Doom 3 is certainly a masterpiece. It is a technological marvel with stunningly moody lighting. The controls are simple. The monsters are wonderfully ugly. As an atmospheric, first-person shooter, there is really nothing wrong with Doom 3. You set down on Mars, shoot some demons for awhile, and it all looks good and plays fine.
Yet, halfway through the game, I was struck by the thought that I was not doing anything very new. Now, I was not expecting Half Life, and anyone who sits down to play Doom 3 is probably not expecting much more than a shooter. This is no Portal, and certainly no Halo. And we do not want it to be. But at this stage in video game development, should we be happy with a game that is, essentially, fifteen years old?
Indeed, as a remake of the original Doom, Doom 3, is pretty damn near spot-on. You acquire the same weapons, fight imaginative remakes of the same enemies, and pick up PDAs in place of the much-aligned keycards. The problem? That is about as far as it goes, and I really would have expected a Doom sequel, especially one coming out ten years after the last one, to do something a little bit more than the same thing it did in 1993-4.
Of course, it does do some things different. In a throwback to Half Life‘s genius “show, don’t tell” method of storytelling, the PDAs you acquire are not just keys. They contain e-mails and audio logs, which slowly reveal more and more of the story as you go. And the story is actually pretty interesting. (Also a note: my favorite e-mail is one describing five easy rules to follow when making ritual sacrifices, such as “virgins are always best.”) But all of this fails to shirk off the uneasy feeling that all you are doing is entering rooms, killing monsters, finding the next room, killing more monsters…
So after ten years, I can not help but ask myself, “Is this the best we can do now?” I know that many people do not like story in their action games, but I think it gives games a context and depth that you cannot find otherwise. One of the best hours of the game is the first, which involves no shooting, just story telling. All optional, of course.
I do not necessarily think that more story would make Doom 3 more interesting. But it would have helped. And it is not as though the action is any better. Taking damage is mostly unavoidable, for example. The reason, I think, is not to artificially punish the player but just reinforce the notion that winning is not a strategic decision-making process. And by strategic, I mean something more involved than, “Aim and shoot until it dies. Find health pack. Rinse and repeat.” All of the guns operate more or less the same. I discovered, for example, that a single pistol bullet does as much damage as a single rifle bullet or a plasma round. The difference is simply that the rifle shoots bullets a lot faster, and the plasma is a lot bigger.
The fact that I found the action more interesting if I limited my weaponry to pistols and shotguns is really indicative of the problem. The gameplay lacks diversity, and while I was not bothered by the infamous “monster closets,” or having to switch between a flashlight and my weapon continually, I was bothered by the fact that around level 13, I had already picked up most of the guns in the game and encountered most of the monsters. Indeed, the oft-cited and aforementioned issues with Doom 3 are part of its redeeming value. If the game does anything new for the franchise, it is taking its atmosphere to a whole new level of dark. But even that atmosphere grows dull after awhile, and while the whispering voices and creepy laughing got me the first few times, it definitely gets old the 50th time.
The whole experience gets a shot in the arm when you get teleported to Hell. You lose all your weapons, the setting changes completely, and the sense of foreboding is revived. Unfortunately, contrary to Dante, there is only one level of Hell. After that, you’re back to the base and the (fortunately) rapidly approaching end level.
I know for a fact that 27 series of hallways filled with demons is enough for some people. And they are certainly pretty hallways and pretty monsters. I hope id Software can just step it up a little with Doom 4.
You have to give it to them though. How many PC games look this amazing four years after release?
Final Grade: B-