Doom 3 (PC) review
"When a group of artists labour for months or years on some magnificently coded and presented piece of gaming software, I can't help but feel uncomfortable about kicking their hard work – but Doom 3 is unfortunately boring and there's not much else I can do to it. I remember being pleased when id software announced they were going to switch their focus back to the single player experience with this title, coming as it did after a string of deathmatch oriented games, but the result is claustrophob..."
When a group of artists labour for months or years on some magnificently coded and presented piece of gaming software, I can't help but feel uncomfortable about kicking their hard work – but Doom 3 is unfortunately boring and there's not much else I can do to it. I remember being pleased when id software announced they were going to switch their focus back to the single player experience with this title, coming as it did after a string of deathmatch oriented games, but the result is claustrophobic and pretty joyless.
The Doom games prior to this point were always marked by spirited, funny and scary level design. Apart from the fact of the original Doom being a technical revelation, gamers can still fondly recall specific levels from it in detail. I don't think anyone will ever feel that way about Doom 3's levels. Doom 3's world is considerably more serious than its predecessors'. The primary emphasis is supposed to be on solid scares and the development of an atmosphere of terror, as this episode combines the series' FPS action with survival horror Boos and some (unfortunately silly-seeming) satanic mythology. There can no longer be any jokes executed via level design concerning exploding barrels, for instance, or roomfuls of monster who will kill each other if aggravated. This is an unhappy turn of events.
The principal play feature of Doom 3 is darkness. Most of the Mars colony through which you must blast a path is so dark that you can only see it by manually poring over it with a flashlight. This creates the intended feeling of vulnerability and scariness at times, but you can't wield the flashlight and a weapon simultaneously. While it's not difficult to toggle between the two, you will have to do it every few seconds for the duration of hours and hours of play, which is extremely tedious. The levels themselves are cramped and linear, shunting you along from one monster ambush point to the next. The demand for scariness has ruled out nearly all the fun and variety that usually crops up in a Doom game, yet the scariness itself doesn't work well enough. Most survival horror games have enough action-free longeurs and variety to be able to sustain and build up their 'Boo!' moments. Doom 3 is so huge and samey, and relatively low on enemy variety considering its scale, that the hundredth time a fireball lobbing imp bursts out of a ceiling behind you, you just feel like groaning in exasperation and turning your guns on yourself. Nor have the imps ever been so wretched to fight before, no doubt because there are very few open spaces in Doom 3, making strafe-dodging a pain, and because you can hardly see where you're going anyway.
The new emphasis on realism has also invited characterisation and stretches of game not devoted to blowing stuff up to the table, and neither are particularly welcome. Stories left by dead colonists are contained in their emails, which you can find on discs lying around the colony and then call up through your PDA. I did take to reading all of these, but doing so really slows the game down, and the payoffs aren't rich enough. You will have worked out what's gone wrong on the Mars colony days before every microscopic element of the same tale has been presented to you from the viewpoint of fifty different crewmembers. Even if the emails didn't have an atmospheric purpose, their minor practical purpose will obligate you to skim read them, that purpose being the acquisition of three digit passcodes used to open crates full of weapons scattered around the colony. In most cases, the email containing the code for a locker is to be found right by that locker anyway, making me wonder what the point was.
Perhaps the least welcome PDA feature is its audio log. Some crewmembers have left recordings around the base which you need to play back and listen to in real time. There's no rewind or fast forward on your PDA, and while you can play the recordings in the background while walking around, you will drown out crucial monster audio cues if you do so, making this too annoying and dangerous. If you don't listen through the logs, it is again possible to miss out on passcodes to lockers. The audio of the crewmembers is brilliantly performed, but the contextual and practical problems associated with the audio logs mean that this fact still doesn't lift the game.
The weapon set available to the player is traditional Doom, ranging from your fists and the chainsaw up to the BFG, and the visual presentation of and gameplay differentiation amongst all the weapons is lush and precise. The game's soundscape and monster cues are as immaculate as in any past Doom. The fluidity of the physics and all of the graphics are as clean as ever. The game's programming is hermetically perfect. But Doom 3 is of long, bleak and dull design, with its tiresome darkness, its thousand boo moments of exponentially diminishing effect, the total lack of value that any of the extensive characterisation brings to the game, and a big vacuum where all the Doom mischief, havoc and humour used to be.
Community review by bloomer (September 18, 2008)
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