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Doom 3 Review

By Jeff Buckland, 8/2/2004

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DOOM 3 has been one of gamers' most anticipated titles ever since it was announced. Its creators, id Software, have arguably done more for modern gaming than almost any other developer over the last decade - while they haven't developed a huge libary of games, the technology has been revolutionary and the gameplay has mostly stood the test of time. Some think that id have been slipping over the years, with the successful but not-so-legendary Quake 3: Arena and downright disappointing expansion pack Q3 Team Arena.

Now while id has promised a good single player experience before with their games, they've never been so serious as they are this time. DOOM 3 promises jaw-dropping visuals, moments that'll scare you right out of your seat, and intense close-combat action against evil that only the artists at id could have ever dreamed up. After years of massive hype, though, many games wind up being just plain not worth all that effort. I'm happy to say that DOOM 3 does not fall into this pile; it's an excellent game with a style that few can even rival. Some have been foretelling the fall of id Software along with DOOM 3 as their last failure, but after I played this game, I'm 100% sure that they are dead wrong.

DOOM 3 sports a brand spanking new game engine that's a marvel to see. The amount of special effects that master programmer John Carmack has whipped up show us environments that we've heard about but have never seen before. Ok, so we don't see this engine doing Far Cry's massive outdoor scenery, but id has made an engine that specializes around the type of game they made: dark, scary, and intense. There are several outdoor areas (which at least prove the engine is capable of them), and they all worked great inside the game's pacing and story.

There are a ton of separate technologies going into DOOM 3's impressive visuals: normal mapping, bump mapping, specular mapping, you name it. Now I won't sit here and dissect how each one works and why they're so great for gaming, but what I will say is that no other game developer has delivered an indoor environment as beautiful as this. All of the special effects in this game have been seen in bits and pieces in other titles over the last year or so, but none have yet put them all together to this effect. The closest anyone's come to doing this was with Chronicles of Riddick for the Xbox, but the Xbox platform is still quite limiting and the game simply pales in comparison to DOOM 3.

The frame rates in DOOM 3 are certainly not the best in the world, but once you see how this game looks, you'll understand why. [H]ard|OCP's recent article can give you some better details on how the game runs on various hardware configurations, and I can say that on my computer - an Athlon XP 3200+, 1GB DDR memory, and a Radeon 9800 non-Pro 128MB - the game runs acceptably at high detail, 2x antialiasing, and 1024x768 resolution. Far Cry's frame rate was generally worse at the same settings. That's on an average, though; this game's frame rates dip and peak constantly. The thing is, a game can still be playable even with frame rates like that as long as the developers keep it in mind and adjust the action accordingly. id Software has done exactly this with the game: the frame rates look bad on paper, but the gaming experience goes surprisingly unharmed.

Despite all this, I have no doubt that many will complain about this game's hefty system requirements. DOOM 3 made my computer decidedly average, but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. I tried the game out on a 1GHz Athlon with 384MB of PC133 memory and a GeForce 4 Ti4200 video card, and to my surprise, I actually got it to be almost playable - even under the minimum required specs. My Centrino-based laptop with a Radeon 9000 Mobility video card even got it running, although I'd personally consider it unplayable. For those who think you have to spend $600 upgrading your computer, I'd still suggest you grab the game first and see. You might find that the game runs fairly well with what you have.

id Software invented the first person shooter, and they've also been innovators in controls since Wolfenstein's release back in 1992. While DOOM 3's menus give us a nice, simplistic interface for some basic tweaks to get the game running at the right balance of speed and eye candy, id still supplies us with a command console for some serious fine-tuning. They've simply "hidden" the console by making you press Ctrl-Alt-` rather than just the ` key. The controls themselves are slick and sharp, and everything you would expect to see in an id Software games' options screen is where it should be.

DOOM 3 includes a PDA function that gives you info on your current mission, the weapons you're carrying, and more. You can listen to audio logs and other bits of briefings for what you're supposed to do, and this will help supply you with a good bit of the game's story. The nice part is that the PDA's interface is slick and looks great - it wasn't slapped together as an afterthought. The same goes for the computers that you'll interact with in-game, as you never leave the actual game interface to use a computer. Your crosshair simply becomes a cursor to use on a computer's touchscreen. It's a really nice touch that does a great job of keeping you immersed.

id Software's games have always been a bit on the simplistic side when it comes to controls, and I think the philosophy certainly holds merit. This is a more complicated game than DOOM was, though; one example I can give is that there's a stamina bar along with a sprint key. The controls are still simple when compared to some of today's FPS titles, and I do enjoy the focus on just running up and filling a monster's face with some boomstick rather than trying to go prone or fumbling for the key to switch grenades.

