Half-Life and all of the games in the series are undoubtedly great shooters, but if there’s one place where the constantly put-down Doom 3 can reclaim lost ground and take a stand against Valve’s seminal shooter then, again, it’s when it comes to the story and how it’s told. There are a surprising number of ways in which Doom 3 has a far, far better story than Half-Life no matter how amazing Alyx Vance’s dialogue is.
We can prove it too, through the beauty of the blurb test – a basic creative writing test that holds that if you can’t boil your story down into something suitable for the back cover of a book then it’s unlikely to engage readers.
Doom 3’s story starts plainly and predictably enough. You’re silent, strong-jawed space marine who has been stationed on the Mars base of the UAC – a mega-corporation that dwarfs most governments and isn’t afraid to push said governments around in pursuit of profit. On the isolated Mars base the UAC has undertaken all manner of dirty little research projects with the unhinged Dr. Bertruger leading the way. As is fairly obvious from the get-go, crazy ol’ Bertruger opens a gateway to Hell and brings an army of demons through to the base, apparently with the overall goal of taking over Earth. It’s up to you to stop that from happening, by calling for help and killing the big demon with an alien weapon.
I'VE BEEN WAITING 12 YEARS TO FIND OUT WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!
That’s the condensed version of Doom 3’s entire story and, while it’s certainly not Shakespeare (or new, surprising or clever) it is at least complete and consistent. It has a definite start, middle and end, with twists on the way and a premise which is never lost to the player. You always know what is going on; something critical in keeping players interested.
Compare that to the first two Half-Life games, which form a relatively complete arc. You are Gordon Freeman, a low-level scientist at the Black Mesa military research lab in modern day America. Unlike Doom 3’s Mars base, Black Mesa is an open and fairly pleasant place where scientists are experimenting with dimensional travel. An experiment goes wrong and a gateway to an alien world gets stuck open and the military move in to destroy the facility and kill all witnesses.
It’s up to you to stop all that by…going through to an alien planet and killing a giant floating baby. Then you’re teleported away by a man who talks very slowly and he makes you sleep for ten years and when you wake up aliens are everywhere anyway. So, you go fumbling around killing the new aliens (but not the Vortigaunts), rescuing old friends and launching satellites even though it’s not really clear what’s going on or why you’re doing it. Even at the end you’ve only managed to assassinate one man (maybe) before the blue-suited man scoops you back up again, claiming that was the plan all along.
At least he's direct
Really; the Half-Life series is amazing, but especially in the second game it’s not entirely clear what’s going on a lot of the time. Doom 3 at least is very sure about the story it is telling and doesn’t go to such lengths to hide the plot from players. We’ve been waiting for more than ten years now to find out what the G-Man’s game is. An episode of Lost answers more questions than that!
While Doom 3 is often slammed on account of it’s rather mundane and obvious plot, it does at least develop the story a little through audio logs and computer screens, rather than Half-Life’s vague allusions and reversed sound effects.
Doom 3’s isn’t a particularly sophisticated method of storytelling – but it does at least let the developers tell the story in a way which isn’t constantly held back by the limitations of a mute player character and a cast who operate under the assumption that Gordon has just been missing for ten years. Valve’s story as a whole is undoubtedly more nuanced and original in it’s presentation, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that it’s light on details to the point that it’s actually starting to get in the way.