I haven’t had chance to get my hands on any new games lately, so I’m afraid this one is an oldie. A title from the original Xbox catalog: Doom 3, to be precise.
It’s not that I am way behind in my games tally! I just realised that I had never really played through Doom 3 when I originally got it on release, and as it is on the 360 Backwards Compatibility List and I was stuck for something to play, I popped it in.
Doom 3 is id Software’s remake (or rather, re-imagining) of their 1993 first-person shooter, Doom. The original was somewhat of a milestone in gaming history, being the first FPS to offer an immersive, engaging gameplay experience, networked multiplayer, and the possibility of user-generated content and expansions (interestingly, it is still common for people to create and upload new game files to the id servers even today). In fact, such a ground-breaking game was it that for many years, first-person shooters that followed in its footsteps were often referred to as ”Doom Clones”. Such a cultural meme wasn’t seen again until after the launch of Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001, when the phrase ”Halo Killer” was often used for games of the genre.
In 2000, id was ruminating on whether to resurrect the Doom franchise for, what was at the time, the next generation of video game consoles and much more advanced computer hardware. There was some resistance in-house, with some sides wanting to avoid rehashing old franchises and start on something new. But persistence paid off, and after the success of Return To Castle Wolfenstein, eventually work started on D – not a new instalment, but rather a re-creation of the game that started it all using all the latest technology available. Over the next few years, tiny glimpses of the work-in-progress were revealed to the world, and gamers were amazed by what they saw.
What stunned people so much were the visuals. And because, for the most part, the visuals are the most prominent feature of the game, we’ll start there. I’m going to be reviewing the Xbox version of the game, because that’s what I have, and I think the console version of the game represents the most outstanding use of the hardware available. PC users were used to jaw-dropping visuals, as they were able to spend a small fortune pimping their gaming rigs to the max (although it has to be said, Doom 3 did break new ground for PC users too, and pushed most setups to the limits).
Doom 3 is, without a doubt, one of the most amazing looking games ever seen on the Big Black Behemoth that was the original Xbox. Like a small number of others such as Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay and Black, it’s release late in the lifecycle of the console meant that the developers had more than enough time to figure out how to get as much as possible from the hardware and software available to them, and boy, did they ever. These were games that made you wonder what the other developers had been doing all this time, as most other games looked simple and plain by comparison.
The console version of Doom 3 was released seven months after its PC counterpart, and for the most part, the graphical difference between the two is not that significant. Sure, the PC version had higher resolution textures, but that is no surprise. Somehow, the developers managed to create a game that ran on the Xbox without skimping on any of the lighting or atmospherics to any great degree. What resulted is a game that stands up remarkably well, even compared to today’s generation of games.
For the most part, you find yourself trawling through dark corridors, dimly-lit hallways and rooms filled with gas and steam. Lights flicker, fail, and often move. And the shadows move with them, thanks to very well implemented dynamic lighting. Often the action takes place in almost total darkness, and the only sight of your enemy through the gloom is glowing red eyes. Combined with the grimy, decrepit and grubby industrial feel of the location, the graphics and lighting work together to create a gloomy, foreboding and oppressive atmosphere that is exactly what a survival horror game needs – which is what this is. Level design is excellent – the amount of detail in the objects is astounding – and by that I mean not the number of rivets on a wall, but the sheer number of tubes, pipes, gadgets, machines and general industrial stuff you see in each room. You really feel like the designers have created a virtual version of a real industrial complex. And the lighting is so good at adding to the general spookiness that many times I found myself throwing grenades into a room to take out a bad guy, guided only by the presence of his shadow moving about around a corner, only to find I had wasted my supplies on a moving light behind a fan or pipe or something. Playing through it today I am amazed at exactly what the developers were able to get out of the console – it is that good looking. As a contrast, the visuals in Chronicles Of Riddick were equally impressive, but just made you think how awesome everything looked. In Doom 3, you had that and the feeling of “Oh crap oh crap oh crap!” as well.
One other interesting and well-implemented aspect of the visuals is the use of computer screens and monitors in-game – quite radical at the time. Many times you will have to access a computer screen or panel to activate a switch, open a door or some such. This is achieved by forcing the player’s weapon to drop and giving him a cursor to move around the screen, and means that the player can be given a number of different options on any one terminal screen. You still see the rest of the room around you – so there is no jarring change of viewpoint. The screens are presented as high-resolution, smooth and clear images, and animate with your actions. Some even include adverts within the GUI.
The graphics are so impressive that this game could be released as an Xbox 360 title right now with only an increase in resolution of the texture images, and it would compare to or even better it’s contemporaries in most respects.
So, what I am saying is Best Game Evar!!eleven!!, right?
Well, actually, no, not really.
See, it looks pretty and all, but gameplay-wise, we are on shakier ground.
The games sees you take the role of an un-named Space Marine who has been transferred to the Union Aerospace Research Facility on Mars in 2145. Seems that strange days are afoot at UAC, who are military and technology contractors developing tools “for the good of mankind”. Far from the auspices of Earth it seems that the head of Delta Labs, Dr. Malcolm Betruger, has been getting involved with experiments into teleportation and has discovered that there is a startling side-effect to the process – that transportation from A to B involves passing through Hell itself. He has done a deal with the denizens of the underworld after unwittingly unleashing demons upon the base, and with personnel disappearing and strange accidents all over the place the UAC is getting edgy and shipping in more security. It’s up to you to find out exactly what is afoot and try to stop Betruger before he is able to lead the minions of hell away from Mars and on to Earth.
