Doom 3 PC Review
Sean W. Gibson / Dec 13th, 2003 No Comments
It’s a remarkable thing when a game can put you on such an edge, such a heightened state of awareness that you unleash a paranoid volley of fire at an innocent pile of debris. The original Doom was one of those games that could make you twitch at an instant; after you played it for so long you started to realize how the level designer’s sick minds worked. You need to pick up that armour set, but you know the second you do the lights are going to go off, the walls will drop and a wave of demons will sweep over you. And now, ladies and gentleman, Doom has returned.
But before we go too far, let us just point out from the start, this is not the Doom we played, oooh , some 10 years ago now. Doom 3 has taken on a new path – it takes its predecessors “hell” theme and pushes that to the forefront of the gameplay, focusing on creating a game based on horror. The game’s heart is closer to that of Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness and System Shock 2 in this sense than it is to say, Serious Sam. To an extent, all that Doom 3 has to do with 1 & 2 is the name. But regardless, we shall judge Doom 3 on its own merits .
into the game
If you know the story to the original games, then you already know what’s going on as the Doom 3 story is a remake of what you have seen before rather than a progression, but there are also some twists on what you might know already. To those of you who only know Doom as ‘that game that’s responsible for all the murders’, the story sees you playing a Marine placed on a Space Station on Mars. Experiments into teleportation and bizarre science are going on here (because where else would you experiment on teleportation?) and of course, things start coming out of the teleporter that you wouldn’t expect … like the Devil’s minions for example. So, from here, you got yourself an adventure to save mankind, almost sounds like a film plot of a summer blockbuster featuring The Rock.
Starting the game is a simple exercise we believe was developed mainly to show off the game’s stunning graphic detail. It should be noted that Doom 3 is indeed a system spec hog … playing on a AMD 64 3000+ with an ATI 9800XT produced impressive results … at 1280×1024.
The game kicks off with players wandering around the base doing some menial marine tasks while fellow Marines chat and go on about their business. Eventually you meet up with your commander who issues you with a briefing with serves as a nice way to introduce players to the PDA system and other game highlights. You are then given the task of finding a missing scientist, which proves to be a fun and simple exercise that once again shows off the wonderful detail of the marine base … and the martian surface. As you can imagine, something goes wrong, the SH*T hits the fan, and … well … we don’t really want to say anything else, but believe us when we say when the game turns on if your adrenaline doesn’t start pumping madly you should check yourself into a hospital. It comes highly recommended that you play the game knowing very little about it’s content, as much of the game’s fun comes in the form of the shocking horror and surprise moments. Let’s just say that Doom 3′s version of the ‘resonance cascade’ is done pretty much perfectly…
If there is one thing that kept us playing Doom 3 to the very end, it was the atmosphere, ambiance, and graphics. We don’t think we’ve played a game that is so unrelenting in its attempts to scare you stupid, be it cheap tricks to make you jump or with genuinely disturbing imagery and sounds. Suffice it to say the Doom 3 experience is best enjoyed when played it at night, with the curtains drawn, alone, with the surround sound speakers turned up … way up. There are so many cool things about the game that we don’t want to ruin … but we can say if you are simply after a scary game then just stop reading and get Doom 3.
graphics & sound effects
Visuals and sounds are very important to sucking you into this world, and much has been made of the new engine. It’s got its pros and cons based on the hardware you run it on. Jamie Wharton has been playing on an AthlonXP 2400, Radeon 9800XT with 1Gig PC2100 RAM, and settled on a very playable 1280×1024 at high detail (provided you keep the AA off). Editor Sean Gibson’s Xlerated PC Rig with an AMD 64 3000+ 1 Gig of RAM and 9800XT proved best working with 1280×1024 WITH AA on (props to him!).
On the upside there is some astonishingly detailed environments, and as you explore the Mars station you will see a lot of moving machinery, intricate contraptions that move all around you, further convincing the player of this alternative world. Texturing is seemingly a bit random however, most of it is actually quite low res and it sometimes sticks out like a sore thumb when you get close to a wall. Most of the time though it’s not that noticeable though as the game is lit in such a moody style. Still, if you want a showcase game for your rig, then you can’t really compliment the sun drenched beaches of Farcry any better than this hideous, bloody mess. This is arguably the top graphically rich game for a PC … ever.
Perhaps the biggest visual triumph however are the creatures, easily the most hideous things ever seen in a game, and the new versions of old favorites are all perfect. In fact they held quite large part of the game, as each one is introduced with a great deal of care, and meeting a new foe is quite an event. One in particular actually had Jamie recoil from his monitor with a loud gasp of ‘what the **** is that??’ in an uncharacteristically high-pitched voice. The desire to see what lay in wait around the next corner was a real thrill. The vast majority of the enemies you remember from the original games are still here, but there are several new friends introduced to keep you on your toes.
