Bit-History: Doom 3

Doom 3 was one of the most anticipated PC projects of all time. While Doom and Doom II weren’t the first entries in the FPS genre, they were certainly the most ambitious games at the time of their release. The graphics were top notch, and the gameplay was OH so very awesome, as you’d run through hellish nightmare levels with beasties coming at you from every angle. You’d mow them down with anything and everything at your disposal, and because PC gaming didn’t really have limits defined for a mainstream audience, there was plenty of blood and gore to go around. Not only that, but they were really amongst the first examples of multiplayer gaming. I remember a friend and I would play through our phone lines, dialing each other up so we could play countless hours in deathmatch. If we didn’t feel like doing that, the full campaign was available for co-operative gameplay. Needless to say, I have a TON of memories regarding this franchise. Unfortunately, some of those memories involve the media blaming the franchise for upping violence across the country, but I guess that’s a topic best saved for another article.

So, Doom 3 was being developed by id Software, and the screenshots they’d tease us with were nothing short of mind blowing. I mean, for the time, the graphics almost seemed like photorealism. The zombies, the demons… you name it, and its textures screamed ‘the future of gaming’. Since Doom was the beginning of PC gaming for many of us, it only seemed fitting that a new installment should be responsible for raising the standards a bit. Fortunately, I was able to get a new rig about a half a year before the game came out, so I got to enjoy the game on some impressive technical settings… so how did it fare, and how does it all hold up today?

The story was… ah, who the hell am I kidding? The story is nothing more than a flimsy excuse to launch a countless wave of demons at us every other minute. You’re on a Mars space station, and a portal to Hell opens up and badda-bing badda-boom, before you know it, you’re surrounded by horrifying beasties with nothing but a flashlight and an arsenal that would even intimidate the likes of Rambo.

I’m sort of torn about the simplicity of the plot, because gaming had evolved a LOT between Doom’s second and third installments, and telling a story wasn’t just commonplace, it was practically the norm. I was actually sort of hoping that Doom 3 would have told a coherent story that actually expanded upon the premise of the original. Instead, id Software merely wanted to present the old experience in a gorgeous new shell, so that’s exactly what they did.

Part of me really likes the old school approach. I still find myself playing the original Doom games from time to time, and besides the fact you can’t ‘look around’ with a mouse, it still holds its own. So in this respect, I was really happy to see the godfathers of FPS embrace that old style in a modern era. Nostalgia is the sweet spot I’m always happy to itch, and Doom 3 delivered. I mean at first, the game starts off like a slow-burn horror, but the further you progressed, the more they threw at you. It gets to the point where you feel like you’re playing an HD remake of the original Doom, because literally all you’re doing is running and gunning because there’s so many enemies to defend against. It was a lot of fun, for sure.

And scary.

That’s the one thing Doom 3 actually went out of its way to improve upon. The original game was merely ‘fun’ despite the severe circumstances our green armored pal was in. The game was dark and had an ominous air about it, sure, but never scary. The devs went all out with creating decent textures this time around, but that’s not what made the in-game experience so impressive. No, it was their work with the lighting – Imagine walking into a bathroom where there’s only one light that’s operational… and it’s swinging by its cord. You step inside, and immediately you see a huge beast on all fours. It’s mostly blanketed by darkness, but that swinging light keeps revealing just enough to show off its menacing looks in metronome. The game consistently uses lighting as a HUGE advantage, and it really helps to create a bunch of effective ‘boo’ scares. Zombies and imps often hide in the shadows until you’re close enough to crap your pants when they jump out. Since the game deals with you battling the evil forces from a hell-like dimension, there’s also some supernatural stuff to make your spine tingle. As a result, this game often ranks on ‘scariest games of all time’ lists, and for anyone who played this game 9 years ago or so, I doubt you’d disagree (although there have been plenty of scarier games since).

Anyway, outside of the impressive presentation and nostalgic gameplay, I found Doom 3’s replay value to be pretty close to nil… and the reason, ironically, was because they hadn’t changed the gameplay one iota. It was fun as hell to see Doom revamped for a new generation of gamers, but it literally offered nothing new outside of incredible graphics and immersive sound. This is where I find myself torn – I’m cool with that if it’s precisely what the devs wanted to deliver, but at the same time, it was sad to see one of the most innovative brands in gaming history fail to catch up to the times. There are so, so many games that were/are better than Doom 3 from the same time – Halo, Half-Life 2/Counter-Strike: Source, Ninja Gaiden, Metal Gear Solid 3, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas… especially Half-Life 2. I mean, Half-Life 2 was direct competition for Doom 3, and HL2 came out on top in EVERY perceivable way – Story, level design, characters, etc.

As far as how well this ‘ultra next gen’ PC title looks today… well, I’m surprised it hasn’t aged as well as I would have imagined, especially since you needed a God-like rig to run it efficiently. The lighting and shading is still really impressive, and the texture of the models work due to the lighting in some interesting ways… but characters still appear somewhat blocky and there’s really no fine details to speak of. Graphics don’t exactly make a game, but considering Doom 3 focused solely on its design, it’s not proving to be the same experience it was nearly a decade ago.

My preferred game in the series is still Doom 2, and likely always will be. Sure it’s far more ancient than Doom 3 in every respect, but the game was never striving for realism. It was always sort of cartoonish, so the design still holds up fairly well today. Doom 3 aimed for something higher however, and unfortunately the older it gets, the more dated it looks/feels.

One thing I’ve been tempted to try is the recent ‘BFG Edition’ on a home console, but what can I say? I’m skeptical. I’m glad that some of the textures have been improved and the game is finally getting a console release which doesn’t look like complete crap, but from what I understand, it’s painful to cycle through all your weapons when you’re looking to use a specific one. Breaks the immersion of the moment, and when we’re talking about survival-horror, that’s sort of a deal breaker. Maybe someday…

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