Ten Years On: Doom 3

Written by Rick Lane

August 22, 2014 // 9:19 a.m.

Tags: #bfg #doom-3 #half-life-2 #id-software #spiders

Ten Years On: Doom 3

Retrospectives are often an excuse to indulge nostalgia. They're a chance to gaze fondly back at the past through the lens of a book, film or game you particularly enjoyed, and wrap yourself in the warming memories of a better time. By this of course most people mean a time when they were younger and fitter than they are now. Sometimes though it is useful to look back at something for which that nostalgic glow is absent, in order to learn from past mistakes. And I think it's safe to say that , in the decade since its release, time has defined Doom 3 as a mistake.

My own relationship with the game is an odd one. I am fairly certain I enjoyed the game upon release. But during the interceding years I have attempted to return to it several times, and always I give up at the same point. It's the moment when you first encounter the spider-monsters, which even at the time I found about as much fun to fight as a horde of angry 4chan commenters. No matter how many you knock-back, there are always seventeen more hissing at you with their pale, clammy skin and ugly inverted faces, and the endgame plays out the same way, with me switching off the computer and making a cup of tea to soothe my frustration.

Ten Years On: Doom 3

Upon noting the game's tenth anniversary this month, I decided to make a special effort. And hurrah! I made it past those damned spiders. But was it worth it? I suppose the honest answer is both yes and no. I've come to the conclusion that Doom 3 is a game made by a studio at the height of its power, and this is the root cause of both its strengths and undermining weaknesses.

Doom 3's primary focus are its production values. It wants to take those basic environments and pixellated monsters from the original and adapt them into a scenario which seems real, which is not necessarily a bad idea, although it is a slightly absurd one, considering it's a game about a mad scientist unlocking the gates to hell, on Mars. I've still got a boxed copy, and reading the blurb provides an interesting perspective of the time "Doom 3 is nothing like you've ever experienced" it says, before going on to list things like "incredible graphics", "never before seen detail with real-time lighting and shadows", "disturbingly lifelike", "real world physics, killer AI and 5.1 surround sound."

Ten Years On: Doom 3

It's all tech, all machinery. And to be fair, a lot of this is remains impressive. In terms of texturing, everything looks a little like it's made of rubber, but the lighting is still sufficiently moody, the claim about detail rings true, and the animation, both on monsters and the industrial apparatus that hums and whirrs throughout the base is very slick and smooth.

Unfortunately, for the favour of technology, Doom 3 sacrifices design. Its textures and lighting come at the cost of space and speed. The idea that the original Doom was this lickety-split game is something of a myth, but even so Doom 3 is a ponderously paced shooter. It's also visually extremely uninteresting - a series of virtually identical green-grey-brown corridors that make it almost impossible to distinguish between the different areas of the Martian base.

Ten Years On: Doom 3

Yet the game's biggest problem is simply that the guns don't feel very good. I still find it difficult to believe that id Software managed to get guns of all things so horribly wrong, but man. The pistol that you begin with may as well be filled with water, the machinegun sounds like it's firing staples, and I think BFG stands for "Blowing Feeble Gusts" for all the satisfaction it provides. Even the better weapons, like the shotgun and the chaingun, are passable rather than pleasurable. It's a remarkable oversight on the developer's part, and there's no question that it damages the overall experience.
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