10 years went by between the release of Doom II and the next game in the series. Pitched as a remake of Doom using the newest tech available, Doom 3 is a controversial game. Not in the traditional sense of overbearing mothers crying out to have the game banned, but rather in the less fun “weakening the legacy of a classic gaming franchise” way. It also helped me realize that a developer I used to be a fan of, John Carmack, really wasn’t as ideal as my younger self believed.
Snoozefest in space
Minutes after firing up the game, I was reminded of that famous bit of a trivia about John Carmack tossing out the Doom Bible because he didn’t believe in stories in video games. I say that because Doom 3 really doesn’t start off as any other Doom game. The first 15-30 minutes consist of unskippable cutscenes, talking with friendly non-player characters, listening to audio logs, and following orders. I expected a lot from the next, big Doom title, but not that it would be boring.
Once you get through this lengthy opening segment the game starts focussing on action a lot more, though you still have to watch cutscenes every once in a while and pick up like a dozen audio logs in every stage. You can ignore the latter, but they often contain codes to lockers with ammo and health items in them to kind of force you into listening to the stuff.
I find this bizarre, mostly because the story they are telling feels like we really shouldn’t care at all. It’s a remake of Doom, so once again we play this nameless, mute marine shipped to Mars to support some science corporation in their security needs. Minutes after our arrival we are instructed to fetch a scientist that has run away, who reveals some unethical stuff is going on right as the unethical stuff goes wrong, unleashing an army of Demons and possessing most of the people present on Mars.
For Doom it gets the job done, it’s just bizarre how they keep pushing the story down your throat. The characters involved are all bland stereotypes, like the gruff marine sergeant or the obviously-mad scientist, and our character really doesn’t lend itself well to this kind of storytelling. To have our marine just kind of stand there emotionlessly while characters barf plot at him doesn’t feel right and he lacks the “cool” factor that made the original Doomguy so appealing.
Story score: 3/10
A lot has changed in 10 years time, yet the announcement of Doom 3 gave us hope to see another revolutionary game change the FPS genre. Coming out at a time where fantastic games like Call of Duty: Finest Hour and Medal of Honor were steering first-person shooters towards more realistic, historical shooters, I was definitely ready to dive back into hell and have some fast-paced, crazy action. Sadly, that seems to be sorely lacking here.
While you’ll once again be pitched against the forces of hell, gone are the wide-open areas that allowed for strafing and tactical movement. Most of Doom 3 takes place in tight corridors or rooms littered with clutter that restricts your options. Your basic enemies will be possessed people, a lot of which just walk up and hit you, though former security guards also wield hitscan weapons to use against you. Getting hit by anything will bounce you around and throw off your aim, especially when people get up in your face with a shotgun. By contrast, your starting pistol and shotgun are pathetic and I honestly wasn’t having fun with the game until I got a fully automatic weapon later on. I even restarted the game an hour and a half into it to put it on a low difficulty; not because I was struggling, but because it was taking way too many shots to deal with enemies. Even on the easiest mode, it still sometimes took two shotgun blasts to kill the most basic enemies.
Imps are back, but due to the small hallways, it has become much more frustrating to dodge their projectiles. The other classic Demons are reimagined as well, mixed in with some new candidates. The results vary, but enemies like the Maggots and Pinky Demons are mostly obnoxious. They get up in your face and start bashing away, which shakes your aim all around and makes it hard to retaliate. The first boss especially loves to abuse this. By comparison, the cacodemon and lost souls make the transition to 2004 much more gracefully and operate much the same as they always did.
Your weapon arsenal is also a slow boil. While you do eventually get cool stuff like the BFG-9000, I was 3 hours into the game before I got something as fun as the plasma gun. This could be influenced by my refusal to listen to every darn audio log to figure out the codes for the lockers, but the few times I did it made little difference. For most of the game, I was just using whatever automatic weapon I just got. The chaingun replaced my standard rifle, and the plasma gun replaced the chaingun. Ammo was always plentiful, and riskier weapons like the grenade and chainsaw were rarely worth the effort.
The fatal flaw for Doom 3, on top of everything else, is its level design. Now I may have complained about Doom being too maze-like, but Doom 3 is just a series of linear corridors. Sometimes you get to a locked door and follow a different, linear path until you get whatever opens the door from before and proceed again. The path is usually obvious, but the game often frustrates it with hidden ladders or computer monitors where you need to do something, which tends to blend in with the overly-cluttered environments.
