Knowing these three rules helps to see the recipe of gameplay id has in store for you.
This is a game of simple strategies and, because of that, Doom 3's single-player experience is unfortunately linear, repetitive, and predictable. On the one hand this is disappointing; on the other, it's riveting. Because you play most of the game in the dark, you will constantly switch between using a flashlight (whose batteries never die, thankfully) and a weapon. Why, in the scientifically modern future, marines don't have weapons with built-in flashlights escapes me, but that's the core mechanic upon which this game is based. So erase that reasonable question from your mind, it's not relevant here.
Doom 3 is built upon hundreds of corridors, rooms, hallways, and control desks with flickering lights, secret rooms, and, sadly, almost no interactive stuff. Thus, the core gameplay rests is centered around you entering into a room, as either enemies slowly creep out of the dark, or the lights switch off and you standing there chugging lead in the dark via the light of enemy fireballs.
id's game provides a good amount of cheap enemy tricks, and the gameplay can be gimmicky. Enemies creep out of compartment doors that you've already passed and they sneak out of completely dark corners just when you think the coast is clear. The AI is also straightforward and simple. They appear, they shoot, they run full-tilt at you, and you just pull out the shotgun and blow them back to hell. Literally.
There is less platformy stuff, less jumping. Less balancing on beams over molten lava. Fewer areas requiring you to endless try to make that insane jump, or that last-ditch attack against all odds. And disappointingly, fewer areas are big, open and filled with dozens of enemies, like previous Doom iterations.
This is a game of tense, close-up, and surprise attacks. It takes place in pitch-black, ominous hallways and you're always running scared. The suspense created by the unpredictable light combined with an unreal audio production creates a deeper, more convincing fear than in any Doom game ever. It creates a deep, disturbing nightmarish atmosphere that becomes the game's most impressive gameplay design element. And as you get deeper into the story, the enemies become more powerful, the situations more intense, and the fear develops even further.
The level design helps with nice exploratory/adventure-ish touches. There are little bits of ammo, armor, and weaponry packed away in sweet spots throughout the game. Finding these, whether by ducking under gratings, unlocking ammo lockers, or backtracking into enemy closets, adds another layer to the game's otherwise steady pace of darkness, enemies, and doorways. The audio journals are brilliant little gems all on their own, besides being utilitarian sources for three-digit codes to open lockers. They are well acted, each delivering a distinct personality through voice, diction, and pacing, and they're necessary for attaining more ammo.
Speaking of ammo, the weapons are all interestingly balanced. I was always a big fan of the shotgun, especially Doom 2's double-barreled shotgun, and in Doom 3, the shotgun is one of the best weapons. It's quick, powerful, and kills just about everybody up close. And since every enemy runs right at you, it's perfect. The Pulse rifle is OK (sorry, Dan, it's not that good), the pistol is forgettable, and the rocket launcher is just a bridge to the BFG. But the chainsaw? Holy hell. The chainsaw is easily the most improved and useful weapons on Doom 3. It's so much more powerful that once you get it, you'll not want to use anything else again. And the Soul Cube is weird and cool at the same time.
Finally, the control and feel of Doom 3 is excellent on Xbox. You won't spin around as fast as you might on the PC, but the controls are accurate, easily modifiable in the menu screen, and the mappable d-pad creates a new cool standard for weapon selection as an alternative to Halo's two-weapons-and-a-grenade setup.
Co-Op and Deathmatch
While not graphically superior to the PC version, the Xbox version has its bright spots. The exclusive dual-player online campaign mode in the Xbox version is worth the price of admission alone. Sorely missed in Halo 2, the coveted dual-player campaign mode is the kind of friendly, social gaming that makes on Xbox Live games distinct and memorable. It's a little like evil two-player Gauntlet in hell.
While editing out cutscenes, skimping on some details, and creating slightly wider areas to tromp through in online co-op, Doom 3 creates a great online co-op experience. The game control is actually a little weird at times, the control seems a tad bit faster, a little wily even, and it takes a few minutes to acclimate to, and there is some hitching and some slow spots, too.
Unlike Playing Halo in co-op, Doom 3 is different with 20 levels, half of the single-player game. Vicarious Visions accommodates two players with slightly altered geometry, so two people can walk side-by-side without constantly smashing into one another. Some of the ammo and armor is designated for Player one or Player two, so things are a relatively fair. And friendly fire is off by default, but you can turn it on to add to the difficulty or create a little mini-war with your buddy to make things interesting.
The two downsides come in the form of massive slowdown scenarios and respawning. In co-op, more enemies appear on-screen than in the single-player game, and the combination of a handful of evil enemies, and you and your buddy mowing them down in a clash of explosions and portal spawns, creates one big-ass slowdown. It's better in SysLink than online, where a little lag adds to the meltdown, but it's not a dealbreaker.
The second bummer occurs when you die. You re-spawn at the beginning of the level. That means you'll have to hump it back to where your death occurred, and where all your belongings still lie. Your buddy cannot take your stuff, but he or she will have to wait for you, and that can easily take three to five minutes.
The basic version of Doom 3 does not provide a two- to four-player split-screen mode. Instead, multiplayer is two to four-player System Link enabled, and you can, of course, play two- to four-player online games. For split-screen action, you need to get Doom 3 Limited Collector's Edition, which has bundled into it Doom 2 and Ultimate Doom. In that same bundle, you'll also get id interviews, a G4 Icon Feature, and concept art. The multiplayer, however, is not nearly as good as it could or should be. Like the PC version, Doom 3 appears to have been created as more of a single-player experience. There is the basic Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Last Man Standing and Tournament. You've got the standard Quickmatch, Optimatch, and Create-A-Match options, too.
