From the opening moments of DOOM 3, one thing is clear: Half-Life came out. The era of (cinematic) opening sequences is at its fullest tilt, and in this style, DOOM 3 doesn't open with you stepping out of a room and immediately being assaulted by the unholy hoards. No, first you must march through a slice-of-life Mars colony experience so you can better understand the weight and gravity of a portal to hell opening in outer space.
And to better keep you immersed in the work and dreams of Mars' most expendable victims, DOOM 3 introduces you to their cutting-edge new weapon that expands your arsenal to unseen potential--the PDA! I'm being glib, but this was in the design documents for the original DOOM, but the technology just wasn't there. "All the tabs and text, and you'd have to scroll through it, and I watched a computer tower melt in real-time from the effort," Carmack was quoted in a 2006 Game Informer. "And people forget that back then keyboards, they were so much smaller. Half the letters hadn't been added. DOOM already used all the buttons. There was nowhere we could map it to. It hurt, but we had to wait."
Now with the PDA in hand, you can read and listen to the bitchy misanthropes of Mars yammering in the hopes that they'll divulge a three-digit code for some nearby lockers and help access exciting doors. I know for some people touches like this can add depth and humanity to the game's world, but in DOOM 3 it feels like a perfunctory box-check. This is cemented when only like five minutes into this world-building intro, a gun is thrown into your face, and you're gleefully free to start blasting.
Soon enough that rascally portal to hell is open, and you got to strap on your big boy chest to kill everything and rescue the, uh, desolate oxygen-deprived wasteland of Mars. He could just leave. What being lost, besides corporate mining profits? Oh well. Ultraviolence must occur, so we get our pistol and soon a shotgun and rip and tear the dulcet tones of the best Michael Ironside impersonator id's budget would allow.
Thankfully for DOOM 3, ultraviolence is where it succeeds most. You shoot the fucking skeletons out of people's skin! Their entire brains rocket out of their bodies! It never gets old. I can watch bloody juicy gibs shoot across the screen all day. I'd add a Windows ME-era screensaver of DOOM 3 bodies exploding to my computer if such a thing existed. It's therapeutic and beautiful and all the cinema I need in a video game, thank you very much. The guns all feel pretty good, too, and unlike in a shitty game like QUAKE every weapon is useful. The shotgun's range is a bit shorter than I remember (along with the blast radius of the grenades), and the mini-gun never has enough ammo, but they're all punchy and satisfying in the way you need DOOM guns to feel. Few things in life are more gratifying than watching a demon ragdoll across the room after suffering a glorious barrage from the plasma gun.
Enemy AI is a bit underwhelming. I know we're not at F.E.A.R. yet, so I'm grading on a curve, but you'll quickly find yourself in situations where you'll hear a soldier, and so you'll run back through a door and wait with the shotgun. Then, they'll all traipse through, and you'll gib one after another without breaking a sweat. It had me longing for some attempt at a flank or at least something more than a mad dash straight at me. Some soldiers will try at a James Bond roll, but it's just not enough to save them from the shotgun's screaming mouth.
Another thing about the AI, and I know this will sound reductive given how much tech changed between the 90s and 00s, but there's no in-fighting between monsters in DOOM 3, and the behavior is less immersive for it. Here, soldiers and imps and other-worldly abominations all rush you in lock-step without a single stray bullet flying between each other. A minor disappointment.
Of course, the geniuses at id found ways to stop DOOM Guy from rushing into any room and then backing out and waiting for a line of miscreants to fall to his wrath. You see, they used those fat meaty brains to engineer such solutions as spawning enemies directly behind you again and again and again and again! Sometimes the door will close and lock behind you! Sometimes you'll just be trapped in a small box until either you or the demons are dead! Absolutely amazing imaginations on these seasoned developers, I swear. Who could do it better?
