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Written by Ally Doig, @allydoig
It changed everything. In 1993 John Carmack and John Romero revolutionized the way we would view games, play games and make games. The rampaging armies of hellspawn couldn’t be confined to the computer screen – they launched a full out assault on the mainstream. Doom was absolutely everywhere and in the years that followed various versions were ported to almost any system with the backbone to run it.
The mid-nineties belonged to id Software. Fans worshiped them and the media were fascinated by their unlikely rise to prominence. A ragtag bunch of young designers and programmers were responsible for a cultural phenomenon. Publicly headed by the supremely talented but volatile Romero, id were the rock-n-roll icons of game development. True to the image, their time in the limelight was also darkened by controversy. They were adored and often reviled in equal measure.
By 2004 and with Romero having moved on, id was a different, less aggressive kind of animal. Yet despite the studio retreating out of the public eye somewhat since the madness of the nineties, Doom 3 was still one of the most anticipated titles of its time. It was never going to be a game changer like its predecessors, but it still sold incredibly well, showing off the technical capabilities of Carmack’s id Tech 4 engine. Nearly ten years further down the line and the Doom 3: BFG Edition looks to ride the inevitable wave of interest accompanying the franchise’s 20th anniversary.
In fairness you get a lot of bang for your buck here. The original and sequel included in the package still hold up surprisingly well, offering a sizable chunk of nostalgic demon blasting. The headline act itself on the other hand, feels decidedly dated.
First person shooters have changed dramatically since 2004 and despite its HD makeover Doom 3 now feels dull and laborious. While the same blood runs through its veins it’s simply not as as iconic as Doom and Doom II. That sense of importance that keeps those games alive – despite their modern limitations – is nowhere near as prevalent in the third installment.
The spectacle driven nature of today’s FPS games also highlight how uneventful Doom 3’s campaign really is. Not going overboard with bombastic action sequences is understandable. Doom has its roots in horror rather than the explosion-torn battlegrounds of military warfare. But it’s so repetitive and monotonous that before long you’ll be desperate for a set-piece to liven up proceedings.
In keeping with tradition we assume the role of an emotionless space marine. This musclebound fragging machine arrives at the UAC base at Mars City in the wake of some pretty disastrous experiments. You already know the rest. Of course nobody plays Doom for the story. That would be like firing up Resident Evil in a bid to sharpen your acting skills. Doom, as we’re all aware, is about wasting the legions of Hell with a mountain of ammo and a boat load of guns. Big Effing Guns.
There’s an initial allure to Doom 3’s combat and there’s no denying it’s true to its heritage: dropping an Imp dead in its tracks with a meaty shotgun blast or feeling the chain-gun whir into action, thumping bullets into a fireball-belching Cacodemon. But although this gun-for-fun mentality never seemed to get old with the original games, the same can’t be said of Doom 3. The demon slaying soon becomes tedious.
For a series that lives and dies by its shooting this is obviously an issue. The problem doesn’t lie with the guns themselves; faithful re imaginings of the classic arsenal. Nor with the appearance of the monsters; how they’ve mutated and evolved from simple 2D sprites. It all boils down to the level design.
Any contrast in Doom 3’s endless sprawl of metallic hallways is barely recognizable. It got away with this to an extent in 2004. Despite the gloomy aesthetic it was highly detailed and, from memory, considered pretty atmospheric. By and large corridor shooters have now had their day. Despite a Call of Duty campaign being tightly scripted, there’s so much going on around you that you rarely stop and think about it. You soak it in. Doom 3, or at least, the Doom 3: BFG Edition, doesn’t have that same luxury. And it’s not just that it looks dull. This ultra-linear approach sucks much of the life out of Doom’s famed, adrenaline-fueled combat.
Put the ancient graphics to one side. Doom and Doom II’s level design is actually much more conducive to white-knuckle gunplay. Granted levels can still be heavily corridor focused, but they can open up into much bigger combat areas. You might run down a hallway, blast two demons, flick a switch and the floor gives way into a vast arena teeming with Hellspawn. You’ll then have to dodge a hail of green plasma, chain-gun the army of Lost Souls, shotgun the heat-seeking Revenants, outflank the Hell Knight and sink five rockets into him with only a few percent of health remaining. It’s lightning quick, visceral and often unpredictable.
Doom 3, in comparison, is almost the complete opposite. Not only is it slow – compounded by the game’s crippling loading times – but it tries to pull off the same trick repeatedly. Invariably an enemy will spawn in front of you, and while dealing with him, another appears in the corridor behind you. The first couple of times this will probably make you jump but it soon becomes painfully predictable. On the higher difficulties this can also be frustrating as you get swamped by monsters taking cheap shots.
Your objectives almost never vary, either. Shoot your way from point A to point to B. Retrieve security clearance for locked door at point A. Shoot your way back from point B to point A. No amount of exploding steam vents, demonic growling or evil laughter make it any more tense or exciting.
During the ten hours it takes to complete Doom 3 there’s almost no shift in pacing. It trudges along through identical corridors, recycling the same tedious gimmicks. You’ll take a very brief trip into Hell itself near the game’s conclusion, but unimaginative design choices and formulaic enemy patterns haunt that section as well. By the time that you’ve beaten the final Cyberdemon you’ll probably want to high tail it off Mars as quickly as possible.
But, if you are still hankering for more Doom 3 after slogging through the original campaign then the BFG Edition won’t leave you short changed. The Lost Mission serves up eight previously unreleased levels and the Resurrection of Evil add-on also comes as part of the package. A handful of new enemy types make an appearance and players also get the chance to wield the double barrel shotgun – a Doom favorite strangely omitted from the original game. This is certainly further incentive for hardcore Doom 3 fans to keep playing and there’s no denying the healthy amount of content on offer for the price tag.
But if you’re anything like me it will be Doom and Doom II that pull you back into id’s demon infested universe. They stand the test of time after 20 years – an absolute eternity in the games industry – and can always rely on their nostalgic appeal as back up. The problem is that you don’t really need the Doom 3: BFG Edition to play them. Both can be downloaded from Xbox Live for pittance or easily experienced through a wealth of online mods.
The Final Word: It raises the question. Is it just that Doom 3 hasn’t aged well or that it really wasn’t that great in the first place? There’s certainly a case for both arguments. This is unlikely to win over any new fans, especially when considering the expectations that accompany modern shooters. But it does represent good value at least. At 20 dollars you’re getting hours and hours of gameplay: two full classics and all the Doom 3 content lumped in one place. While the third game in this famous series takes center stage in this version, it’s far from the star of the show.
Doom 3 BFG Edition is available on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 (reviewed).