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The Ultimate Doom

This time it’s for real! Doom 3, the long-awaited third installment in id Software’s hallowed Doom series of PC games, has finally landed. I admit I haven’t posted here in quite a few days because, well, I’ve been busy playing it, among other things I’ve been tied up with. Eventually, though, I wanted to make my way here and post my official thoughts about the game, so here goes.

I’m just about halfway through the game now. And it is amazing. Just as my jaw dropped on January 6th, 1994, when I first saw the original Doom running on my computer, it dropped again last Wednesday when I finally got Doom 3 installed and loaded up. Let me sum up the gameplay by saying that Doom 3 feels like the offspring of Doom and System Shock 2. It has some of the suspense and mystery of the latter, and some of the hair-raising action of the former. It makes for a highly competent marriage of two very enviable characteristics in FPS games, and although I’ve read reports of some people who do not like the new Doom for whatever reason, I’m certainly not one of those people. Frankly, I think id has created a masterpiece, a great tradeoff of both old and new concepts, and included something to please everyone. The key here is that Doom 3 probably won’t please everyone completely, but it does enough things well that I think the end result is one of the more entertaining games of the 00’s.

I’m not sure if I’d call today’s entry a “review” of the game—although by the time I get done, it may well be—but it is a gathering of disjointed thoughts and adventures I’ve experienced in my last week of gaming. I figure there are enough objective, point-by-point reviews of the game floating around the Intarweb by now that you don’t need my version of the same product. Instead I’ll let more of my anecdotal evidence tell Doom’s tale for you. For your dose of objectivity, I’ll try to fill in gaps I feel are not covered by many reviews out there, as evidenced by the questions I see over and over on various message boards. And since almost all of my readers already have played and enjoyed Doom 3, I’m not trying to sell the game to you through my words. I thought it would be more interesting to relate some things I’ve experienced along the way.

Speaking of often-asked questions, the one I most commonly saw right around the time of the game’s release was, “Is the double-barreled shotgun in?” No, it isn’t. The “Super Shotgun” introduced in Doom II does not reappear here, and frankly, I had no emotional reaction to this one way or another. I was never a fan of the Super Shotgun. Yeah, it had massive destuctive power and it sounded pretty cool. But the pump shotty was always my Best Friend from the beginning, and in almost every aspect I found it superior to its big brother. Since Doom 3 does include a futuristic but still very traditional shotgun of the pump variety, my SDAPOI roots have been satiated.

Whilst playing Doom 3, I consistently felt like I was playing a movie. Yeah, I’ve said that before about games, like Medal of Honor and Call of Duty, but this is entirely different. Where the other games felt like pleasantly familiar movies that I could predict the endings of, Doom 3 feels like a movie I haven’t yet seen. Yes, it smacks heavily of Aliens, and even reminds me of The Abyss in the sense that the claustrophobic facilities you’re traipising through are laid out much like the interior of Deep Core. But I find myself not knowing where the next plot twist will occur or what to expect, and the sensation is incredibly exciting and exhilarating. It’s like your favorite futuristic military suspense movie was really a week long instead of two hours. The fun is almost endless! (Plus, those movies I mentioned are two of my favorites, so any borrowed influence only makes the experience that much more awesome.)

Speaking of which, this is not one of those games which you will install and finish in six hours, unless you play on easy difficulty and rush your way through. I find myself moving slowly, checking behind every wall and pillar, shining my flashlight under staircases and listening to my pulse pounding in my ears as I cautiously approach the blood-streaked door at the end of the next hall, dreading what I may find on the other side. As I mentioned, I may not even be halfway through the game yet, and I’ve been playing for days. I love to take my time and really soak up all the atmosphere of a game like this. And Doom’s got atmosphere in spades.

Atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. I think it is probably my #1 most important factor when evaluating a PC game, particularly an FPS. The graphics, sound, gameplay and level design can all be fantastic, but if for some reason it doesn’t add up to an atmospheric experience I can really dig into, I’m going to be left feeling unsatisfied—or at least, just feeling like I’m playing a game. I feel like I’m living Doom 3.

A lot of people lament that Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, who was originally on board as the sound effects and music producer for Doom 3, left the project. However I find very few faults with the game’s sound design. There are a lot of fresh, new effects that I’ve not heard before (although some have been used in other games I’ve played recently, including System Shock 2, ironically), and some of them actually made me say “Oh damn! That sounds awesome!” At one point I reloaded my savegame twice and replayed through the section where you have to restart the three air filtration pumps, because the crazy alarm klaxon that blares in the background as you choke to death on the toxic fumes is so cool.