It sounds a bit cheesy, but throughout the game the story is actually pretty well fleshed out, and is given more depth though the player accessing audio, video and text logs of scientists stationed in the base. Intrinsically these logs are designed to give the player codes that he needs to access systems and open weapons lockers, but the majority of the messages and logs the player experiences are “slice of life” commentaries – staff complaining about their colleagues, organising socials, bemoaning red tape, or commenting on their nervousness about the mysterious things happening in the base.
But, whilst the plot and back-story are certainly interesting, sadly the gameplay itself is not. When id remade Doom, they made a conscious decision to stay true to the gameplay of the original – otherwise it would not truly be Doom. Unfortunately, what they forgot is that standard gameplay mechanics for first-person shooters had evolved past the old-skool basic run and gun, circle-strafe mentality. Without any real application of tactical thinking or complex enemy behaviour, Doom3’s play seems stale, stifled and, quite often, boring. The first few times you meet a new combatant, you learn their stiff and predictable behaviours, and how to avoid their fire. Unless you are being shot at by a zombiefied Space Marine, you are usually having something thrown or fired at you slowly. Simply step out of the path of the incoming rocket/plasma ball, step back, fire, rinse and repeat. Fighting bosses is simply a case of run around the outside of a room, and stay in cover until he is between shots and you can fire back.
Also not helping the gameplay are the weapons – for the most part, they sound weak and feeble – whoever chose the lame Buck Rogers pew! pew! pew! firing sound for the plasma rifle should be taken out and shot. With a much louder weapon. Gunplay is drab and lifeless. Without auto-aim the controls are not responsive enough to allow you to accurately aim for the head without lots of wasted ammo, and with auto-aim you usually end up hitting the torso – which requires more hits to score a kill. Weapon effectiveness does not scale well either – traditionally the later you get the weapon, the more powerful it should be, but some of the later weapons in this game feel far too weak.
And, finally, the damn flashlight. You have a flashlight as a separate item, and cannot hold a weapon at the same time. And as the game is 95% shin-banging-on-the-table dark, this is a real pain in the ass, especially when most enemies appear without warning. I can understand the mechanic – to intensify the creepiness of the game – but in reality, and over the course of the whole game, it is a pain. And, simply put, the idea that this far in the future there are no weapons with flashlights is simply absurd and exposes the mechanic to accusations of silly contrivance.
You would think that the dark, tight corridor nature of the game would smooth this rough edge a little, and at first it does. The first time you walk down a dark corridor and a panel flies off the wall, you jump. The first time this happens and a dude leaps out of the hole, you jump some more. But after a while, the way enemies appear becomes formulaic. If there is an Imp spawning in front, you know there’ll be one behind. Once you see the developers’ patterns (“oh look, a big fat healthpack right in the middle of a room. What could possibly go wrong here?”) it becomes old.
And sadly, even though the oppressive gloom and bleak corridors combined with the excellent ambient and environmental audio, work perfectly to put you on edge and spook the living shit out of you, even this backfires, for it does not take long before it becomes tiring, and straining to see through the dark becomes hard work. And when I say tiring, I mean literally. The atmosphere is so immersive that you really to feel in the game, and eventually you really will start to feel anxiety and fear and stress. In a single level in a game, this is great. But when it is hour after hour, for the whole damn game, you physically feel like shit and depressed, and have to bail out and take a break. It’s just too much. I started to look upon playing as a chore.
So, so far we have great to look at, but dull to play (knew a girl like that once…). What about multiplayer?
Sadly, I have no idea as I went online and there was ONE guy sat in a game. Some poor bastard who probably sits there like a spider waiting for some other poor soul to stop by.
There is one awesome feature that I have to point out though – online co-op. Co-op is not supported on a single console, but IS supported over Xbox Live. The fact that this was included when other big-league titles of the time said it couldn’t be done – especially considering the amount of work the console is doing to render the mind-blowing graphics – is astounding. The campaign is pretty much the same, although you are presented with the levels to play as you wish. Interestingly, cutscenes and dialog reflect the change in player numbers and no longer reference a single marine, which is a nice touch.
So, to wrap up. In so many ways Doom 3, like Riddick is an astounding graphical tour-de-force that shows exactly what the original Xbox was capable of, and exposes just how few developers ever tapped into that. Like Riddick it has an incredible depth of thought behind its visual design and creation, and has an engaging story.
Sadly, unlike Riddick, it also staggers around fettered by old-school gameplay, poor AI, feeble and uninteresting weaponry and the unusual game design mechanic of making the player feel like the game wants to take their gaming soul and rip it out of their ass, chew it up, spit it out and grind it into the dust with a well-worn cloven foot.
Which kinda sucks.
Dogsounds’ score: 6/10 – because no matter how pretty the game, if I don’t want to play it, that’s 99% of the reason for my purchase gone.