Doom 3 (Video Game)

/>Published by Activision

Developed by Id

Platform: Xbox

While most people could agree that Doom 3 was a good game on the PC, the argument is still going on as to whether or not it was a great game. Read around and you’ll see the same complaints popping up time and again. People didn’t like the unrealistic overly dark environments. People didn’t like that the game used the same few scares over and over again until it became predictable. People didn’t like that you couldn’t wield a gun and shine a flashlight at the same time.

Obviously, the Xbox port was never going to do much to address those issues, but all things considered I must say it’s been the better experience.

If you look at it with the eyes of a PC gamer, you might be disappointed. Granted, the game doesn’t look as good as its PC cousin, that sports higher resolution textures and display modes, but there are few multiplatform games that you can’t say the same about. The truth is that this is one of the most impressive looking games on the console. The combination of the lighting and the bump mapping add up into a very immersive, cohesive whole.

Contrasting shadow and light wrap and fold more realistically over the environment than you’re likely to have seen in any other game. Doom 3’s atmosphere is almost inescapable at times, and when it all holds together there are few games that can match it.

A lot of that is down to the sound design. What sounded good on the PC if anything sounds better on the Xbox. The most notable thing to this gamer’s ears are the gun noises, which were really lacking punch on the PC version. It’s not so much that the sound design has changed; it just seems to resonate that much better here. It’s one of those games that is going to make those that own surround systems very happy. Those rear speakers are going to scare you to death, and save your life repeatedly in almost equal measure. Atmospheric sounds abound, creepy whispers circle you, and things attack from all directions.

Controls have been well handled, taking the Halo-esque standard and wisely sticking to it…you’ll find the controls streamlined even for an Xbox game. Doom 3 has enough buttons to spare to allow the D pad directions to be mapped to any weapon you should want for easier and quick selection of weaponry. The only real complaint about the controls is that you cannot throw a grenade on the fly, and it makes the already pretty sucky grenades almost completely useless.

The game isn’t without other problems. Whether or not the torch will bother you, you probably already know. Personally I like the added tension of deciding whether I want to be able to see or defend myself, and while it’s no more unrealistic than demons from hell or carrying 10 big weapons and lots of ammo, it is more unconventional.

The level design is monotonous. Grey metal walled, darkly lit rooms and corridors. I could cheekily suggest that we shouldn’t expect a diverse color palette from ID, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re going to spend 90% of your time in that kind of environment. This is one thing that is worse on the Xbox as it’s missing some of the PC’s exterior sections. If you got bored playing Halo, then I think you’re likely to get bored here too. Really though, even Halo offered up more diversity.

There is a really nice change of pace towards the end, where the level designers really go to town, but I personally feel it comes too late. If you have the patience to make it so far, you will be rewarded…but you might not have the tolerance for it.

Frustratingly, for most of the game you aren’t really going to feel like you’re doing anything but trying to catch up with other marines who are always seemingly just a few steps ahead. It doesn’t help that this is very much a carrot on the end of stick, and the tantalizing thought of fighting along side a few marines never comes to pass.

You see, the world of Doom 3 revolves around you much more than it should. Everything is set up to be triggered by the player when they hit a given invisible trigger…and there’s nothing you can do about it. Most of the enemies spawn in, or are stood in the darkness or a hidden closet waiting for you to step on the right section of floor before popping it, and while this can catch you by surprise and give you a good jump scare, it only works once. Should you die and have to replay that section, you know exactly where the monsters are, or at least, where they will be.

But worse is that you come to learn all of IDs tricks. The triggers may be invisible, but there are patterns and rhythms to them, and after a while they’ll almost completely stop catching you by surprise. If you stand still in a room without monsters, nothing will happen…and it’s almost crippling. You can catch a breath and collect yourself whenever you want.

Which all really means that Doom 3’s single player campaign is best played in smaller doses. As soon as you feel yourself getting on top of the game, as soon as you get a handle on it again, it’s probably time to stop playing. Sure you could just blast through the whole game in a few sittings, but really I think it’s probably best to take it in half an hour, to an hour, long sittings.

