Right now my jaw is hurting quite a lot. This happens when it’s been dropped to the floor frequently over the course of a couple of days. Doom 3 has finally been released, and the wait was worth it. Since late 99 we’ve been receiving relatively small tidbits of information, but I think very few of us had any idea of how it would actually turn out. We’ve seen the videos, read the interviews, but when you actually play it you realize that you knew very little. I’ll start with the story, which takes place as though Doom 1 and 2 never happened. You can skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to know how the game starts.
In the future, that is at about 2145 the earth is in a state where it’s running out of natural resources. We have however built outposts on Mars, with the most prominent being the Union Aerospace Corporation’s research facility. This former military organization now works to build machines that’ll for instance take the soil of Mars and turn it into water, along with gas and green goo, which is obviously separated. This is at least what the public is supposed to know, because even though those projects are being researched some naughty business is going on behind closed doors. The base isn’t populated entirely by scientists though, so the marine corps is there to provide security – but against what? At the start of the game you arrive on Mars knowing very, very little. After being welcomed and introduced to the basic facilities you’re assigned to locate a missing scientist. This sounds like a fair enough job, but once you reach him you start realizing that something is clearly not right. On the monitor next to the scientist you suddenly start seeing odd shapes attacking the marines. People start panicking, and the ground starts shaking. Hell has literally broken loose, but it could be even worse...
Armed with relatively basic weapons you must fight your way back and try to figure out what’s happening. During the rest of the game you slowly unravel the inner working of the research facility, figure out how this can have happened, and put a stop to it somehow. The story related elements are mainly told using cut-scenes, along with the information you store in your PDA. You see, when you arrived at the station you were given a PDA that lets you receive emails (including spam), lets you store objectives, lets you watch video discs, and lets you reach emails and audio logs from other PDAs that you pick up along the way. Much of the information you pick up is far from essential to the story, so some may be funny, some may contain codes you need to open storage containers, some may be quite personal, and some is fortunately related to the nasty demon monsters from hell that you’re stuck battling.
The gameplay is perhaps Doom 3’s weakest side, but it is still quite good in most ways except innovation. You can say that Doom 3 stays true to its previous games, because 95% of the time you’re running around shooting things. You should be able to finish the game in two days (my guesstimate is about 15 hours) if you play a lot, and I suspect some will find the run-and-gun gameplay a little dull in the second half. But then you have the fact that the atmosphere in Doom 3 is unrivaled by any game to date. Horror is basically the keyword here, along with lots and lots of blood and carnage. Those faint of heart should avoid this game, because it gets awfully graphic, awfully fast. Those who love this are in for a treat sweeter than I dare bet they’ve ever had.
Doom 3 is basically split into a fairly large number of levels, most of which being on the research station, but some in considerably hotter areas, such as hell itself. You don’t fight much in open areas, so the action is focused on very tight in-your-face firefights. You’ll probably run through miles of corridors during the game, but I can assure you that the level designers did a great job making amazingly detailed and also quite surprising levels. Surprising you is a cornerstone of what makes the game “work”. When sneaking along a corridor you may see a zombie feasting on another zombie up ahead. You decide to practice your pistol aim and pop it once in the head. These zombies are fairly resilient to such, so it’ll immediately inch its way towards you. Let’s say you took a few steps backwards, and suddenly felt someone hitting you with a wrench. A zombie had snuck up behind you while you were busy playing target practice. In times like these you realize what immersion is all about. Other surprises may be more subtle, such as distant shadows quickly moving across the screen, or a corpse being thrown through the air by something you can’t see. I can’t say that playing this game during the night is a must, but it does add to the immersion.
The monsters you bump into should be familiar if you’ve played the previous two games. You have evil marines who shoot at you with various kinds of weapons; you have the imps, the nasty pinky demon, spiders, flying heads, the big flying ball-like monsters that shoot plasma at you, along with some even bigger and nastier demons that you should see for yourself. During the game you’ll also run into a few bosses, each being increasingly vicious. The difficulty level in Doom 3 took me by surprise. I had expected it to be similar to System Shock 2 in that you had to carefully watch your health and ammo, which alone makes a game scarier, but instead you can almost always find heaps of health, armor and ammunition. This is probably a conscious decision that I can think of two reasons for. The player should have a good time and not have to worry about being “insta-gibbed” by a monster, but should still be kept on his toes. The other reason I can think of is that the player should want to play the game again, on a harder difficulty. By finishing the game once you unlock the nightmare difficulty, where I can guarantee you it’s considerably harder. Somehow I doubt we’ll be seeing time-demos of someone finishing this on the nightmare difficulty.
The weapons obviously play a crucial role in a game like this. As you may’ve realized the action is very in-your-face, and the weapons are one of the reasons. You won’t find any railgun or sniper rifle; instead you have primarily close to medium range weapons. Your most basic weapon is your fists, which honestly aren’t good for much more than slapping crates around to test the physics. You do have a power-up similar to quad-damage, where the fists are extremely effective, but it’s rarely used beyond that. Next up is the pistol, which you receive very early in the game. It isn’t used much either, but it’s accurate, which makes it useful when you need to kill some zombies. The shotgun is an extremely useful weapon, because even though it’s not all that useful on medium range it’s extremely damaging when up-close. I wouldn’t be surprised if the time between each shot is very close to the smaller shotgun in Doom 2, but you don’t have the dual barrel shotgun this time around. The machine gun holds sixty medium damage rounds. It fires quickly and accurately, but doesn’t do as much damage as the chain-gun. This weapon packs a considerably bigger punch than the machine gun, but it takes longer to start, and is less accurate. Next is the grenade, which works as you’d expect. It creates a really neat shockwave effect, and one or two can take down most demons. The plasma gun is similar to the machine gun, only it shoots blue gobs of plasma that do quite a lot of damage. Of course you can’t have a proper sci-fi shooter without a good rocket launcher. In Doom 3 it can hold five missiles, and a single can send smaller villains flying. The BFG 9000 is probably the weapon that most gamers were curious about. This time it fires a large green plasma gob that injures enemies as it goes through the air, and when it hits something anything within 15 meters will probably be pulverized. It is in other words quite similar to how it was in the previous games, not like it was in the Quake games. Finally there’s the soulcube, a mysterious weapon that should remain mysterious until you find it yourself.
