DOOM 3 needs no introduction so I'm not going to waste the time of either of us. Its been in development for a few years and was confirmed as id's next project a couple of years back. Ever since then gamers have been salivating at the twin prospects of John Carmack's next graphics engine and the next instalment in one of the best loved of all gaming series. The game has been available now for a few weeks, during which time Ferrago has been hard at work to bring you this in depth review.
The game starts off in the now typical fashion with a gentle intro as your newly arrived marine walks his way from the shuttle to meet his new boss and run a quick errand for him. This lets you gaze around at the technical splendour that is DOOM 3 without having to worry about coming under attack. Later on in the game you are unable to appreciate a lot of the creative art and sophistication that is on display as you are desperately fighting for your soul, so the meandering introduction is welcome. The scene is nicely set-up, with the grim existence of the UAC Mars worker recreated vividly on your screen. You can talk to any of the other people milling about, some of whom will warn you of the dangers of the Mars facility while others will just help to give life to the environments. From the start and right through the game you will come across announcement boards and presentation screens where the might and power of the UAC is vibrantly extolled. This particular announcer has the same tone and inflection as the announcer at places like the Epcot Center and other attractions of the future, his mixture of wonder and certainty is a powerful lure into letting oneself become absorbed in the world.
Other information can be had from video disks, narrated by the same chap, which will teach you of a certain process or weapon system that you may need to be familiar with to progress past a certain point. Personal Data Assistants are scattered through the facility which you can download onto your own PDA device. These are sometimes nothing more than a collection of benign emails and recorded audio musing, containing the security codes and passes you need to continue on your quest. The PDA is well designed and works beautifully. Press tab and the screen is raised in-game towards your face. You can then take your time to peruse any info you have so far collected. If you start a video or audio recording you can drop the PDA down and continue to listen to the audio feed while you continue on your way, although it is usually a good idea to stay in a safe place and hear the recording through as important codes or clues will often be revealed. Interfacing with the various control panels and computer screens is also handled very well. Move the reticule over a screen and it changes to a mouse pointer. You then navigate through the screens and manipulate controls without the need to switch to a separate screen, thereby retaining that all important sense of immersion. I really did feel at times that I was actually there on Mars, a wonderful achievement.
The controls worked flawlessly. I encountered no problems of overburdening the system with multiple key-presses and the keys are completely configurable. I was happy to note that the system recognises the extra buttons that many mice have these days, so after a few levels I was in complete control of the proceedings. Unless, that is, something had just put the fear right into me and my higher brain functions ceased for a second or two. There's no fancy leaning or acrobatics here. In fact there's nothing in the controls that is any different from the original other than the ability to look and move in three dimensions. Even id would have had a hard time taking the retro feel that far. While the option to peer around a corner to determine whether that horrid screeching sound was going to cause you to lose your last few health points would have not harmed things, I soon didn't care and rather preferred having those keys free to set up as I chose.
DOOM 3 is all about the atmosphere. Sure, there's a story in there, and well told and presented it is too. Sure there are some entertaining gun fights and one or two gameplay elements that haven't been seen before, but DOOM 3's entire raison d'etre is to take the player on a wild ride that they will never forget. And to do that properly id have concentrated on making DOOM 3 the most intense, moody and atmospheric gaming experience yet coded onto a home computer. If you are looking for the next generation of shooter then this is the wrong place. If, on the other hand, you are looking to experience the old care-free DOOM blasting experience on the very best technology that genius and money can buy, then you have come to the right place. There is one problem with this goal to immerse and encapsulate the player in the world that they have created. You see, DOOM 3 is a game that loses its power as the sun rises. And played in the harsh light of day it is less than half as effective a piece of entertainment software then it is with all the lights turned off in the room you are sitting in alone, free from any distractions.
You really need to play DOOM 3 under the right conditions: you wouldn't recommend someone watch Alien or The Ring for the first time in a big airy room at 3 in the afternoon on a glorious sunny August day, and nor should you do the same with DOOM 3. Now, for some this may be a reason to criticise the game. Adhering to these conditions certainly makes the experience go on for that much longer, but it is irritating to know that if you were to have a wee shot while the lights were still on that you would be doing the game, and yourself, a disservice. Still, patience is often called a virtue, and in DOOM 3's case it certainly is worth waiting for the right conditions. I kept finding myself judging the lighting conditions, waiting until it had gotten dark enough to jump once more into the bowels of Hell.