A Review by Noah Antwiler
The system requirements for DOOM3 are pretty steep, and I know not everyone has the means to afford a ninja computer to play the game at its full extra-crispy high-res ickiness, so I'll share with you the DOOM3 experience in its entirety for the gamer on a budget: Simply pay an annoying sibling or co-worker $20 to have him throw a burlap sack over your head and beat you without mercy from varying angles with a phone book so you can't see where he's coming from. The important part is the burlap sack, really. If you want to save your $20, just put the sack over your head, spin around ten times fast, then try walking around the house.
DOOM3 was one of those games I never seriously expected to see on a shelf, like Duke Nukem Forever or Starcraft: Ghost. Games like that are usually stuck in a perpetual loop of delays and revisions since developers want their game to be on the bleeding edge of the gaming technology. DOOM3 has been highly-touted and very highly-reviewed since it was demoed at conventions, and I'm from the old school of gaming that still remembers when the scream of "GUTENTAG!" from Hans the Nazi in Castle Wolfenstein could drive a primal terror into the hearts of men. The old DOOM games jeopardized our homework, and I remember the elaborate junior high school sneakernet underground where we'd exchange pirated copies of the game along with the Barney Blaster mod like we were dealing for black tar heroin. The old DOOM games were basically nonsensical splatterfests that put you on one side of a giant room, the exit on the other, and about a hundred demon things in between. You vs. The Horde, Joe vs. The Volcano, Ecks vs...lots of Severs. I guess.
This...this is not DOOM. DOOM3 is disappointing on so many levels, it's hard to know where to start. The multiplayer experience is a joke, despite being one of the most talked-about aspects of its gameplay. There's nothing new, nothing exciting, nothing innovative in the least. It doesn't even have modes we've come to expect from multiplayer shooters now. All it has are Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Tournament Deathmatch (essentially one-on-one Deathmatching while other people get bored watching other people play). It's just nothing you'll actually seek out other people to play. Not when you've got infinitely superior offerings out there CounterStrike, Unreal Tournament, Day of Defeat, Battlefield 1942, and about a dozen other games that actually bothered to make their multiplayer interesting. DOOM3's multiplayer experience is best classified as vestigial, real evidence that either the game was rushed, or the designers didn't really care enough to plan out anything more than the bare bones.
But why do I say that it's not DOOM? Well that's simple. This game sucks. I'm actually willing to bet you could have more fun with the aforementioned burlap sack beating than you could with this game, because there you might have the chance to exact revenge on the person inflicting such horrid pain on you. More specifically, DOOM3 is a survival horror game right down to its core, almost the complete opposite of every gameplay facet of the previous DOOM games good. Instead of relatively open areas with lots of enemies, this game is riddled with narrow, claustrophobic tunnels, small rooms, and enemies that prefer to spawn behind you and sneak attack. It's more Resident Evil than anything else, considering its obsession with horror elements and zombies marching about. But I'm being rather unfair to the Resident Evil games, because at least in those games, you could SEE.
I'm told that DOOM3 is a beautiful game, with astounding graphics and eye-popping visuals. That's probably true. When you can SEE it, which is rare.
DOOM3's biggest problem by far is the absolute, choking, unbearable, turn-the-gamma-up-on-your-monitor-until-your-eyes-melt-and-your-testicles-shrivel-from-the-radiation darkness. It's dark. Really dark. Pitch black dark. You simply can't understand how vastly blackly dark it is. You could turn the lights off in your room-- that's dark. But it's not THIS dark. You could stick your head up a cow's ass while wearing a welder's mask, and it probably still wouldn't be as dark as this game. It'd probably stink less, though. The entire game is shrouded in inky black darkness in order to reinforce the ooky scary horror aspect of it all. You can never see where you're going. You can never see what's in front of you. And most irritatingly, you can never see what in the blue hell is hitting you.
