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The classic game appreciation section: Doom 3

Disturbed workers and marines talk in hushed tones. They relate tales of fear and unrest. No-one knows what they’re scared of, but everyone knows that they’re scared of the same thing. Something is wrong in this place. As you work your way through the marine base, through a relatively cheery decontamination check, past off-duty marines talking in the mess hall, past a traumatised worker being subdued in a medical bay, the sense of foreboding and repulsion quietly becomes choking. It’s a perfectly-paced ‘calm before the storm’ sequence.

Nothing bad happens. Nothing really bad has happened. And certainly at this point no-one can imagine just how wrong this really place is. But the sense that something unknown and all-consuming is invisibly, unstoppably seeping through the walls of reality and ready to take hold is a feeling tangible enough to drown on.

And then, when you eventually complete your goal, having met your commanding officer and navigated the black, industrial nightmare of the underground engineering floors to find the missing scientist you were sent to secure, the whole world goes away in a split-second and an angry snarl of red.

It’s impossible to explain the impact of those fearful, panicked seconds, and the way they bleed rapidly into minute upon minute of horrifying, never-ending, ever-escalating brutality as you work your way back along the now irrevocably changed path you took to get here. I’ll just repeat what I wrote about them in our '59 levels to play before you die' feature a few years ago, because it still stands true today.

You’re suddenly alone in a dark and noisy world of fear and confusion. The people you met earlier are dead, dying, and torn to pieces. Wrecked doors block your path, but reveal enough to show you glimpses of something utterly foul on the other side. Broken screams and prayers crackle over a failing comm system as the whole world is irretrievably torn apart and the building shakes to pieces around you. You’re drenched in that feeling of hopelessly drowning in evil usually reserved for nightmares, and things have only just begun. It’s the best ghost train ever made.

And it is. And while you’re eventually, briefly allowed to calm down and regroup, Doom 3 on the whole does not let up from that point on. Of course, it’s not all-brutality, all the time, but this is a game that wants nothing more than to horrify you into a coma on a consistent basis. And the impact of your birth into its raging, murderous world never leaves you.

And there are so many little things that help the horrible immersion. The manual computer controls that require you to operate their touch-screens as you would in the real world. The discarded PDAs and audio-logs of the dead, which provide you with hints and pick-ups based on their personal experiences of the UAC base, but also draw you a little way along each victim’s personal story, letting you dip in an out of lives past as you try to save your own. Of course, these things have been used countless times in games since, but Doom 3 cemented their use and utilises them as effectively as any game since.


Don’t believe the anti-hype

And then there are the set-pieces. While some interpreted Doom 3’s relentless oppressiveness as one-note, there are brilliantly frantic and creative moments dotted throughout its run time. The frenzied sprints across the bare Martian landscape, searching for oxygen supplies as your breath becomes more panicked and more laboured with every step. Being forced to follow a moving light source as inestimable numbers of hellspawn leap and skitter out of the unfathomably vast, inky black darkness around you. The descent into the almost-Lovecraftian, Escher-inspired stomach of Hell itself…


Above: Kansas. We are no longer there

That second example makes particularly strong use of Doom 3’s strict torch rules, whereby you can only equip either a gun or a flashlight at any given time, meaning a tense play-off between having knowledge of the immediate environment and having the means to immediately deal with it. Again, it was lambasted by many as a cheap trick to heighten the scares and the difficulty, and maybe it was. But for me, the key point is that in respect of that aim, it worked. It really, really bloody worked. But the fact is, even if the stringent torch-rationing isn’t to your taste, it need not be a problem. In fact most of the criticisms levelled at Doom 3 – the slow character movement, the lack of auto-sprint, the seemingly unavoidable, rear-attacking closet monsters – can be easily ironed out in the PC version.

A couple of quick and easy console commands and the download of a small mod or two, and you can be running, gunning, and shining light in the faces of the dark, spiky hordes to your heart’s content. It’s not cheating and it’s no sign of failed design if you feel the need to do so – id puts that console and mod support in so that you can make exactly these sorts of customisations if you want to – and it certainly never detracts from id’s horrific intentions for Doom 3. It just lets you enjoy them in a way optimised for your own play style.


Above: These will haunt your dreams. Might want to get ready for that

So Doom 3, for all the shock and rejection it inspired in certain quarters of the series’ fanbase, is far from the un-id game many believed it to be at the time. Get past the initial knee-jerks caused by the lack of Cyberdemon mobs and the relatively linear, cramped level design, and Doom 3 is quintessentially an id Software game. This is, after all, the company that turned the messy, sinewy impact of the shotgun blast into an artform. The company that values visceral, intense, meaningful second-to-second experiences above all else. The company that, more than any other, leverages powerful, innovative technology in the cause of creating believable, evocative worlds. So when id pours its rich and individualistic DNA into making a pure horror game, whether a pure horror game is what you expected or not, it’s bound to turn out exactly like Doom 3. And that, my friends, is a very good thing.

Just play it in bursts of an hour or two, for the love of God and the sake of your own mental health. By halfway through my first play-through, just powering up my PC would intimidate me to the point of mild palpitations. It will do the same to you, I can almost guarantee it. But you’ll press that power button anyway.

August 12, 2011

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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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