These issues would have been alleviated with some better level design. It seems id too painstaking serviced the realities of a Mars mining facility. The design does help make disparate parts of what is ultimately a very samey-looking game feel unique and lived-in, but I also have no fucking clue what I'm looking at in just about any part of the game. It's all sci-fi garbage. It could look like anything. Maybe focus on designing interesting set-pieces and arenas first and then make it feel more realistic second.
Anyway, enough with the nitpicks. DOOM 3 as a whole is very good. Once the enemy and weapon variety increases it comes more into its own. I think id front loads their least interesting design choices, but once it opens up you'll be creeping around every corner unsure of just what breed of hellspawn awaits ye. Will it be a hoard of pallid spiders? A teleporting butcher? A rushing wildebeest of flesh and metal? A coven of screaming skulls? Some guy with a chainsaw? You better be ready for anything!
Light and shadow is DOOM 3's greatest strength, and I think it's bizarre that the flashlight mechanic was the most controversial feature of the game. I remember in the day hearing nonstop on X-Play and the like about how it was so absurd you couldn't just duct tape the light to the end of your shotgun or whatever. Media at the time made the decision seem so backward it must have been the game's ruin. Absolutely not true! It's thrilling and tense, and most enemies have glowing eyes or hurl fire that lights up any corridor, so you always have a chance to see most creatures before they strike. The thrill is in the pauses between when you hope your memory is right and you pull the trigger. You'll hear human enemies shuffling and have to calculate the risk between lifting the flashlight to take a peek or just chainsawing through the shadows. It's cool and good, and anyone who thought otherwise is wrong--especially compared to today's obsession with terrible flashlights that die faster than a Dollar Store vibrator. I'd take this a million times over the constant hunt for batteries that games like In Sound Mind pull you through for no other reason than to waste the player's time. Let's please go back to this. Honestly, I think the gameplay should be more focused around the flashlight. Fuck you.
--------------TWO MONTHS LATER------------------------------------
Oh, wow. I really liked DOOM 3, huh? I wonder why, then, a game that looked like it was going to only take me a week to beat twisted itself into an ungodly slog I'll never finish? Any ideas? Well, hells bells I think I might know exactly what went wrong on demon-strewn Mars! In fact, thinking about it even now fills me with a RIPPING and TEARING anger that seethes through my skin in a red-hot sweat that makes my mouse feel like a cocoon of slime.
So I'd been playing DOOM 3 like a survival horror game. In fact, what I liked most about the game was that it seemed a pretty seamless blend of DOOM-style gibby explosive action and a more slow horror-tinged pace and atmosphere. Something like, oh I don't know, DOOM 64. Unlike DOOM 64, however, this was a modern-ish game for the future of video game hardware. There was no longer a need for an episodic structure that sees you starting over at the beginning of each new pack without more than a pistol--
No wait, I'm misremembering--DOOM 64 DIDN'T FUCKING DO THAT!!!
I had all my weapons through all of DOOM 64. Up until the very end, every cell, every bullet, every shotgun shell was mine to keep and protect and preserve. I played it the same as DOOM 3, the same as a Resident Evil game. I was saving the good stuff for when the shit really hit the fan.
So didn't I look like a dumb fuck after that hell portal sucked me into its flaming hot hole? I fired my BFG a total of TWO times. TWO! And I lost everything! Everything!!!
So here I am in hell with my dick in my hands. Why does this happen? I don't know! Any audio or text logs that mention the bad boys of Mars' mining colony trudging into hell suggest they bring weapons with them--crates of BFGs apparently--which don't magically get sucked out their assholes once they reach the devil's playground. Why does it happen to me, then? My only guess is that id felt they were making something too good and a desperate need drove them to fuck it all up.
And boy howdy did they ever!
