A Blast from the Past Review
FBT plays Doom 3, the Half-Life clone
History is broken into two periods, BC and AD, and so is gaming; BC = Before Carmack and AD = After Doom. Doom changed everything but after Doom II, the franchise - and id - sat idle. Eventually, in 2004 id returned to the franchise. Because they don't know how to do anything else. But they can do Doom right, right?
I bought D3 on release day, wetting myself at the thought of a return to form for id. I rage quit it. Now, some 15 years later the ‘BFG Edition’ is permanently on sale and I’m finally ready to give it a second chance. It can’t be worse than that 2016 reboot. I'm up for this.
Still a Blast?
Crap. I forgot this was a reboot. A fricking story-driven reboot. Have id even played Doom?
Ironically, particularly to those who have read Masters of Doom, Doom 3 is Tom Hall’s original story pitch before he -and his story- were jettisoned from id. A Space Marine is sent to Mars as a punishment, to act as a security guard for a bunch of nerds doing research. Turns out UAC uncovered an ancient civilisation, along with their plans for portal technology - and a warning not to use it. Who reads instructions anyway.
The portal leads to a hot and demon-infested plane that takes everyone a good two-thirds of the game to realise is Hell. Which decides to invade, attacking the base and turning most of the research team into zombies. Our unflappable hero is sent by his CO to track down a corporate hack who was monitoring the project, find the scientist who caused this, get survivors off-planet, oh and kill everything that moves. Finally, a non-story part.
Doom 3 is boring. The first and most obvious complaint is this isn’t Doom. It slow, methodical, story-driven. D3 is desperate to be Half-Life – that game built on what Doom did, and D3 instead of returning the favour, just follows suit; id made a clone. A clone! The company that created a genre and inspired a sub-genre, ‘Doom-Clone’, created a clone of a game inspired by its own game. That’s just disappointing.
So we have a science project that went wrong and a silent hero who helps trapped scientists escape while dealing with larger forces (and uses a monorail to get about); so far, so Half-Life but D3 even manages to slow down a shooter to a crawler. We’re endlessly sitting through cutscenes that dilute the new creature appearance or watch NPCs tell us crap we already know, when we're not listening to diaries, clicking on screens, turning things on, turning things off, activating things, deactivating things. Or picking things up, like PDAs.
PDAs are used to get through doors and for some reason a Marine detailed with securing the base has the security clearance of an intern. Find a locked door, go find a PDA to unlock it, now stand there listening to loooooooooong rambles from engineers about how the shower in bathroom 2A has a leak before he rounds up his report with “and so I’ve changed the security code on the access door to 1-2-3-f-u-c-k-t-h-i-s”. Am I actually going to get to shoot anything in this shooter?
Actually yes, but you won’t enjoy it. D3 has taken scripting and obvious scares to dizzying heights. If there’s a dark corner just shotgun it because there will be a zombie stood there. Triggered something? An Imp’s going to transport in. Opened a door? An undead solider will be behind it. You’re just trudging forward expecting everything, finding a locked door then trudging back for the PDA, then trudging back to the door all the while dealing with the chore of annoying creatures that seemed to know you’d be back this way again later. I can’t remember the last time I played a shooter with this many ‘where did you come from, I just cleared this corridor’ moments. Despite the back and forth you will get constantly, aggravatingly lost, because the entire base looks the same.
Corridors. Endless corridors. It’s torturously boring. It’s dull to look at and headache-inducing to navigate; why aren’t we blasting through the red sands of Mars? We do go outside occasionally, but only in tiny closed off areas that force us back in because we can only stay outside as long as Marine can hold his breath. I spend so long wandering those goddamn corridors trying to remember what I’m doing (even your own PDA is no help) or find what I need to unlock and not shooting and not caring that I just switch off and lose all interest.
The fights are never fun – none of the creatures you face do anything except head towards you – that’s Doom-like I suppose but they’re never fun to fight, or even look at. Everything is ugly and not in a cool way. The weapons are the same as the original but the shotgun isn’t something out of the wild-west, the Gatling gun is cumbersome, the plasma just boring to shoot; everything, from the levels to the monsters to the weapons seems to have been designed just before lunch.
I’ve never got such a sense of “Meh, that’ll do” from a Triple-A game before. We do have the chainsaw, which I use more often than my health bar would like but purely because it’s the only fun I can have. The Imps just don’t look so cool and new creatures feel like they could be from any horror game; the ‘Trite’ is a great reference to The Thing but becomes as annoying as an army of Headcrabs, and there’s the ‘Cherub’ which is a baby with fly's wings. Why?! Just found it on Google images under 'weird n scary'? It’s just got this Halloween instead of horror feel.
The original D3 only let our hero point a torch or gun, which is just a lazy way to ramp up the fear factor. It might work for something like Alan Wake, but D3 isn’t that game and it’s just unbelievable for a marine to figure ‘yeah, I’ll walk through a demonic invasion in the dark’. Tuck it under your arm, or as the quickly created fan-made mod pointed out, use some duct tape. The BFG Edition added a torch-gun combo but not much else. The original Doom didn’t even have light-effects (other than those strobe rooms) and it was scarier than this.
This is Doom goddamnit, this isn’t the time or place for subtlety or dread – this should have been a return to the scrappy skin-of-your-teeth WTF of the original. I do get that Doom needed to evolve, that run-n-gun was done, but Half-Life on auto-pilot and putting zombies in dark corners wasn’t the way to go either. Less than a year later FEAR did this shit right, and that was made by Monolith who got their break with Doom-clone Blood. If they can ace a chilling story-driven shooter why can’t id? Talking of FEAR, there’s a moment where you hear a woman scream ‘they took my baby’ and see bloody footprints. It’s completely unresolved and random. That’s D3; reminding me to play better shooters.
I eventually rage quit just out of sheer frustration. It’s part boredom, part annoyance but the final straw comes when I’ve spent hours walking through yet more corridors to activate a machine so a scientist can turn on a portal. Finally, we’re going to hell, right? Nope, the portal literally sends me to the other side of the room. Are you kidding me? Turns out I was in hell all along. Rage Quit.
The worst thing is, most reviews at the time focus on how the Hell levels mark a huge improvement and return to the old style of game play. That pisses me off. Not because I couldn’t stick it long enough, but why wait to the final third to get going? I just couldn’t go any further. Too many corridors. Too little Doom.
D3 is like when your favourite indie band releases a corporate sell-out album. Everything you expect is there, but it doesn’t gel and it’s lost what made it good. But what’s unforgivable is that Doom, the true bad-boy of gaming has been reduced to a follower and it got stomped on by others leading the way; in 2004 Painkiller had already upped the ante with its glorious gothic horror art design and Hell-based plot, and new worlds were opened up by Far Cry and GTA SA, while only a few months later Butcher Bay would do dark corridors the way they should be done. But even if it had survived against all that innovation, Doom 3 never really stood a chance; it was killed mere months later by the off-spring of the game it so desperately wanted to be - Half-Life 2. Doom 3 is the very definition of a game out of touch. It’s not even style over substance, it’s just crap. And it was co-developed alongside that Doom movie. Ugh.
The best thing about D3 is its engine. iDTech 4 let other developers who knew what they were doing give us much better games – Prey and Quake 4 (ironically). Doom 3 is the game the original Doom sought to destroy a decade earlier.
2004 | Developer, id | Publisher, Activision
Platforms; Win (Steam/GoG) | XBox