Doom 3 Editorial
August 19, 2004 / by zeckensack / Page 1 of 2
Not a review
Let me get this straight: I think it was brilliant. If you really didn't like the game at all and believe that a piece written by somebody who thoroughly enjoyed it is just going to annoy you, feel free to read something else. And don't say I didn't warn you.
I had kind of a headstart on the technology. I've followed the Doom 3 tech since the first bits started trickling through the 3D programming related discussion boards, and even did some coverage on that. I think I know quite well how that particular rendering system works. Still, the overall impression was just overwhelming. I never expected it would work that well. That may be because it is just not enough to talk about the rendering system after all.
Most of us expected an "engine showcase" type of game out of id, and so did I. Show what the renderer can do, demonstrate that there are scripting and physics systems, but overall just a mediocre game, meant to attract licensees. Low expectations seemed to be a reasonable antidote to the usual hype.I'm so glad I was wrong.
Enough mushy talk, on to the reasons. Why did it work for me?
The game was interesting enough in the beginning to keep playing. Purty graphics, lots of detail and polish, relatively unintrusive in-game "tutorial" kind of events for learning basic interaction (talking with NPCs, doors, the PDA, computer screens, etc). Nicely done. Kept playing, headlong into the game proper. I couldn't point my finger at why, but I immediately liked it. Umm ... but why?
A few hours later however, there was a distinct moment, somewhere on the Enpro level I believe, where I really came to appreciate the game, and started to understand why it fascinated me. I was standing at the entrance to your average badly lit, medium sized, columns and corners adorned room. I was just standing there on the doorstep, carefully looking into what I could see of the room ahead. Something was wrong. It took me about a minute to realize the obvious and wonderful: I was afraid. I was so scared that I just couldn't move, literally (virtually) frozen in terror.
There is what I suppose to be a CD booklet in the box, and it says "Doom 3 is a terrifying sci-fi horror game experience. It is not recommended for the cowardly or the faint of heart." Many games come with such disclaimers. I've never taken them serious. But this one had just proven to be the real deal.
Okay, call me a wimp. No other game I've played since the original Dungeon Master - age twelve, mummies, total darkness, you get the idea - managed to get me afraid. Doom 3 did, thoroughly. And I'm grateful for that. This is the single most important reason for me to love the game, and everything else is now just an aside. I don't give a damn if the local bickernuts complain about the shadows cast from the flashlight. I don't give a damn if some reviewer launches a "technical" complaint about texture quality ... as seen in 640x480. *restrains self*.
I was afraid, right there, and throughout large portions of the remaining game, and that's what I'll remember first.
How did they do that?
Wrong question. Better one: what was I afraid of? Well, bad odds in combat and virtual death, most likely. So I really must be a wimp ... or there's something about Doom 3 that just isn't there in other games.
The deal about Doom 3 is that combat is a lot more traumatizing than in your usual game. There's an extreme view tilt and consequent disorientation, it just gets real hard to hit back or to run away. So you most likely get hit again, if you were hit once. This teaches you that you don't want to get hit in the first place. No, really. Most other games with similar mechanics are just not tense and serious enough for that kind of learning effect. Getting hit may be annoying - *sigh* quickload - but that's not the same thing.
Let me make a quick comparison to Serious Sam, which I duly loved (but was not afraid of k'thx): SeSam had a lot of action and could induce the good old adrenaline rush in places. It managed to do so by throwing dozens to hundreds of swarming enemies at you at once, which is great fun and ... completely over the top. Doom 3 makes do with much less enemies, but those enemies are semi-smart, fast, agile and ferocious. And what may matter more ... they tend to ambush. They hunt you. They leap in your face if you're not careful. And they dodge your shots. They don't gallop towards you in a straight line in full daylight.
Live (as in "don't die") and learn
Okay, so they lie in ambush and wait for you. We've already learnt that we don't want to, under any circumstances, be hit, let alone be surprised. What do you do? You tread carefully, you look around, and you listen carefully because you might spot them, or hear them early. If you know where they are, you are prepared and less likely to get hurt.
So you move extra slowly, eyes and ears wide open ... if you just rush in and wait until they jump at you, you'll get that vision shaking trauma again, and if you're a wimp like me, you don't want that. Just remember that seconds matter in your average Doom 3 encounter.
If you follow my drift, the enemy placement and behavior in the game, combined with the whole (lack of, mostly) lighting, makes you pay close attention to, surprise, the game itself. If you're thoroughly scared, you'll automatically pay closer attention to your surroundings, in turn soaking up more of the atmosphere, and that will just keep you scared. That's a gaming kind of perpetuum mobile if I've ever seen one.