I'll get it out of the way right now: DOOM 3 is gorgeous. It doesn't have the tropical paradise charm of Far Cry or the highly unique theme for each level that Painkiller has, but this game just oozes style - or, should I say, bleeds it. This game is downright dingy, dirty, and evil, much like the subject matter it depicts. It's also one of the darkest games I've ever seen, so make sure to play it at night with the lights out for best effect.

Some say that the monsters in DOOM 3 look too shiny or that they've been covered in glaze like a donut. This has been toned way down since the early screenshots of the game and becomes a non-issue; I also found that the shiny effects on the walls were used in moderation and only helped the game. The soldiers and scientists you come across are all done in a specific style that isn't the most realistic they could possibly be, but they still look great and they really match the game's atmosphere. The lip synching for their voice acting is decent at best; the Half-Life 2 G-Man video has far better lip and mouth movements than DOOM 3.

The game takes place on a base on Mars in the year 2145. The environments will give you a feeling of claustrophobia, which is only heightened by the game's dark atmosphere. Every light in the game is cast by some actual light source somewhere. If there areno lights on in the room, you'll see literally nothing and will need to turn on a flashlight. Shoot out a light in the middle of a battle, and you'll need to fight blindly. Sometimes, graphics do truly contribute to atmosphere as well as gameplay, and with DOOM 3, it's obvious that id understands this better than most game developers.

The enemies you'll fight range from other grunts who have been possessed by demons to, well, the demons themselves. We're not just talking about red guys with pointy ears and wings, either; id's way too creative for that. Instead, we get some truly repugnant, devilish beasts that will come crashing through walls to get at the player, and this is all done with a combination of ragdoll physics and meticulous hand-crafted animations. The ragdoll physics look mostly realistic, with only a few mistakes that I saw. Demons immediately burn up shortly after getting killed (much like vampire deaths in the movie Blade), which helps maintain the frame rate and still looks cool.

The DOOM arsenal has defined the standard set of weapons in many FPS games since, and it seems that id has decided only to tweak and redefine these classic implements of death. The special effects are superb, although pretty rough on the frame rate, while the monsters' own attacks look equally good.

I'd like to point out that this game contains some genuinely disturbing visuals. The gore is excessive and realistic, without resorting to camp, and the descent into Hell itself is not without its own myriad of devilish imagery. If I can get one thing across in this review, it's that this is one of the most evil games I can think of - and that's fine by me.

Players might be taken aback when they find out that DOOM 3 starts out a little like Half-Life did. Things are getting a little creepy on Union Aerospace Corporation's Mars facility with soldiers filing for transfers left and right, experiments getting more and more unnerving, and people starting to disappear. You'll start off as extra security for the base during their experiments on teleportation. Of course, things go really wrong shortly afterwards, as the portal they open winds up turning into a gate between Hell and Mars. It'll be your duty to almost singlehandedly stop the demons and prevent Hell's demons from reaching Earth.

The gunplay in DOOM 3 is intense, as most of your enemies have unique attacks that you'll have to deal with accordingly. Most of the monsters use completely different attacks than you do, so it feels much less like a deathmatch against bots as it does a real single player game. Combine this with the game's atmosphere and brutal action, and it's easy to see how this game is so unique in today's FPS market.

The story in DOOM 3 is the most convincing and complete one that id Software has accomplished yet. There are plenty of cutscenes done inside the game engine, and the addition of audio logs really helps to add to the game's atmosphere. The audio logs aren't scary in themselves, but they help put names to faces and can develop quite a bit of backstory. Read and listen to all the data you pick up, and you can also figure out how to get into many of the weapons storage lockers throughout the base.

DOOM and DOOM 2 had you fight literally hordes of monsters at a time - back in those days, one monster was literally a series of 2D drawings that showed various animations. Putting 20 of them on the screen didn't tax your system much more than placing three. Since those days, it's gotten harder and harder to do the same thing with today's need for detailed enemies. Serious Sam is about the only game that was able to supply massive fights with scores of enemies, and it seems that id has let them keep that trophy. They've changed the style to something quite a bit different, where the environments look just as detailed as the weapons you're carrying and the monsters. This means you'll be fighting fewer enemies at a time, but they'll still hunt you down with all the tenacity of before.

DOOM 3's AI is serviceable without showing the player anything that's really unique or new. Monster attacks are pretty original, and ranged attacks don't require the monster's whole body to be out from cover for you to get hit. If an imp's hand can get line of sight to you, he will throw that fireball. At the very least, I never saw the monster AI do anything downright "stupid" like run into a wall while I take potshots at it, but at the same time, one shouldn't expect anything like squad tactics here. The monsters are animalistic and dumb without falling into what I'd consider the stereotype of bad game AI.

