Activision – Doom 3 review

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Have you ever known the sheer panic invoked by the hiss of a cacodemon spawning behind you, or the pain of a shower of multiple imp fireballs? Such were the creatures of Hell summoned by the original Doom to torment the player… and after a long spell of unemployment, or possibly community service repainting the pentagrams in the seventh circle with wax-seal crimson, they’re back in the terror business.

Doom 3 has finally materialised on our earthly plane of existence some ten years after the original. And it feels like a visit from an old friend, albeit a psychotic, chainsaw wielding, frothing at the mouth mate. You know, the kind that don’t get invited to many weddings. For Doom 3 is actually very similar to the original Doom in many respects.

For starters, it uses many of the same monsters such as the aforementioned imps and cacodemons (though the cacos appear to have shrunk in the wash). The weapons are the same, the story is practically identical, even the core gameplay is pretty close to the mark, featuring levels of mazey corridors with a highly linear progression.

So it’s a bog standard re-make with a fresh coat of paint? It’s certainly true that the reincarnated Doom’s new engine and visual style is stunning, but it isn’t the only difference between this and the original, thankfully. Doom 3 pulls off some really slick moves in the atmosphere department.

It has a genuinely compelling and chilling horror vibe. The level designs are quite cramped and claustrophobic, but most of all very dark. You’re given a flashlight to peer into the gloom with, although this can’t be used in conjunction with a weapon, leading to some tense moments fumbling for your shotgun when you’ve just turned a corner and illuminated the ghastly visage of an ambling zombie, right in your face.

When played in the dark, late at night, on your own it really does make you jump (or it made us jump anyway – literally). The sound is pure class as well, so turn that up and preferably use surround speakers or a good pair of headphones. From distant, dull, mysterious thuds to demonic whisperings, it really puts you on edge.

This carefully crafted atmosphere is augmented by the excellent lighting effects and visuals. To see the shadow of some unknown monster, looming large through a window in an office you’re crouched in while hurriedly reloading your weapon… the tension is palpable. Visually, it’s a treat all round, from the needle-like steel teeth of the lost soul monster to the horrific, slimy, pulsing, organic goo which is oozing from the very pores of hell and infesting the Mars base. Marvellous.

While the graphics do look truly exceptional at higher resolutions such as 1280 x 1024, you do need a beefy machine to run the game at this level (along the lines of a 3GHz processor, or 3000+ AMD, with a cutting edge graphics card). However, even at lower resolutions Doom 3 still looks sharp and it runs very nicely on a mid-spec PC.

We’ve already mentioned that the plot is pretty much the same, but the manner in which the story unfolds has been brought up to contemporary expectations, with numerous cut scenes, a decent dose of intrigue and an interactive in-game PDA which is used to download information throughout the base.

The PDA logs you find tell the tales of many of the scientists and workers at the base, which adds to the overall flavour of the atmosphere (and provides scope for some in-jokes, naturally, one of which refers to the comedy series “The Office”, bizarrely enough).

Although Doom 3 was always touted as being about the single player campaign, there is a basic multiplayer mode which sticks to traditional Doom lines – four player vanilla deathmatch with small, tight levels. We found the online experience a little laggy and the default maps somewhat lacklustre, but when the mods and patches start hitting home there’s great potential for improvement. Even now, Doom 3 deathmatch is pretty entertaining if you can find a solid pinging server.

Company: Activision

It's true that Doom 3 feels a little dated in its gameplay design. The linear level construction (find a locked door, look for the key) is just how it was in the original. While id Software should have worked more on this aspect, the game is so well executed, with a finely honed horror atmosphere, that this doesn't take the shine off a thoroughly enjoyable, survival style blaster. And boy, is it shiny.