Hell is of course where the difficulty starts to ramp up. The levels are tight and packed with big bads. Your ammo is whatever the developers decide you have, and it's definitely more trying to catch the original DOOM spice blend than the salt and vinegar of current (2006) horror-DOOM. And it does a decent job! I really don't mind the levels. They're fun and punchy, and nothing overstays its welcome. The hell boss is a load of turds, though. I really thought id finally figured out that you can just design a shooter boss to be a big thing that you shoot, but oh no! They needed to toss in one massive boss where it's more important that you shoot the gnats flying around its head than the giant body stomping fire at you from across the map. And after you shoot those gnats? Shoot the giant glowing orb that spontaneously appears above the boss, but you'll be goddamned if you waste a single bullet on its demon meat that's for sure! It's silly. I could handle shooting the gnats, but even then not being able to shoot the creature? Did PCs at the time only have enough RAM that shooting one more enemy to bloody bits would have caused your Dell to burst into flames? I'm no expert, so yes!
Then you leave hell and--by holy fucking christ no!!! Again!!! Those lunatic programmers smearing shit all over their keyboards take all your fucking guns away again!!! And are your previous guns and ammo in a nearby heap or storage locker waiting to be reclaimed? Oh no no no, my friend. I hope you weren't hoarding your supplies like precious gold because it's been smelted. SMELTED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Imagine playing Resident Evil--any survival horror game! Evil Within, it doesn't matter--and in the final hours, right when you're going to need every weapon that you've been saving, it just all disappears and you're left scrounging again? Would that suck? Duh! It's a cheater-ass move that eliminates the point of survival horror. Everything you've been struggling without so you had handy for a true moment of need has evaporated into the ether, leaving you a hollow husk of yourself.
Okay, but what if it happens twice, though? Does that make it better?? Does it?????
This is what DOOM 3, having balls like Phobos and Deimos, does, and it's gut-wrenching and demoralizing and just plain shitty. Not to worry though! In return for this trauma, DOOM 3 gives you something special, something that will surely outclass all those pesky weapons and ammo you've been lugging. They must have been compacting your spine into a question mark, anyway. Good riddance! Now, you got something easy, portable, pocket-friendly. You got the SOUL CUBE! It kills enemies in one hit. It lays waste! It destroys all! It also gives you all your health back--oh, by the way, also most of the health pickups you've been accustomed to finding over the past fifteen hours are gone, too.
The soul cube replaces all and can suck my dick.
This terrible Party City Hellraiser prop is DOOM 3's answer to the BFG, and I give it a Big Fucking Getouttahere!! It doesn't use any kind of ammo, which should be a positive, but of course it's not. Our cube straight from the bowels of hell itself runs on a cooldown that I think is based on how many enemies you've killed since you last used it. Our little baby needs time to digest, obviously. This means that you're not going to want to use it, because you might be locked out of the cube right when you need it most, thus invalidating a good portion of its use cases. And then what happens when you open a door to find some infernal monstrosity waiting for you and you move to briskly release the cube? Good fucking luck pal! If you didn't have the cube already drawn, then you need to wait and watch as our little levitating buddy spins and releases its blades, and you will die plenty in the span of that animation. Is using the weapon cool, though? The shotgun can blast skeletons out of bodies. What can the soul cube accomplish? Nothing. It's incredibly unsatisfying to use, just puffing enemies to dust with a techno-pixie dinging noise. Much like DOOM 64's unmaker (very cool name at least), it isn't worth too much. The main difference here is that DOOM 64 DIDN'T TAKE MY FUCKING GUNS AWAY!!!
I don't know how far from the end I am, a couple hours maybe, but this final stretch is the exact gauntlet I was saving everything for. Hoards of tiny bitches chipping you to pieces, imps magically spawning directly behind you and pouncing as soon as they're rendered--every shitty trick you can expect from DOOM being pulled all at once, and I don't have my grenades and rockets. I don't even have the BFG. I only got to use DOOM's marquee weapon twice in the entire game. What the hell is that? I don't even know when or if you get it again. I don't even care. Uninstall, baby. Un-in-stall!!!
It's been a long time since I've simultaneously loved and hated a game as much as DOOM 3. Most of it is very good to great. It's only in the demonic disc's final death throes that the twitching beast rolls over to show its whole ass. Crushing disappointment, but I'll drink it away like always.
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