Video gaming is a relatively new phenomenon that seems to grow exponentially in popularity every year. Yet despite the fact that last year the video game industry made more money than all Hollywood movie studios combined, video games and, more specifically, PC gaming, remain on the outer rim of social acceptance. Indeed, the vast majority of games that achieve everyday recognition often do so for the wrong reasons, ala Grand Theft Auto.
This isn’t to say that developers are not trying. Now, with the imminent arrival of the sequel to one of the most influential and well known PC games ever made, our beloved pastime is set to take popular culture by storm.
With the release of Doom 3 gnawing at our heels, we find ourselves on the cusp of a gaming renaissance of sorts, in which the bar has been raised significantly in terms of what gamers expect and deserve for their money. Once again, id Software and its Doom franchise boldly usher in this new era of gaming with an evolutionary product that pushes the limits of even the most advanced home computers. The game that launched a thousand upgrades is poised to become the next great thing in digital media. All the hype, all the speculation, and all the waiting will crescendo the very moment id Software unleashes its prized creation upon the hordes of restless gamers and the world at large. That creation is, of course, Doom 3. The obvious question now becomes: is it humanly possible for id Software to produce a game capable of surpassing its own hype?
Can they possibly please everyone?
Odds are that if you’re reading this review then you are already familiar with the Doom franchise. Though the developers have stated that Doom 3’s plot unfolds prior to the events of the first two installments, the premise is still comfortably similar. The UAC, (read: generically evil corporate conglomerate) while experimenting with a top-secret teleportation project, have opened a literal gateway into hell that threatens to destroy the very fabric of the Universe. While the minions of the underworld are unleashed upon a Mars-based colony, a small contingent of Marines (of which you are a member) are all that stands between the legions of the Dark Lord and an invasion of cataclysmic proportions against everybody’s favorite blue planet – cue the mayhem. While it all sounds amazingly unoriginal, id Software actually commissioned a professional sci-fi writer to pen the script. Whatever the story, there’s little doubt that what lies ahead for the unsuspecting (or, for most of us, very suspecting) gamer is one of the most exhilarating and heart pounding gaming experiences ever. Besides, the Doom series has never suffered with the weighty expectancy of convoluted plotlines or multi-layered character development. No, it’s always simply been about setting standards for the gaming industry and that’s something that Doom 3 excels at.
The greatest departure from its earlier incarnations is that Doom 3 is not merely a run-and-gun affair. Instead of the mindless action akin to games like Serious Sam or Pain Killer, Doom 3 forces the player to be alert and resourceful while traversing the game’s 28 levels – but don’t let that ?scare’ you off. Doom 3 is most definitely an action packed shooter. Gameplay is reminiscent of titles such as Half Life or even System Shock 2; however, the trademark ?find the key and open the door’ objectives are still riddled throughout. Let us be clear, there are no new revolutionary gameplay mechanics. The pacing in Doom 3 is very deliberate; the game begins slowly and the action steadily builds (along with the variety and power of your weapon selection) as the player progresses. Not long after the onset of the demonic invasion it suddenly becomes clear that Doom 3 is very similar to a walk-through haunted house. Essentially it’s one scare after another as you advance through the game’s landscapes. Indeed, it’s not a complicated formula but I can’t stress enough how splendidly it works.
While I’m not one to scare easily, id Software has managed to engineer a game and setting that will undoubtedly have you looking over your shoulder well after you’ve left their virtual world. Whether it’s an abruptly collapsing ceiling, a slavering monster springing from a shadowy corner, or simply a beast spawning from thin air directly in front of you, the goal is to scare, and Doom 3 nails it. There were a few memorable incidences throughout the course of the game when I simply had to stop playing because I just couldn’t take any more sudden jolts. Even when you know they’re coming, the scares are so well constructed that you just can’t help but be surprised when they’re revealed. For example, there is a particular sequence, early in the game, where you must crawl through the obligatory maze of ventilation shafts. Obviously something’s going to be in there with you, and it’s safe to assume it doesn’t want to stop awhile and discuss the national deficit. But the game’s overt familiarity doesn’t matter – id Software has you in its grip and they’re not going to let go. The word of the day becomes dread. While there are never more than 4 or 5 monsters on screen at any one time, the combat still feels incredibly frenetic and desperate. Ammo always seems to be scarce; health always appears to be low and even the game’s low-level denizens always feel powerful and significant. Without giving anything away, and believe me it’s a wise choice, there are numerous moments in Doom 3 that will leave even the most hardened and jaded gamer slack jawed.
