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Doom had graphics that were unheard of at the time, presenting the first-person perspective in a way that seemed more engaging than previous efforts. True, Wolfenstein 3D predates Doom by two years, but not only did it lack the market permeation that Doom saw, the gameplay was significantly slower, and altogether different than the experience Doom provided. It was that experience that kept the franchise alive not only through two actual sequels (Doom II: Hell on Earth and Final Doom) but also any number of repacks offering only a few new levels or minor modifications (Such as Ultimate Doom).
So, after taking Doom to the next logical level, true 3d, with the Quake series, iD went "back to the lab" for five years and sequestered themselves away, promising that their next title, Doom 3, would be a true successor to the series. And people believed. And waited. And waited. Waited for a game that not only promised to offer unprecedented levels of realism in terms of visuals, but for a game they hoped would provide the same fresh, new experience that Doom had in 1994.
This is not that game.
Undeniably, the graphics and sound are unbelievable. You've undoubtedly seen the endless screenshots and gameplay movies at this point. Even on a pretty modest system, Doom 3 has a distinct look that's both gritty and realistic, to the point of seeming like a pre-rendered movie in places. However, ingenuity is where Doom 3 falls flat on its face.
The gameplay here is at least 5 years out of date. "Emergent Gameplay", that is, the idea of non-scripted events that just happen as a result of world complexity, are nowhere to be found here. Instead, expect doors that open as soon as you have walked passed them, lights that darken as soon as you've picked up an ammo belt, and all the other scripted events that haven't seemed original since, well, since Doom.
Is it fair to come down so hard on a game for being a copy of itself? That's an interesting question, but, sadly, one that doesn't really apply - one of the main features that gave Doom its longevity after players had killed every demon themselves was a cooperative multiplayer mode that let a team of marines work through the single player game in unison. That would have worked perfectly in this game, but iD elected to leave the co-op play out. Perhaps they knew that a user-made modification to allow co-op was one of the first things that would be developed, but if that's the case, I say to them, "Shame on you!" Any game, but especially one with a $54.99 price tag, should be complete out of box, and it really is my opinion that Doom 3 without cooperative multiplayer represents an incomplete product. It should come as no surprise that one of the "exclusive features" being hyped for the Xbox version is co-op.
In fact, the multiplayer modes in general are extremely lackluster. The official server only supports 4 players at once, which strikes me as completely ludicrous. An iD representative was quoted several days before release on the topic, citing the large overhead of the engine as a reason that most servers wouldn't be able to handle more than 4 people without chugging, but I think that has to be false ñ this is the same technology that Ravensoft is going to use to bring use Quake IV, and you can be very sure that that game will feature 32 player arenas if not more.
I should, at this point, take the time to mention that just as all the features from the original Doom have not made the transition to this new game, there are, in fact, a few gameplay mechanics in Doom 3 that the earlier games did not have: a flashlight, which looks and works suspiciously like Half-Life's flashlight, as well as health stations that bring the health and HEV stations from Half-Life to mind. The monsters show a strong influence from games like Undying and Silent Hill. Oh yeah, and you can look up and down this time, just like every other FPS. My point, of course, being, that in addition to being influenced by their own earlier projects, iD has ripped off pretty much every successful FPS since Doom in one way or another, and worked those elements into Doom 3 with varying degrees of success.
Another thing that really bothered me is that while there are some Deus Ex like narrative elements in the form of PDAs that you find containing video discs and email, sometimes these mechanics actually work to distance the player from the game. Twice within the first 4 hours of Doom 3, I received an in-game email with a web address on it, requiring me to save, exit the system, launch a browser, and then go back into Doom and sit though that long initial load again seemingly needlessly.
While the levels look very nice, they don't exactly hold together as cohesive environments. iD must have spent a lot of time modeling pipes for this game: in fact, it would seem to me that they must have had a department of artists working round the clock all five years doing nothing but producing pipe-related assets. Seems everywhere you look, there's a giant pipe with sixteen smaller pipes coming out of it. What are all these pipes carrying? They're not labeled "hot water" or anything like the pipes in Half-Life. Sure, they add a sense of.... Something..... but it's hard to say just exactly what. And the overall layout of the base is enough to give MC Escher a headache: you don't think about it too much as you fly from room to room, but when you realize that you've been to nine floors and only seen 1 bathroom but 3 kitchens, something is amiss. Looking at the maps in the official Prima guide didn't help much, either: it made the environment more accessible, but it still doesn't really feel like anything that would actually be constructed (although those of you familiar with William Gibson's book Neuromancer may find a striking similarity between the Martian base in Doom and Gibson's descriptions of the Straylight facility).
All in all, there isn't much else to say about Doom 3. Graphically, we've defiantly reached yet another milestone in the history of video games, but that's something we do every few months anyway. In terms of gameplay, the Serious Sam games remain at the top of my list of Doom ñ clones: even though the graphics pale in comparison to Doom 3, the games are still more fun, and I believe the same can be said for Painkiller. And if you're looking for a fun, cohesive singleplayer FPS with gorgeous graphics and decent multiplayer to boot, you don't have to look any further than the recently released FarCry. In summary, Doom 3 is a game you should buy if you're looking for the new Killer App to show off your 600 dollar video card, or if you're such an addict of Doom-style gameplay that you still play Doom95 on a regular basis. Everyone else might be well advised to check out the games that I have mentioned above, or just keep their fingers crossed and hope Valve avoids the trap iD sprang with Doom 3, with their upcoming release of Half-Life 2.
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