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Doom 3 – The Latest of a Greatest

By Jim Bray

It all began with id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D, a violent little game that took the usual video or computer game and made you the star.

It was called a first person shooter (among other things, I’m sure!) and I, for one, was hooked. Instead of controlling an onscreen person (or thing), the monitor became your point of view and all you could see of yourself was your outstretched hand and whatever bit of ordnance it happened to be brandishing at any particular time.

Then came Doom, which upped the technological ante substantially, offering much better graphics and game action and introduced a level of horror and gore that I, at least, had never experienced before. It was gross and violent and I’m sure the social engineers found no redeeming value in it.

And of course it was a huge hit and I, for one, had a ball playing it.

A lot has changed in the gaming landscape since then. The technology has marched onward steadily, upping the graphics, game play and fun quotients, and so it was undoubtedly time for id Software (now distributed through Activision) to revisit its old chestnut to bring it in line with the new state of the art.


And have they ever pulled it off! Doom 3 is more than just a shoot ‘em up; as with most of the best games these days it also has a storyline (earlier versions merely hinted at a plot, leaning heavily on action rather than the writing).

The result is the creepiest game I’ve ever played (not that I’m an avid gamer, alas), a game with atmosphere so thick you can practically cut through it with a chain saw. This game gets the adrenaline pumping and the shivers creeping up and down your spine – and even if you’ve visited a place in the game before and know what’s going to happen you still tense up and jump out of your skin when it does.

Yep. I’d call that a successful sequel!

The setting here is the Mars installation of Union Aerospace Corporation, which is undoubtedly as evil a corporation as anything out of Hollywood these days. At the beginning of the game, you (a space Marine) arrive there to take up what you’re told ominously upon arrival will be the worst assignment ever. The place is a research lab where they’ve apparently been trying to find new sources of energy but – fortunately for us, since otherwise this would be a very short game! - in the process they appear to have unleashed some horribly evil forces.

We don’t really know that when we first arrive, of course. We just expect it because, after all, this is Doom. But we do find out that people have been disappearing, others have been hearing weird voices. It’s a dark and dangerous-looking setting that reminded me of the first two Alien movies, which were pretty good places to find creepiness.

It takes a while to actually get into the action itself. You first have to report for duty and then get your assignment and only after you’re on your way through the establishment do the beasties of Hell starting rearing their ugly whatevers. It’s a nice building of the tension; rather than just throwing this stuff at you from the very beginning, you start to learn the lay of the land and have a chance to marvel at the wondrous graphics before all Hell breaks loose.

Doom 3

This gradual building of the tension really works, though of course if you’re just looking for the opportunity to blow things away you may find it slows things down.

But as much as there is new in Doom 3, it still packs all the fun and action of the classic Doom games that preceded it. Enemies are horrible and liable to come at you any time, from around a corner or behind you, or just after you figure you’re free and clear at least for a few seconds. Sometimes they’ll leap upon you so quickly and surprisingly – from where you may least expect it - you’ll nearly wet yourself.

Well, I nearly did….

Doom 3 is the best-looking game I have ever seen or played, thanks to its stunning 3D graphics that generate lifelike, atmospheric, and detailed environments. I found it to be too dark, however. I mean, it’s supposed to be dark and moody, but there are areas you have to navigate that are so dark you need to use your flashlight just to keep track of where you’re going. And when you’re holding the flashlight you can’t hold a weapon.

And that can be fatal.

Apparently, there’s a mod you can get that lets you duct tape the flashlight to your weapon, but I haven’t seen it nor have I tried it. Sounds like a plan, though!

Even when I did come across areas with a modicum of lighting, I had to turn the gamma up on my system. Very dark.

Game play is very similar to the other Id shooters, though there are several new wrinkles including a PDA-like device you carry with you; it isn’t particularly innovative overall (hey, how many times do these people – who rewrote the computer gaming rules - need to innovate?) but it is familiar and that isn’t a bad thing.

Doom 3

The game is really a haunted house-type thing in a sci-fi setting, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that. You're basically on your own on this Mars outpost, far from home, fighting in the dark for your life against supernatural forces of evil.

And the game sets that scene brilliantly! As with the overall graphics look, the special effects are spectacular, and they help move the game along rather than merely being there to dazzle. The creepiness is everywhere and in everything, and it’s darn scary!

And of course you get to collect an awesome arsenal of weapons to use against the enemy. Your basic pistol is a semiautomatic and not much good for more than picking off zombies. The shotgun is very satisfying to use, the machinegun is also a treat, and if you want to mow down a horde of marauding baddies the chaingun is well worth the price of admission. There’s also a plasma gun, which has very good stopping power, and the rocket launcher is nice if you want to make a real mess. There’s even a soulcube, which saps the energy from your enemies and gives it to you, and that can come in really handy let me tell you!

If you really want to make a mess, use the chainsaw.

Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time to really get into games and so it takes me forever to play a game far enough through to do a fair review. It also means I’m usually a sitting duck unless I use cheat codes, and I’m reluctant to do that because I’d rather get offed a few times and get a true feel for the game than proceed at breakneck pace through it just so I can win.

So I still am nowhere near the end of Doom 3, but (thanks to quick saves every few seconds) am making steady progress. With each new fight I learn more and get more comfortable with the controls and the concept and sometimes can even kill the baddies before they get me.

Still, this is an awesome game that builds on the fine Id games tradition. It’s gross and its ultra violent – but isn’t that what you expect from a first person shooter such as this?


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January 31, 2006