Doom 3: Then and Now

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Posted by JasonR86 (10265 posts) -
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Doom 3 is a weird game. It’s a weird game on its own merits, but when you tie in the history of the franchise, and all the expectations that come with that franchise, Doom 3 is exceptionally weird. I replayed Doom 3 on the PS4 and wanted to write about it, on its own merits, but it’s hard to ignore the history of the franchise, especially when this game has a ‘3’ after its title. So, I’d figured I’d start by talking about my personal experience with the franchise.

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My first experience with Doom was through osmosis. I didn’t own a PC when Doom came out, so I just read about it in game magazines. Even then, I didn’t really know a lot about the game. It wasn’t until I played the 32X version that I got a sense of what the game was about. That version isn’t great, but for the time it played well and for someone like me, with limited experience with FPS games, it was amazing. The game at first felt a bit like a horror game. But as I got more used to the gameplay mechanics, it became less of a horror game and more the action game most of us tend to associate with the franchise now. It was fast, intense, open-ended, and exhilarating (even on the 32X). For me, that was Doom. Even when I played Doom 64, my next ‘Doom’ game, it fit that bill of fast, intense, open-ended design despite the change in tone and art design.

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By the time Doom 3 came out I had a PC that could play the game. It couldn’t play it ‘well’, exactly. I don’t remember the framerate, though it was probably hovering around 30, but I remember the resolution; I played nearly every game on that PC at 640x480. I remember that resolution specifically because that was the resolution I had to play at, for a very long time, to get an acceptable level of performance. Yikes. Looking back, I enjoyed Doom 3 the first time through. If my memory of that experience is correct, I remember really liking the atmosphere and was enamored with the technology (even at 640x480). I also remember finding it scary. But I also remember finding the shooting dull. I remember enjoying the game well enough to finish it, but I think the novelty of playing a good-looking game on a PC pushed me through.

Now we have the BFG version on the PS4. I’m 15 years older (holy shit) and have a different perspective than I did when I played the original game. However, the first impression I had of the game, playing now, is very similar to the first impression I had playing originally; this game looks cool. But it looks cool for a different reason. I recently bought an LG OLED and the blacks in this game are amazing to see. With the game playing in 4k, with razor sharp details, and completely black blacks the game, to this day, has a singular look. A lot of mainstream games create dark scenes, but few really lean into absolute and complete darkness like Doom 3. It’s truly a sight to behold on an OLED. That said, the textures don’t hold up quite as well anymore. And the art design feels like it’s trying a bit too hard to be ‘edgy.’ But the use of shadow and contrast is the standout when it comes to the look of the game.

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What also stood out was the atmosphere. The soundtrack of the game is primarily soundscapes, a bit like the soundtrack for the Playstation/Saturn/N64 Doom games. That, along with ambient storytelling, the use of shadows, and the tight and intimate nature of most of the levels lead to an experience that feels ‘lived in’ for lack of a better term. The world of Doom 3 has a real sense of place, even more so than the 2016 Doom or any other Doom before it. The problem with this sense of place is that it feels very polarizing. Over these last 15 years I’ve apparently become much harder to scare and Doom 3 is a horror game. It’s a shooter, and you interact with the world primarily by shooting things, but it’s all within the context of horror. It’s atmosphere, appropriately then, lends itself to that horror. But because nothing in this game scared me, a large component of this atmosphere was lost on me. I appreciated that they went for a strong atmosphere, but I wasn’t affected by it. So, then you need to consider if you ‘like’ the atmosphere in and of itself. Doom 3 is a serious game. A deadly serious game. But a deadly serious game about hell monsters on Mars. I just couldn’t get into the story they were telling. The dialogue was campy, and at times given in a campy way, but within the context of what appeared to be a serious tone. It was a truly conflictual experience. As singular and well thought out as the atmosphere was in some ways, even if I didn’t really care for it, the story felt equally rushed and overdone. The writing, too, was bizarre. The voice acting was mostly solid and the writing, particularly of the audio logs, was good but I didn't care for the content of what was written. It was just written at a high quality. Then the writing of the cutscenes, where most of the ‘camp’ happened, was at odds with the atmosphere of the gameplay, the audio logs, all of it. It was a truly bizarre experience. I both sort of like it and dislike it all at once. Which may as well be my experience with Doom 3 overall.

