Rarely does a horror game stand the test of time, have you played the original Resident Evil recently? The zombies’ muffled moans and dull textures make them more of a joke than a threat. As graphical fidelity and programming techniques improve, what was once nightmare-inducing becomes laughable and quaint. It is with grim satisfaction therefore that I recommend Doom 3 as it’s use of atmospheric lighting and themes of darkness and despair still makes it a wonderfully immersive pant-wettening experience.
Many ages ago, back when dragons walked the land and the black plague was still in it’s infancy a developer named id software released Doom. Crude by today’s standards, Doom was a marvel of game design that all but introduced gamers to the world of first person shooting. Combining fast paced run and gun gameplay, grotesque hellish beasts and enough firepower to make Duke Nukem blush, id software took the gaming world by storm, releasing Doom II shortly afterwards to critical acclaim.
Many years later id software decided the dust off the series for a modern sequel in proper 3D. The result was Doom 3, a chilling tale of a colony on Mars in the year 2145 as the inhabitants unearth ancient artifacts and unwittingly rip open a portal to Hell itself. Sent in to investigate the catastrophe, you play as an unnamed space marine (unofficially dubbed with the longstanding series moniker “Doom Marine”) who slowly begins to uncover the atrocities committed by the scientists on Mars and the nightmarish demons they unleashed.
The story goes that whilst researching certain artifacts, researchers were also working on advanced teleportation technology. Upon testing the teleporter, the scientists found there was an unexplained delay caused when transporting materials through the device. They resolved to send a video recorder and upon inspection of the footage found eyes, dozens of eyes staring at the recorder, they had discovered life in a dimension parallel to our own. Doing what they do best, the research team began sending human subjects through the teleporter in the hopes of capturing a specimen. Things did not go well, however as every man sent through was driven completely insane, one test resulted in the volunteer chewing off his own fingers.
One particularly dangerous scientist named Betruger took it upon himself to steal one of the facility’s mysterious martian artifacts, named the soul cube, and take it through the machine. The result was devastating as with the soul cube’s power, the demons of Hell could enter the facility on Mars, slaughtering and warping the minds of it’s inhabitants. Betruger acts as the game’s antagonist and appears to be working on behalf of the minions of Hell to spread their infernal influence and ultimately bring Hell to Earth.
So we step into the Doom marine’s boots and it’s pretty much business as usual for an FPS, controls are simple and responsive but the best part of Doom 3 is the graphics. Unique amongst games of the age, id software graced Doom 3 with a top-quality lighting engine that made shadows pitch black and light sources ominous, the result is a game world in which every shadow there could be an enemy lurking. Simply by the scarce use of lighting Doom 3 lends itself to internal fear, the fear of the unknown as you will be unable to relax so long as there is one dark corner you haven’t yet checked for monsters. One brilliant addition to the game is the fact your flashlight is large and unwieldy, meaning that you cannot have your flashlight in your hands at the same time as your weapon. This makes trying to illuminate your path or check a cranny for supplies a gamble as should you come across an enemy you’ll find yourself at a serious disadvantage (you can hit enemies with your flashlight but it won’t do much damage). The result is a terrifying panic as you scramble to back away, plunging the enemy into darkness as you ready your gun, their eyes glowing menacingly.
A great deal of time and effort has been put into the environments of the Mars facility. You are rewarded for exploring dark corners and air ducts with much needed ammunition and health pickups and scattered about every level you will come across PDAs (Personal Data Assistant) which hold emails and voice messages sent amongst the researchers. Not only do these titbits hold interesting information on the storyline and the events leading up to the catastrophe, they will occasionally hold pass codes to get you into various storage lockers scattered about the game. At first I found I would skim messages looking for such codes but before long I was hooked on reading them, they’re remarkably well written and offer genuine insight into the plot. id software really nailed getting the player to get involved in the plot by rewarding such tangents.
Enemies in Doom 3 are both charmingly retro and terrifying. In a call back to the old Doom days of yore, id software decided to keep the enemy roster to familiar faces such as flaming skulls, floating fire-breathing mouths, plasma-hurling imps etc. These monsters, whilst quaint really do seem to have come from the traditional ideas of Hell we all envision with pools of lava and plenty of flame so go a long way to strengthening the setting. One particularly scary level sees you enter into Hell to retrieve the soul cube and do battle amongst floating rocks and lava pits with terrifying demons lit only by the flames of the inferno.
Wrapping up, Doom 3 is a remarkably well-realized and enjoyable game that still stands out as terrifying even by today’s high standards. It’s available for PC and original Xbox and is set to be re-released in the upcoming BFG edition for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 along with two expansion packs, extra weapons and enhanced graphics so there’s really no excuse not to play this gem of a title. If you like it then keep your eyes peeled for news on Doom 4, currently in development!
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