Doom 3 revisited

Just been playing a bit of Doom 3’s Mars City / Mars City Underground levels on Veteran skill. It’s a lonely Saturday night and I’m past the second beer and I have this feeling of boredom and nausea that’s hard to put a finger on. I have to say, Doom 3 is just what the doctor ordered on such an evening. The atmosphere it still manages to conjure up, a feeling of Alien-type sci-fi horror where the protagonist is caught in the unfolding chaos of a Mars base under attack by an unknown alien force, and soon to be the last sane person remaining, is just pulled off incredibly well.

The voice acting, foreboding e-mails and audio logs on people’s PDAs you get to access (if you so choose) just serves to drive the point home that shit is very soon going to hit the fan in a really bad way.

And then there is the visual experience.

I have to say that even after playing a lot of Crysis, which is rightfully considered to be a very pretty looking game, Doom 3 still delivers the goods. The idtech4 engine (Doom 3 was released in 2004) is still one ace looking piece of technology, and can still hold its own among more modern games (the upcoming Brink and Prey 2 still use idtech4 as a base). And the amount of details in the game is jaw-dropping. Even more so when you consider it’s largely still brushwork and patches (there are map models in Doom 3, but they’re usually only used for decoration, terrain, and things like doors, with the exception of the “Hell” level). A lot of it is real old fashioned brushwork. They pulled this off incredibly well. The lighting just makes it even more impressive.

Doom 3’s textures aren’t high resolution by today’s standards, but they still look reasonably good while playing. In fact the environments look better, sharper, and more detailed than most of the props in Crysis. I notice the textures on brushes are usually more hi-res than the ones on models, which is a trend that apparently continued in newer games (thus leading to complaints of low-res textures in Crysis 2, for example). I’m not sure why this is the case. I’m aware of at least one hi-res retexturing project for Doom 3, which should further prolong this game’s visual impressiveness.

The gameplay, while much criticized for lame attempts at cheap scares, omnipresent predictable monster-closets and in-your-back spawning of angry imps, was never a real problem in my view and I think its definite oldschool approach (i.e. killing monsters in the dark with a shotgun, instead of cattle-prodding the player through a sequence of scripted events and endless cutscenes) is convincingly pulled off. Yes, in such a game there will be monster closets, flickering lights and teleporting nasties. So? Nothing says “Fuck you!” better than a shotgun blast to the face. As such, the core mechanic of the game (it’s a shooter, and doesn’t try to be a movie) works to my satisfaction.

It’s a game for men, because you have to be able to appreciate what they pulled off here. Playing this again after quite a while prompted me to write this, because I think it is really a quality piece of game design. It’s all so impeccably done, the artwork, the brushwork, the voice acting and the ambience. I’m not saying it is flawless, but it is executed competently. And it’s running in a wonderful engine. It’s all the better because it’s also a free game development toolkit (OK, the game itself is like 6,99 from the bargain bin, but the tools and SDK are free and there’s still hope for the engine to be open-sourced.). What more can you want.

You’ll have to excuse me now, I have to go back to killing infernal demons in dark corridors.

Love you, Doom 3.

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