Oh, you're given a flashlight. I bet the developers thought they were really clever in giving you that one pittance, because you'll basically have to carry that flashlight out all the damn time just to see where you're going. Then you'll see a monster, fumble for your gun, and promptly find yourself unable to see again. So you'll aim your gun roughly in the direction you think the monster's at, guess, pray, and panic fire endlessly until you think it's dead. The entire game is a pointless back-and-forth transition from flashlight to gun, because evidently in the year 2145, marines working on a Martian base with notoriously bad light haven't been assigned weapons with lights on them. Nor have they mastered the use of duct tape to affix a flashlight on the end of their weapons. Or uh...just kind of hold the flashlight up against your weapon while firing it. But no, you're either holding the flashlight or a weapon, routinely getting slapped around by everything you can't see. And so you're stuck wandering around the entire game where the lighting is flickering, dim, or nonexistent, getting wailed on by everyone hiding where you can't see them.
You play as an anonymous, nameless idiot who lacks the power of speech and simply walks around nodding at people. Or killing them. Your avatar is big and fleshy with dark hair, with large biceps and a beefy square-jawed face. And so you, Mr. Generic Beefy Dork, are humanity's last hope. Everyone just calls you "Marine," where I imagine this guy's real name is something like Joe Kickass or Krump Bigload. You're here at this Martian colony to investigate the general weirdness in the station. Basically the entire opening segment is a complete ripoff of the opening to Half-Life. You walk around looking dopey, clicking on people who say foreshadowy things, and collect your weapons. What I found funny was that once I'd collected my sidearm, I could wander happily about the base merrily shooting people through the head like a deranged postman, and nobody lifted a finger to stop me, call for help, or fight back. Interestingly, I don't even remember them reacting to the sound of gunfire other than perhaps to say "Stop that!" nor did they appear to get even mildly irritated when I started emptying my clip at their feet like Yosemite Sam shouting "Dance boy! Lemme see yuh dance!" And so I murdered my way through the base and the entire game, killing anyone human before they had anything useful to say, and was never even scolded. You even get to walk outside onto the surface of Mars, which always gives me a hilarious mental image of Arnold Schwartzenegger in Total Recall rolling around with his eyes bugging out screaming "Annnngh! Annnngh!" in his thick Austrian accent.
I also haven't mentioned yet that the second tool that you're issued as a Marine is your PDA. The PDA is basically a waste of time where you download video clips that you don't really feel like watching, audio logs that you don't really want to listen to, e-mails that you don't really want to read, all of which advance the plot which you don't really care about. And while you're doing it, you're free to get your ass kicked by enemies you can't see while you're paying attention to the PDA. The entire premise behind the PDA is ripped off from the System Shock games, which actually HAS a story you care about, delivered through audio logs and voice communications. This only serves to further diminish my enjoyment of the game because it would actually be a pretty good engine for a new System Shock game were it not so frigging dark, and it reminds me how much I would rather be using this time actually playing System Shock. The plot of DOOM3 is of course laughably stupid, so you'll end up ignoring it. But you'll be listening to the inane logs and reading the insipid e-mails anyway, because that's the only way you can get the security codes that open the lockers scattered around each level that contain ammo. God help you.
But even this is badly designed, because every time you see one of these lockers, the PDA containing the code is always in the exact same room! There's just no point to it all, no brainpower required. So you're forced to listen to every bloody audio log, listening to idiots bitch and moan about how mean their boss is, whining about how they're about to die, or (most of the time) listen to Star Trek technobabble about the Eigen Converters and the Quasitronic Matrix of the Teleporter Devices, or the reverse polarity proton shield on the BFG rifle. You'll get so bored listening to these painful, hideously stupid logs that you'll either move on and get involved in a firefight, thus drowning out the sound of the log currently being played, or banging your head against the desk until the ringing in your ears drowns out the log.
Even as a survival horror game, DOOM3 strikes a sour note by not really being very scary. The darkness is more aggravating than scary, reminding me of the Dead Alewives every time I got fed up with being confronted with another pitch black room and ended up witlessly attacking the darkness. The sound design is banal, offering little more than monsters that all sound alike, machine-room ambience, maniacal laughter, and weapons that sound like cap guns. DOOM3 fails to set an atmosphere of horror, but succeeds at building one of scalp-clawing frustration. The game's scary for about 5 minutes, until you realize that it has nothing else to show you. This is how the first encounter goes:
"Oh man...the lights just went out...I can't see a damn thing. Ok..flashlight. Good. My flashlight will protect me. Trusty flashlight."
"The hell was that!"
