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18 April 2011 @ 01:40 am
Game Review: Doom III  
Just beat Doom 3 around an hour ago so I figured, why not give my thoughts?

Well, the first thing to point out is that Doom 3 is a different type of game from Doom and Doom 2. The first two were far more action-FPS run-and-gun style, where the demons typically only took a few hits to down and, because of that, there were hordes of them all over the place. Doom 3 is more a Horror FPS in the vein of F.E.A.R., both in terms of mood (darkness, hallucinatory cutscenes, claustrophobia, etc.) and pacing. You won't find any "I'm going to run all over the level, wake all the demons and get them caught in each others' crossfires"-style mad action in Doom 3. Whether this is a good or bad thing is up to the player.

The second thing is that it's a reimagining, not a sequel. Doom 3 is basically Doom redone with the idea of making it take place in an actual feasible research base layout (with a few huge caveats that I'll point out). You run into other people, have actual humans giving you missions and interact with you, and the story is told through voice recordings and e-mails System Shock-style. You might think this would allow for a stronger narrative, but I actually thought the various clues you found, while well-intentioned, fell pretty flat. In System Shock 2, a lot of the logs you find take place after the infiltration by the Many begins, so while you never actually meet anyone on the ship (adding to the feeling of isolation), you can hear people gradually getting more and more worried and panicked as the full scale of the disaster sets in (adding to the creeping feeling of dread).

Doom 3 undermines both of those moods before it even starts. When Dr. Betruger triggers the invasion, something like 98% of the UAC Mars Base's personnel are dead or possessed by demons by the time you make it out of the access tunnel you're in. You find a lot of logs, but because of the scale of the disaster, they were all recorded before it happened, leaving you no indication of how they felt about what was happening. Not that I suppose it would have mattered, because most of their reactions were either, "AAAAAAAAAAAA OH GOD! NOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOO!" *rip* *tear* *crunching sounds* or "Braaaaaaaaaaaaaains." The bit at the beginning where you hear the comm chatter from the other UAC marines fighting the invasion is quite effective, but it only lasts for 10-15 minutes before your radio goes mostly silent.

The other problem I had is with the base design. They did a good job striving for something that actually seems like people could work there (though I don't think I ever saw a single bed or person's room. Maybe the dorm was in another part of the base you never went to), but the way they achieve a lot of the horror undermines it completely. Doom 1, 2 and 3 all use the same kind of level design mechanic, affectionately called "Monster closets." It's a tiny space with a monster, usually triggered by picking up a powerup, opening a door, or something similar. They're all over the place. In Doom, I could accept their existence because it was obvious that whatever engineer designed Phobos and Deimos bases did so with a eye towards making sure they were the best possible stronghold for an invading army of demons from Hell that they could be. The level was just as much of an enemy as the demons were.

Doom 3 is much more realistically designed, and because of it, all these random tiny cubbyholes make no godsdamned sense. I could handle it if demons were jumping out of ventilation shafts or service ducts all the time, but no, they're just tiny closets with walls that slide up for no obvious reason. It also gets pretty predictable, to the detriment of the horror. When you see a powerup or a key item at the end of a hallway, you know that the moment you pick it up, monster closets are going to open up on either side of you and something's going to teleport in from Hell behind you. They're going for the jump scare, but the sheer number of times they do it robs of it of any sort of punch. By halfway through the game, I jumped way more often at random bursts of steam from ventilation, because they were actually random and didn't happen every minute.

There's even one monster closet that pops open, you kill the imp, go inside to get the armor (and why are there always powerups in these random useless rooms, anyway?) and then another closet opens up inside the first one and an imp starts ripping into you. That's when I knew the game was screwing with me.

The lighting is much as you'd expect--dark, cramped, dim, and so on. They give you a flashlight which you're supposed to use to light your way around with, but you can't have it and a gun out at the same time. This is atmospheric, but it's also infuriating--so much so, in fact, that I ended up installing the Duct Tape Mod, which takes as its premise that "Somewhere, someone had to have left a roll of Duct Tape out in the Mars Base." It lets you tape the flashlight to the end of appropriate guns. It's still dark and claustrophobic, but no longer has the added mechanical "screw you" on top of it.

Edit: I've since read a quote from John Carmack that stated that the lighting was partially a technical decision, because the levels were unacceptably laggy when well-lit. So, it's not entirely a stylistic decision.