The shooting, for example, isn’t inherently bad. It isn’t inherently good, either. It just ‘is.’ I have no passion at all about the shooting. It was innocuous and I was devoid of an emotional reaction to it. But it was functional. What I didn’t like was the enemy placement. I get what they were going for, in theory. Doom 3 is a slower game than the older Doom games and the newest Doom game. But, like all the other Doom games, a lot of Doom 3’s fighting takes place in close quarters. The level design seems to foster this by having narrow corridors, lots of obstacles in the way, and the like. Design that forces the player to move toward the enemy and engage. Which I’m fine with, again, in theory. The problem is what happens after initial engagement with enemies that already exist in the world. Much has been made about ‘monster closets’ in Doom 3. Essentially, there are several moments where, in Doom 3, the player is walking along when seemingly at random a panel along a wall somewhere will move to reveal an enemy lying in wait. It feels like a cheap jumpscare that is more obnoxious to deal with than additive to the experience. But what I had the biggest problem with were warping enemies. It felt like most encounters with enemies in the world set off a cascade of warping enemies that would spawn into the level all around the player. For example, the most common scenario the player faces in Doom 3 is to walk into a new room, engage with an enemy or two, then halfway into the engagement an enemy warps from behind you. So, you as a player learn to engage an enemy, turn around, fight the enemy that just warped in behind you, and then turn back around to fight the original enemy. It’s a very literal version of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ but repeated ad nauseam. At the end of the game, you get used to simply engaging an enemy, finding a corner, and then acting like a stationary turret shooting all the new, warping enemies. That isn’t fun. It felt like work. If the PS4, BFG version didn’t have the light mod that attaches the light to the player character I would have stopped playing the game in frustration.

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Which all of this makes me wonder why I kept playing it at all. Because rereading all this it seems like I didn’t really like this game. If I were a reviewer, it wouldn’t have reviewed well. But there is something about this game that stands out, even today. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the first Fear game, which came out a year after Doom 3. Both are horror FPS. But where Fear had better shooting and design Doom 3 had a more fleshed out world and atmosphere. But is that atmosphere, which I mentioned I don’t even really like all that much, and really black blacks on an OLED screen enough. Kinda?

…those blacks are very black.

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#1 Posted by Rorie (5880 posts) -

I did actually like this game in its shipping form and have always meant to go back and play it again, but the last time I tried to do so I ran into some weird technical bugs that made it less than pleasant. It'll probably go down in history for being the Super Mario Bros 2 of the Doom franchise in that it doesn't really fit in with the rest of the games, but it's still a neat game!

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#2 Posted by JasonR86 (10265 posts) -

@rorie: Yeah, SMB 2 is a good analogy for this game. It feels like they were trying to capture the horror aspects that Doom sort of touched on, but it wasn't what it became known for over the years. It is absolutely an interesting game on its own merits though.

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#3 Posted by Akeldama (4368 posts) -

I just replayed this on PC last week for absolutely no reason, it held up better than I could have hoped. I'm actually playing through the Resurrection of Evil dlc now as well, I never did finish it on original release.

Great read btw

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#4 Posted by Humanity (18948 posts) -

I remember liking all of the interactive terminals and thinking it looked real nice at the time, when you could see anything, but even then the monster closets were a bit much. I think it was much mainly because games were going in a different direction at the time. Like Doom 2016 wears that mechanic proudly on it's sleeve while Doom 3 was kind of trying to be more serious and then it had those arcady encounters.

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#5 Edited by hawkshaw52 (8 posts) -

doom 3 rox! i kinda wish bethesda would release doom 4. and prey 2

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#6 Posted by nutter (2294 posts) -

@rorie: I liked Doom 3 for what it was. Never beat it on PC, though...

I later played some Xbox 360 port with coop, for some reason...I remember the end being pretty dumb, but not a lot more than that.

I dug the flashlight vs firearm bit, and the game was good at being slow and creepy. Yeah, it’s not proper Doom, but it had its moments, for sure.

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#7 Posted by Max_Cherry (1635 posts) -

Who wants stencil buffer shadows!

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#8 Edited by fauxical (76 posts) -

I enjoyed it at the time and my rig at the time in Summer 2004 was able to run it mostly on high settings but my card at the time (Radeon something) at the time had issues and it would crash the game every 20-30 minutes which was frustrating as hell but I powered through it. All that said, I enjoyed it but I admit it did have it's obvious flaws (flashlight) and I wasn't too much of a fan of the monster in the closet approach to enemy encounters but I haven't played it since 2004 so I barely remember anything.

I remember my friend eventually buying the port for the original Xbox in early 2005 and while it definitely looked rough and probably pushed the hardware too far it was impressive to see it running on the platform with most of the bells and whistles in the graphics department and the gameplay intact.

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#9 Edited by Casepb (750 posts) -

I remember playing this in 2004 with my newly built PC, that was also actually my own very first PC that I put together myself and it wasn't a shared family computer. I had a Radeon X800 and it ran pretty good on it, but I remember not liking the game very much. The fact that it was super slow and you needed to hold a flash light up or shoot a gun was such a lame thing to do. I think I had just also played Half-Life 2 and loved it to death. So I pretty much was on team HL2 during those years and I ignored Doom 3 for the most part. I did eventually go back and play it years later and I thought it was okay.

I bought it for the Switch when it came out and I'm really liking it a lot. Playing it on a handheld is just so weird and crazy feeling I love it. It doesn't always run 60fps on the Switch but for the most part it's fine. I'm just so glad they put it on Switch, and also did a great job on the port.

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#10 Posted by TheRealTurk (577 posts) -

I think it would have been a lot better received if they'd just called it something else.

