Coming nearly ten years after the groundbreaking original, Doom 3 continues id Software's first-person shooter series with a true 3D engine featuring bump-map texturing and enhanced lighting and shadow effects. Players will revisit the setting introduced in 1993's Doom but with a more involved storyline written by sci-fi scribe Matthew Costello (of 7th Guest and The 11th Hour fame).
The result is a more cinematic experience than in games past, with elements of horror interwoven with the action to create a sense of tension. Shadows sometimes appear a split second before enemies attack, creatures materialize in the reflections of mirrors, and monsters can break through walls. Certain classic enemies have also been upgraded, such as the imps, which now stare players down with glaring eyes before pouncing on them.
After putting out some of the most influential games of the past 10 years and then spending the last four years crafting one of the most highly anticipated games of modern times, everything comes down to expectations. Was Doom 3 worth the wait? That answer will vary from person to person, so it should be no surprise that in the end, what you get out of Doom 3 is equivalent to what you put in. Anyone who expects it to be a technical masterpiece will assuredly come away impressed. But anyone who expects it to be equally amazing in the gameplay department might well wonder where the last four years went. The truth actually lies somewhere in between, and expectations should be adjusted accordingly.
Adjusted to its highest graphical settings, Doom 3 is indeed a stunning sight. Textures are crisp and clean, and finding the smallest evidence of awkward-looking polygonal angles takes effort. Even at the middle and lower settings, the game maintains excellent visuals, and the overall art direction serves the sci-fi setting well. But what's most impressive is the use of light and shadow to not only accentuate the detailed interiors, but also to create the desolate, desperate atmosphere of the distraught Mars outpost. Every once and again, a game will inspire the comment, "Graphics aren't going to get much better than this." Doom 3 is one of those games, and developers who license Id's new engine will have chosen wisely.
In contrast, Doom 3's game mechanics are neither revolutionary nor evolutionary in any discernable way. As Doom 3 is a retelling of the story first spun in the original Doom, it's not surprising that the ideas are roughly the same: A lone marine with big guns journeys from point A to point B, destroying lots of zombies and demons along the way. On the other hand, Doom is now 10 years old, and it's not unreasonable to want to refresh an old theme with new ideas.
The game relies on building feelings of tension, apprehension, and anticipation; early on it succeeds, but near the midpoint, it has taught you exactly what to expect - that is, enter a room, trigger enemy appearances, clear room, repeat. The feelings of fear evaporate, and what's left are tasks that are routine in the first-person-shooter genre. It's unfortunate because though the last third of the game takes place in the most interesting environments, by the time you get there, everything seems tiresome: A pair of imps suddenly spawns near the access door. Genuinely shocking at the beginning, this is now old hat. A Maggot appears from out of nowhere and slashes you. That's just annoying.
Even if your experience matches your expectations, Doom 3 still sends out mixed messages. Juvenile monster designs and cheesy moments in the script undermine the genuinely frightening parts as well as the impressive design and detail of the environments. As horror-based games go, Doom 3 can't decide if it wants to be popcorn (Resident Evil) or pop psychology (Silent Hill).
So now that taking the serious approach to Doom 3 has been ruled out, it is probably best to play the game with the following expectations: A lone marine with big guns will destroy lots of zombies and demons. Anyone who has had any experience with any Id-developed shooter knows that when it comes to the finer points of shooting and maneuvering through 3D space, the developer is a master of the craft. Enemies and weapons are well balanced, progression through the Mars base is even and steady, and the locations are varied enough to keep things interesting. By taking this approach, Doom 3 is simple, effective, and ultimately enjoyable.
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