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Doom 3

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Doom 3 is a lot like Eyes Wide Shut: they’re both technically brilliant, but they’re not as edgy as their creators think. Like Kubrick’s orgy scene, Doom 3’s body parts, smeared blood, and evil laughter come across as almost quaint. It’s not like ten years ago when the original Doom’s satanic imagery could cause controversy. (There is, however, one image in Doom 3, just before the final boss, that is admirably repulsive.) This is not to say that Doom 3 isn’t scary. It’s certainly one of the most nerve-wracking games of all time. But it doesn’t always come by its jolts honestly. It’s simply too easy to frighten someone by turning out all the lights and having things leap out at them. Even the laziest horror films can elicit a reaction by suddenly throwing a cat into the frame.

Predictably, Technical Director John Carmack’s engine is impressive. Doom may be the most realistic-looking game ever. But this brings up two concerns:

1) Realism has become far too important a goal in computer gaming. In Doom 3, when you get swatted by a monster, you’re knocked aside and have to reposition yourself in order to aim your weapon. And the lighting is so realistic, that you spend most of the game in near darkness. Doom 3 may successfully mimic real life physics, but that doesn’t make it more enjoyable. After all, if I wanted to be batted around in a dark corner, I’d simply move downtown.

Series like Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, and Medal of Honor demand realism. But games with fantasy elements don’t have to follow suit, which seems to increasingly be the case with computer games. People will argue that more realism means a more immersive gaming experience. And it’s true that while some of us can easily get into a show like Dr Who, others are unable to suspend their disbelief due to the low budget effects. If you were to compare games to movies, you might say that better special effects means easier acceptability of the content. But there is a wider problem here: a more analogous example would be computer designers acting like filmmakers who give up on animation in order to make live action films.

2) Even if you accept realism as a desirable goal, there is still a difference between great graphics and great art design. Doom 3 is impressive from a mechanical standpoint, but conceptually it’s quite dull. Doom 3’s Mars base is extremely detailed and believable, but it’s also monotonous. (I’ve never understood why so many SF writers picture future architecture as resembling the worst the Industrial Age had to offer.) Even the Hell levels — where the designers could have really let loose with their imaginations — are predictable. In the original Doom, one of the most distinct creatures was the cacodemon. (Interestingly, the updated cacodemons in Doom 3 are also the most memorable.) They were outrageous, resembling giant tomatoes with horns, but that was their selling point. Now, it’s almost as if the artists were too concerned biology and realistic musculature. This problem is similar to special effects-laden movies: Independence Day, for example, had well-executed effects, but the alien ship designs, as well as the battle scenes, were pedestrian and uninspired.

Some commentators were worried that Doom 3 could never live up to the expectations of gamers. But I honestly wasn’t expecting anything revolutionary. No matter how good any future game is, the experience of playing the original Doom can never be duplicated. Doom came out at a time when our demands were simpler, our attitudes lest jaded. Like the arrival of the Beatles, Doom appeared before we started to think in terms of the Next Big Thing. That very expectancy eliminates the chance of us ever being truly surprised. I also haven’t enjoyed an id game since Doom 2. I thought the Quake games had uninteresting creatures and tiresome art design (especially the pseudo-medieval look of the first Quake).

Nevertheless, I wasn’t expecting Doom 3 to be as dull as it turned out to be. It’s strange to be both on edge and bored at the same time. The game can elicit short term reactions, but in the long run, it’s just a series of repetitive actions: enter room, wait for monsters to jump out, destroy all monsters, pick up ammo and health, head for next room. If anything, Doom 3 confirms that the FPS has become a genre best suited to multiplaying.

(Check out TDavid’s review if you want to hear somebody stay on topic and actually talk about the game…)

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About Paul De Angelis

  • Paul,

    Thanks very much for your imformative article. I was waiting for a detailed opinion piece on this game and was glad to see yours posted.

    The last FPS game that really blew me away was Half Life, a game which caught me totally by surprise with its excellent storyline and graphics. But really, Doom and Doom2 are the ones that set the standard. I still remember many of the levels by heart!

    You know, if they just took those old games and updated the graphics and sounds for modern PCs I’d be just as happy, I think, as I would be with Doom3.

    I guess I should buy the game and play it before I judge, though.

    Thanks again.


  • “The last FPS game that really blew me away was Half Life”

    I think the guys at id were inspired as well. Doom 3 has a long intro (in which you have to make your way to a lab), a monorail ride, and a Barney-like character who briefly helps you out.

    “Doom and Doom2…I still remember many of the levels by heart!”

    The Cyberdemon and Spider Mastermind descending from the ceiling is like a classic scene from a movie.

    “if they just took those old games and updated the graphics and sounds for modern PCs I’d be just as happy”

    They did that for Dune 2 when they made Dune 2000. A lot of people were unhappy with the results, but I thought it worked perfectly.

  • Thank you for the mention and link, Paul.

    David Flanagan – not exactly sure if I should feel slighted by your comment or not 🙂 LOL

  • Doom 3 is just that, a sequel. I felt the same with Quake. Great engine but not really fun in single player.

    I think this has a lot to do with the culture at ID. There is Carmack, but the Romero part is simply lacking. He played a vital role, was the one that brought Carmack’s brilliant engines to life.

    Together they revolutionized gaming, but now we have to wait for some younger geniuses who’ll come up with something really new, again.

    Until we arrive there my hope is that there will be other game companies that don’t focus on the engine, just license the best available (which of course could be Doom 3) and make something more sophisticated of it.

    I also think that it’s time to invest more research and actual CPU cycles into game AI instead of the graphics.

  • “the Romero part is simply lacking. He played a vital role, was the one that brought Carmack’s brilliant engines to life.”

    Because Romero made such a fool of himself after getting booted out of id, some people have been hesitant to give him credit, even for his earlier stuff.

    But I think you’re right. It can’t be just a coincidence that id became less interesting at the same Romero started to lose interest and began goofing around.