The enemy patterns may not be anything special, but their placement in these levels is even more annoying. A lot of them are tucked away behind corners or right behind doors, allowing them to get frustrating free hits in on the player. When that isn’t enough, the game will also spawn in more of them like these bastards are deep striking Warhammer 40K style. Enemies will just be thrown in anywhere, sometimes right behind you in melee range. It’s anger-inducing, cheap, and honestly makes it hard to believe that this same company created Doom II just 10 years earlier. Sure, there were always monster closets, but they were never THIS unfair.
At the most basic level, I am willing to admit that Doom 3 is functional and the shooting can, at times, be amusing. I didn’t suffer any obvious glitches and when the pacing is good, Doom 3 can be entertaining for shorts lengths of time. It’s just that none of it feels like it plays to Doom‘s strengths; the tight hallways and slower gameplay ruin the series’ legacy for speed and action, while the samey weapons and annoying enemies harm amusement as well. Meanwhile arbitrary stuff like monster closets and keycard hunts were kept in, despite not fitting at all with the slower, modern style of gameplay.
Gameplay score: 2/10
Carmack wants all the tech
So a bit of backstory on this game: the heads of id software really didn’t want to make it. As you can read in this internal memo, John Carmack and a few of his colleagues forced the decision by threatening to let themselves be fired if they wouldn’t get to work on a Doom remake, which honestly feels a bit childish.
The reason I lost respect for Carmack, however, is because all of this makes it seem like he wanted to do it just so he could play around with fancy new tech again. Doom is a big name and while I can’t prove anything, it reeks of trying to sell technology on the back of a popular franchise. While the textures and realistic visuals have aged poorly, I will admit that in terms of lighting and atmosphere the game has its amazing features. There is a lot of dynamic light and shadows going on here and while that is nice, it doesn’t fit the aesthetic of Doom at all.
In fact, these fancy new lighting effects may have necessitated the shift to a more generic, realistic look, instead of using a more stylized presentation like the classic games or, indeed, the Doom remake from 2016. Everywhere you go it’s just grey hallways and computers, meaning there is a severe lack of anything visually exciting. The iconic looks of the enemies are entirely abandoned, in fact, it wasn’t until I looked things up on the wiki that I realized the monster dogs were supposed to be Pinky Demons. Likewise, the imps are just grey-skinned uglies, and the hell knight looks so generic it could have been purchased on an asset store.
Further supporting my belief that all of this was done just to show off the tech is how the increased atmosphere the lighting provides has pushed the game more towards a horror feel, instead of the fast-paced shooter it used to be. The game throws in so many “scary” sound-effects I honestly stopped noticing them entirely, like giggles and random, spooky dialogue. Sometimes the game just goes almost entirely dark and you need to use the flashlight to get anywhere or everything will suddenly turn red as enemies spawn in.
The attempts to turn this game into a horror title are pathetic and the most desperate measure to achieve it are the jump scares. At one point I walked into a random bathroom to explore a bit and the game took control of the camera away from me, turned it towards the mirror, and then everything got red while loud noise played. Wow… is that the best you can do? This is the kind of quality that makes it into the long-awaited third entry of the Doom series? Everything about this just makes me angry and kind of sad.
Presentations score: 4/10
No achievements for me then?
The game features a number of achievements players can unlock, which works via Steam of course. Nothing special and I am not going to score the game on it, but just want to make it known that I randomly got a pop-up during my play-time informer me achievements were disabled for my game because I had allegedly opened the console command… I did no such thing.
Am I being too harsh on this? I honestly don’t think so. Doom 3 has some fancy tech behind it and sometimes the firefights are enjoyable, but the campaign is overly long and constantly forces you to watch its unskippable cutscenes and listen to the audio logs. The slower pace of the game doesn’t feel like DOOM at all and, at the same time, neither does the new style offer enough to be a compelling, horror-style game on its own.
My experience with Doom could be summarized with a graph representing my boredom. Right from the gate I already had a bad time with it, which briefly dipped when action finally broke out, only to then steadily rise as level after level, combat encounter after combat encounter, disinterestedly passed me by. At the 4 hour mark, I was almost pleading for this game to be over already.