System: multiple :: Rating: Mature :: Players: 1-4
Genre: FPS :: Released: 03 August 2004 (PC), 03 April 2005 (Xbox)
By Paul De Angelis
Doom 3 is a lot like Eyes Wide Shut: They're both technically brilliant, but they're not as edgy as their creators think. Like Kubrick's orgy scene, Doom 3's body parts, smeared blood, and evil laughter come across as almost quaint. It's not like ten years ago when the original Doom's satanic imagery caused controversy. (There is, however, one image in Doom 3, just before the final boss, that is admirably repulsive.) This is not to say that Doom 3 isn't scary. It's certainly one of the most nerve-wracking games of all time. But it doesn't always come by its jolts honestly. It's simply too easy to frighten people by turning out all the lights and having things leap out at them. Even the laziest horror films can elicit a reaction by suddenly throwing a cat into the frame.
Predictably, Technical Director John Carmack's engine is impressive. Doom 3 may be the most realistic-looking game ever. But this brings up two concerns:
01. Realism has become far too important a goal in computer gaming. In Doom 3, when you get swatted by a monster, you're knocked aside and have to reposition yourself in order to aim your weapon. And the lighting is so realistic that you spend most of the game in near darkness. Doom 3 may successfully mimic real life physics, but that doesn't make it more enjoyable. After all, if I wanted to be batted around in a dark corner, I'd simply move downtown.
Series like Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, and Medal of Honor demand realism. But games with fantasy elements don't have to follow suit, which increasingly is the case with computer games. People will argue that more realism means a more immersive gaming experience. And it's true that while some of us can easily get into a show like Dr Who, others are unable to suspend their disbelief due to the low budget effects. If you were to compare games to movies, you might say that better special effects means easier acceptability of the content. But there's a wider problem here: A more analogous example would be computer designers acting like filmmakers who give up on animation in order to make only live action films.
02. Even if you accept realism as a desirable goal, there is still a difference between great graphics and great art design. Doom 3 is impressive from a mechanical standpoint, but conceptually it's quite dull. Doom 3's Mars base is extremely detailed and believable, but it's also monotonous. (I've never understood why so many sci-fi writers picture future architecture as resembling the worst the Industrial Age had to offer.) Even the Hell levels — where the designers could have really let loose with their imaginations — are predictable. In the original Doom, one of the most distinct creatures was the cacodemon. (The updated cacodemons in Doom 3 are also the most memorable.) They were outrageous, resembling giant tomatoes with horns, but that was their selling point. Now, it's almost as if the artists are too concerned with biology and realistic musculature. This problem is similar to many special effects-laden movies: Independence Day, for example, had well-executed effects, but the alien ship designs, as well as the battle scenes, were pedestrian and uninspired.
Some commentators were worried that Doom 3 could never live up to the expectations of gamers. But I honestly wasn't expecting anything revolutionary. No matter how good any future game is, the experience of playing the original Doom can never be duplicated. Doom came out at a time when our demands were simpler, our attitudes lest jaded. Like the arrival of the Beatles, Doom appeared before we started to think in terms of the Next Big Thing. That very expectancy eliminates the chance of us ever being truly surprised. I also haven't enjoyed an id game since Doom 2. I thought the Quake games had uninteresting creatures and tiresome art design (especially the pseudo-medieval look of the first Quake).
Nevertheless, I wasn't expecting Doom 3 to be as dull as it turned out to be. It's strange to be both on edge and bored at the same time. The game can elicit short term reactions, but in the long run, it's just a series of repetitive actions: Enter room, wait for monsters to jump out, destroy all monsters, pick up ammo and health, head for next room. If anything, Doom 3 confirms that the FPS has become a genre best suited to multiplaying.