While the first two DOOM games supplied up full-on action with some pretty creepy visuals, DOOM 3 slows it down a bit and turns the gameplay more into a cross between a FPS and a survival horror game. But throw out all the terrible connotations that go with "survival horror" - this is no Resident Evil with its horrific controls and cheesy voice acting. This game generates pure fear and suspends the player's disbelief in a way that I've only seen a couple of times in games yet.

The best thing about DOOM 3's horror elements has to do with the developers' ability to scare the hell out of you when you don't expect it. I've played a good amount of horror games, both console and PC, and the best horror games make sure you have no idea what's going to hit you next - nor from where. DOOM 3 succeeds in doing this, but only barely. First, there are plenty of "cheap scares" along with some very creepy sounds and the like, and the combination works most of the time. The only issue I had was that the gameplay fell into a bit of pattern of fighting around three enemies in succession with one usually teleporting in directly behind me. Before long, I was able to predict when something would come up behind me.

The descent into the bowels of the Mars base is nerve-wracking, as the enemies you fight will change along with your surroundings. The gameplay throughout all this is paced very well, and can sometimes lull you into a sense of almost boredom and then really get you with a good scare - that's when you realize that it was all done on purpose. And the trip to Hell? Yeah, it's awesome. No, I won't spoil any of it, as it's the best part of the game in my opinion.

I'd sum up the single player game simply as the best purely visceral first person shooter that I've ever played. That is to say, the game focuses on fear, action, and atmosphere, much like the original DOOM games. Look at the game from this more abstract view, and I think that despite all the gameplay differences from its predecessors, you'll find that DOOM 3 really does stay true to the franchise's name. The game also lasts longer than most FPS games out today; twenty to twenty-five hours is about right for the first play-through. Then there's the higher difficulty modes as well.

For those that simply refuse to play a FPS that doesn't require you to think about every step you make, then DOOM 3 may not be the game for you. Still, the hellish atmosphere and extremely high production values should get you to at least try the game out anyway. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you find.

id Software said from the beginning that multiplayer was not going to be a focus for DOOM 3; they would supply a basic set of multiplayer modes and maps, then hand the tools over to the modmakers to go at it. Personally, I think this has paid off - the single player game is excellent. And how much did Half-Life's original deathmatch-only mode hurt that game? None at all. As long as id does the modmakers right, there will be a ton of new single- and multiplayer content for the game. The game's map editor sits right inside the normal game's executable, which is a first for a top-name FPS. id has also been supplying development utilities for their games since the days of Quake, and they have promised an development kit for DOOM 3 which should be released in the coming weeks. I have no reason to believe that id will disapponit would-be modmakers.

Let's get to a bit of deathmatching. DOOM 3 includes four multiplayer modes: plain deathmatch, team DM, last man standing, and a one-on-one tournament mode where extra players can spectate the match and get in line to take on the winner. The game does include a server browser right in the interface, and you can create a listen server from inside the game as well as run a dedicated server from the separate .exe that's included with the game. Those that think that DOOM 3 has no multiplayer should think again - while all we get is deathmatch, it's fully supported with a client-server model and all. I didn't get the chance to try out any online play, but the LAN play was a blast. Those who have loved deathmatching in Quake or DOOM will find plenty to fall in love with again, right out of the box.

I'm a sucker for sound in games. I love it when the developers layer on ambient sounds, stacking one on top of another to create something that's more than the sum of its parts. In that respect, DOOM 3 is the most aurally immersive game I've ever played. My previous favorite was System Shock 2, but this game thoroughly outdoes it - all I can hope is that other developers take note and start spending a bit more time on sound design in their games.

Every sound effect here is unique; every weapon sounds right, every monster is menacing without sounding stupid, and so many of the ambient sounds are just plain spine-chilling. The game's music, done by ex-Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna, is a minimalist, ambient track similar to Quake's soundtrack, but it's still highly effective. The only real piece of standard music is the main theme for the game, which sounds quite a bit like an instrumental song from the band Tool - since I love those guys, I have no complaints. The DOOM 3 theme just plain rocks.

If you wind up spending $300 or more on computer upgrades to get your DOOM 3 frame rates up, I highly suggest you spend a little more and pick up some decent surround sound speakers or high-quality headphones. I did this review with a pair of Sennheiser HD280s, and it was much better than using my crappy speakers. More than any other game I've played yet, this one really makes me glad I spent the money on some nice sound.

DOOM 3 smashes through all the hype and delivers a grand slam of action, story, atmosphere, and pure terror. It'll last you long enough to make you feel thoroughly satisfied (and a little shaken as well), and the multiplayer mode isn't as bare as some thought it would be. id Software is back in full force with this game, and I recommend it to anyone who likes a dark, visceral, and evil first person shooter.

Overall: 93%



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