While they have trimmed some areas from the PC version as hinted at before, a lot of those areas weren’t rewarding from a game play point of view, and the more to the point Xbox version is definitely a small improvement.

Doom 3 works the first time you walk into a new room and get attack by a monster from some unexpected direction. If its repetition is something you can see past, you’ll find one of the most horrifically inclined first person shooters in a long time. While it’s influences are as apparent as ever (Aliens with demons), that doesn’t undermine how fun it can be when it works…the only thing that undermines that, is some seemingly lazy or unimaginative design.

Thanks to its completely prescribed gameplay, the replay value of the single player campaign is almost nil. Yes you have a difficulty select, but it doesn’t change the game as much as you might hope. It doesn’t add any more enemies, just makes the ones that are there tougher and do more damage. Nightmare mode continually drains your health until it reaches 25%. Not my idea of fun anyway, but you might get some enjoyment out of it.

No, for replayability you have to look to the multiplayer. First of all, unless you were fortunate enough to get the collectors edition, which offers some of the classic doom games playable in split screen, you’re only looking at system link and Xbox Live. Doom 3 is already pushing the Xbox to its limits, which makes split screen out of the question.

The multiplayer offers three modes, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Co-op. The first two are pretty self-explanatory. There are a handful of levels playable with up to four people. It’s the same package that left most PC gamers underwhelmed. Sure it’s okay, but the shadows turn Deathmatch into hide and seek with guns. What should be faced paced gets reduced to a crawl as you check out every shadowy corner. No doubt some people are going to find it fun, but Xbox Live has a lot of better things to offer.

Fortunately, one of those “better things” is part of this package. For me, the two player Co-op is the star of the whole show, single player included. While it doesn’t offer any adjustable difficulty like you might desire, and while the story maybe be mostly missing, along with a good chunk of levels, there’s still a good six hours of fun to be had in the Co-op mode.

What impresses me most about it is that while the levels here are mostly identical as far as layout goes, what has changed are the enemy placements and the weapon placements. The levels have been tweaked to work with two people and work they do. While Doom 3‘s Deathmatch loses much of what made the single player work, Co-op throws away anything that slows the game down, and somehow ends up working better than the single player.

Without fixing the inherent problems, Co-op manages to make the game work all the same, flaws intact. For example, dark areas encourage team work thanks to the restrictions of the torch, as one player tries to light the way while the other player tries to cover them. Trying to shine the beam onto monsters, while keeping yourself clear of the other persons line of fire and safe from the monsters yourself is just as scary as relying on the torch shining whim of the other player. It’s not uncommon to find yourself plunged into darkness with next to no health, as your torch bearing companion is torn to shreds.

Most importantly Co-op stops the world revolving around you. All the monsters are still triggered as before, but now, you’ve added a random element to the mix. You could be stood still reloading, and find a cacodemon spawning in right next to you. Like campfire horror tales, you actually start scaring each other too. You won’t play through co op without being made to jump by suddenly running into your companion. It’s a cheesy scare in a horror movie, but it’s a testimony to Doom 3’s strong atmosphere here.

It doesn’t offer any incentives as far as replayability goes, but I’m replaying the Co-op currently with a different person, and it’s a different experience so I’d argue it has more replayability than the single player as you can change a big element of the game by just diving in with a different buddy.

Amongst my fondest memories of Doom 3 are playing Co-op and hanging back to reload while my companion decided to forge on and listening to the ensuing gunfire, monstrous growls, and genuine screams of fear, knowing that if whatever else was in that next room killed my companion, that it was coming for me next. I expected Co-op to be fun……”a blast” as ID had suggested, but was very pleased to find it was something even better. It was scarier than the single player.

If you haven’t got Xbox Live, or a friend with an Xbox and a copy of the game, I’d suggest renting this one first, unless you already spent a bit of time with the PC version and didn’t mind its flaws there. If you played the PC version, there really isn’t much to see here beyond the Co-op, and I can’t promise you you’ll find it worth the $50. But if you do have Xbox Live, and a willing friend, I fully recommend the experience. Subtract a full mug of blood if you don’t have Live.

4 out of 5

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Jon Condit

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