*MUNCH MUNCH FOOM!*
"Aaaaahh!! Aaaaah! Something's biting me in the ass! What the-- NO I don't want to hit him with the flashlight! Switch back to the gun!"
*tik tik tik!* (pathetic pistol sound)
"Damn it this pistol sucks!"
*brrrrk!* (pathetic shotgun sound)
"Jeeeez that really hurt--"
"AAAAAH!!! My ass again! I can't see! STUPID flashlight! STUPID STUPID!"
You'll notice that every time something attacks you, it invariably bites you in the ass. This is because the designers decided that you'd eventually get smart and clear rooms in a consistent, safe, professional manner, and realized that this isn't very scary. To combat this, monsters CONSTANTLY spawn into existence directly behind you, typically after the lights go completely out. This is a profoundly cheap trick that the game plays on you in virtually every room and hallway, which forces you to walk through every room and corridor spinning around in moronic pirouettes. Monsters will either appear in a flash of red light (very unfair) or-- and this is the really stupid part-- wall sections just big enough for the monster to hide in will slide away behind you, letting each beastie hit you in the back. That's right, this entire base is designed with seamless, impossible-to-notice hidden wall sections that slide away silently, concealing closet-like alcoves that contain zombies. Throughout the entire vastness of the base, there were technicians and marines sealed helplessly in these hidden compartments at the EXACT moment the entire base was possessed by demons and evil spirits. What kind of idiot do they take me for? It'll sicken you how often walls just zip aside allowing zombies or demons to pile out, where they never could have been in the first place.
The entire game is predicated on you walking into a dark room, the lights abruptly going out, and monsters unfairly leaping out from unlikely directions to tear you a new asshole. I'm not exaggerating. Every. Single. Room. DOOM3 is a one-trick pony, and the trick is to kick you in the nards every time you enter the room. It gets old quicker than an episode of The Gilmore Girls. This just isn't DOOM. I picture DOOM as having balls-to-the-wall action, with awesome metal music wailing in the background as the dead of your enemies are literally piling up over your head. This is just a repetitive experience in paranoia, with wearisome controls, badly-designed gameplay, a plot you don't care about but it consistently rammed down your throat like mom trying to get you to swallow NyQuil, and unfair level design.
There's no horror in this game; it's all based on the cheap scare since the game fails to set any kind of horrific atmosphere. Cheap scares are the lowest form of horror, because they don't work more than once. And they don't work here. You can always tell a bad horror movie because of it's over-reliance on the cheap scare. Simply put, a cheap scare is when something leaps out in front of a character accompanied by a shrieking orchestral sting to make us jump. They are indeed scary, in that same way that walking into a room and having someone swift kick you in the kneecap is scary. But, to continue the example, such scares get old very quickly and almost never work when done more than a few times. After a while, you just want to hit the game back and wring the money you wasted back out of its neck. If it had one. And we're talking like 20 hours of gameplay based entirely on the worst kind of cheap scare: the UNFAIR cheap scare.
Like in Alien, when the cat would leap out at people, the orchestra would screech out a shrill note, and we'd all scream "AAAH!!" like idiots. That's a cheap scare. An unfair cheap scare is something like going to your car only to have Morrisey leap out of the trunk and slug you upside the head with a folding chair. I mean what the hell? There's no way you can see this coming. It's just not fair to expect crap like this. It's the horror equivalent of Lucifer popping out and giving you a slug bug every time you open a door. Startling at first, but after a few minutes of this, I'm beginning to understand how violence in video games can carry over into real life. I'd like to find John Carmack and dig my thumbs into his EYES!! AAAAAAGGGHHH!!!!
The rest of the game is the same, wearying drudgery that forms the staple of every other FPS that preceded it. Wander around, flip switches, get keys, handle the odd jumping puzzle. I was promised a great game here, and all I got was a visually-awesome headache of a game, which ceases to be visually-awesome because I can't see it. The weapons are mundane and unimpressive, unbalanced and unremarkable. All you need to know is that the new gun you have is better than the last one you got. The controls are simplistic and blasé, leaving you to do anything other than move forward, jump, and crouch. The plot is pointless, doubly so since your character is Biff Stonecrotch, Anonymous Mute Dork. The entire package feels like a pathetic System Shock knockoff.
I simply question the design decision to take everything that was good about DOOM, examine it carefully...then kill it.