Much of the immersion in Doom 3 is due to the incredible engine, and the amazing artwork. We all know John Carmack is a God when it comes to rendering technology, but Doom 3’s incredible presentation is the work done by many. The engine is, as of right now by far the most advanced used in a game. It’s mainly designed to render indoor environments, something it does very well, but it’s also able to render some highly impressive outdoor environments. You don’t actually go outdoor all that much in Doom 3, but each time the graphics were to die for, just as inside. The lighting, shadowing and animating are probably the main things that make it impressive. It’s almost impossible to fully describe what the game looks like, but suffice to say it’s well beyond anything to date. Multi colored per-pixel lighting on bump-mapped surfaces is a sight to behold. Every object in the game, including the teeth of the monsters you fight cast dynamic shadows, but not the jagged kind you may’ve seen in other recent games. The shadows are done using Carmack’s own algorithm, and its performance is just amazing. I’m sure many of you have upgraded specifically for this game, but it appears as though the video card is by far the most important piece of hardware needed. With a Geforce 6800 Ultra you can run the game at insane resolutions with huge amounts of detail (something I thoroughly enjoyed), but even at the lowest resolution with the lowest amount of detail it looks phenomenal. There are a few reasons for the performance though. Most of the monsters you blow up actually are blown up to the point of disappearing. Marines go splash, but the nasty demon monsters from hell are vaporized. Because of this the video card doesn’t have to render as many polygons.
The special effects are also extremely well done. Describing the coolest ones would take up too much of the text, but there so many times when you stop and think “holy crap! How did they do that?!” – But that’s just the ID Software magic. Also, the animations add a great deal of life to the game. When walking up some stairs you may suddenly see the metal bend to the side by a nasty imp. The environment is in other words very dynamic. Character animations are top notch, and each and every one has realistic inverse kinematics (rag doll) physics. Monsters can climb and move just as they perhaps would’ve done in real-life. They don’t seem to be limited by anything.
In terms of graphics it’s not entirely perfect though. If I am to nitpick I could mention that not ALL the textures are perfectly crisp. Some of the monsters could’ve used more polygons, and not all the surface effects are as amazing as those seen indoors in FarCry. But remember, these are just a few small insignificant details.
In terms of audio it’s also top notch. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails was originally set to create the background music, but due to various reasons this idea was scrapped. Instead there is one theme song that you hear in the menu, and during the credits. When playing you’re left with voices and sound effects, another decision made to further the immersion. Fortunately the voices and sound effects are no less than perfect. I have just about zero complaints, except perhaps that you sometimes notice the same voice actor being used multiple times. Even so, they all do a great job. The sound effects are crystal clear, perfectly realistic, and some even have quite a lot of bass. A good soundcard and a 5.1 set of speakers will definitely recommended by me. Using headphones is a nice alternative, but stereo speakers just aren’t able to compete in a game like this.
It’s hard to say whether a soundtrack by Trent Reznor would make the game better, but personally I never felt as though it needed it when playing through the game.
Multiplayer is also a more or less crucial aspect of any modern shooter. Doom 3 is no exception, even though ID made it perfectly clear that they designed it to be a single player game. There are four game modes; deathmatch, team deathmatch, last man standing, and tournament. The first three should be self explanatory, but in the last one two Marines battle one-on-one, while the remaining wait as spectators. When one is killed a spectator moves in and the dead marine moves into the back of the queue. There are five levels included, which you can use for all four modes. Each of these is quite good, and those who have played The Edge should particularly enjoy playing on The Edge 2 – the difference in terms of graphics is just insane. The rest of the maps differ in many ways, and the level designers also added some special things for you to do that I’m sure will add another small dimension to the matches.
Currently you can only have a maximum of four players. This is so because the dynamic nature of the maps generate much more network traffic than for instance Quake 3. The mod community will undoubtedly increase the maximum number of players, but to actually play with more you’d probably need a very high speed connection, along with a very powerful server. This may be primarily a single player game, but multiplayer is as expected a lot of fun. There wasn’t much lag in the matches I played, but it depends on the factors I mentioned. When playing you can do rocketjumps, but you cannot do grenade jumps or plasma climbs, as you could in Quake 3. You can circle/bunny jump, but the speed gain is negligible, and it’s almost no use when you’re in corridors or small rooms.
There is no doubt that this’ll be a classic – we all knew that when we first saw it. It looks and sounds incredible. The gameplay is a lot of fun, but it’s not really innovative. If you enjoy running around blowing up stuff you’re in for quite a lot of fun. When you’re done with that you might want to try it again on a harder difficulty, because on medium it’s not really all that hard. If not then going online is a good idea too. One of the things that excite me the most about this game is what the mod community will make out of it. I’m sure we’ll see some truly fantastic content in not too long.
Doom 3 is an excellent game, but it’s a bit of a shame that you can finish it in two days, after waiting for four years.