Developed by ID Software [full credits]
Doom 3 is unlike any game you’ve ever played, except for the fact it’s like a lot of games you’ve probably played. Go down hallway, shoot the demon, pick up a key card, open door, and repeat ad infinitum. Even upon its release in late 2004, the game was derivative and far from pushing any new ground beyond its impressive graphics. But, this is what you expect from a developer that have always been about making games in new engines that strive on shooting and little else. The question for Doom 3 then, "Is the core gameplay fun enough to merit any attention in a post-Half-Life 2 era?"
Doom 3’s design is rotted to the core and nowhere is this more apparent then the game’s story. The game’s story is so pedestrian that you probably spotted it walking across the street last week. I’ll sum it up in a sentence: man goes to mars, and demons spew out of artifact from hell. The rest you can probably fill in with your imagination so long as you’ve seen more than 3 B-horror films before. Although the game starts up with a rather immersive Half-Life sort of intro where you walk through the base and the game fills you with back story through audio logs reminiscent of System Shock 2, the game’s plot and pacing never really is justified by these attempts at storytelling.
This all leads me to the game’s biggest problem, which is a problem that has long since plagued the company since the days of John Romero. Back when Quake 2 was in production, John Romero was pushing hard for ID Software to make a game supported by a plot that supports the action rather then serves as forgettable backstory that is presented as a text screen–which is how the game eventually turned out. Despite Romero’s best intentions, Carmack was the brains behind the company who made the engines and he was the one to dictate where the game would be heading. Where that was the Quake franchise in 1998, I can’t help but see there being a similar conflict going on in this title.
The design often rings false. For example, the game is a classic shooter with some of the most well balanced weapons and enemies to grace any first person shooter. In this sense, the game relies on nothing but the player’s competence at aiming and moving. Yet, even when the player is playing to the best of his ability he will often need to hit the quickload key not because he accidentally fired a rocket at a cacodemon standing right in front of him, but because the game is stuffed full of these so-called "monster closets" that spawn an enemy unexpectedly who gets the drop on you. It’s like the distant cousin of a quick time event, because you’ll often get your ass handed too you and need to quickload back to your last save because of it. Yet, what was the player supposed to do?
ID Software have said time and time again that this is the Doom series re-imagined, and I can understand how these "monster closets" add to the scare factor but it is counter-intuitive to the rest of the game. This isn’t the only evidence of there being a rift in the game’s design. As you progress in the game, you get to bigger, more open areas that offer a pure, fluid FPS experience more akin to Doom and Doom 2. Needless to say, these are the highlight of the game yet they couldn’t be more opposing to everything that came before it. Which raises the question, why didn’t they just make the entire game on this blueprint…you know…the Doom blueprint that garnered the game a huge fanbase a decade ago.
My point is that Doom 3 just reeks of corporate calculation which I blame on John Carmack’s stubbornness to embrace anything new that can’t be conceived in 0’s and 1’s. You can just see him in his office saying, "Hey, people love this Half-Life game. Let’s do some of that scripted event stuff. ..hmmm and these System Shock 2 reviews are off the charts…people must love audio logs!" No people don’t love fucking audio logs! People love games that offer an immersive, fluid experience, which Doom 3 isn’t.
For all the shit I talk about the game, I went into Doom 3 expecting very little and came out having played one of the most competent shooters in recent years. Despite all my bitching, the game is expertly designed when you take out all the previously listed complaints. I can’t think of another shooter where I found myself using every single weapon until the last boss, which I attribute to smart enemy design. The levels, while redundant, really take advantage of the game’s graphic engine and really put the player in some of the most terrifying situations you could imagine, leading to a handful of memorable scares. It also must be said that the game’s graphic engine might be a bit dated now, but the animation and sound design will forever remain timeless and prime examples for games to come.
Doom 3 starts off as a Half-Life wannabe but it eventually becomes the Doom you remember with chaotic action mixed with a goofy b-movie atmosphere. Hell, you even find emails in the tail-end of the game with really lame in-jokes which makes me wonder why didn’t ID Software just make the game they wanted to make, rather then trying to appease both their old fanbase and what they perceived the critics wanted in 2004. Despite all the games faults, Doom 3 is a very solid shooter that may overstay it’s welcome at a lengthy 15+ hours of gameplay but the production quality and refined shooting makes the game worth picking up at a bargain bin price. I just wish ID Software stuck more to their guns…literally.