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January 2014

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It's been a long time since I played the original Doom, but I'll tell you what I remember most about it: killing demons. In fact, I remember killing lots and lots of demons. But when I read an early article about Doom 3, which stated that you'd be cowering in the shadows scrounging around for health and ammo, I envisioned one of those first person sneaker titles along the lines of Thief (or Splinter Cell, whatever the kids these days are playing) instead of the blood-drenched demon killfest I remembered.

As it turns out, either I misinterpreted the review, or the review just sucked. Suffice it to say that you'll spend a lot of time in Doom 3 killing a lot of demons. And really, isn't that what life is all about?

The basic plot is pretty straightforward - you're a marine, you go to Mars, all Hell breaks loose (literally), and you have to make your way through a dark maze of industrial complexes to get to the heart of the evil, picking up new weapons and ammo, slaying as many demons as you can. Doom 3 has little direct character interaction, but employs "PDAs" that reveal email and audio recordings of various people who were killed by the hellspawn. As you retrieve more PDAs, the plot unfolds, and you learn more about just what went wrong. These PDAs also provide security clearance upgrades and useful information, such as codes to access supply lockers, and your personal PDA provides mission information and stores video clips that you find throughout the game.

I have mixed feelings about the PDA, and while I can understand why it's there I have to wonder if it's overused. The audioclips of dead scientists and technicians actually work very well, providing a glimpse of the backstory while contrasting and emphasizing the solitude you feel as you plod through the bloody halls with nobody around but demons.

But the email? It's cute, granted, but it's laborious having to pull yourself away from demon-killing action to face a fullscreen PDA with text email. While you can ignore the email entirely and still play the game, you'll invariably miss plot elements as well as the passcodes you need to access some storage lockers. The PDAs are essentially the new "red keys," but sometimes you have to trudge through the worthless data they contain to get the information you need to continue - that's not especially fun. Ala GTA3, id has thrown together a couple of actual web sites that are referenced by PDA entries in-game. While this tactic worked perfectly for GTA3's contemporary setting, it feels forced and uninventive when id tries it here. Why exactly should martianbuddy.com be available today, when the game itself is set in the 22nd century?

But, enough of that - onto the important stuff.

Doom 3 is dark. Very dark. I don't mean that in a metaphorical sense, though it certainly holds true in that as well, but in a literal sense - almost every level has areas of deep shadows. Luckily, you receive a flashlight very early, and you'll use it very often. Ammo and items are often hidden in darkness, and in many places you'll be forced to make your way through corridors that are otherwise pitch black.

So, the flashlight sounds like a really great thing, right? There's only one catch - you can't have a weapon out at the same time. This design decision, though unrealistic and at first annoying, creates an element that would be difficult to replicate otherwise. What do you want to be holding when you go around that corner, the flashlight or the chaingun? Do you want to be able to see, or do you want to be able to kill? It's easy to switch between the flashlight and your previous weapon (the flashlight button toggles between the two when pressed), and you'll find yourself needing to do so quite frequently as you enter dark rooms with flashlight drawn, only to find them full of demons.

Carmack had mentioned lighting as one of the major achievements in Doom 3, and it's used brilliantly throughout the game. The engine renders moving light sources and shifting shadows wonderfully, and while it may seem like a minor thing the lighting does marvels to enhance the mood of the game. You've never seen game lighting like this, and Id uses the technology (usually subtly, sometimes not) to great effect. When the lights suddenly turn on, or off, or a whole room is suddenly lit in blood-red, you know something brutal is about to happen, and you'll have to think quick to deal with it.

I won't dwell on the graphics (they're very good all around), but along with the realistic lighting the bump-mapped textures really caught my eye. Of course, this stuff comes at a cost - unless you have a top of the line rig, you'll probably be playing in 640x480 or 800x600. On my P4, 3 GHz system with a Radeon 9800 Pro I was able to play without much slowdown at 800x600 with 2x FSAA. Your milage may vary.

While Doom 3's lighting is impressive in its own right, its combination with sound creates truly chilling and gut-wrenching effects. For example, you'll hear groans coming from a darkened corner of a room. You pull out your flashlight to check the area, only to find nothing - then, from another direction, you'll hear some demons barreling at you full speed...

That's what Doom 3 is really all about - surprise demons, and lots of them. No matter how many times it happens, you never quite get used to the 'ol "bunch of demons appearing from nowhere" bit. Coupled with the at times misleading audio cues and the opressive darkness, you'll find yourself desperately trying to locate foes that may not even be there, and you'll still be scared shitless when you do find them. I found myself repeatedly flailing about, waving the flashlight, or just firing shots into the darkness at the slightest noise.

You might think this would get old after a while, but Id manages to mix things up quite nicely. The levels, though fairly consistant in feel, are actually varied enough in layout to provide a wide range of tactical situations. On top of that, each type of facility has design elements that seem to reflect its actual purpose, giving each level a unique flavor.

A wide variety of enemies also spices things up, and you'll run into plenty of demons from the original Doom game as well as a few new ones. The weapons are mostly familiar, but they have a few twists - the new BFG, for example, features a variable charge option that allows you to quadruple its power at a cost of 4 times the ammo and a bit of chargeup time. You also have hand grenades, which prove very useful, and later in the game you'll acquire a new weapon called the "Soul Cube." The cube doesn't use ammo - instead, it charges up when you slay demons, and once you've slain enough bad guys you can use the device to destroy a single enemy and get back some precious health. Trust me, you'll need it.

And that thing about cowering in the shadows, looking for ammo and health? It's true. Even on the weakling "Marine" difficulty, I found myself frequently running out of ammo for the good guns, repeatedly forced to use the minimum amount of force possible when dispaching an enemy. I could never retire the trusty shotgun and pistol - I found myself plinking away at bad guys with the weaker weapons whenever I could afford to. And cowering in the shadows? I'd do that just because I was too afraid to move. There is no element of stealth to the game, at least not as a player - the demons will find you whether you're sneaking around or not. Sometimes, though, you just feel like hiding in the shadows anyway...

Although Doom 3 is a wonderfully nostalgiac experience, the game isn't shackled by its predecessor and is solid enough to sustain itself purely on its own merits. Doom 3 is essentially a reinvention of the original game, borrowing what works, ditching what doesn't, and creating a new experience that feels like the classic without duplicating it. The unique new elements, coupled with traditional demon-slaying action, make this game a great experience regardless of whether or not you played the original.

Highly recommended.

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