Doom 3 review

Written by Julian Schoffel on . Posted in Action

Doom 3 game image

id Software stayed true to their word: Doom 3 was a faithful remake of the 1993 classic. Doom 3’s gameplay, storyline and creature design adhered to the template set down by the original game all those years ago. Of course this wasn’t necessarily a good thing…

I’ve played a hell of a lot of games over the years but Doom 3 is one of a select few which succeeded at giving me a chronic case of the heebie-jeebies! Play this game as it was meant to be played: by yourself, in a darkened room with a good set of speakers and I guarantee you moments of pure, unadulterated terror! How did it achieve this? By throwing your character into dark, sinister environments with only a puny, handheld torch for illumination. Add to this a liberal serving of truly horrific monsters (all of whom seem to have a knack for creeping up on you), some satanic visions (viewed through a red haze) and you had yourself a great recipe for nightmares!

Hell comes to Mars

In Doom 3 your character was a marine starting a tour of duty at Union Aerospace Corporation’s (UAC) research facility on Mars. Soon after your arrival a demonic invasion overwhelmed the base. Only you could save earth from the Satanic forces of evil! So began an epic battle for survival against some of the most horrific, ill mannered and unsanitary opponents imaginable.

Unlike the original Doom, Doom 3 actually attempted to develop its storyline. This was achieved through simplistic interactions with NPCs (non-player characters), frequent in-game cut-sequences and a device known as the Personal Digital Assistant or “PDA.” During the course of the game your character stumbled across numerous data cards left behind by other UAC personnel and these were automatically downloaded onto your PDA giving you access to a variety of information including e-mails, audio/video logs, and mission objectives.

Retro FPS gameplay

At its heart Doom 3 was a simplistic, repetitive first-person shooter: in fact core gameplay was virtually identical to the original Doom. Furthermore, the single-player campaign was quite linear and mission objectives usually revolved around obtaining security clearance to access the next area. That’s not to say there wasn’t some variety and on occasion players would find themselves assigned more interesting tasks like venting poisonous gas, disposing of toxic waste, restarting a power reactor, overriding a monorail airlock system and initiating a satellite distress signal. However fulfilling these tasks rarely amounted to anything more than finding the relevant computer terminal and pushing a button. And when you weren’t hunting down computer terminals you were killing stuff…

The final body-count of Doom 3 may not have been quite as astronomical as the original game but it was pretty hefty nevertheless! Yes, like most first-person shooters Doom 3 was violent and also very gory. However Doom 3 lacked the underlying cynicism of games like Manhunt for example, pitting the player against ‘Hell-spawn’ rather than humans.

John Carmack does it again!

In the years leading up to its release much of Doom 3’s hype revolved around its next-generation 3D engine. In this regard Doom 3 more than lived up to expectations!

Doom 3’s futuristic gameworld was dark, labyrinthine and claustrophobic: but depressing industrial environments never looked so spiffy! Throughout the game the player was bombarded with a flood of sensory input which included flickering lights, luminescent computer terminals, angry jets of flame, clouds of steam, searing electrical sparks, thumping machinery, and much more. Tech-guru John Carmack also infused Doom 3 with fancy visual effects like advanced real-time lighting and shadowing, realistic heat haze and a nifty blur effect when your character looked through windows. All of this combined to give the player a nasty sense of dread and foreboding, which was exactly the intention!

Say “hello” to some extremely ugly ‘old friends…’

The creatures of Doom 3 were bizarre and on occasion downright disgusting! To ‘introduce’ new creatures to the player id devised fiendishly scary in-game cut-scenes. These consisted of an eerie close-up shot of the creature arriving, usually right behind you. Many of Doom 3’s monsters were lifted straight from the original game (i.e. the Imp, Pain Elemental, Lost Soul, Mancubis and so on), only now they were 100 times uglier! Some of the new ones included a creepy cherubic monstrosity, a zombie commando with a tentacle whip and a sort of gigantic, mutant bulldog. Without exception all of the character models in the game looked incredible (for 2004)! The only negative was the poor lip-synching of the human characters.

Lock and load

Doom 3’s weapons were almost identical to those of the original and included the pistol, shotgun, rocket-launcher, BFG 9000, chain gun, and chainsaw. New additions were the Soul Cube (which was powered by the souls of vanquished demons) and the torch. Yep, useless though it may have been, the torch also doubled as bludgeon. While the weapons themselves looked great I found the accompanying visual effects to be a tad lacklustre. I also felt it was absurd that your character couldn’t use the torch and fire a weapon at the same time: I mean couldn’t the stupid bastard gaffer tape it to his bloody helmet or something?

Things that go bump, gurgle, shriek etc. in the night

While it may have played second fiddle to the sumptuous visuals, Doom 3’s audio was uniformly excellent. Because the gameworld was so damned dark players relied heavily on audio cues to work out what was going on around them. To this end Doom 3 featured a complex layer of effects comprised of monster associated noises, machinery, weapon fire, occasional Satanic laughter and umpteen other ambient sounds. The voice-acting was also very solid with absolutely no ‘cringe-inducing’ moments (which was possibly a first for an id game).

While Doom 3 was primarily a single-player game it did have a multiplayer component. Playing modes on offer included: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Last Man Standing and Tournament. However at the time of the game’s release Doom 3’s multiplayer only supported a maximum of four players!

Had id run out of ideas…?

When I originally played through Doom 3 one thing became increasingly clear: id seemed to be bereft of new ideas. To compensate for this they recycled many elements from other sources. Here’s a few examples (with the likely ‘inspiration’ included in brackets): the monorail sequence (the “Black Mesa” tour in Half-Life), lights going out at the worst possible moment (the first “Skarj” encounter in Unreal), demons suddenly teleporting in (the aliens in Half-Life), the audio logs used to flesh out the storyline (System Shock 2), two mysterious UAC characters (the “G-Man” in Half-Life), monsters who ‘dissolve’ in flames (Blade) and the list goes on. Considering id Software’s past glories I found this all a bit sad really, kind of analogous to the Rolling Stones doing Bon Jovi covers…

The first-person action genre had come a long way by 2004 but rather than try to comprehensively evolve their signature product id stayed anchored in the past. The end result was a game that looked stunning and sounded amazing but ultimately felt very shallow. That said Doom 3 still managed to generate a ton of atmosphere!

Review Summary
Score: 75%
Info: Like just about every other PC gamer I had very high expectations of Doom 3. I first reviewed the game back in 2004 shortly after it came out. While Doom 3’s underlying technology impressed the hell out of me, the game itself left me feeling a little disappointed.
The Good: Jaw-dropping 3D visuals. Stunning audio. Incredibly atmospheric.
The Bad: Simplistic, repetitive gameplay. Very derivative.

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Julian Schoffel

From 1994 to 2007 Julian was a contributing editor for Australian PC User Magazine. He has also written for numerous publications which include Australian Personal Computer, PC PowerPlay, Hyper, Ralph, Megazone, The Disc, PlayNow, TechLife, The Sydney Morning Herald and IGN.

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