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The classic game appreciation section: Doom 3

Doom 3 then. Too dark. Too claustrophobic. Too many corridors. Not enough carnage. Closet monsters, closet, monsters, closet monsters. And that torch-or-gun mechanic is cheap as hell. That’s the accepted wisdom of much of the internet these days. But you know what? Much of the internet is full of crap. Yes, Doom 3 has some flaws. Yes, it’s very different from the Dooms of old. But taken on its own terms, it’s also a blistering, nerve-pounding, brutally affecting thrill-ride, one that got under my skin like few other games before it, and had the scare-power to turn my very own home into a nightmarish domain of half-seen horrors, ambiguous noises, and thick, black shadows that absolutely, resolutely did want to kill me as soon as the sun went down. But you know, in a good way.

So follow me, if you will, through the mists of time, and let me recount to you just why Doom 3 is so special.


Ugly-Beautiful

Every so often, a game appears and shakes your whole perception of what the medium can do the very first second you clap eyes on it. Obviously, such an immediate response usually comes by way of massive technical evolution, such as a vast visual leap forward, or a previously unimagined game mechanic. Super Mario World. Virtua Fighter. Super Mario 64. Half-Life 2. All of these games have done it. All of them have at some point given me the feeling that I’d found myself transported forward through time and was somehow fortunate enough to be playing the games of the very future. And Doom 3 did it too. Very few games have since, actually. Probably only Portal, and maybe Gears of War. Shame really, but I suppose technical advancement is slowing down a bit at the moment.

Anyway, back to the point. Doom 3. The debut of the id Tech 4 engine. Ho. Lee. Shit. When the first magazine screenshots of Doom 3 started appearing, I just didn’t believe it. No-one did. And I’m not just talking about the figurative, hyperbolic meaning of “unbelievable” here. When we first saw what Doom 3 looked like, there was a genuine sense that games like that were just implausible. Obviously id Software's John Carmack has a deserved reputation as the most powerful coding wizard-ninja in the industry, but even for him, this was a staggering achievement.

Stunningly believable bump-mapped textures made every monster and wall surface look utterly real, down to the last perfect imperfection. Staggeringly dense and lifelike unified lighting and shadows gave every object and character in every environment a tangible physicality and sense of place and belonging that we’d never seen before.

The future was here, and boy was it scary. And the fact that Doom, the undisputed leader of the original FPS revolution, was the game bringing it felt really rather perfect. And all of this was before I’d even played a second of Doom 3. When I had… Oh good Lord…


Slow down, pace yourself

Doom 3’s greatest success is the thing that most of its detractors cite as its biggest disappointment. But they’re wrong. They have an entirely justifiable argument, coming from their own perspective, but the fact is that they’re coming at Doom 3 from the wrong angle.

Slower, creepier, and far more claustrophobic than Doom and Doom II, Doom 3 is an altogether different beast. Perhaps (in fact probably) lead somewhat by a desire to properly show off what id Tech 4 could do, it’s an atmospheric, oppressive, deliberately-paced horror show, punctuated with bursts of extreme violence and dusted with spine-cracking tension throughout. Go in with no preconceptions, no expectations of the open environments and huge swathes of circle-strafed bullet fodder of the Dooms of old, and on its own merits Doom 3 is a bit of a stunner.

Neatly straddling the ground between the bullet-spewing action-horror of Aliens and the claustrophobic, resource-juggling hardships of Resident Evil, Doom 3 is a punishing and smartly-designed journey of emotional manipulation. You’ll suffer long periods of quiet terror, in empty corridors with an empty bullet chamber. But then you’ll find yourself almost immediately detonating flesh and bone in every direction in an initially shocking but ultimately cathartic maelstrom of brutal arse-kickery. But then you’ll calm down and let the dust settle. You'll get your breath back. And then you’ll realise that the chamber is empty again. And then you’ll realise that you can hear something rumbling in the shadows.

The source of that rumble t might be right behind you. It might be in the next room. It might be in the ceiling immediately above you. It might just be a power generator. But you’ll reload with whatever you have left, and you’ll go on a hunt. And it’ll be a very bloody cautious hunt indeed.  

Doom 3 isn’t, as many complained, a case of id Software losing sight of its roots. It’s the product of a smarter, more nuanced, modern id bringing all the impact of its considerable long-standing skill-set to a modern, affecting narrative experience. Take the opening stages of the game for instance. They’re bloody brilliant.

Taking a leaf from the Half-Life 2 book of story exposition, Doom 3 starts out with a long, slow-burning introduction to the Mars of the 23rd century. Certainly not what many expected from any entry in the Doom series, but good God, did that first half-hour make everything that followed so much more impactful. Dizzyingly so. In fact I still put it down as one of the best openings in game history. Seriously, it had my head spun-out for days.

