Summary: It's here. It's big. It's bad, and we've got 99 screen shots of it... Man, why am I even hyping this article up? You know you'll read it.
Warning: if you haven't played Doom 3 yet, and are sure you're going to pick it up and want to enjoy it, don't read the following review… or any others, for that matter. The last thing you want to do is think about this game. Otherwise, go ahead.
Before I get to that, let me say that if I'd written this review yesterday, it would be an orgasmic gushfest. Maybe it'd still be completely gushing rather than merely positive today if I hadn't gone back to earlier save games yesterday trying to string a sequence of fights for a benchmarking demo. Perhaps the early re-exposure to parts I just fought through hours ago killed my enthusiasm.
…but I doubt it. The seed was planted when Brandon and I were talking about getting a custom benchmark demo ready. Since multiplayer is a joke with only 4 players, we're not likely to get that kind of action in a multiplayer match. So the plan was to find a big fight in a fancy room with a lot of special effects. The problem is that the big fight never materialized. An id game without big fights? Yeah. Think about it.
So, I decided to do the next best thing: save often, remember sequences and hope I can go back to string smaller fights together to make that benchmark demo. Now not only does that sound wrong when you think about it, but it also introduced some interesting thought processes into my brain that normally wouldn't be there.
"OK, I start here, run through that door which triggers a revenant teleporting in behind me, and I'm supposed to hear that so I turn around so the zombie chaingunners can emerge from their closets and start shooting me in the back. Then I sprint to the next room, kill the guard conveniently placed behind some covering crates with the pistol, switch to shotgun, run through that door and shoot immediately to kill the imp that's going to jump at me, before switching to grenades to kill the whip arm dude and then back to plasma to deal with the shield zombie, switch to shotgun again to kill the cacodemon that drops in behind me before switching to grenades to kill with the two shield guards that come up behind me."
That, my friends, is Doom III's heart in two sentences. The monsters may change, the locations might change, but the formula always stays the same. Actually, I'm lying, there is more, but we'll get to the good stuff later. First we'll deal with the problematic gameplay I mentioned above.
id has definitely taken cues from other games in the way matters are presented. Mix a bit of Half-Life and System Shock 2 and you've pretty much got the presentation down. Of course, the technology has changed so much, and id's done so much labor on the game that there's literally no comparison.
Despite being almost entirely indoors, the levels of Doom III feel more alive than any other game's. The lighting is certainly a major reason why, but it's actually the manual effort by the artists, animators and designers that makes the difference. Textures are of course re-used, but never did I feel like I ever saw the same texture twice. There's always a bit of shadow or a different light or a completely different texture next to it that makes the two textures blend together.
Furthermore, many parts of the levels are very animated. Machinery goes about its work, moving back and forth or up and down. On top of that, many times in the game monsters will be pounding at doors, bending them in or even breaking them, or breaking through windows. There are scripted sequences everywhere, so many that you don't feel they're scripted because they never stand out.
This isn't like the original Unreal where the first level contained the great lights-out sequence, and then nothing else happened with the levels through the rest of the game. It's not even like Half-Life where a scripted event was a rare, pleasant bonus. The levels and action in Doom III feel very alive because the scripting isn't a big deal.
Of course, all that simply highlights the fact how poorly the action is really done. It's almost beyond belief that at no time during development the team didn't stop and say "Wait, are we actually having monsters pop out from behind secret doors in walls? Wasn't this one of the lamer decisions back when we developed the original Doom?" It's not that the enemies come through the ventilation system - which they sometimes do - or are climbing above you and then drop down.
They're quite literally waiting for the player to pass by, setting off a scripted trigger, then their door opens automagically without noise and they shoot you in the back. OK, fine, you got me id, that was sneaky. Made me jump back in the seat and I needed to take a break just two hours into the game. After eight hours of that, however, the feeling of fear is replaced with irritation.
When I woke up to play the last part of the game, it wasn't only annoying, it was tedious and expected. Yes, the better surprises - and there are a few - could still surprise or scare you. However, that core "SURPRISE!" gameplay element was used ad nauseum.surprise! monster steps out behind you from a secret room!
id really stretched the length of the game out far too much. New monsters are always welcome, but the time between introducing them was far too long. Plus, for the most part they were introduced only one at a time. You start with the basic zombies, then add the fatsoes, then zombies with pistols, then zombies with shotguns, then zombies with assault rifles, then some basic demons. Each monster is absolutely milked dry of any personality or mystery before the next one is introduced. If the game had been half as long, none of this would be a factor.
surprise! imp behind you!
The developers relied almost exclusively on their surprises. Being scared and tense is great - the first night I played was and will be one of my most memorable gaming experiences ever. However, by the second day when I started looking for benchmarks for Brandon, it became apparent that that's all that id was trying for. They missed so many opportunities for pitched battles and stand-up fights. Even the few times that a big fight seemed to begin, it was only to distract the player from the demon that teleported behind him or the fatsoe zombie who came out of the closet. Utterly predictable and a real shame.
During the Deus Ex: Invisible War review I mentioned that it was a good game but not so great an experience. The opposite is true for Doom 3. It's a poor game but a great experience. It relies on one trick too much - but that trick, in addition to the graphics and sound, is capable of maintaining the experience for several very tense hours.
The most painful thought is just how close id got to making a classic. By adding more straight original Doom-style fights against the monsters, with no lame attempts at a surprise, would have improved the experience tremendously. A half dozen scenes with the player fighting alongside fellow marines would be the definition of coolness. One or two eerily quiet sequences without any combat, any spooky noises - say 3-5 minutes at a time - could have built up tension to an unbearable level.
As it stands though, it's almost as if the designers chose "copy, paste surprise teleport imp" and randomly distributed it through the levels 100 times, then repeated the same for a closet zombie, a cacodemon floating up from the ground or down from the sky, or a ceiling-crawling demon. "surprise" my ass.
id, hire some women. They know the trick - to always leave someone wanting a little more.
No matter how jaded you get about the secret rooms in the wall from which the "surprise" zombie pops out of, Doom III will continue to have multiple scenes that glue you to the seat or make you jump out of it. The first time the burning skulls appear is as memorable as any moment in the game, though it's at the halfway point when you're already tired.
It's also pleasant to see new takes on your old friends from Doom and Doom II. The Hell Knight, Mancubus and Revenant are as memorable as ever. No, wait, that's a criminal understatement. id's monster designs are truly amazing - good enough that we wouldn't be surprised if Hollywood poaches some of their talent or gets "inspired" by these critters.
The game makes remarkably good use of sound effects to keep you on edge - at least, as long as you're willing to be kept constantly on edge. Random clangs, monster noises, whispers are ever-present. Sometimes, they pan out, other times not. A memorable scene early in the game has a voice calling out "over here", drawing the player to a seemingly-empty corridor. Not all of these fake-outs result in attacks either, there are many spook effects in the game that are often more effective than attacks simply because they're not as over-used.
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|<% print_image("34"); %>||<% print_image("35"); %>||<% print_image("36"); %>|Discuss Doom III and this review in our official forums. There are several threads going on about it in the games board but let's pick the Sirwar original. Warning: possible spoiler discussion.
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