Virtually every guy of a certain age can remember the original Doom. Around about the time when Duke Nukem was kicking ass and chewing bubble gum (in spite of being all out of gum, of course), people were getting increasingly excited about the range of first-person shooters that were available, pixelated graphics and all. Doom was an altogether different beast when it was released, and thankfully, Doom III’s release was met with just as much praise and adulation.
At the time of its release, Doom III’s graphics left even Far Cry’s gorgeously-rendered natural vistas inferior to its own hellish, immaculately-presented environments. As for the gameplay, it’s not overwhelmingly impressive when taken on its own – this is reviewed below in detail - but let’s just start by saying that Doom 3 hits the first-person shooter mark from a technical standpoint, and as accurately as the DOS-based original did back in 1993.
Though most first-person shooters attempt to weave in a complex story into the run-and-gun action, most of the time the details are overshadowed by the players’ desire to get shooting as quickly as possible. Doom 3 is set in 2145, and its events take place on Mars. There’s a giant military conglomerate and your mission turns out to be to infiltrate weapons/technology research facility. It also just so happens that the gates to hell have been opened, which gives Doom 3 its dark, twisted atmosphere and gives you a lot of terrifying enemies to go up against.
If you can look past the cringe worthy nature of the general bad-guy side being both a faceless corporation (a clichéd idea if ever there was one) and the seemingly unending and overwhelming evil of hell, the setting for Doom 3 actually gives rise to some of the most unbelievably presented environments seen in any game at the time of Doom 3’s release. The stunning graphics are covered a little later in this review, but the environments themselves somehow feel expansive, yet frequently have you boxed into small, claustrophobic spaces, hallways, and tunnels where the atmosphere is so dense and tense at times that it almost becomes unbearable to look at the screen.
Now, as for Doom 3’s gameplay, it’s going to be extremely familiar to Doom veterans. This is a good thing to an extent of course, but when it comes down to it, Doom 3’s gameplay is fairly run-of-the-mill first-person shooter with little to distinguish it from rivals like Quake or Half-Life. It can be argued, however, that the developers’ tendency to stick to the format of old-school shoot-em-ups – that is, simple gameplay that’s essentially just point-and-shoot, regardless of what kind of weapon or technology you have in your possession – is in fact a deliberate attempt to convey the style of the original Doom series. Either way, don’t expect cutting-edge innovation here.
Don’t write off the gameplay before you start, however. With the graphics looking incredible as they do, the level designs providing excellent, atmospheric settings, and the variety of weapons being as intriguing as any other first-person shooter, the resulting gameplay is still engrossing. Enemies aren’t scripted to appear occasionally throughout levels, but rather can and will spawn at any time in order to make your life more difficult – this is the spawn style of the original Doom games, too, and therefore an echo to Doom’s past.
More interestingly for the guy gamers of the world, you’ll be collecting weapons as you progress in the game. Oftentimes these weapons are experimental and/or make use of advanced technology. There are plenty of shotguns, automatic weapons, and explosive armaments like grenades and rocket launchers to get your hands on, though. The levels themselves are quite linear, but at least this allows you to avoid annoying distractions and lets you immerse yourself into the action, which can become quite tense, with the horror aspect of the game occasionally causing you to jump or flinch from the monitor.
Surprisingly, for a game that’s a fairly standard first-person shooter in terms of its format, it’s of above-average length. If you’re swift about it, you can get the game completed in 15 hours, but if you’re meticulous or just slow, then you can expect an above-average 20 hours or so of gameplay from it. The lack of co-op mode is alarming however, particularly when you consider that this kind of mode made previous Doom games so enjoyable to play.
One of the most notable aspects of Doom 3, and one that penetrates virtually every second of its gameplay, is the darkness. Figurative darkness is present, for sure, but this refers to literal darkness also. Your field of view is almost always obscured by what feels like unending darkness (though a futuristic soldier without night-vision goggles doesn’t seem too likely). This feeds into the generally tense atmosphere of the game, one that doesn’t always hit the mark, but has some pretty harrowing flashes of hell-like scenes plague its main character at several points throughout the game.
It feels natural to finish on Doom 3’s graphics, which are one of the best aspects of the game in general. At the time, Doom 3’s graphics were superior to any of its rivals, and then some, Its environments were rendered incredibly well, with the id Tech 4 graphics engine (the in-house efforts of developers ID Software, of course) giving rise to consistently stunning environments with incredible detail. Human and hell-bound foes are rendered equally as well, but again, don’t expect too much of the AI since you’re fighting largely unintelligent enemies throughout, even if some of them are difficult to kill.
So what we’ve got in Doom 3 is a mixture of standard (arguably classically-styled) gameplay, top-of-the-line graphics, a load of weapons, and 20 hours of single-player gameplay. It’s a mixed bag, sure, but the entire package still adds up to one of the most engaging and unrelentingly dark first-person shooters of the 2000s.