A lot has changed in the last eight years. This is my main thought as Doom 3 goes about its stolid motions. Not just for first-person shooters, but all genres, each new technology bleeding across development cycles to lift the immersive potential of videogames. We take it for granted a lot of the time, and this makes it difficult to look back at a previous generation’s efforts without a curled lip and complete lack of patience. I am pretty much a fan of any shooter, but I can’t remember Doom 3 being this boring.
It is a plodding, emotionless vacuum of a game, presented with depressing rigidity to corridor design, straight cut lighting and constantly spawning demons. There is no illusion, despite the game so clearly wanting to be something of a psychological taunt. Enemies will always spawn from those dark corners. If you come to a crossroads of sorts, you can guarantee a waiting ambush. This predictable delivery contains absolutely no horror nuance. We are savvier these days, cognisant of the fact that there exist no emergent possibilities for Doom 3’s monster encounters because they are tied directly to trigger points on the map. Consequently, enemies have no personality whatsoever and become a chore to defeat. The only semblance of artificial intelligence displayed here is the odd combat roll. Other than that, they simply come at you like Pacman ghosts.
Granted, this is the expected Doom experience. The first two games were about the learned reactions that came from replaying levels multiple times and anticipating encounters. Doom 3 hurts itself in this respect with its staunch homogeneity. The tight, claustrophobic corridors comprised of metallic walls, thick conduits and low-res electronic panels never change, presenting an experience more akin to being a maze rat than a badass space marine out to kick demon butt. The only times things feel expansive are during brief forays into Mars’ atmosphere, but these are so pressured by your lack of oxygen that they don’t feel exploratory. Similarly, every large room that you enter becomes immediately marked as a boss encounter, thus dampening any hope of variety.
It constantly feels like the game is trolling you. When you gain some decent weapons, you’ll feel somewhat more prepared. However, early enemies that can also fire weapons raise some questions. Why can they shoot their shotguns so quickly when you are forced to wait several seconds between blasts? Why do their shots cause your view to buck all over the place when they show no reaction whatsoever to being shot? The lack of any impact on enemies’ bodies as you shoot is keenly felt throughout the entire campaign and although you keep telling yourself that this is an older game, it doesn’t help – you’ve experience amazing reactionary programming from so many subsequent titles that there is just no going back.
And the audio logs, my God they are so boring. Scattered throughout the game are locked cabinets that require codes to unlock. The way that you get these is to find abandoned PDAs from workers at the facility and listen to their banal monologues in the hope of hearing a code. If you miss it the first time, or aren’t near the exact cabinet, then look forward to sitting through work reports and dry observations of life on Mars. The UAC must have a “hire boring scientists” policy.
The game itself may not hold up too well, but as a package this BFG edition is not too bad. You get the remastered versions of Doom, Doom II (who doesn’t already have these?) and Doom 3 (with new checkpoint saving), as well as Resurrection of Evil and an extra single-player expansion The Lost Mission, which is basically an eight level, balls-out highlight of all that Doom 3 has to offer. Frame-rates are generally smooth, with a small amount of screen tearing. While the graphics and lighting can only be described as strange, they do still hold up quite well as long as you don’t go in for a close look at textures. The ability to bring up your flashlight at the same time as a weapon is here in an official capacity, rather than as the famous ‘duct tape’ mod. It’s a logical inclusion but hardly makes the game any better as a result.
If you’re a Doom-a-holic, you’ll already own the previous games and expansions but will likely be keen on this in order to blast through and gain achievements/trophies. While the gameplay and design does seem surprisingly archaic for a recent-ish game, there is enjoyment to be had in the mindless domination of brain-dead demonic hordes. We have been spoilt in subsequent years, which isn’t Doom 3’s fault. The unfortunate truth remains that it is more of a chore to revisit than a joy.