Doom 3 catches a lot of flak these days. Some go as far as to label it id’s worst game. Complaints range from the guns not having flashlights, monster closets, and a color palette only composed of inky blackness. Some of the complaints are valid, while some are blown out of proportion by the howling hyperbole monster. It’s certainly not perfect, but it deserves better than the reputation it wears now.
Doom 3 hits the atmosphere out of the park. It’s spooky, it’s scary, and it’s properly hellish. Lights flicker and machinery hisses steam. It feels real and industrial; everything is grimy and worn. I can imagine people laboring inside these facilities, inventing the technology that will power Earth’s tomorrow.
Sometimes the darkness gets excessive. The id Tech 4 engine had the power to make the man-made environments come alive, while at the same time making hell properly horrible. The organic hell-growth gleams. It is properly sickly and disgusting in appearance, but those juices can’t gleam if there isn’t any light being thrown on them. The engine would have better been able to shine if the lights had been just a bit brighter.
These monitors are attached to something. I swear.
This isn’t to say all the darkness in the game is bad. There is a reason kids are scared of the dark. Fear of the unknown is one of the most basic human instincts. This fear ties into the use of the flashlight. The unnamed and silent space marine can only wield a flashlight or a gun, never both. This does two things. The player has to decide whether to advance with the flashlight or a gun, knowing they’ll be either defenseless or blind. By extension, the flashlight also takes power away from the player.
Doom 3 is a horror game, but it isn’t survival horror. The weapons in this game are as diverse as they are powerful. Pointing a plasma rifle into the darkness doesn’t take its power of the unknown away, but it gives me comfort that I’ll be ready for what’s waiting. If I use the flashlight I’ll be able to see the creatures, but in the time it takes me to switch weapons I’ll be powerless to fight back. Modding the game to add flashlights attached to guns gives the player all the power and creates a less threatening situation. Take away the tension that is created by having to choose between packing heat or shining a light, and Doom 3 becomes less of a game.
That slimy glean! That ammo counter! That call back!
The game gets other things right. The guns are great. One of the things that id is good at is making guns that are fun to shoot. The shotgun gives off a satisfying boom when fired and a nice mechanical click when pumped. I’m also a sucker for guns with their ammunition count displayed directly on the weapon. A few firearms in this game do that, and I love it (probably the Aliens fan in me talking).
The audio logs are also great. There’s a reason for them to exist within the fictional framework of how the Union Aerospace Corporation operates and the voice acting is good. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that the audio logs make more sense than those found in Bioshock.
There's also the interactive computer interfaces with in world mouse control. They're a small touch, but they provide an excellent sense of immersion.
For everything I enjoy about this game, there are things holding it back. Monster closets are lame and cheap. For every enemy that scuttles out of the floor creepily, another one will pop out of a wall that suddenly opens up. It’s cheap and lazy, a product of game design out of date when the game came out and completely archaic in this day and age.
The monsters are all creepy and interesting, but the character models are just plain bad. Actual humans are repeated over and over again to the point where four or five identical looking dudes are the only people populating Mars City. This is compounded by a drought of women on Mars. I only met one and she died immediately afterwards our paths crossed. The lack of diversity in the humans proved to be one of the most jarring parts of the experience.
id didn’t raise the bar for first person shooting with this game like Half-Life 2 would months later. It provided a straightforward and fun first person shooter. Sure there was no complex AI or alternate fires for each of the weapons, but what is there is fun. In an age of modern military shooters with campaigns with less than a full afternoon's worth of gameplay, Doom 3 feels fresh, and what better time to give it a chance than October?