Doom 3 (Xbox) review
"It's pointless cosmetics-first-gameplay-last software at its worst."
In my mind, thereís a very clear line dividing the world.
On one side stand the people who label the Doom franchise as mindless shooters. Itís about tuning out, cramming a huge arsenal of overpowered firearms in your pockets and blowing up hellspawns and demons. Maybe you stand on this side of this line.
On the other side are those that prefer to look deeper. Those who delve behind the pixelated army of spirits and the best-before-1993 expiration date and see the sheer amount of work that went into every tiny detail of the game. From the genius positioning of enemies to the sadistic traps to the intricate windings of the levels which can do anything from drop you in a room packed wall-to-wall with goat-footed, plasma-throwing immortals to seeing you search for hours for a key card that, when you really examine your path to the exit, youíll see you never really needed. On this side, Doom is an intricately-designed labour of love where if even the smallest element isn't challenging and pushing the gamer onwards, twin rocket launchers are grafted to its shoulders. Itís as sadistic as it is clever.
Itís obvious upon which side of the line the guys behind Doom 3 stand.
Because Doom 3 does not start out clever.
Welcome to Mars where, despite the gameís frantic insistence that the red planet is besieged by the very armies of Hell, nothing really happens. You arrive on a space station; it's dark and people are jumpy. You follow a predetermined route that has you travel to various checkpoints by ensuring only one of the numerous doors youíll always be constantly surrounded by will open. Along your linear trot, youíll meetÖ I wonít lie, I donít remember. I replayed the game again only hours ago to prepare myself for this review, and, already, Iíve forgotten. This doesnít strike me as a clever way to open your game.
I do remember that, after some twenty minutes of walking around lots of dark corridors, the only signs of life I find are two workmen hiding behind a giant industrial pipe, complaining about having to fix it. Nothing says horror like manual labour.
More endless, empty corridors await. They are dark. Finally, you come to a room where flaming skulls burst from the walls and swoop around in a crazed mob. Donít get too excited, though; itís only a cinematic. You canít actually fight them -- but they do look ever so pretty.
No, your first real enemy is the after results of the invasion of the Lost Souls: zombies. Remember them? In early Doom, the footsoldiers of Hell were the reanimated corpses of your fellow marines, still clinging to their firearms in cold, dead hands. In Doom 3, the most common foe are the lab-coat clad former scientists that come in a whopping three distinctive character models. You kill these by smashing them in the face with a flashlight because the bloodthirsty minions of Hell harbour a secret weakness to the rubbery grip of £1.99 torches.
You have a torch instead of a firearm because those canny bastards at iD decided it was time to reinvent the genre again. But instead of placing their faith in intelligent level design and challenging set pieces, they decided to kill all the lights, hide behind the couch and yell ďBOO!Ē at you, whether youíre close enough to hear them or not.
Killing the lights means draping their game in unforgiving darkness, forcing the player to navigate around the linear pathways sans weapon because, if your Marine-trained avatar has to hold a flashlight in one hand, the other is to hang limp and useless by his side. So, you spend a good deal of time going back the way you came with all the lights turned off while zombies that inspire about as much fear as an after school special on solvent abuse try to scare you in the brief moments of their life before theyíre effortlessly bludgeoned with a prod of a household appliance.
Thereís nothing scary about a foe so easily dispatched, but Doom 3 thinks otherwise. It would have been fine to take out a few of these pests as a device to ease players in, but even when you get the odd smattering of hellfire-hurling imps, itís only after youíve killed enough scientists to find yourself on the ban list of every college and university in the Western hemisphere.
It would be nice had, when the imps do show up, they're used for more than childish scare tactics. Instead, these foes are placed in points to, literally, jump out at you from behind closed doors like the possessed Mars station is instead a lame High School house of horrors. More baffling still, iD continue to screw over the huge cast of beasts the previous games have championed. Bull Demons in all titles are huge pink gorillas that sprint on stocky legs and tear chunks out of your life with vicious charges and fang-filled chomps. But one strain of these beasts hunt in packs, making their arrival a desperate back-pedal of rapidly-flung pellets and plasma directed right into their faces while they flood you en masse. In today's version the scariest action they partake in is when a solitary demon smashes through some glass before going down easier than a cliff-bound lemming.
Cacodemons then were bulbous, rotting spheres of angry red flesh that belched flame and could take a pummelling. Cacodemons now look like that last dodgy bit of undercooked meat you find in the middle of you kebab on a night out and are never drunk enough to eat anyway. They die if you so much as sneeze on them. It's very noticeable the kind of fear Doom 3 wants to induce. Itís not the fear of trying to survive the onslaught of an army on a sliver of health and an empty pistol; youíll swim in ammo and health boosts. Itís not the fear that the next monster lurking around the corner could be the last thing youĎll ever see; the cast of nasties all but put your gun to their own temple and patiently explain how to take the safety catch off. Itís not the fear that the very stage you traverse is a living, breathing monstrosity designed to be as much -- if not more -- of a threat than the minions of Hell that stalk it; Mars is a series of interlinking corridors that go from A to B yet sidestep interesting. iD wanted to break the habit. They didnít want sadistic level design; they just wanted it dark.
Doom 3 doesn't want you to fear for you life: they want you to fear that tile falling off the ceiling for the umpteenth time, or jump at the same clip of scary ambient noise being rehashed over and over. It desires your fear, but is only willing to obtain it cheaply. It doesn't wish to work for it.
In my mind, thereís a very clear line dividing the world. On one side stands the people who point to Doom 3ís commercial success and laud it as a triumph. People who donít mind the lack of challenge, the general dumbing down of the gameplay and the dialling up of the graphics. Itís just another mindless shooter, they say.
The people on the other side agree. Doom 3 is nothing more than another mindless shooter, but itís clear it wanted to be so much more. And itís not.
It's pointless cosmetics-first-gameplay-last software at its worst.
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