Review by grasu

Reviewed: 08/08/04

Doom 3 is one fine game that simply couldn't scale the hype mountain it created

I've been thinking of how to start this review for a while now... in-between work, women and having a life, I thought of a bunch of intros for my Doom 3 review and I came to the conclusion that it's best to document how this game actually came to be; trust me, it's more meaningful to this review than you'd think.

In 1991 a small Texas based company named iD unveiled a whole new genre, the First Person Shooter (FPS). The game that introduced the world to this new perspective was Wolfenstein 3D (Wolf3D for short). The game didn't exactly have a booming success, but it's spiritual successor did. In 1993 iD unleashed what is possibly the most influential game of all time: Doom. Doom had it all: Great levels, lots of weapons, tons of monsters, an actual story (although it was a bunch of mombo-jombo no one really read), etc. After Doom, iD released a "quickie-sequel", Doom 2, which offered little in the way of improvements but that ensured that iD's place in gaming history was permanently cemented. From 1991 to 1998 iD absolutely DOMINATED the industry. It's games sold millions, they were more controversial than GTA, and they were damn good.

However, in 1998 iD was introduced to a much-hated concept in this line of work: "competition". With the Unreal and Half-Life series, everything that was iD games (and FPS games up to that point, pretty much) was blown out of the water. Suddenly, the emphasis was on realism, story and some other crap that has nothing to do with action games and movies. So, in 1999, iD started work on Doom 3 (which was announced in 2000) as an effort to get back in the market... I think. Now, after 5 years of development, Doom 3 is out and iD is back to take it's place on the FPS stage ... or are they? In all honesty, Carmack needs to take a break and go outside and look at the world: This is not 1993 anymore, and while Doom 3 is gonna sell by the millions (as will it's engine) this game has very limited long time appeal to people now-a-days.

Doom 3 attempts to combine the Doom-esque, Shoot-everything-that-moves-theory, with Half-Life-esque, FPS-games-need-a-story-theory... and while it succeeds quite admirably, it can't ever hide the fact that it's a hybrid.

Graphics: 10/10

I don't need to even say anything about this category, except: Doom 3 is the best looking game ever created, for any publicly available platform.

This game looks like a dream. Every single texture is near-CG quality and every single element in the game is the exact same detail and resolution. The best example of this is the blood which splatters all over walls, floors and windows when you kill the demons in the game... the blood splattered by any of the games creatures looks identical to the one smeared by the level designers all over the walls, windows or floors of the facility. It's truly a site to behold.

Not to say that the texture quality, facial expressions, and overall quality of the creatures in this game is bad. No, no, no, it’s plain simply mind-boggling. On numerous occasions, while playing this game, I had people enter the room and ask me "What did you see in that CG cut scene just now?”. Yes, the models and levels are that close to CG quality. Full facial animations, multiple layers of clothes, individual muscles, pixel-by-pixel damage grid, and more stuff I don't even know about.

Other effects in the game are just as well represented. Glare and fire effects use DX9.0c at it's fullest and they look absolutely stunning. The window-effects are also absolutely breath taking. Looking thorough a window you can actually feel the transparency of the whole thing. The lighting is essential to this game and it also is impeccable; in fact, I'm nearly certain that the lighting in Doom 3 beats every other single graphical component by quite a large margin.

The game also has a basic physics and rag-doll engine built in. The physics engine is nothing like Half-Life 2's, mind you, but it does it’s job admirably well. Rag-doll effects are very well implemented and help this already great looking game feel even more realistic.

Sound: 10/10

Next to the graphics, the sound is the other big jewel in Doom 3's crown.

Doom 3 is among the first games to make full use of 5.1 surround sound. If you hear something coming from behind you, or something screaming at you from your right side, you can be sure that’s where those things are coming from. This is obviously hard to imagine, but it really enhances the in game experience a great deal and provides a very spooky and "realistic" atmosphere.

The voice acting in the game is top notch. This is, by far, the best voice acting in any FPS and it's among THE best in ANY game EVER. Dialogue and audio logs have a real depth to them. Demon and human screams also are spot on and help convey the game's atmosphere even better then you'd imagine is possible in such a game. Ambient sounds, such as footsteps, weapon sounds, or "other" such sounds are equally impressive... as is to be expected.

Doom 3 is almost entirely devoid of music. Other than the main menu, there are less then 5 instances when the game actually plays background music. Some players will be disappointed by this, but I thought this was an amazing touch... it's really just a very realistic and cinematic experience. I'm certain that while your killing monsters on Mars music isn’t blasting from speakers all around you so, while some will notice the absence, the lack of music more then benefits this game, it helps convey a more "realistic" world and a greater sense of desperation.

