Where do I begin with Doom 3? Despite the fact that I generally avoid PC games, and the fact that I don’t particularly like first-person shooters, The Ultimate Doom has long been my Favorite Game of All Time. It is therefore with great anxiety I awaited Doom 3‘s release, constantly bugging my local software retailers to determine which would give it to me first. Once I had my copy reserved, I remained obsessed. Could id possibly do it again? Could they possibly win me? Could I possibly conjure up an objective opinion of the game?
So it was that on the night of Doom 3‘s release I checked into the local Motel 6 (for reasons beyond the scope of this writing, my personal gaming habitat wasn’t suitable for such a highly-touted atmospheric release as Doom 3). “So that’s four nights?” asked the desk clerk.
“Yeah, four,” I responded. I was determined to make sure nothing stood between me and this experience. I could still remember me and my true love’s first times together. Back then she was really something to flaunt. Her smooth movement and inexplicable flickering lights turned every head on the block. But that was a decade ago. All that she had now was inner beauty. Time had changed things, and I secretly craved the excitement of a fresh new affair. I wasn’t proud of myself, but there I was with the 10-years-younger Doom 3, while she waited faithfully at home on a hard drive.
For the next 90-something hours I indulged my lust without reservation. I skipped the packaging—we both knew what we wanted—and went straight to the game. At first she teased me, setting up a flimsy plot through some impressive cutscenes. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I went along with it.
After about 30 minutes of exploring her thoroughly, I finally got what my one-track mind had been waiting for: a zombie rushed through the door toward me, pistol in hand. I dashed behind a computer console, expecting him to take the shorter path to me. He took a less predictable path, caught me off guard and shot me in the back. I spun and carefully pointed my aiming reticule at his forehead. After stripping the corpse, I made my way to the next room and found another zombie shambling towards me. He faded in and out of existence with each flash of the lights. As I shot and back-peddled, I noticed his empty stare and his snarl, and they sent chills down my spine for a moment of disbelief as my pistol’s bullet sent the walking dead flying back and over a ledge. I stared down at the still body, almost feeling like I could touch it as the various light sources played on its surfaces. One thing was for sure: Doom 3 was the most visually impressive game I’d ever seen.
Over the next quarter-hour or so I took my time getting reacquainted with my trusty FPS skills, ducking behind corners, retreating through doors, charging and circle-strafing, just like the good old days. Then, just as I started to feel in stride, I heard a familiar hiss behind me. A lanky, leather-skinned humanoid figure dropped down behind me, and I instinctively drew my virgin shotgun.
I climaxed. This was Doom.
Doom 3, id Software’s latest FPS, promised to be a horrific experience. And although I thoroughly enjoyed the game, let me first get out of the way my contention that it does fail in this mission. In fact, the majority of the game exudes the horror sensibilities of a 13-year old. It’s like riding through a haunted house. The jaded adult knows something “scary” is about to happen at all times, so it never “gets” him. In this respect one might say that Doom 3 fails to achieve anything beyond Resident Evil. The atmosphere is certainly immersive enough, but that’s the only piece that fits.
While Doom 3‘s story itself has potential, the implementation will more often induce eye-rolling than teeth-chattering. Having a menacing, archetypical antagonist with lizard contact lenses laugh menacingly over some omnipresent loudspeaker doesn’t exactly make me question the word around me. This method by which Doom 3 keeps the player focused on the greater bad guy often made me feel more like the hero of an ’80s Saturday morning cartoon than the protagonist of a claustrophobic fright-fest.
Furthermore, when I playfully whack my casual acquaintance on his shoe with the butt of a flashlight, I don’t expect his brain to fly out of his skull, his skin to explode, and his skeleton to melt away, Mortal Kombat-style. Instead I’d expect him to smile politely and say something to the effect of “easy on the flashlight, chum.” And I wouldn’t expect a hyper-realistic manifestation of a denizen of the depths of hell to conveniently melt away just because I blew a hole in it. This is why id’s decision that all enemy bodies in Doom 3 should disappear or become volatile and subject to explosion at the slightest nudge bothers me (although the choice is certainly much more justified on the admittedly limited Xbox that it was on the PC). It impinges on the realism, not to mention that it wastes the game’s beautiful limp-body physics. The importance to the atmosphere of a floor littered with dead monsters can’t be overstated.
Now, all of that nitpicking may seem confusing, but what Doom 3 does wrong now leads up to what it does right—quite simply, everything else. The way it feels to move around the environment is simply perfect. The view bobbing, the additive movement, the weapon recoil—all so intricately and lovingly tuned. When a wall impedes you, you can almost feel your kneecaps bump against it. One inch more and the wall would be too close. One inch less and the clipping would feel unrealistically restrictive. When the shotgun reports and reloads, it feels almost tangible. When a mancubus fires his alternating rockets, it just feels good to strafe-dodge with the chaingun trained. Dashing criss-crosses around enemies while slinging shell after shell into their chests with a surgeon’s accuracy—that’s what id carried over from the original Doom. They captured that elusive, ineffable feeling, and they reproduced that immaculate weapon balance. Add to this the trademark level design that leads the player while still making him think he’s exploring, and that’s all they needed to win me.
This gratifying, fundamental core element is what most of the more “complex” FPSs are missing, but Doom 3 gets it right. Doom has it, Halo has it, and now Doom 3 has it. The slight problem, however, is that all of this other pretentious horror stuff now gets in the way of the combat. For my money, the pure, simple and uncluttered Doom is still the king of all FPSs.
So while Doom 3 is an ultra-sexy diversion with enough substance to fill the id-naysayers’ mouths, I don’t see it standing the test of time the way Doom does. The mod and online communities will ensure the game’s longevity, and a well-earned buzz will likely continue on for a half of a decade or so. But after the smoke has cleared, I still see myself going back to Doom. Doom 3 has an undeniable hedonistic appeal, but Doom brings me a deeper level of pleasure. Doom 3 is glamorous, but Doom cooks a better breakfast. Doom 3 is an exciting fling, but Doom is the game I see myself waking up to ten years from now.