System: multiple :: Rating: Mature :: Players: 1-4
Genre: FPS :: Released: 03 August 2004 (PC), 03 April 2005 (Xbox)
By Michael David Sims
Doom 3 suffers two problems. The first (which has nothing to do with gameplay) is that it's a highly anticipated sequel, and as gamers we know that all-out hype can kill a game long before it ever hits store shelves. (Especially when the developers begin to believe their own hype. Daikatana, anyone?) This year, however, we've been blessed by the Gaming Gods with sequels that not only live up to the hype but surpass it. One look at Bungie's Halo 2, Konami's Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Valve's Half-Life 2, Nintendo's Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, Naughty Dog's Jak 3, Insomniac's Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal, EA's Burnout 3: Takedown and Maxis' The Sims 2 (and let's not forget Viewtiful Joe 2, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords and Prince of Persia: Warrior Within) clearly demonstrates that 2004 is the year of killer sequels. However, Doom 3, much like Fable (which was piled impossibly high atop a hill of hype) and despite what hardcore Doom fans might claim, isn't all we were promised.
While it is a solid, visceral gaming experience that forced me to pause the game so I could down Xanax on more then one occasion, it relies too heavily on cheap scares brought on by one major flaw. The inability to pin your flashlight to your armor while firing your gun is simply inexcusable. And while developer id Software had little to no control over the fan-generated hype that almost always comes with sequels, they did have direct power over this flashlight situation and therefore are at fault when it comes to Doom 3's second problem (RE: cheap scares).
First and foremost, Doom 3 is a first-person shooter, but the hordes of oncoming demons and zombies bring a horror element to the game that other FPSs don't. (Mostly because the genre is so fascinated with WWII and Vietnam titles, they tend to overlook the possibilities a horror first-person shooter or even a first-person slasher can bring to the table.) And much like any good horror film, Doom 3 uses its environment (in this case, a grey-walled Mars station) to its advantage. Imagine if The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, please) had neglected to use the meat hook hanging from the ceiling or the freezer wedged into the corner in Leatherface's bone-filled room. We'd hardly call Tobe Hooper's horror masterpiece, well, a masterpiece.
Doom 3's snaking corridors are designed with the sole purpose of turning you around as you fight for your life, and the situation is made worse once the demons escape and power is lost. One wrong turn and you're left to wonder if you need to head left or right as you retrace your steps in an effort to complete your objectives. And while the flashlight comes in handy, the moment you spot a zombie trudging around in a corner, you're forced to lower the light and take aim into blinding darkness — never knowing if you've successfully destroyed the damned soul until you either lower the gun to raise the light once more, or he claws at your face with the mindless fury only the walking dead and Zsa Zsa Gabor can muster. And this really wouldn't be a problem if the creatures didn't spawn out of seemingly nowhere (usually right behind or beside you) or you could actually train your gun and see more than a few inches in the darkness. But you can't, which leads to the aforementioned cheap scares.
Flickering lights and grey hallways, the disembodied cries of babies and glowing pentagrams, attacking demons and zombies, moans and distant footsteps, severed limbs and strewn corpses are more than enough to frighten even the staunchest gamer, so id really dropped the ball when it forced this flashlight situation on us. Halo, another futuristic FPS, had it right when they allowed Master Chief to pin his flashlight to his armor so he could handle a two-handed rifle while firing into the darkened distance. Additionally, players were forced to use the flashlight wisely as the soft white beam would easily alert the pesky aliens to your position, and, because it was battery operated, prolonged usage meant no more peeks into darkened corners (at least until it recharged).
And while Doom 3 effectively uses its surroundings to create a living, breathing Mars station with unknown dangers and frights around every turn, the inability to see and shoot at the same time adds a false level of difficulty to an already difficult game.
Frustration over this aspect of gameplay rallied the gaming community to fix it. With a simple mod (dubbed "duct tape") players can now attach the light to their guns for vision while firing. (Interesting modifications to said mod followed, including flashlights that project the Thundercats, Batman and Mortal Kombat logos, as well as Hello Kitty's face, onto the surrounding floors and walls. Hello Kitty...?) While modding computer games is nothing new and can provide for some very exciting alterations to gameplay (Hello Kitty...?), gamers shouldn't have to seek out mods to overcome a major design flaw.
All that aside, Doom 3 doesn't quite live up to its hype because, when it comes right down to it, gameplay is nothing more than aiming your BFG ("big fucking gun") and mowing down zombies and demons... over and over and over again, while they scratch your face or throw fireballs at you. Yes — the graphics and sound create an environment that will shake you to your very core and have you stretching your eyes and ears to bask in every last audio and visual detail, but that doesn't overcome the repetitiveness of gameplay and the frustration brought on by not being able to see the details as the undead explode into bloody piles upon the floor.
While some horror films can get away with the gore being off camera (American Psycho) or hidden by shadows, most cannot — especially ones that involve demons and zombies and lots of shooting of heads. Likewise, good horror films use shadows to their occasional advantage, but not gratuitously. And video games are no different, especially first-person shooters that were supposed to be the end all, be all.