Gameplay: 8/10

It's hard to imagine what iD was going for when they actually made this game. As you will read in the next few paragraphs, Doom 3 is quite the hybrid. It combines the relative realism of having to reload your weapons, with the relatively dumb AI of arcade shooters, and the classic weapons of the days of yesteryear. It's a nice combination, but it just doesn't suit everyone.

In Doom 3 you play as a marine that has just been deployed to help with security on a Martian facility owned by a mega-corporation named UAC. As you land you find out that a scientist has gone missing and your job to go find him. You'll also acquire a handy-dandy PDA and you'll be given a gun to help you with things that shouldn't be problem on Mars. Oh, and you get a forever-ominous flashlight. As soon as you find the scientist in question, all hell breaks loose, and as you'd expect, from this point on you shoot everything that moves.

Quite frankly, I don't even wanna talk about the story in this game because it's absurd to do so. I don't know when everyone became so infatuated with story lines in FPS games, but it's totally ridiculous. Imagine that you’re going out to see Kill Bill for the story... let's get realistic here. But, as I said, since the story became such an integral part of gameplay in a FPS in the past 6 years, I'll address that first. Before I even get into the story, it's important to note that Doom 3 is not a remake, it's more of a retelling of the Doom story. It's important that I mention this because that will answer some other questions later on; but moving on... The story in Doom 3 is not bad, but it's pushed in the background WAY too much for anyone to care about it. The story itself unfolds mostly through audio logs recorded by crew members and by certain emails (although, the latter is rarer then the first). Doom 3's story has no real twists that you wouldn't expect from this kind of game, but it does offer some interesting background information on what your fighting, why your fighting and what your fighting these things with. After all is said and done maybe there should have been a little more background info, but it's not like any one in his right mind would hold the story against this type of game… or would they?

Now... since Doom 3 features your average FPS character, a mute, nameless individual, the producers concentrated a great deal of their effort in the story department on making other characters in Doom 3 deep and "life-like". I really don't know at what point did that mean that the game should be realistic because it features 4 main characters instead of one gorilla that goes thorough and wipes everything out (i.e. a Marine), but at some point, people started questing and levying idiotic, upon idiotic argument against Doom 3's realism and “story”. One professional publication was wondering why your marine doesn't just get infected and transformed into a zombie, while dozens of others wondered why don't you have night vision (more of that in the next paragraphs), and others complained that using your PDA to listen to the story is “stupid” because it takes you out of the action. These comments are absurd. No one is forcing anyone to give a damn about the story, and questioning why your Marine doesn't get infected and just turn into a zombie is like wondering why Link’s flesh doesn't burn and disintegrate in the most gruesome manner when he falls into a pool of lava.

Atmosphere is, perhaps, the biggest ace in Doom 3's deck... or, at least, that's what John Carmack would want you to believe. Doom 3 is pretty atmospheric and it manages to build some real tension, but iD could have done a bit more here. There are a few very disturbing sequences and, if your in the most proper of conditions (alone, in the dark), the game is quite scary, but it's never anywhere near as scary or as disturbing as the first two. Perhaps the mountains of bodies that piled up in the first 2 Doom games had something to do with it? Yes, yes folks, iD didn't allow the bodies to litter the floors here. On the other hand, the masochists who want the bodies on the floors can already download a mod that fixes this problem; I never did so. I should also mention that this game does leave you with some afterthoughts after playing it for long periods of time. I found myself thinking about some of the events in the game a few hours after I got done playing. To be truthful, this is no where near the amount of afterthoughts, that bordered on obsession, that I had with the originals, but it's important, for this sort of game, to know that it'll keep you thinking about it for a short while.

However, the biggest reason why I brought atmosphere up was to discuss two of the biggest complaints with Doom 3: Level design and the flashlight.

At some point in Doom 3's development iD saw the need to make it impossible for you to hold a gun and flashlight at the same time. I don't exactly know why, but it might have something to do with the Xbox-exclusive co-op mod that iD wanted to put in the game. Whatever the reasoning behind this was people obviously didn't like it much... a few hours after the release of the game the whole thing was being blown out of proportions; it's no where near as damaging to the gameplay as some people may want you to believe. However, much like the idiotic story questioning, people felt the need to question this too, so topics like this popped up across the boards: "Liek omg, why the hel cnat u hold teh flahslight & gun at teh same time", "Why isn't there night vision in this game?", "Why doesn’t he just search for duct tape?". I feel like I cannot write a complete review if I don't answer these questions directly:

A. It's a game, it's not suppose to be realistic.
B. I donnou about you people, but I don't think my first train of thought after I just found out Hell exists would be to search for duct tape so I can tape my flash light to my gun, then take of the tape from one gun, and move it to another when that gun is out of bullets, etc.

