Sounds go hollow and dim as the marine pulls on the Environment Suit helmet. The harsh sound of the re-breather is the loudest thing that can be heard. The door opens, granting access to the waste reclamation system, and almost instantly, a swarm of zombies, demonic cherubs and other things, like a cross between a dog and a partially vivisected alligator, leap forward. The gunfire is a hollow, distant thing inside the helmet.
Then, with a flash of orange lightning, a lumbering, eight-foot tall demon lieutenant appears, spewing a rapid-fire stream of fireballs from the guns that are grafted to where hands should be. The marine’s Chain Gun lays down a withering column of slugs, but not before cherubs, alligator-dogs and fireballs converge. The screen goes red. I’m dead. Again.
I’m describing a sequence of events from the immersive Resurrection of Evil, an add-on pack for Doom III, co-developed by Nerve Software and id Software. RoE‘s story begins two years after the events of Doom III. This time around, the military sends a team of “Combat Engineers” back to Mars to investigate a mysterious signal originating from the old UAC site there. The team is under the command of Dr. Elizabeth McNeil, an important character from the previous title. Soon, the team discovers a powerful artifact hidden in the alien ruins near the site.
The artifact turns out to be nothing less than Hell’s knock-off version of the Soul Cube from Doom III. When it’s claimed by the retrieval team (you), the portal into Hell is torn back open. Monsters galore as well as three Demon Hunters are released back into the Mars complex. Their mission: liquidate you and retrieve the Artifact for their infernal master.
With RoE, Nerve Software (the same team responsible for the excellent Return to Castle Wolfenstein back in 2002) has endeavored to evoke the “terrifying and intense action of the already classic DOOM 3” by recreating and expanding the original environments of the UAC complex from the original title, right up to and including Hell itself. This time, however, Hell will be sending over some heavy-hitters to try and take you out before you can bring the fight to their doorstep.
Okay, sounds good, right? I actually thought that, despite a few flaws, Doom III was a fine title, full of old-school, frantic run-and-gun action, brooding, hard-edged graphics and sound effects, and even, in comparison to past games id Software has developed, a beefy storyline. A second chance to enter those blood-spattered corridors or the unique and disturbingly Bosch-ian landscape of Hell that Doom III gave us comes as a welcomed opportunity.
But, there were many players who were left wanting after experiencing Doom III‘s somewhat limited bag of tricks in the scares department. Some complained, loudly and often, that Doom III was a one-trick-pony; less game than fun house, owing more to the game’s extensive use of darkness and its reliance on the cheap scare, rather than intelligent level design and clever monster AI.
This was not an uncommon complaint, either in reviews or in fan forums. Such noticeable and outspoken criticism begs the question: has id Software listened to their fans and used RoE to correct and possibly even enhance the original, or have they simply taken a fundamentally competent FPS title and added a few flourishing touches? The answer to both questions is yes. Let’s start with what works: new weapons, new multiplayer options (specifically, the triumphant return of Capture the Flag) and flat-out gorgeous visual and audio effects.
I’ll not belabor the point or resort to breathless hyperbole – if you’ve not yet experienced Doom III‘s advanced lighting, scripting, and level-design engine, then you’re in for a real treat. Dynamic light sources throw realistic, inky shadows across lovingly bump-mapped steel walls, and demons are illuminated in the hellish glow of their own fireballs, all while high-tech machinery whirs and spins, carrying mysterious, glowing canisters and containers on conveyer belts to awaiting robotic arms. Spinning, back-lit fans throw dynamic, rotating shadows across walls and floors, playing tricks on your eyes.
The pack further manages to keep the Doom III graphics legacy alive through map-building that almost seamlessly creates the illusion that, yes, you are on Mars, trapped inside a warren of cold, steel corridors, fighting for your life. Low ceilings, narrow, blind corners, the all-encompassing darkness, pushed back here and there by a flickering fluorescent fixture or bank of computer screens – almost every area bears the mark of unspeakable violence. Blood is splashed on the walls and floors, pooling around the bodies of the marines and scientists that preceded you.
