Doom 3 review
A Shot In The Dark


So, Doom. It's one of "those" games that can sit proudly in the knowledge that it's considered pretty damn important within the realms of its genre, if not gaming in general. This was a game that gave you guns, pointed to demons and said "kill". Doom 3 marks a significant update to the series as players get to gun down more demons. As fun as it can be, the more I play though, the more I feel is missing. Maybe titles like Half-Life 2 and Golden Eye have spoiled me.

Basically, you're a marine who's been transferred to a facility on Mars to replace some other poor sod and some stuff happens that I can't really remember involving a dull "let's make the player walk to the next story flag" segment and then demons. So, excuse plot then. I couldn't really see much in the way of development, as story sequences were disjointed and sparse. When a cutscene did kick in I was genuinely surprised by it because I'd just spent the last half hour blasting demons and forgetting about the why entirely. Then it ended and I went back to blasting demons. There's supposedly a lot of background in the PDA messages you can collect, but I couldn't be bothered for a lot of them. I must admit the inclusion of the more nonsensical messages like chain messages and volunteer recruitment was a nice touch, but this medium was just too limiting.

It's also dark. The space station you explore is certainly well crafted, if feeling a little samey after a while since most of the game is spent inside looking at eerily similar rooms and passages. A few points of interest are scattered about like some energy generating... thing I guess in one room you walk past or the monorail area. Sometimes there will be a change of pace, like a brief dash in an outside segment (and I do mean brief) but mostly it's the familiar space station routine. Characters and monsters alike are well designed. You have a few NPCs scattered about, as well as the corpses of significantly more who've fallen victim to enemies. Monsters give off just the right kind of vibe you'd expect from creatures you're expected to fill with bullets, if not quite the height of terror you may have been expecting. Any fear factor comes more from jump scares by having monsters waiting right behind doors or popping up behind you when you're busy trying to kill that freak just ahead of you.

It's just that it can be hard to appreciate a lot of this as the game plays the dark card, often knocking out the lights. I imagine the idea was to build tension, as you're left to rely on a simple flashlight to illuminate surroundings and hope that a demon isn't just round the corner of the wall sitting in darkness. It's problematic purely because it's not possible to have a flashlight up AND a weapon at the same time, and this is a game about blasting demons so either you're risking going around unarmed or you stumble around in the darkness a bit more prepared for whatever jumps out at you. Oh, and those areas with the constantly rapid flashing lights? Yeah, totally annoying. I'm only glad they are limited in number.

There isn't much in the way of music. It's more atmospheric stuff like the whirring of machinery around the station or the shouts and screams of NPCs. It's fairly good at creating some tension. There's also a lot of voice acting in the game, although it's not exactly woven into a thrilling dialogue. I can't really say there's anything wrong from a technical standpoint, but much of this voice acting lies in audio logs that I only honestly listened to in order to snag codes. Oh, and some was from the few scattered cutscenes and the radio bursts, but meh it was hard to care.

OK, let's talk about shooting stuff. Good news - Doom 3 is good when it comes to giving you guns and letting you shoot stuff. When you start the game you have nothing but your fists, but you manage to upgrade to a handgun before anything serious happens. Generally, you'll soon forget these lame options as the game hands you more interesting weapons like the shotgun, machine gun, plasma rifle and more. I have to admit, it's rare to come across a game that actually makes the starting handgun feel worthless shortly into the game, yet that's what happens here, as the shotgun and machine gun became my weapons of choice and it gave off quite a sense of power ripping through enemies like that. Switching between weapons is fairly easy, opting to either cycle through them with face buttons or assigning weapons to the D-Pad for fast access. You also have that all handy aiming circle on screen that helpfully goes red when your aim is on something you can tear to shreds. The sensitivity of aiming seems set just right and there's a nice balance of weapon capacity so that reloading doesn't interrupt your shooting too frequently as long as you make good use of the manual reload.

Enemy arrangement is fairly good. A few enemies will act smart - namely those with actual guns who seem to recall how to use cover when they're busy firing at you which can provide some level of challenge. Most enemies though tend to lack any real intelligence and opt for the "run towards the player screeching and slashing" so instead tend to rely more on positioning and level layout. Monsters will wait in ambush behind doors, leap out from hiding places and teleport in to surround you. It's a lot more decidedly mindless than other shooters I've played but there is a degree of fun to be had in gunning down creatures with reasonably high powered guns.

While there's a lot of fun to be had there, it's not as if combat exists without its problems. There's the whole darkness problem I mentioned earlier, forcing you to haphazardly flip between the flashlight and a gun. There's also the inclusion of zombies, which are the basic entry level grunts of the game. They pose no real threat and they die quickly simply by bashing them over the head with the flashlight. Early on these are a fine way to gently break a player into the way the game operates, but I've no idea why these pushovers continue to appear late into the game with actual less danger level than when they first appeared. It also gets a little samey feeling at a few points, where I would hope for a little more variation in things.

Sadly, there's not much room for exploration. Occasionally the game will throw in a second path that quickly results in a dead end but with a few goodies thrown in for your troubles and I appreciate these fleeting moments. More often though, you'll pass by a variety of doors that refuse to open because they're not where the game wants you to go and it's near impossible to get lost since there's only one direction to go. Other pickups are either scattered around in plain view or hidden in storage cabinets that require codes to open. These codes are acquired from PDAs you pick up from deceased NPCs, which can be a little tiresome as you're forced to go through all their messages to see if any codes are hidden within. Well, that is if you want the extra goodies. While the path through the game may be linear, it does make some reasonable attempts to make the trekking around interesting by varying up the paths you take. A lot of it is indeed walking through corridors and rooms, but you also find yourself scurrying up ladders to access emergency passageways, crawling through suspiciously spacious vents to circumvent obstructions or taking a trip outside the base to reach a new area.

As for puzzle involvement, there's little of that here. The PDAs act as thinly veiled keycards for opening doors, but since the game's pretty linear it's usually a case of going in one direction long enough to find one you need. There are a few times where the game throws an interesting task at you. One area had me operating a crane to dump toxic barrels out of a room and that was a surprising nice change of pace. Alas such scenarios are rare, as I think the game would have benefited from a lot more of them.

The game's fairly difficult so there's a good challenge awaiting. I played on the easiest setting and found my health jumping up and down as I took damage and healed up at the next opportunity. I'm sure more skillful players can take to the harder settings in order to give them the opposition they need. The game's campaign also lasts quite a while, so you get quite a lot out of it.

Doom 3 is fun in the pure sense that it gives you guns and lets you mindlessly gun down anything that pops up at you. But that's it. There's clear evidence of trying in other areas in order to make it a more complex shooter, but the efforts are too minimal to work well enough for that goal. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed playing through the game, but at the same time there was always this feeling that it was an experience that could have been so much more if it had tried that little bit harder.

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