I think you get the point. Even so, the thing is, there are just too few levels where you'll need to use the flashlight constantly. In fact, by the end, I found myself wishing that iD would have done more with flashlight. And, suppose, you really can't see where your going and absolutely must use this device you don't have to worry about it much since the enemies are so predictable having your flashlight out instead of your shotgun. And, to boot, since monsters constantly teleport in rooms and illuminate them, you'll have ample time to aim and kill just about everything that comes your way. In fact, in all honesty, the reason behind using the flashlight, 90% of the time was because I wanted to or because I needed to search empty rooms for supplies, not because the game actually forced me too. So all those people who endlessly complain about what a horrible decision this was, need to stop. It's really not that bad.

If the flashlight isn't bad enough unfortunately, for most of the population, the levels are. Personally, I never found the levels to be as irritating as some people seem to think, but they truly seem to be are monotonous. 90% of the game is composed of industrial-types of tilesets and it can get really monotonous. However, I must give kudos to the person(s) who actually MADE the levels, because I never thought it possible to find so many unique ways to arrange industrial environments in a game. The detail in the levels is amazing, no ONE room looks the same... but that doesn't mean the design is top-notch, or that seeing the same type of tileset doesn't get monotonous (yes, yes, I know I’ve used the word monotonous 4 times). See, at another point in this game’s development iD thought that the Martian base should not have ANY gigantic or even big rooms. This too, of course, has to do with the fact that this isn't a remake, but a retelling, as such, iD found it in their heart to rid the game of all large and clear rooms that were present in the first 2 games. You'll be going from corridor, to corridor, to corridor in a tileset you've already seen about a billion times, but hey, at least it's a damn pretty tileset.

In the monster and weapons department, Doom 3 could’ve fared a lot better for being a Doom game. Monsters are all really detailed, and some other stuff like that, but they're not really that smart. Now, it's important to understand that these creatures aren't suppose to be smart because you'll be fighting anywhere from 3 to 12 of the at the same time (although the magic number is 5-6); however, due to the hybridism of Doom 3, the monsters aren't complete Serious-Sam-like idiots. Most of the charge blindly at you, but the fact that some of the monsters will dodge bullets and some will hide behind crates (and exploding barrels, obviously) does show that they're a step above the general mantra of idiotic monsters, but not quite up there with Halo's beasts whom you spend hours fighting. I should also mention that, due in part to the hybridism of Doom 3 and the game’s demanding engine, you’ll NEVER fight endless throngs like the kinds you fought in Doom and Doom 2. Not only would these hordes not fit in the corridors, but also, your video card would probably explode if it had to render that many monsters.

Although the monsters aren't too bright, and there aren't too many of them, I should mention that the game is not easy. Yet again, at yet another point in the development of this game, iD decided to make just about every monster encounter scripted. But that's not all, they also decided to make sure that monsters are able to attack you from behind with no need for a reasonable explanation as to why. In effect, this means that monsters will be able to teleport behind you whenever THEY WANT. Combine that with the: I've-been-hit-and-can't-shoot screen and if you find yourself surrounded by 4 or 5 monsters, you may find yourself dead pretty fast. Even on the middle difficulty monsters can do a great deal of damage. Your regular pinky demon can take off as many as 15 health and armor points per hit... not to mention that just about every monster in this game hits/fires like an automatic machine gun, this guys don’t hold stop for a single second unless you run away or dispose of them; combine all of this with the game’s small levels that leave nearly nothing in the way of maneuverability and you have quite a challenge ahead of you.

As for the actual monster designs, about 60% of them are from previous Doom games... but a great deal of monsters have been redesigned to keep in theme with the game (i.e. this is a retelling, not a remake). There are quite a few wholly new monsters in the game and they are pretty impressive. As a whole though, the monsters are amazingly well designed and they are suitably scary and disturbing.