This level of technical excellence carries over into the audio realm as well: every level is replete with hundreds of mood-building audio FX, from the constant, brain-hurting throb of the complex’s hidden machinery, to the blood-curdling, nails-on-chalkboard screech of a demon as it leaps to attack from concealment. In the distance, you can hear the shrieks of those that have lost their battle with the monsters hunting in these claustrophobic spaces. I played almost all of RoE wearing 5.1 USB headphones, and the use of positional sound is positively chilling at times, evoking a feeling of paranoia few games are able to approach. If you have the audio hardware to allow you to experience RoE‘s full audio glory, then be sure to use it.
Fans of the series will be happy to learn that Resurrection of Evil marks the return of the weapon most long-time Doom players associate with the franchise: the Double-Barreled Shotgun. This weapon, acquired in the first third of the game, promises to be a fan favorite. Its reload time is atrocious (there’s no sicker feeling than when a Vulgar unexpectedly dodges to the side, causing your devastating two-shell blast to miss, and you have to slowly reload, all the while getting shredded), but its sheer power at close range is devastating. Fans of multiplayer will doubtless be delighted to learn that the “Double Shotty” is also available for use in multiplay.
RoE also introduces the “Grabber” Gun, a wonderfully useful tool/weapon that allows the player to manipulate small objects in the environment. Players that are familiar with other recent FPS titles may feel that this sounds quite a bit like a similar, much-celebrated weapon from a different shooter (Half Life 2‘s Gravity Gun! ). It must be said, however, that any negatives resulting from the weapon’s derivative concept are more than canceled out by its design and implementation.
Simply put, Nerve has done a great job of dovetailing the Grabber with the game’s focus on non-stop action. Using the Grabber is as simple as clicking and holding to grab an object, and then releasing to throw, making it even simpler to use than its HL2 counterpart, particularly in the heat of battle. This weapon will likely become one of the player’s “staple” weapons, as it uses no ammunition and has the singularly wonderful ability to grab demonic fireballs right out of the air, then to hurl them back into your enemies’ faces. Being able to volley fireballs right back at Imps and Vulgars for a one-shot kill, rather than having to dodge them, is one of RoE‘s defining pleasures.
And there are a lot of enemies to beat down this time around, some familiar to Doom III veterans, some new. Look for additions such as the spidery, wall-crawling Vulgar, the flying Forgotten and the hulking Bruiser, who fight alongside and, occasionally, against the “usual suspects” from the original Doom III: zombies, Hell Knights, and even the occasional Imp.
Another interesting weapon is the Artifact that began this whole mess in the first place. This item, shaped disturbingly like a floating, beating human heart, has the ability to absorb the powers of the Demon Hunters that are sent after the player, once they are defeated. These powers, Hell Time, Berserk and Invulnerability, are usable whenever the Artifact is powered up with souls, absorbed from the corpses your demonic foes have so graciously left lying around all over the complex.
FPS veterans will not be surprised by these powers. Hell Time, for example, is nothing else than the oft-imitated “Bullet Time” effect made famous in the Max Payne series. Despite the power’s less-than-original concept, it’s still quite an exciting thing to watch time slow to a crawl at your command, while you are not affected, dodging leaping enemies and molasses-slow fireballs effortlessly, then cutting them down in cinematic slo-mo with your weapons.
But as effective and visceral as the power is, it’s really nothing we’ve not seen done in other FPS titles, and therein lies the seed of my dissatisfaction with Resurrection of Evil. Despite all the glorious visual wizardry, ominous and creep-tacular environments and stellar sound design, RoE has, in every facet of its design, a feeling of d?j? vu, as if I’ve seen all this and done all this before.
Indeed, the gameplay in Resurrection of Evil follows basically the same tried-and-true formula that Doom III did, necessitating the use of the same techniques that proved most effective in that game: find door, open door then immediately backpedal in case a demon’s lurking on the other side, enter room, pause, listen for teleporting demons, go a few more steps into the room, keeping back against wall, wait for trigger, move a few more steps, etc.
I will admit that there were times that I felt like a real space marine when doing the “Doom III Shuffle” – I would enter a new room, scan those dark corners with my flashlight and listen for tell-tale sounds that warned of impeding danger, sweating finger on the fire button, just waiting to be attacked. The game’s constant, throbbing background sounds and spooky lights do a great deal to evoke a feeling of constant dread mixed with jumpy anxiety, and I literally cannot count the number of times that a well-placed audio trigger had me spinning in place, bringing my guns to bear on some illusionary foe I was sure had somehow gotten behind me.