It's a good game, but it isn't a very good Doom game, if that makes any sense. I feel the same way about Diablo 3. Once you stick those names on the box, there's a set of expectations that kind of needs to be filled. Not to say that experimentation and evolution aren't positive things, but Doom 3 just doesn't check very many of those boxes.

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#11 Posted by inevpatoria (7472 posts) -
@fauxical said:

I remember my friend eventually buying the port for the original Xbox in early 2005 and while it definitely looked rough and probably pushed the hardware too far it was impressive to see it running on the platform with most of the bells and whistles in the graphics department and the gameplay intact.

Original Xbox player here. I didn't know for the longest time that a lot of content had to be cut from the Xbox version. I didn't end up playing the full version of the game until, like, 2016, so seeing things like the extended surface of Mars sequences, which had been totally removed from the Xbox port, was really bizarre.

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#12 Posted by JasonR86 (10265 posts) -

Thanks for reading my post guys.

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#13 Posted by eltopo715 (16 posts) -

This was great! I was hoping I'd see some reevaluations of Doom 3. I played the demo when it first came out, but I had to run it at the lowest settings and it didn't really leave that much of an impression. In fact, what I most clearly remember was thinking how clever it was when your crosshairs becomes a cursor on computer screens, and just being in awe of the pre-release screenshots. Some fifteen years later, I'm still impressed by the crosshairs/cursor trick, but I was a little surprised to find that Doom 3's clearest antecedent was probably the first Half-Life. From it's pacing to how it handles environmental story-telling, Doom 3 really feels like a pale imitator of Half-Life. And the thing is, while I can appreciate the importance of Half-Life situated in the development of FPSs as a genre, I'm kind of lukewarm on actually playing Half-Life. I got it on my Switch, so I'm mostly enjoying the novelty of playing the big bad graphical benchmark game of my early adolescence on a handheld, but overall, the game feels maybe a bit better than serviceable. I don't know if I would necessarily care that much about it if I had either played it to completion in '04, or hadn't had some tangential contact with it.

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#14 Posted by archnite (108 posts) -

I am playing Doom 3 for the first time in anticipation of DOOM:Eternal. I've been mulling over this idea that Doom 3 makes more sense in the linage of Quake more than it does Doom. Technologically it is more centered around advanced lighting graphics similar to original QUAKE in its day. Although primitive by today's standards still stand out. I just can't think of another game that it lit like Doom 3. Additionally the monster designs are gross, and kind of unimaginative, in the way QUAKE's enemies are. That's just what I've been thinking as I play though Doom 3.

ps. fuck that crane game, what is with that Duke Nukem Forever trash?

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#15 Posted by Justin258 (15689 posts) -

I liked Doom 3 a whole lot a few years ago. I still do, but unlike 1 and 2 I don't really feel compelled to go back to it occasionally.

Like most id games from the year 2000 onward (all three of them!), Doom 3 simply feels really good to play. Something about the way mouse movement works and how smooth and responsive everything is makes it really, really easy to slip into this game's atmosphere and story, even if that atmosphere and story doesn't really hold up when compared to similar juggernauts of the action-horror genre.

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#16 Posted by JohnLocke (758 posts) -

@jasonr86 An interesting read, thank you.

This does tend to sum up how I feel about Doom 3. I did turn up to the game late however (I think the BFG edition on Xbox 360 was where I first played it) so perhaps this is why I do not enjoy it on a personal level as much as I did when I played the original Doom game (as I played that much closer to it's launch period).

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#17 Posted by Tordah (2586 posts) -

I'm currently playing through Doom 3: BFG Edition on Steam and I've been having a pretty good time with it. I remember the flashlight change they did for this version of the game being a polarizing topic of discussion at the time, but I'm all for it. The atmosphere is really great, and the controls just "feel" really good, even if the shooting doesn't always feel as impactful as one would hope in a id Software game.

Back when the game first came out I remember the horror aspect really turning me off, and I never played it for more than an hour or so. However, revisiting it now I just don't find it scary or stressful at all anymore, so I'm enjoying it a lot more. If anything, I'm finding the monsters jumping out of a vent or spawning behind you constantly to be more annoying and predictable than scary.

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#18 Edited by validvalueJ (6 posts) -

I bought Doom 3 for the PS4 the day it was announced and have been playing off and on.

For me, there is a lot of nolstalgia connected to this game. It was one of my first PC games I had and when I frst played it, it ran at the lowest settings at maybe 10 to 15 fps. I was so young i didnt care.

Replaying 13 years later (I was maybe 10 when I played it first) has been a trip. You hit the nail on the head for most of my feelings. There hasnt been a game with quite the same atmosphere and playing it at 60fps silky smooth has been grear. The black on my 4K display are crisp and dark.

One thing is for sure that it doesnt feel like Doom. The monster design is boring, Hell is not "metal inspired" like the originals and the horror vibe is not congruent to the vibe of the originals. This game, if anything, is a nice trip down memory lane and a chance to replay the game with the highest settings. I am just more excited for Doom Eternal now than anything.

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