While the weapons inventory is fairly standard for a first-person shooter, there are one or two pieces of hardware that deserve special recognition. The Soul Cube is an especially interesting piece of otherworldly weaponry; when fully charged it quite literally sucks the life from any enemy in its path, killing said demonic miscreant and replenishing your own health in the process. Having said that, the weapons of choice to rain down Holy fury upon Satan’s hordes remain the trusty shotgun and assault rifles.
While Doom 3 plays incredibly well, undoubtedly the most touted and anticipated aspect of the game – the one that has seen everyone swooning – are its graphics. I cannot stress fervently enough through mere written words that Doom 3’s graphics are, without question, the best that I have ever witnessed in a video game. Not only do the character models and textures astonish, but the attention to detail is simply impeccable. Bump mapping, dynamic lighting, ?heat haze’ and a myriad of other graphical effects are all in evidence, and all look fabulous. While exploring the dark corridors of the Mars installation, if you shine your flashlight at just the right angle, you can actually see dust particles floating through the air. The physics engine, which has now become standard fare in such high-profile games, also performs magnificently. Bodies and lights sway realistically, and furniture is accurately tossed around during the carnage. Doom 3 not only looks phenomenal, but its atmospheric gameworld immerses you so incredibly that someone merely watching a gaming session would be hard-pressed not to become fully engrossed. Because of Doom’s sophisticated graphics, there has been much concern voiced as to whether it would be enjoyable, or even playable, on anything but the latest and greatest computer hardware. Fear not, as it has been revealed that, Doom 3 is designed to run on a wide array of systems. Though the resolution and eye candy must be turned down somewhat, id Software has assured the gaming community that Doom 3 is fully playable on a minimum spec computer. So now there’s simply no excuse for anyone with a PC to not own this game.
In my opinion, Doom 3’s strongest technical feature is its graphics engine, but many will likely contest that viewpoint thanks to the game’s staggering sound. If ever anyone needed an excuse to upgrade to a 5.1 surround sound speaker system – then this game is absolutely it. I can’t adequately convey just how much deeper the experience becomes. Groans and growls envelop the player as enemies close in and surround you. The agonizing screams and death cries of fellow marines are streamed over your communication device as a fireball explodes behind you. Another guttural demon charges noisily from the left as spent shell casings drop, tinkling to the floor while you back-pedal feverishly only to be flanked by yet another bloodthirsty minion. Try adding 5.1 sound to the equation; I guarantee that Doom 3 will have your heart racing. The sound effects in general, while nothing revolutionary, are still quite good; if I had to nitpick, I was moderately disappointed with some of the game’s representative weaponry sounds. They didn’t resonate deeply enough for my liking but, again, I’m absolutely nitpicking here.
Though I dabbled in the multiplayer facet of the game, I found myself too absorbed in the single player campaign to give it a thorough appraisal. It is important to remember that Doom 3’s multiplayer is not Unreal Tournament or Quake 3, nor is it meant to be. Much like the single player game, it is its own ?monster’ and must be judged as such. All hyperbole aside, Doom 3 is, in actuality, a crowning achievement in the world of gaming. It thoroughly earns and deserves its place alongside such other genre classics as Half Life, System Shock 2, and even Far Cry. After spending several hours in a constant state of anxiety and dread (the good kind, I can assure you), it’s almost laughable to think that anyone would have doubted id Software’s ability to make the game anything but a monumental experience. Is Doom 3 perfect? Well no – nothing is. The game isn’t afraid to utilize the cheap scare tactic, and it can be predictable at times. It also relies heavily on scripted events, and to a degree, this hurts its replay value. As mentioned earlier, aside from the graphics engine, there isn’t a whole lot that we haven’t seen before. However, it is still a truly awesome experience and as good as anything that has come before it. It is the epitome of a polished, cinematic experience that is not so much revolutionary as it is evolutionary. As has happened with previous id Software game engines, we’re bound to see many more games based on this technology, and that’s a comforting thought for enthusiasts. Is Doom 3 the release that will save PC gaming? Perhaps that’s going a bit far. Is Doom 3 the beginning of many great things for our favorite pastime? I don’t think anyone can say otherwise