Let's be clear about it: Doom 3 on Xbox is by no means as good looking as the PC version. However, as Xbox games go, this easily ranks among the very best looking Xbox games to date. Everything about Doom 3 is technically excellent; all of the creatures, texture work, fluid motion, and lighting have made the transition from PC to Xbox with amazing grace and visual impact.
The base graphics in Doom 3 clearly rest on the technology and artwork id created for the PC version. Vicarious Visions, which worked under id's supervision to port the game, performed a remarkable job of capturing the sharp visual quality of the PC version. This is one of the best, if not the best, conversions of a PC game to Xbox I've ever seen. With HDTV support up to 480p and widescreen support, the high poly characters and demons are solidly cast with sharp lines, a minimum of aliasing, and all of the superb animation that brings them "alive."
PC gamers right away will notice little things missing, like the occasional barrel or crate, but more noticeable are the streamlined levels. Corridors, rooms, and whole outdoor sections have been snipped, shortened, and wherever it made reasonable sense, deleted. The first scene is the most telling, as you won't even go outside into the atmosphere of Mars. It's not a deal-breaker, and if you haven't played the PC version, you won't even know.
If you played any of the previous Doom games, these environments offer no surprises. They're just way the hell better. The texture work is clean, delivering almost none of the texture tearing seen in The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay. The endless labyrinth of heavy machinery, scientific consoles, and molecular splitting tools, oodles of wires, cables, crates, barrels, and compartments all look impressive and useable, although just like the previous games on the series, very little in Doom 3 is actually interactive.
The entirely re-imagined cast of demons, imps, helldogs, knights, and the rest of the assorted bunch, all sport amazingly muscular, beautifully imagined forms. They may be from hell, but these creatures look better in motion than any screenshot can portray. They are superbly animated. Their motions are smooth and believable, rhythmic and frightening, their strides are powerful and their motions aggressive in nature. Every part of these demons' bodies reek of anger and evil.
Strangely, I actually long for the old character designs from the previous games, I guess because I'm so used to them. But also because they were so distinct and primitive in design and execution. Each demon had its own shape and distinct quality. A lot of these creatures tend to look similar to one another, which in a way, saddens me. (But I'll live.)
The best part of the graphics, however, comes in the form of lighting and special effects. The whole game is a lighting demo, if you will, a constantly flickering, mad-house full of the play between light and darkness. Using the mechanic of forcing gamers to choose between a flashlight and a weapon, id is able to create a constant tension that reverberates as much in its visual nature as the gameplay. As you blast your way deeper and deeper into the depths of hell, the lighting becomes more drastic, as once-lit rooms suddenly turn pitch black. They fill with reddish fireballs, the muzzleflash of a rifle, or of flying, flaming, fiery skulls.
I should clarify that if you have epilepsy fits, Doom 3 is not your friend. And while it didn't happen to me for a second, I know a few people who love first-person shooters, but felt dizzy from watching this game, no doubt due to the flickering lights and the thud of enemies knocking you about.
id's third shooter in the venerable Doom series easily delivers some of the best use of sound in any Xbox game. It's simply remarkable. At first, you'll just think the in-game Dolby Digital is just doing its job, being clean, crisp and 3D in nature. As you explore the smallish corridors, all humming with electricity, computer screens buzzing, machinery steam issuing, and the omnipresent voice of the Big Brother-ish Union Aerospace Corporation, you'll feel enmeshed in a network of sounds.
Quickly, however, the smooth Mars operation goes haywire, and hell makes its presence known. Thanks to our senses already being challenged due to constant darkness, id's calculated knowledge of human nature targets our ears. I personally became twitchy, cautious of every dark corner, and incredibly tense. At one point while I was playing with headphones on, my wife walked into the room. Offscreen, I saw a single movement and a shard of light, and I instantly turned around, scared out of my wits. It wasn't rational or realistic. But Doom 3 scared and worried me, and worked on my senses. The sound taps into your fight-or-flight nature, and keeps you on a razor's edge. As you get deeper and deeper into the abyss, the sound intensifies. Demons, imps, hell dogs and more instantly phase into a room, hissing, screeching, and bellowing loudly and frighteningly.
The sound effects are shrill and piercing, but what's so effective and disturbing is the pacing and distinct use of sound volume. Picking up armor shards produces hard, loud clanks; running over a cartridge of bullets creates a tight snapping sound; and grabbing a simple med kit induces a breathy sigh. Each is distinct, loud, and in their own way, disturbingly creepy. To further illustrate, when you walk down the corridor, any corridor, the simple hiss of oxygen from a pipe sounds creepily like a crouching demon. The opening of a door, even the one in front of your face, makes you wonder if something is actually to leap out and slash your head off.
Then, later on, the laughter starts. Every so often, deep, evil laughter bellows out of flashing red-flickering rooms, while simultaneously, demons spawn from hexagons, crawl through vent shafts, and open up hidden compartments from behind the veil of blackness. To double the unease, id then mixes in whispers that sound like hissing gas, opening doors, and the clatter of your guns. That, and the constant humming of frazzled electric cords, strategically inserted drum beats, and clanking machinery will keep your nerves rattled.
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