Posted: 11 Aug 2004
You're a marine. You're one of Earth's best, battle-toughened and hard. You're sent to Mars to work security for the government/tech firm Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC). Shortly after your arrival, all hell breaks loose -- literally. In a terrible accident, an inter-dimensional portal has been opened between worlds and demons of all shapes and sizes have flooded into our dimension to wreak havoc on the UAC facilities and marine barracks. It's up to you, nameless marine, to wander the dark corridors alone, collecting an arsenal of guns and ammunition, dispatching of a myriad of horrors amid backdrops of lava, blood, desolate planetary landscapes, and more.
Wrong. Doom was on Phobos and Doom II on Earth.
That said, I don't know where else to begin. This game has been both the hope and the ridicule of the video game industry for over four years now. A month or two ago, my brother mentioned in passing that Doom 3 was "coming out soon." I laughed and said "I know," and he asked why I laughed. I explained that Doom 3 has been "coming out soon" for years, and it hitting the shelves was a sure sign of the Apocalypse. Well, strike me down with fire and brimstone because I installed this very game on my machine last Saturday. I wasn't sure about buying it, as it's rumored to efficiently run on something like 5% of the world's PCs, but I ran across a blurb on Penny Arcade in which Tycho mentioned his surprise at how well it ran on his machine, which was almost identical to mine (for reference, an Athlon XP 2600+, 1G RAM, and a 128M Radeon 9600 Pro).
So hey, what the heck, I bought it. Keep in mind that Doom II essentially cost me my second semester of college, back in 1996. I'd never played multiplayer before, but found that there were some guys in my dorm who were pretty damn good. I practiced, started playing with them, practiced some more, and started beating them. It got to the point where people would huddle around both our monitors, on opposite sides of the dorm, cheering one or both of us on with each frag against each other. I don't mean to brag -- wait, scratch that, I do mean to brag -- but at some point I became the best in the dorm. I was essentially unstoppable. I literally thought of trying to "go pro," as much as there's a market for that, but that market was even less so in 1996 and, sadly, I had no idea how to do so. I couldn't even go about finding other players at UMass much because no one was really using the web yet, and hanging up photocopied flyers was just a bad idea all-around. So I failed that semester and also moved on to other games -- Mechwarrior 2, Warcraft II, Quake...eh, you get the picture. So when Doom 3 came around, I got a little excited. I remember before college, getting the Doom shareware floppy from a cardboard display rack in this shitty little convenience store in town. It was supposed to be The Next Big Thing in PC games, though, to be honest, we hadn't had many Big Things in PC games to begin with. A friend and I would shut all the blinds in his room, crank the sound up, and take turns wandering around those mazes of hallways absolutely terrified. I distinctly remember getting angry with him when, while playing, he'd just stroll right through a door without checking his blind spots. He had a lot of blind spots, actually, which made me realize that maybe this first-person shooter thing was my calling.
This is where you call me a geek and stop reading. I urge you to read on, though, as I'm aware that that was a ridiculous thing to say, and I said it anyway. I thought we were in the trust tree, in the nest...were we not?
Anyway, moving on. In a nutshell, I was hoping for that old feeling of fear. I hadn't felt it since System Shock 2 or Silent Hill 2. Which reminds me -- if you aren't able to play Doom 3 due to hardware limitations, check out System Shock 2. It's older, so the requirements are probably a Pentium II with 32M of RAM. It's a damn good game, though. I'm done getting off track now. As I was saying, I wanted that feeling of fear back. I also wanted to see all my old backdrops and enemies -- Revenants, Cacodemons, Arch-Viles, the UAC, and the sweet, sweet kisses of the plasma rifle and rocket launcher. I wanted to be able to play what's currently the most hardware-demanding game on the market and tell people all about it, knowing they envy me and my bitchin' machine. So listen to me, for I have seen the Promised Land and have returned to tell you one thing.
It's fucking terrifying.
I started up the game and discovered that you're not just immediately dropped into a level with zombie soldiers facing away from you, jogging in place, waiting for you to fire a shot so they can turn around and begin. No, not at all. Instead, you're dropshipped into a dark, dreary, desolate Marine base on Mars. The soldiers are, well, soldiers, and the scientists are scientists. They're not trying to eat you, though they are all visibly shaken and edgy. So, no. No demons at all, actually. What you do get is a self-taken tour of the base while reporting for duty, and a gentle introduction into the interfaces of the game: talking to people, using your PDA and flashlight, and interfacing with computer terminals scattered throughout the buildings.
"Wait! That doesn't sound like Doom!" you say? Eh, well, get over yourself. Shit evolves, and they're not going to just re-release Doom II with high-end graphics. I was hesitant of the PDA idea at first, too, but so far it's been non-intrusive and mostly useful for storing codes for doors and ammo cabinets. I was also hesitant of the flashlight idea, but trust me, you need it. I said, "Fuck it, I don't need this thing. I didn't need it in the previous games, and I don't need it now." Well, fuck that noise. And get this -- you have to manually reload your gun unless you spend your clip, too! Oh, Heavens! As a result, actually, I'm playing an FPS with WASD for the first time since I tried it briefly with Quake 2 and hated it. I've been an arrow keys man all my life until now. Honestly, though, I'm adapting. It's not so bad. When I need to move and frequently hit F or R at the same time, I don't have a hell of a lot of choice.
OK, so back to the game. I'm not going to give too much plot away, but let me just say that you're just starting to get settled and comfortable, no longer on the edge of your seat waiting for shit to pop out of the shadows, when BANG, shit starts popping out of the shadows. And the ceiling. And viewscreens. And, well, pretty much anywhere. What's worse than the fighting, though, is the not fighting. I'm serious. I've been taking it very seriously, exploring every inch and recess and nook in the place. Sometimes there just isn't a demon where you think there's gonna be one, but it doesn't matter because you're sweating anyway. I officially Lost It when I was walking down a short, L-shaped corridor bounded by two doors. As I neared the opposite door, whispering started up. That's not terribly uncommon in the game; it happens from time to time. However, as I reached the door, the screen turned red, the game slowed down, my controls cut to 1/4 speed, and a woman dreadfully whispered "they took my baby" and the horrible wailing of an infant was heard. It then released me. No demon, though, no confrontation. Nothing, just getting absolutely, totally fucked with. I suddenly realized how psychologically dependant I am on being able to whip around in a 180 at the flick of the mouse, and I did not like not having that, albeit briefly. So, I ran into the corner of the hallway, hit Esc, and went to go sit on the porch for a while. That's not the only instance of something like that, either. It's just a good example.
It's hard for me to judge how far into the game I am, but thus far there are a lot of familiar faces. Zombie Soldiers, Imps (oh man, just wait), Pinkies, those flying skulls-on-fire things, and Pain Elementals (which I just got to). It would appear the super shotgun has been replaced by the machinegun. There was mention of chainsaws, but I may have missed that secret. Oh, and you want to talk about AI? I'm on Easy, right? The fucking Zombie Soldiers fire a few rounds and then duck & cover. The Imps rush you like you're a Las Vegas buffet. The flying skull things are just as aimless as ever, but pretty damn fast if you don't spot 'em right away.
All in all, though I'm probably not even halfway through the game, it's been well worth both the wait and the price. Well, maybe not the wait. And I hear the multiplayer is a bit on the underdeveloped side. Overall, it's damn good, though. I'll tell you that much. After the first night, it had me by the nuts to the point that I looked in the closets before I went to bed. I do have an overactive imagination, but still, it's that good. I got that feeling of fear that I wanted and then some. I've essentially gotten everything that I wanted from it; I'd call that a success.