Landing at the UAC Mars base as a staff transfer, the sense of time and place is immediately intoxicating, just as engaging and disorienting for you as it would be for the nameless marine you play. The initial loading bay setting is abuzz with activity. Machinery hums, engines roar, workers go about their business, and automated audio and video messages bombard your senses with UAC PR messages from every direction. But underneath the audio-visual assault, if you stop to listen, you’ll hear something else...

37 comments

  • cesar-augusto-valdes-munoz - February 25, 2014 11:15 p.m.

    It's 2014 and I'm playing Doom 3 for the first time, I didn't know what to expect, but I'm not disappointed, I think some expected it to be a bullet-rain massacre where you go bringing destruction over an entire army of aliens with your minigun and a rocket launcher (like other sci-fi fps'), but those enclosed and dark spaces keep me on the edge of my nerves (that induced clautrophobia will always be the best part of this game). By now I'm only on the alpha labs, and I'm "enjoying" it so far, the only two things that annoy me are not being able to use a weapon and the flashlight at the same time (at least the 1h gun would be appreciated) and the too realistic staggering when you're struck (I always end up disoriented and shooting to the air, wasting valuable ammo). Thanks to id for going deeper into the thrilling action genre, even if I'm 10 years late.
  • RedOutlive10 - August 15, 2011 6:26 p.m.

    Doom 3 was a bad game to me. The computer screens and the graphics were nice but the game was just you and random thrown enemies rinse and repeat.
  • philipshaw - August 13, 2011 11:37 a.m.

    You are spot on Dave, I played this when it came out and thought it was great. But I do understand where the haters are coming from because this engine was never used for any non id games
  • SmilingCat - August 13, 2011 9:03 a.m.

    One of my most memorable moments in any game was in Doom 3. Actually the leaked demo version since I never saw it when I bought the game although I might have passed it up. Basically I walk through a door and look at some machinery behind some glass which was like a magic trick to draw my attention. As I look closer I notice my reflection in the glass and of something coming out of the shadows behind me causing me to flip around. Freaked my out because no other game at the time had the technical prowess to create that situation.
  • AuthorityFigure - August 13, 2011 2:01 a.m.

    I didn't mind Doom3 on the xbox - it was difficult and sometimes too unfair when things spawned up your ass too often. The one thing I didn't like is that you can autosave anywhere, this makes it seem less continuous as a game, and you can exploit the save system to get around the challenge.
  • spencertucksen - August 13, 2011 12:42 a.m.

    I never played it because when I had an Xbox, I was like 10, and would have shit myself in fear. Lol, And when I actually grew up and had interest in scary games,my Xbox broke. And I've never really had anything going for me with PCs. I wish I had some awesome rig, but I don't and never have, so this game just kinda...passed me by. However, I do understand most people's love of the game. But I don't see how anything other than Dead Space 2 beats Dead Space.
  • The_King_of_Nothing - August 12, 2011 10:33 p.m.

    If I hear someone bitch about a sequel not being like the old ones, I might eat a bullet. It's called progress. If they hadn't drastically changed RE4 from the older ones, it would have been a POS and that franchise would be dead. If FFXIII hadn't been made the way it was, it would be as boring and gay as all of its' predecessors and I would have never bought it. Open your minds people. Dead Space played like a POS. The controls sucked ass and hated couldn't stand trying to move around in it. I hated the weapons too. They just weren't fun. The monsters were alright, but I was in no way impressed. I do believe that it was no doubt a decent game, but it gets too much praise for what it is. It's almost as bad as the horribly over hyped Halo series, but that's a different load. I saw GoW mentioned in there. Did it mean God of War ( March 22, 2005), or Gears of War (November 7, 2006)? People seem to try and use it for both, but I knew it as God of War before Gears of War ever came out. That's my little rant. I know nobody will change their mind, but I really didn't when people said things I saw not to be true either. Everyone has different view on these things. (even though the Halo hype still baffles me)
  • MaynardJ - August 12, 2011 8:29 p.m.

    I've had this game on PC for years and still haven't played it. Thanks for reminding me that I should play it. Is the add-on "Resurrection of Evil" any good?
  • Jedipimp0712 - August 12, 2011 8:27 p.m.

    also great article Dave! this brought back some nostalgia for me!
  • Jedipimp0712 - August 12, 2011 8:25 p.m.

    ive only seen dead space being played, and it was in a dark room, with the gamma down, on a 46" tv. it kind of scared the hell out of me. but i saw dead space after i owned doom 3 collectors edition from gamestop (when it was still cool) at the age of 14. my mother got it for me (with my money that i earned) and i remember playing that in my friends basement, in the pitch black, on a 23" tube TV and the effect that doom 3 had on me at that point was so horrific i HAD to shut it off. there was no two ways about it. i waited until sunrise and more lights were on to play it again. one of the parts i remember playing, and was one of the hardest, was protecting the guy with the lantern walking through a blacked out hall. needless to say he didnt last long, and when demons are in your face constantly, i was one scared 14 year old...
  • RedHarlow - August 12, 2011 7:37 p.m.

