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After the initial incursion from Hell, it soon becomes apparent that the majority of the personnel have either been killed or turned into rather unpleasant zombies intent on making you their next meal. There’s no real explanation as to why you aren’t dead or zombified, but then this is Doom and the action has just started, so who cares?
Parts of the gameplay feel like classic Doom, and just like in the original, mastering the art of straffing and shooting is the key to survival. It’s clear that id hasn’t forgotten what made Doom such an “edge of the seat” experience, and you’ll find yourself constantly worrying that something is going to jump out at you at any minute – and normally your fears are well founded.
As I’ve already mentioned, use of lighting is superb. One of the reasons that the use of light, or lack of it, can build tension to unparalleled levels, is that you need to use your torch to navigate dark areas. Now using the torch doesn’t sound too bad, until you realise that when you’ve got the torch in your hand you can’t have a gun in your hand, and walking around a Hell infested Mars facility without a gun is not an advisable pastime. Initially I loved this idea, and it really does get you jumping – you’ll find yourself searching a dark room and suddenly get attacked, but before you can fight back you have to draw a weapon and put away the torch. Not only does this take time, but once you’ve switched to your gun you can’t even see the enemy that you want to shoot anymore. However, the reason I said that I initially loved this, is because it doesn’t always make sense. I fully appreciate that if you’re firing a huge chain gun, you’re not going to be able to hold a torch as well, but what’s stopping you from having the torch in one hand and a pistol in the other. Also, I’d probably have a root around in some desk draws and look for some sticky tape so that I could attach the torch to the barrel of the shotgun or machine gun, but hey, it’s only a game.
Unfortunately effects like dark rooms or strobing lights are used far too often, and after a while the scenarios start to feel contrived rather than shocking or surprising. It doesn’t take long before you view every dark area as a monster hotbed, and nine times out of ten you’re right. It’s the same with the equipment and ammo that you find laying around – if you see some armour just sitting there, it’s a safe bet that as soon as you pick it up, you’ll be surrounded by Imps and Zombies. And of course, once you’re in this mindset of knowing that darkness and equipment means that you’ll be attacked, it stops being a shock and becomes, well, mundane.
Another aspect that gets the nostalgia glands pumping is the familiar monster lineup. All the bad boys from Doom are there – Imps, Zombies, Lost Souls etc, but they’ve all been updated and rendered in glorious 3D. The creatures in Doom3 definitely look better than anything I’ve ever seen before, although their AI isn’t quite as good as I had expected. After playing Far Cry, I thought that I’d find the enemies in Doom3 just as tricky to nail, especially the Zombified troops, but there’s a lack of combat intelligence in all of them – although to be fair, this does make it feel like the original Doom to a certain degree.
I asked Tim Willits if there was a level like the classic Tricks & Traps in Doom3, but he said no, adding that he didn’t really like level design where you had to run backwards and forwards over the same ground flicking switches. It’s a shame, because that has to be my all time favourite Doom level, and there’s something about finding yourself in a room surrounded by innumerable monsters that really gets the blood pumping. That said, there still seems to be a fair amount of running backwards and forwards over the same ground in Doom3 too.
Doom3 has far more of a storyline than its predecessors, and throughout the game the story unfolds with various cut scenes. You also bump into quite a few other survivors along the way, many of which can help you. Each level has a set task, which can just involve reaching a certain area or sometimes performing a specific task. The non player characters can either be an annoying distraction, or essential to swift progress. Sometimes, characters will talk to you and stay put, and other times they will follow you around, just like in Half Life.
I’m actually amazed that it’s taken me so long to mention Half Life, because I have to say that at times, playing Doom3 reminds me far more of Half Life than Doom. Anyone who’s played Valve’s classic will know exactly what I mean, especially when you find yourself travelling along on mono rails, or following non player characters through level sections. And this is where Doom3 really stumbles – all I kept thinking as I was playing it was that there was nothing in the gameplay that hadn’t been done in Half Life. OK, so there are clever touches like using a PDA to store all your collected data, but even this feature was used to good effect in Splinter Cell, so it’s nothing new either.