Review by d e l t r e e

Reviewed: 08/08/04

An unsure step by Id?

After the popular digression to the Quake series, Id returns to the game that give them fame and money: Doom.
Doom 3 is not really a sequel. It's more a remake of the original Doom game with better graphics than the original. It is also a way for Id to celebrate itself and the recent Doom anniversary, not to mention a way to make more people play it, since most of today gamers won't touch the old Doom game even with a ten foot pole.
The first great disappointment about Doom 3 is in the credits. For years we heard at Carmack saying: "I did it, I did that" and when the project finally comes out he figures only in the courtesy role of technical director. I'm not a huge fan of superstar game designers and developers but I must say that the lack of Carmack at the real lead of the project (design, and programming) is, by my humble opinion, the thing that contributed mostly by the iffy nature of the game itself.
The plot and the general setting is the same of the old title: you, an anonymous space marine, are stranded on Mars, in a UAC corporation base where something went wrong, terribly wrong: demons where accidentally (?) summoned and invaded the station, reducing almost every human being to a mindless zombie.
Of course your objective is to head to the source of the problem and eradicate it, fragging everything that is on the way. Simple old-school FPS gaming.

Gameplay: 5/10
Gameplay-wise Doom 3 isn't exceptional. It's a rather dated style of gameplay. Most said that Doom 3 was designed this way by purpose but I must admit that too much things doesn't sums up correctly and if all these features were really made that way I really will concern about Id's future.
First of all, the game does what every FPS shouldn't do: cheating the player. Some monsters will spawn in by demonic portals and this is good and spooky. They leave you some seconds to find a good spot to react at the assault and to find the right countermeasures. Others just appear from nowhere. Even if the game has a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere, it's not uncommon to see monsters pop from nowhere in the distance (or just behind you). This is a bad design choice, since leaves the player with a feeling of impotence and with the lack of strategically plan the next move: you can't ditch a grenade behind the bend in the corridor if the monster will appear (and instantly attack you) only when you're after the bend, for example.
In addition, the dark atmosphere seems much more a pretestous excuse to render the game more difficult than needed. The presence of a torchlight is a nice touch, the complete lack of night vision goggles, power-ups or gun mounted lights is a bad mistake and takes away realism from the game. It's a bit dull looking around for zombies with a torch and put away it to shoot at the position where the zombie might be, even because most advanced monsters have the habit to duck and dodge a lot.
Speaking of dodging, the game features, believe it of not, the same pseudo-AI of Quake 2. Monsters behave on the same identical manner of the former game and are a great step behind the more refined (but still rough, compared to other games) AIs of Quake 3. From Quake 3, Doom 3 takes the sharpshooterness of the enemies. Basically every enemy with a bullet weapon always hits you. Even if you're dodging frantically. Some monsters with slower rocket-like or throwable weapons are easier to dodge but have a still an insanely fast firing rate. A shotgun marine can fire it like a machine gun, while your shotgun takes more than a second between every shot.
Weapons are not very balanced and most of them are powerless against most of the enemies. The scarcity of ammos is a feature that I liked, since makes perfect sense in a FPS game with thrill in mind.
Another nice touch is to make the marines tougher than demons: if you can take lots of punishment from the average demon using the UAC standard gear is reasonable that other marines will take the same advantage you have, even if zombiefied. In other words: when you see a zombiefied marine better take cover and plan a strategic approach (i.e. throw a grenade to him) if you won't to see your health drop considerably.
The most feared feature in this type of game are kept at minimum: there are some levels that require acrobatics and millimeter-accurate jumps but in the huge scope of the game they are a few, even if someone had the insane idea to concentrate lots of them in the same zones, creating a frustrating gameplay experience in some points of some maps.
I will not speak of multiplayer features since they are almost nonexistent and considering them will hurt the review a lot. Doom 3 was initially announced without any multiplayer feature and the multi in the game is basically a rushed away last time addition.

Story: 7/10
The story is nice. As said before is taken straight from the first Doom. Most may object that the game tell nothing about the main character but this is indeed really nice. It's an old trick from old-school games. Leaving the main character blank and giving lots of details on the background story and setting allows the player itself to better impersonate the protagonist. You're the marine, you're not supposed to pilot a character that has a psychology and a story that you may not like or that takes decisions you'll never take. You're him and him is you.
Speaking of script and story, it remains a bit unfinished. Even if the background and the setting is really laid out (recordings from the former workers of UAC and the occasional encounters really sets the mood), the shallow and pretestous storyline "you alone can save the universe" is a bit overdone. Even the addition of antagonists is more an escamotage than a real storyline critical feature.