A few of the player’s weapons sound a little on the weak side, particularly the machine gun (I’ve heard it described as sounding like a typewriter), but overall I think the sound selection is excellent. There is really no soundtrack as you would think of it in the classic Doom sense (Bobby Prince’s original score is still one of my personal favorites), but there are moments where creepy synthesized music cues will clue you in to either a horrific scene or an action moment about to occur. The music is understated but is just enough, I think, to enhance the all-important atmosphere that much more.

Best of all are the creepy atmospheric sounds and freaky voices and screams often heard throughout the UAC base. Players may tell you that the game gets really good about four hours in, and I think they’re right. The horror factor is definitely turned up several notches as you delve deeper into the base, and things start taking on a more System Shock 2-esque psychological horror flair. At one point, in the old Comm Transfer station, I happened upon an elevator and pressed the call button. Almost immediately a disembodied, demonic voice began cackling from seemingly everywhere, and a power brownout caused all the lights in the area to dim. The status console next to the elevator suddenly spat out, “Low Power Condition – Elevator Operation Suspended.” A very strange series of sounds that I could not quite make out came from beyond the elevator doors. Spooked, I found an alternate way into the depths of the base.

Later, on a higher floor, I came across the same elevator shaft—and this time, the doors were open. There was a scene of bloody carnage spread everywhere. The doors were bent and jammed half-shut, while blood-streaked dismembered limbs lay strewn everywhere. The walls were covered with wildly sprayed, lurid patterns of blood. Somewhere, from deep down in the elevator shaft, a strange sort of scream could be heard…but was it the scream of metal against metal, or the tortured wail of a person caught in the grips of a hellspawned demon? Thoroughly unsettling. There was a health kit in the elevator, and for a moment I hesitated to pick it up, fearing that if I stepped foot on that lift, the whole thing would come crashing down and deposit me in whatever bowels of hell that noise was coming from.

Other notable moments of terroristic suspense came when I located my first plasma rifle. You old hats may fondly remember this blue fireball-spewing weapon from the original Doom, and I’m happy to report that Doom 3’s plasma gun is probably the most fun-to-use and coolest-looking incarnation yet. I came across my first plasma rifle quite by accident. I was making my way cautiously through the EFR containment area when I heard a whispering voice call out to me: “Over here.” It distinctly came from a shadowy corner off to my right, and immediately my guard was up—over the course of the game, I’d been collecting audio logs from other base employees who reported hearing those exact same voices in the weeks leading up to the “accident.” Emotionally not wanting to investigate, but knowing there had to be something to it, I readied my flashlight and crept into the dark.

There was a choking, narrow series of hallways back there. It looked like a service corridor. This led into an increasingly lightless area. Again, I heard the whispering voice, beckoning me closer. It was louder now. Suddenly, I came upon a small room lit only with dim, bronze emergency lights. There on the floor was a plasma rifle. Obviously, I knew if I picked that thing up, all hell would break loose. But I wasn’t going to pass up a weapon like that, so I grabbed it.

A loud hiss of escaping air nearly scared me shitless, and a door flew open right in my face. I nearly unloaded the plasma gun into the wall. A closet-like room had just been revealed, and inside of it, rather than an imp or some other ethereal beastie, was nothing but a tasty suit of armor. WTF? Picking up a tasty weapon and being rewarded with another useful goody? It didn’t seem right. Cautiously, I stepped into the closet and picked up the armor.

WHAM. The door slammed shut.

The lights turned red, and a horrible banging came from the door, as though some enraged thing was out there trying to get in. After several gut-wrenching seconds of this, the door slammed open, and the hellspawn attacked. Some of that perfectly understated musical score kicked in, comprised of nothing but synthesized bass sixteenth notes playing over and over, like something out of the soundtrack for the original 1984 Terminator film. I had to drop my flashlight to ready my shotgun, and this plunged the small chamber into complete darkness. Flailing around wildly in the inky depths, opening up with round after round of shotgun fire, the muzzle flash revealed brief, lurid glimpses of zombies reaching out to choke me, imps pouring fireballs down my throat and Z-Sec freaks coming down the hallway with machine guns. I probably cursed out loud for the next minute or two until I’d destroyed them all. The sixteenth notes quieted down and suddenly the mood was back to “cautiously guarded.” I reloaded all of my weapons, my hands twitching. This game seriously fucks with your nerves.