    I agree, the first 2-3 hours of Doom 3 is fantastic. After that the "Boo!" moments become predictable, but it gets good again when you get to Hell. It's got a tense and scary atmosphere the whole way through that I really liked.
  • FrapJedi - August 12, 2011 7:06 p.m.

    GoW and Portal are the only games to have made technical advancements SINCE DOOM ?!?!?!?!?!? Yeah, I quit reading after that incredibly moronic statement.
  • TheyCallMeTheMeatMarket - August 12, 2011 5:25 p.m.

    I love this feature. More like this please!
  • GamesRadarMatthewKeast - August 12, 2011 4:55 p.m.

    Doom 3's strength wasn't in jump scares or how enemies appeared. It was atmosphere. What the game absolutely nailed for me was the sense of isolation and hopelessness. I felt like I really was all alone on Mars and Hell was leaking through and the sad fools on Earth had no idea the end of everything was beginning on that cold, quite planet halfway across the solar system. Like when you first go through the teleporting machine and actually get a glimps of Hell, that was so great.
  • bass88 - August 12, 2011 4:52 p.m.

    My impressions of Doom 3. Start: "HO. LEE. SHIT! This looks fucking beautiful. Any wonder PC enthuasists never shut up about their set-ups. Now, let's play!" Arriving at base: "Hmm, somebody was playing Half-Life. Never mind, I can dig it. Gives me a good idea of the setting... Whoa, I get to outside. Awesome. This be like Total Recall!" When Hell takes over: "ARGHHH! Where the fuck am I?!? Why can't I see? Where's that fucking flashlight!?! Ah, here we go. Safe, trusty flashlight. SHIT! WHAT IS THAT?!? DIE, DIE! No, don't hit him with the flashlight! Get your weapon out again. What a horrible future this is! OH NO! THEY'RE COMING THROUGH THE WALLS! I'll hide in this bathromm! What can happen in there? ARGHH! WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ME!!!" One hour later: "Oh, gotta go through the corridor again. Tenner on an Imp popping out. Yup, I'm right. Hmm. Wonder what's on TV tonight?" Doom 3 is atmospheric but it loses it's scare factor after a while. That said, I have fun. I started playing in sessions only and the time whittled away. I even went and bought the expansion pack for it. Doom on PlayStation was scarier in my opinion. Coloured lights flickering; dark hallways; scary, distant monster roars and throughly chilling soundtrack: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYMaqs3Qgxo You felt as if you were crawling through the bowels of Hell in that version. Nice write-up, Mr. Houghton. I'm notsure whether I agree with the Lovecraft reference. The original Doom had plenty of Lovecraftian imagery but Doom 3 seems more inspired by Dante, Bosch and Bacon. On the other hand, Doom 3's plotting actually feels like Lovecraft. Certainly more so that the original Doom. What do others think?
  • ObliqueZombie - August 12, 2011 4:36 p.m.

    I was wondering that, too, why everyone slammed Doom 3 for not being a "Doom game," when it looked nothing like it. In fact, like you said, they weren't even aiming for an original Doom-esque game, not even close. But with that said, I've never played it. I've always wanted to, but I've never, never had the chance and probably still won't. But dammit if you haven't piqued my interest far beyond what I expected. Hell, even the graphics look pretty presentable by today's standard. It's obvious that so many horror games now-a-days, mostly Dead Space, have taken ideas from this predecessor of space-horror. And I'll be damned if that isn't a good thing. This will be on my old-school radar.
  • BrunDeign - August 12, 2011 4:31 p.m.

    Someone has a bit of a hard on for this game it seems, especially based on the last paragraph. It's not THAT scary. Good article though.
  • NanoElite666 - August 12, 2011 4:29 p.m.

    I enjoyed Doom 3 back when I played through it years ago, although I never did finish the "Resurrection of Evil" expansion. But having read this, I just might have to go dig up my copy of the game and give it another run-through.
  • TastiestJamb - August 12, 2011 4:27 p.m.

    This game scared me to death :D I remember about a quarter of the way through, I just stopped going into the bathrooms. Nothing good ever came out of those damned bathrooms.
  • FOZ - August 12, 2011 4:14 p.m.

    Dead Space isn't the same game. If you've played Doom 3 more than once, you know how fast you can just run through everything. You can sprint while shooting, and your turning speed isn't restricted or anything. The atmosphere had it right, and some of the enemy design was appropriate (the stupid spiders, which are a mix of cheesy and just messed up, or the mancubus, which is like a pale elephant that walks on two legs and shoots fireballs), but the scares were "Pick up armor, Imp jumps out of closet. Pick up PDA, demonic laugh and Imps spawn through very obvious portals. One thing that was like the old games were pattern-based enemies. All you had to do to beat Imps was wait for them to start charging a fireball, then sprint up and shotgun them. The only parts that really gave a jump were when you got to the Delta Labs and there were mutated commandos who would run up out of nowhere and boot you in the face, which is more awesome than scary. But what Doom 3 really needed was a shotgun effective beyond 12 inches.

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