Graphics: 8/10
It doesn't get 10 for two reasons: its the same old Quake 3 engine with some tweaks and it's really overrated by medias and marketing strategies.
Light sources aren't dynamic at all unless they're planned that way the editor. The lack of emissive lightning from the lots of neon tubes and other light sources (like power-ups) denotes the same old Quake 3 precompiled lighting maps. The reduced speed when real time lights kicks in is another symptom of an hacky engine instead of a new one. Most monsters and weapons doesn't interact really well in the lighting
So the brand new, legendary Trinity engine that Id promised for Quake 3 and then for Doom 3 is another time missing. But the game screams badly for a dedicated real time engine without legacy and useless features.
Unlikely other id games Doom 3 has also only a few visual options to configure. In these aspects the plugging of the engine seems a bit rushed away, you can set gamma, you can't set directly texture bitdepth and other OpenGL tweaks that made Id games some of the most scalable and configurable of the lot. You have a set of predefined quality modes and only 5 options to control the advanced features. They're all on or off features, the only progressive setting is those of resolution and textures mip-maps (that is automatic and depends from the presets you choose). Compared with the flexibility of games like Unreal Tournament or Quake 3, Doom 3 is really shallow when it comes to user customization.
Models are simply awesome, even if they use more or less the same polycount of Quake 3. High res textures and bump mapping did a great job to enhance the details without hitting at performances. In cutscenes the game use higher resolution models that make performances drop considerably, but the cinematic impact of better models is invaluable.
Speaking of bump mapping, maybe this feature was a bit overused. The surfaces really come out from the wall, but they seem out of place most of the times. The problem is that since there's not a dynamic ambient lighting you'll notice a lot of lighting glitches: surfaces that look shiny in almost complete darkness and that doesn't reflect back any light when directly lighted, also some odd illumination angles are present. The general feel of the game is that of hyper-realistic graphics typical of CG visual FX and animations: everything is too perfect, even imperfections.
Textures are impressive for details (I must say that Adrian Carmack is one of the best at Id) but sadly they are almost all the same through the entire game. This lack of variety contributes to give at the game more a Quake 2 feeling (where everything was grey) than a Doom one.
Even if the levels denotes a strong Quake 2 and Half Life influence the architectures are simply spectacular: they're the most advanced, convincing and accurate maps seen in a game till now. Everything is sharply depicted, machineries seems really functional and rooms are laid out like they should be in real life. Even terminals are placed always in reasonable places and always seem to serve a purpose.
This level of details had shortcomings on the level extension and complexity, though: the game lacks completely any exploration aspect. Most of the time you're highly on track, following the only possible route through a lot of locked or jammed doors, it is not much Doom-like, where exploration and levels full of deadly traps were a huge part of the game.
The GUI is sadly one of the bad points of the game. It seems amateurish and really bites the dust compared with the one from games like Unreal Tournament 2004 or Warcraft 3. I noticed a strange thing: the menu that you get when you die is radically different from the other menus of the game: different fonts, different graphics, a detail left out by mistake in the development process?

Sound: 6/10
The lack of a soundtrack is unforgivable. Id Software did a great job in previous titles with signature heavy metal/electronic tunes. Now you only have an average heavy metal intro tune and nothing more. There are only rich ambient sounds that, I must admit, scare you more than the monsters itself.
The sound control is shallow, you can enable and disable 3D sound but you cannot control different channels. This means that most of the time the voices are covered by sound effects and you cannot do nothing to prevent this. This way the feature to listen at your PDA voice recordings while corridor crawling is almost useless.

Play Time/Replayability: 4/10
For an average shooter the game is too long. Yes, you've read well. Too long. Why? Because a survival horror FPS have to set a certain mood and a certain pace, when a monster crawls towards you in the dark you can jump from teh chair the first 3-5 times, when the game represents the same dynamic hundreds of times it begins to be pretty annoying, even if monsters changes. The lack of a deeper weapon control (like secondary fire, charging shots, different ammos or the like) really hurts the longevity and entertaining factor of the game.
Playing it more than once is basically a waste of time. The game has almost no replay value and most demanding players may feel it boring right the first time they'll play through.

Final thoughts: 6/10
In general this game seems really, really rushed out of the door. The lack of polishing in the general presentation, some gameplay aspects and plot holes are unforgivable for such long development time. Sure, graphical features can at some extent justify the time, but from a game programmer's side I must say that they're consolidated technology now, nothing revolutionary. Doom 3 only tries to push too much new features in the dated Quake 3 engine overusing them with an iffy final result.
The question is: is worth the money?
I strongly say no, at least till you can't get it from a bargain bin (it may be sooner you suspect). If you're (like me) and old Id fan you may be tempted to have it for your own collection but be warned that graphics aside this is one of the worst Id titles.
Doom 3 tries to best many aspects, but, in the end, it will not master any of them.

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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