Doom 3 - PC review

Rather than rush in with a review on the first day, we’ve battled demons, fought monsters and come close to death to bring you this review. We went back to the start, completed the two previous versions of this game and realising how things can change as a game wears on, decided that to write a review of what is probably one of the most famous of First Person Shooters needed to complete Doom 3 before we presented our verdict. Two months later and we can truly say we’ve been to hell and back - three times. So what did we think - read on…

It’s been nearly a decade since the last Doom game, so expectations had been high ever since its announcement. That’s commonplace for all Id Software games and like Half-Life 2 and Halo 2, the game had its similarly commonplace early code leak during development.

The premise is the same as the last two; all hell breaks loose- literally- and you’ve got scores of much smarter and smarter-looking lethal beasts to send back there. Of course, you will have a host of different weapons at your disposal, but one-shot kills are left back in the 1990s when playing at higher skill levels.

The difference is evident in the exquisite engine. The product of several years’ work, it looks great (but with Half-Life 2 on the way, we’ll reserve judgement on which looks best) and the lighting and atmosphere are as cinematic as the cut-scenes. This creates a less frenetic pace than the average 3D shooter and in the early stages, less melee attacks. Like the Quake series, equal effort has gone into the soundtrack and sound effects to rack up the tension. Doom 3 certainly matches AVP for the fear experience - albeit without the speed. Visually this is especially true on ATI’s Radeon cards, though this is Doom and Id- just bring as powerful a PC as possible to the party and you’ll have the best time. Like Doom II putting 486 SX PCs on the scrapheap in 1994, Doom 3 brings you only the second game after Far Cry, which is happiest on a gigabyte of memory.

Spread over 27 levels, the modern versions of the old monsters are understandably tougher - especially the new “pinky” demon. This beast has the speed and destructive force as Serious Sam’s exploding bull and demands equally good reflexes. Similarly, the new imp has a leap attack similar to the Fox film movie monsters in AVP. The former human security personnel are also tough and won’t roll over easily. Only the zombies are comparative cannon fodder, but can use tools to bludgeon and slowly but surely erode your health if you let them get too close.

Occasional help will arrive in the form of sentry bots. These machines will crawl ahead of you and wipe out any enemies until their ammunition is exhausted, or they are destroyed. Restocking cabinets provide more health or ammunition throughout the game. You’ll find PDAs from dead personnel or abandoned offices as you travel. These take the place of the coloured keys of ten years ago. Reading the emails and voice broadcasts help you find the combinations to both supply cabinets and the doors linking subsections or the end of levels. Last but not least, the occasional real/spoof website offers more clues.

While the corridors get longer and the lighting ever more spooky, aside from proceeding through the storyline and interactive cut-scenes (where you only had one or two in the previous games), without giving that story away, that’s the game. Like AVP it’s best played at night, as you battle your way through 27 levels of horror, so on Veteran you have an easy 20 hours of gameplay if you are anything less than expert.

While the game only takes up 1.5Gb of hard drive space, the save games will soon push that to 2Gb if you’re a “safety saver”. If quick saving takes away your concentration, you generally find health and supplies at the right time after heavy attacks to let you go through levels to the end where it will autosave. At least the game makes no bones about taking all your PC’s resources and still demanding more. In fact my reduction in speed is most probably due to the Athlon 1800+, in spite of the 768Mb RAM supporting it. It’s probably the Athlon XP 2400+ with its true 2GHz clockspeed that should serve as a minimum, with more than 512Mb RAM.

Verdict

The critical knives have been out since the game’s release. Doom 3 is linear, and the gameplay does bring back memories of Half-Life - but how many of those critics have gone back to play HL? Because of the graphical advances to Doom 3, the answer is probably not that many.

I don’t think the retro angle is a bad thing when the rival sequel is so tantalisingly near, to have a game celebrating Valve’s past as well as Id’s own roots. Return to Castle Wolfenstein may have been a better remake of a seminal Id classic but the issue is whether you wanted a straight blaster. The complicated one is due from November pending the court case.

So Doom 3’s position as a great-looking, yet uncomplicated sci-fi horror 3D shooter is still sound. The fans seem to agree- they kept it high in the charts for a month after release. The only competitive shadow on the horizon in fact, is neither Half-Life 2, nor Halo 2, but Quake 4’s return to the single-player side next year. If you’re still not convinced, a demo has arrived in the two months following the launch, so you can now make up your own mind.

Overall it’s good, but just not good enough to get an award - since the mod makers will have to spice up the gameplay when you’ve finished the original campaign.