Other then the machine gun, the grenade and a special item, all the weapons in Doom 3 are taken from the original Doom. This, obviously, didn't sit well with too many players, but this didn't really bother me as much as the actual weapon balancing in the game. After playing the game through and through, I came to the conclusion that some weapons are completely unbalanced. The game tries to change that by forcing you to use the newer weapons you find in certain levels, but by the end of the game you'll end up having some weapons that you've never used more then twice. Also due to the cramped level design, explosive weaponry is severely unbalanced... especially when it comes to grenades. Grenades in Doom 3 are schizophrenic. Sometimes they'll explode on impact, while at other times they'll bounce around and explode after a few seconds. In an effort to avoid you getting instantly killed by your grenade, the people at iD severely reduced the damage you receive from grenade blasts after you sent the grenade flying... but that doesn't mean that if the grenade explodes in your hand you'll be spared. No, in fact, if the grenade does blow up in your hand (or face) you'll suffer some 200 points of damage, sending you into the negative 80s. Luckily, I think, due to the game’s forced weapon balancing you'll become quite well tuned to using grenades by the end of the game because you'll need to do anything in your power to conserve ammo, even if that means having a grenade blow up in your face. As you'd expect, monsters suck at dodging nades, so if you unleash a grenade in a corridor, it will pretty much clear it instantly.

Finally, let's talk about your PDA. The PDA is the equivalent of your HUD from the original. It stores emails and audio messages, which can unravel a bit of the story and which also provide codes to different lockers and doors, it also stores your mission objectives, several videos about different subjects, and lots of fake spam. The PDA is the all-in-one universal key of Doom 3. In order to gain access to different areas of the game you go around downloading the security clearances of different individuals in your PDA and you use that to open doors. The only reason why this deserves mention is because it shows how much of a hybrid this game is. People who expect to walk over a key and then just use that to open doors will be surprised to see this instrument in game. More so, in a not-so-typical fashion there are actual brainy parts to some of the secret puzzles in this game. Those puzzles can get you weapons WAAAY ahead of their time and can unlock extra supplies and ammo throughout the game.

At this point, some of you may have noticed that I didn't really berate Doom 3 too much; so then why did I give the gameplay an 8? The answer is simple: Doom 3 is the PERFECT example of a game with "solid" gameplay. There is nothing here to make you scream out loud of joy (like some of the levels in HL or CoD). The game can get a bit monotonous at times although, for the most part, fighting is enjoyable and exhilarating.

Perhaps the biggest reason why I gave this category an 8 is because this game tries to combine two different types of FPS games and it just doesn't do it right. In Doom 3 your marine has such realistic FPS staples as a stamina bar, weapons that need to be reloaded, puzzles that require back tracking and the use of at least a small part of your brain, but on the other hand it also has brain dead AI, monsters that attack you in droves, standard weapons and other staples of arcade shooters. And, to tie it all together, there is an alarming amount of survival-horror elements, which glue all of this together (lack of ammo, ammo crates). This is the kind of gameplay that is a “Jack of all traits, master of none”, and it just cannot please everyone.

Multiplayer: 6/10

Ouch, for a game that invented deathmatching Doom 3’s multiplayer sure falls short... real short.

Officially, Doom 3 comes with 4 types of deathmatch and a maximum of 4 players per game. Obviously mods are already available that bump up the maximum limit of players to a whooping 32 and that add the much wanted Co-Op mode to the mix, but this really doesn't change the fact that this game doesn't really have much to offer for mutiplayer gamers.

Deathmatching, if you can find a latency free server, is fun but it's deathmatching... it's not 1993 iD, that's just not that entertaining anymore.

To add insult to injury, every single level in Doom 3's online multiplayer game is copied and pasted from the single player with minimal modifications; if you read the weapons section, you can understand how that's a problem. Rocket launchers and nades are damn near useless and the simple lack of variety in weapons kills the game fast.

You aren't buying this game for it's multipayer... at least not yet.

Overall: 9/10

Doom 3 fell short of the hype and iD didn't quite deliver in such a spectacular way, but that doesn't make Doom 3 a bad game by any means.

What really saves Doom 3 however, is the fact that its Doom damn it! You fight the old monsters, you use the old weapons, the game is scary and relatively disturbing, and even the mute characters and the frightening monsters are teaming with personality and a coolness factor that’s unmistakably Doom.

Doom 3 won’t do much for the industry and some fans will come out disappointed, but if your looking for a scary game, with exhilarating combat, that builds up suspense very well, then this is the game for you.

It’s just too bad that this game won’t ever be evaluated as what it is because it plain simply doesn’t meet the hype that was associated with it. Here’s to a sequel iD!

PS: Time for the obligatory system specs. rundown. I played Doom 3 with absolutely no problems on the following configuration at High detail and 1024x768. Trust me when I say this, the whole upgrade frenzy was just a way for Carmack to collect some fat royalties from Nvidia, Doom 3 is no where near as big of a system hog as it’s made out to be:

AMD 2600+ XP
1 Gig of DDR RAM
Radeon 9600XT

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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