The physics both help and hurt their cause. Help, because when some Hellspawn is up in your face and ripping your intestines out you actually get knocked around, making it really hard to aim and increasing the sense of urgency. This is compared to Doom, where the only affect of a monster getting next to you were the ripping sounds as it attacked. However, the knockback is set...a little too high. It's John Woo action movie level, in fact, where a single shotgun blast not only knocks someone down and away, but will in fact blow them 5 meters across the room and into the opposite wall, and being hit by a rocket scatters monsters like bowling pins. This kind of wire-fu hilarity undermined the serious mood they were trying to go for.

The monsters were pretty much all the same as classic, though with a graphic overhaul. The cacodemons especially looked really good (first picture is crap, scroll down), and the imp overhaul is very nice, which is good because you'll be seeing an enormous amount of them. Of the new monsters added--cherubs, trites (who thought that was a good name?), those other guys with the scythe arms whose name I can't remember--none of them are particularly memorable. The biggest problem is with the monster color design. While the Doom 3 levels actually avoid the "realism is brown" school of visual art, the monsters are mostly all a drab greyish color with a few forays into brown. Even the Doom 3 Demon, affectionately named "Pinky" in the original, is grey.

One thing I noticed is that because all of the monsters now take more than a single shot or two to down, the most dangerous monsters are not the demons from Hell, as you might expect, but the zombified humans, mainly for two reasons. 1) Zombified humans use guns, meaning their projectiles have no travel time, meaning--unlike imps and hell knights--they're undodgeable. 2) Zombified humans actually make good tactical decisions like hiding behind cover, as opposed to the demons, who run at you howling murder even if you're shooting them as soon as they spawn. It rapidly got to the point where I feared running into my former comrades far more than I worried about a group of invading demons from Hell, and I actually think the designers screwed up by not including more friendly marine characters. Several times in the beginning I avoided opening fire when I saw a guy in combat armor because I wasn't sure if it was a zombie or not. As it turned out, it invariably was and I was wasting my time, but adding living marines would have increased the horror, I think. "Is he a zombie? Should I get his attention? Should I shoot him before he sees me?" Maybe add some other marines who attack the player on sight but drop PDAs on death, showing they were living marines who thought the player was a zombie!

So, all that in mind, what was unalloyed good?

The actual narrative of the story, separate from the way it's told, is much better than the original. Then again, Doom's story was a paper-thin excuse to go shotgun demons in the face, so that's not surprising. Doom 3 sets up a plausible reason why UAC is experimenting so much with teleportation technology, where they got it, why they're so interested in Mars in the first place, why the accident happened, etc. Part of this is because the original story is basically a tale of hubris--scientists experiment with things they don't understand and unleash horrible consequences. I'm actually pretty sick of that kind of anti-science "science" fiction, though, so the idea that it was going well (for certain definitions of "well") until someone deliberately screwed it up resonates better with me.

There is one hilarious side effect with the Bilingual Bonus in the main villain's name, Dr. Betruger. Betruger was supposed to be German for "traitor," but in fact it's actually closer to "scammer" or "fraud." Oops.

It is extremely atmospheric most of the time (other than the closets). The brief time you spend in Hell is especially well done, and the random voices here and there add to the effect, especially when coupled with the various e-mails from base personnel about hearing noises or voices. This one is a good example, though it obviously lacks the full effect when viewed on Youtube. The various cutscenes are also nice. They're about half plot related and half introduction to new monsters (the Lost Soul introduction is especially good, though do note that the star there is the only woman you meet on the base[1]. I wonder if United Aerospace Corporation has a massive anti-discrimination lawsuit pending?), but are short enough that you never end up randomly smashing buttons to find the one to skip it.

Final verdict: It's worth a try, but don't expect it to recapture the nostalgia of those hours playing Doom. It's its own thing, for better or worse.

[1]: There's Dr. McNeil (pictured here in an Eva plugsuit for some reason :p), but she gets shipped off by Betruger before the game starts and shows up in the expansion.

Whew, that was long. Maybe I should go back and do something similar for Arcanum in full. Anyone interested?

Soundtrack for this entry provided by The Dark Side of Phobos.
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: Doom - Hangarmageddon (e1m1) (Evil Horde OC ReMix)
q99q99 on April 18th, 2011 06:40 am (UTC)
Thanks for the review :)