True immersion is provided by excellent use of sound, and a good 5.1 setup is almost essential when you hear how unsettling it is. 90% of the game is played purely with ambient sounds, a departure from previous incarnations. Some do regard the Playstation version of Doom as having the best game music ever heard, but here we feel the decision to axe it was the right one. Occasionally the odd piece if music mixes in, but it is usually something incredibly simple like a steady pulse of bass that heightens the tension. Most of the time you’ll just be listening to a silence occasionally pierced by a chattering scream or the unholy roar of something hiding in the darkness. It works beautifully.
Ok, so the game is scary … real scary … and we’ve seen some great technical advances, but not necessarily any revolutionary gameplay advances in technology. As a matter of fact, the game structure is actually fairly average when you get down to it, and considering the fact that the powers that be behind the game have tried to create a polished, sophisticated horror experience, it’s a bit disappointing to see it molded round something that doesn’t bring something revolutionary to the gameplay where it has in other aspects of the game. Doom 3 is about as linear as a game can be, and no decisions are granted to you, as you simply move from A to B. Obstacles in your way are generally locked doors, opened by finding PDA’s about the complex. These hold emails and vital pass codes to different sections of the station, with the problem being that the structure is so linear it’s hard to miss one, and it’s actually quite laughable the number of times a lock is encountered with the PDA containing the key sat right next to it. You have to wonder why they bothered.
The PDA’s themselves are used to help drive the back-story. Most of the messages you find are uninteresting and irrelevant to your situation, and not once do you find messages from the same person twice. If we had been able to track one person’s escapades it might have been more interesting than random emails and voice recordings about safety reports from people we have no attachment to. Having said this though, there are some more interesting messages when you get further into the game, some medical reports in the Delta Labs describing what has happened to teleport test-subjects being some particularly chilling reading.
Variety in the levels is also a worry, but it’s something that is totally unnecessary. The vast majority of the time you spend in Doom 3 will be in the Mars Station and after a while, the dank metallic walkways can get quite repetitive. This would have easily been prevented by spending more time on the other environments you encounter in the games final quarter, particularly the glorious Hell sections. We look forward to seeing what clever map makers come up with, I’m sure iD will be too.
One other small hole with the game we’d like to nit-pick is with the weapons, it’s a bitf a stunning decision to see the legendary double-barreled shotgun left out, a slightly pathetic rocket-launcher also left us puzzled. The fantastically grisly chainsaw does go some way to making up for this though. Frustration might hit you with the inventory at times too, as struggling to select the right weapon cost us our life many a time. Putting grenades, melee weapons and your essential flashlight on the same menu as your guns is a pain if you haven’t got the hang of the hotkeys.
Hold up, what did we say there? An essential flashlight? Yes, indeed. Doom 3 is a gloomy game. It’s so, so dark sometimes all you can see is black, you have no option but to use it. It’s a contentious point as to use your flashlight you have to put your weapon away, and so when you actually see something to shoot, you often end up shooting into shadow. We’ve listened to opinions and some people hate this, but already there are ‘Duct-tape’ mods to allow your guns to emit light. We played without said mods though, and we have to remember that this game was designed to be scary, it was designed to be dark, and the two are combined into some fantastic set pieces. Walking along and not being sure of what is around you can be very unsettling, especially when you hear a shriek and all you can see is a pair of glowing eyes getting bigger and bigger, a broken light flickers and illuminates everything for a moment allowing you to see the thing in front of you for a brief second.
We want to maintain that Doom 3 could have been better if even a touch of freedom were granted to the exploration of the Mars complex. Despite its faults though, both of us really enjoyed the experience, the things it does well it does so, so well that they help paper over the cracks so to speak. One fantastic thing about Doom 3 is that the game gets better the more you play it, and the further you get, the better the weapons, the bigger the monsters, the more diverse the environments, and the greater the thrills. In fact the majority of the game’s finest moments only occur in the second half.
Replay value is going to be dependant on the mod and map community, in a title where gameplay is centralized around scares and the desire to see what lies ahead. Can we really see you playing through the (approximately 20 hour) single player campaign again? Perhaps … most likely if you seriously upgrade your hardware you’ll want to replay it through on a harder mode. Multiplayer is pretty standard too, officially only supporting 4 players and scandalously not including a co-operative mode – something that the X-Box version will feature.
Doom 3 is a game that is visually stunning and has some of the best sound effects ever for a PC game. If you want to plough through a blood-stained Hell-hole and have your mind slightly warped with fear and paranoia, then you’ll be quite at home here.