I must confess to the worst offense a lover of first-person shooters can commit: I didn’t play Doom. Not the way many of you probably did. You see I had a SNES when the SNES was on its way out. I played the SNES port and found it a confusing mess of pixels and promptly returned it to the rental shop. I found Quake years later on a then high end PC and was blown away by my first taste of true 3D. I tried to pick up and play "Doom" later but the "collect-the-keycard and wander-around-lost" gameplay just didn’t hook me.
Sure, I was excited about John Carmack’s surprise announcement (years ago) that id Software was starting up on Doom 3. Who wouldn’t be excited by the thought of a kick-ass first-person shooter built from the ground up by the developer who single handily built the genre? And then there was that Mac World unveiling in Japan. Who didn’t wet their pants at the first example of real-time in-game lighting and shadowing?!
In the months leading up to the final "Gone Gold" announcement I found myself looking forward to Doom 3 with as much "frothing demand" as any fanboy could summon possibly summon. Now, sitting here having vanquished the terror that frightens the weak heart-muscles of gamers... I wish that I hadn’t played Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay before sitting down with Doom 3. I’d say that id Software wishes that Riddick had shipped after their game, but I know better. Both games will sell great regardless of the other.
It’s not that Doom 3 is a bad game. From the moment I double clicked my mouse on the install icon till the moment I brought down the final boss... I was treated to the highest caliber of production values this side of an AAA+ polished first-party console title. My previously manly clef-jaw was rendered mush from hitting the keyboard with the speed of light from just watching the opening moment of the game.
And then I started to play this beautiful game and the nagging started up inside of me with the volume of a thousand Celine Dions. To me a great game is one that roars so loudly in caliber and fun-factor that I can ignore any of its rough spots. Doom 3 hit me with a sledgehammer right off the back that cast a sour taste in my whole experience.
The first lonely scientist who I stumbled upon seemed to have been the survivor of a horrific industrial accident. Surely he was homeward bound because of it. There was this "seam" running right down the middle of his face. I tried not to stare but the quickly re-bound zoom function made it very hard.
In fact every single human face that I saw in the game had a seam running right down the middle of the face. As if someone had gone around and cut everyone in half and then glued the pieces back together. The lavish polish and grace afforded to things like computer displays and voice acting only served to draw my eyes to the flaws.
Then there was the UAC complex itself. Words cannot describe how it looks in motion. Not that it’s in motion very often, save for the odd piece of machinery or the possessed chair. It’s like a ghost town for most of the game. Remember how everyone said the game was amazing in motion and how the screenshots didn’t do it justice? Well, a static museum to futuristic technology and tipped office chairs isn’t doing it much justice either.
Yes, the UAC corporate military complex looks amazing, in motion, but it’s laughably dark before the accident that sets off the chilling slow paced escape from hell-spawn demons story. I can understand lights being out when packs of imps are roaming the hallways throwing heat wave producing red fireballs at me, but what scientist could do work in a place that dark?
Yet, the darkness didn’t stop me. I continued on my nerve racking trip through Doom 3 armed only with my flashlight that I could only use by itself. Apparently human beings in the future lose the ability to hold objects in both hands at the same time, like say a 9mm pistol and a flashlight. At least the developers were honest about the battery life. This isn’t your older brother’s "Half-Life thirty seconds and it’s dead" flashlight.
It was as I was fighting an imp in a particularly dark part of the station, watching the red fireball scream by the side of my head, that it suddenly dawned on me why playing Doom 3 felt so unnaturally familiar... and why it was that this review would be so hard to write.
I was playing Halo all over again. Suddenly, I flashed back to a year and a half ago. Watching as I picked up an XBox and "the best XBox game there is" right before summer break. The "WTF?" feeling as I ran around a space ship being invaded by aliens, the whole time thinking to myself, "Did any of those damn reviewers play Half-Life?" It did this scripted event idea way better. Jeeze." Then in the next level I jumped into my first Warthog. "Oh yeah, this is kinda cool. Ooh, I can jump in and man the chain gun. Hey that marine just got in with me."
The whole experience played out for me again: the bad level design, the repeating levels, that amazing storming of the beach, the plot twist that was the Flood, the later levels that mixed all the above elements in ways that were far more fun than they should have been... it suddenly dawned on me why Doom 3 was giving me flashbacks.
It’s the same mixture of a great concept marred by horrid level design, but Doom 3 doesn’t have the vehicles, the sidekick marines... or even the personality that Halo did to make me ignore the little nagging Celine Dion voice in my head. When the Master Chief slaps a magazine in his assault rifle you can feel the frustration and panic as your enemies come rushing up on you. When the marine in Doom 3 loads the shotgun the animation isn’t even timed right. There’s no feeling of panic. No soul.