While those have been only two of my many memorable “horror moments” thus far, Doom 3 also pays a fair amount of homage to its roots with its frenetic action sequences. There are times where you’ll forgo the suspense-building terror for all-out carnage, where your ring finger will be slamming down the “sprint” button and you’ll be circle-strafing like a mofo, dumping hot plasma down a Cacodemon’s throat or splattering those goddamn demon spiders all over the walls. Occasionally the action will get so crazy that you’ll wind up doing something totally stupid in a fit of panic, then laughing your ass off about it as your character succumbs to his own death.

One such moment came during one of the game’s many outdoor sequences. There are parts where you’ll cycle yourself through an airlock and find yourself on the surface of Mars, drinking sweet oxygen through your combat suit’s tanks. You only have a few seconds to live out there, so it’s imperative that you find the next airlock and proceed to your next objective before asphyxiation sets in. Of course, the demons of Hell can’t resist the temptation to ruin your day, so they often come swooping down on you while you’re out there, while your hands are always full just fighting for air. At one point, a hoard of Cacodemons descended on me during an outdoor trek, and I had no idea where the other airlock was.

There were oxygen tanks lying around, just enough to keep my air supply going while I frantically flung plasma at the floating hellions. Those bastards are hard to hit though, much harder than the original Cacodemons from the older games, and I found myself wasting a lot of plasma. Suddenly, I realized my oxygen meter was flashing red! I had mere seconds left! Dropping the gun, I whipped out a flashlight and ran like smeg across the tarmac, my eyes frantically searching the walls of the installation for an airlock. The sounds of the player gasping and wheezing started to fill my ears—but wait, there it was! The airlock door! Dammit, hurry! My stamina meter was empty; I’d exhausted it from running around shooting at Cacodemons (which were now cruising up behind me, I might add) and I stumbled toward the door with agonizing slowness.

The wheezing intensified, and the bright crimson fog of blood began to seep into my view from the outside edges of my monitor, clouding my vision. The airlock was open now; I stumbled toward the console, grabbing for the button that would cycle and repressurize the chamber. When you get close enough to a console in Doom 3, you automatically lower your weapon (or flashlight) and your crosshair turns into a cursor, allowing you to interact with the panel. Inches from death, I wasn’t quite close enough to the airlock controls as I started stabbing at the left mouse button, and I succeeded only in wailing on the control panel with my flashlight several times until I finally died of asphyxiation. I immediately fell apart, laughing at the unintentional realism of my situation—a dying man crawling for every last inch, swinging hopelessly at the console with a flashlight in an attempt to hit the button that could save his life. Awesome! Just awesome!

There’s all kinds of cool stuff like this filling Doom 3’s corridors, making each and every moment you play the game as exciting as the last. I got off to a bit of a slow start; the game isn’t quite as exciting in the first couple of chapters, but soon you’ll really be digging it. The environment takes you through huge industrial plants filled with gargantuan machinery on a scale you can barely believe. Most of the game feels cramped and claustrophobic, so when you come across the Enpro reactor containment building and see that the ceiling disappears into nothingness beyond your field of view’s vanishing point, you really are awed at the spectacle. I stood around the flaming reactor just staring up at the ceiling for quite some time. The effect reminds somewhat of the central core from the film The Andromeda Strain, but infinitely taller and more expansive.

So where am I in the game now, you ask? Well, having recently “disobeyed a direct order!” and cancelled the distress signal I was about to send to the military fleet, I made my way through the recycling sectors (boy, was that a hair-raising trip) and have just arrived at the monorail. As I stepped out of the elevator and approached the monorail platform, I heard a young woman’s voice whisper, “Deliver us from eeeevillll…” in a really disturbing way. It was here that I quit the game for the night, so as you can well imagine, I’m anxious to get back in there and find what awaits me. The monorail will take me to the Delta Labs, where all of that freak Bertruger’s hellish experiments have been going on. I imagine things will only get more interesting from here.

I don’t suppose I really need to say this, but the bottom line is that Doom 3 is a game you should definitely add to your arsenal. Doomsday, after all, comes only once in a generation.