Unfortunately, this “jump out of the closet” type of scare, just as in the original Doom III, gets really old, really fast. The lead designer of RoE would have done well to watch a few more horror movies while scripting the game’s many triggered events.
For example, in Alien (a film that I always compare to the claustrophobic corridors of Erebus and Phobos Labs in the early game), director Ridley Scott really knew how to build tension. He did not have the alien leaping out of every convenient ceiling duct or crawlspace every thirty seconds; he allowed long periods where the characters moved through the creepy interiors, showing us their fear and letting the tension build and build, until you almost welcomed the appearance of the monster.
In Resurrection of Evil, however, just as in the original Doom III, you can pretty much be assured any time you walk through a door or enter a new room that something (usually several somethings) will be popping in, probably from behind or above, fireballs in-hand and rushing headlong to kill you. The scare, in other words, gets predictable quickly.
Lead Designer, Tim Willits, in the months preceding its release, promised gamers “a much more action-packed experience” with RoE, and yet the add-on pack only partially delivers in this area. True, there are more monsters, and they seem to come at you even more aggressively than before, but the essential character of the game’s pacing is pretty much the same as Doom III‘s. As in that title, unless you are a player blessed with twich-reflexes, a careful, measured approach using the “Doom III Shuffle” described above will be your best chance of survival.
A few levels go so far as to force you to hurry through them via an artificially imposed countdown clock. This is most notable in an extensive sewer level featuring the return of the Environment Suit from Doom II and a level that takes place outside on the surface of Mars. Both of these areas challenge the player with waves of fast-moving enemies as a clock ticks down your remaining suit power.
These levels, however, are more frustrating than “action packed,” as they both require foreknowledge of the areas’ monster spawn triggers that you will need to get past before your air runs out and you start dying. Eventually, I got so tired of running and re-running these timed levels that I simply enabled the game’s “god” mode and took my own sweet time getting past them.
Another hallmark of the Doom franchise, epic boss battles, is a bit lukewarm in RoE as well. While the Demon Hunters look fabulous and really hit the mark in terms of their surprise value when they first appear, actually fighting them feels weak, even, dare I say it, trite. Your first battle against a Hunter, for example, takes place in front of a set of conveniently-placed “energy cannons” that make no sense whatsoever in the environment in which they are placed, other than to provide the player with ammunition for the Grabber Gun. Which, coincidentally, is the only way to defeat the Hunter.
The boss AI in that battle, as in all the rest, is weak, harkening back to the Good ol’ Days of Nintendo platformers, where the bosses always attacked in a set, predictable pattern, devoid of logic. Once the player figures out the “trick” that each Demon Hunter is basically 100% vulnerable to, defeating them is simple. In a world where games like Half Life 2, Aliens vs. Predator 2, Unreal Tournament 2003 and 2004 and other top-notch FPS titles have pushed the envelope in terms of AI innovation, such a fundamentally pattern-based and brain-dead performance on the part of RoE‘s bosses is pretty disappointing.
So, what it really comes down to in my mind is that your enjoyment of Resurrection of Evilwill almost certainly be relative to how much you liked Doom III. Everything that worked in that title works even better in RoE: better visual effects, more aggressive monsters (bosses being the exception), more balanced multi-play, and improved weapons, namely the long-awaited Double-Shotty, the Artifact, and the hell-spawned powers that it commands.
If, however, you are a “widely read” gamer, then the add-on pack’s use of elements that borrow heavily from other games (derivative – If not outright copies – of weapons like the Grabber, Hell Time/Bullet Time, etc.) may distract or even bother you. And little has been done to get past the main complaint that many had against Doom III: that, despite that game’s eye-popping bag of visual tricks, this is a game that relies heavily on “cheap scares,” repetitive ambush tactics, and pattern-based, ending, boss battles.
In the final analysis, Resurrection of Evil really is, despite its disappointments, a “must have” title for any Doom III fan. Online players will love the return of Capture the Flag and the game’s speedier net code, and MOD-makers will doubtless look to use the add-on’s resources, monsters and weapons in future maps and projects. And anyone that enjoyed the main game’s single-player experience will be treated to more of the same goodness in this second helping.
So, strap on that body armor and load that BFG, Marine. There are some demons out there in serious need of killing, and you’re just the person to administer the treatment. See you in Hell.