The Trial of Doom 3

Doom 3 has been re-tuned, glossed up and re-released as the BFG Edition. And it’s definitely something that interests me, as I remember it when it first did the rounds in 2004 getting a pretty frosty reception. I doubt this new version will get a warmer welcome… it certainly won’t get one from me.

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Let’s be honest here – Doom 3, even in 2004, wasn’t that good.

The problem was nothing to do with technicality or execution because taken on its own, Doom 3 was a sharp, crisp game with a razor edge and a slight wit about it. Doom 3 was released in the pre-HD era and that on most PCs today it can still outperform a lot of titles in the looks department demonstrates that when it came to the engine itself, id Software were well ahead of the curve. It was a stunning game, almost supermodel in terms of its brilliant smile and sensuous curves.

Of course, looks are only skin deep and that was what everyone in those days picked up on; stunning to look at, gorgeous to behold but it required the kind of PC that most could have only dreamed of to get those looks, as demanding and expensive as its looks would have you believe. And when you could afford to take this buxom beauty out on the tiles, you ended up noticing that she really only ever had the looks going for her – at heart, she was a bit rigid and starchy. There was no spark of excitement in Doom 3, nothing interesting enough to really grab you by the balls and demand your attention. She was nice, but bland. Everything was new and modern but the enemies looked far too fake and clean, when compared to the classic models which were dirty and grimy, reacting to your shots and exploding about the place with well-placed and well-timed shots. You get a modern supermodel; but you still wish you had Audrey Hepburn.

Many argue that part of this was because it is a retro game with old-school stylings, and for its day it was great. But since we clearly have short memories, let’s have a look at some other first-person shooter games from 2004, shall we? Far Cry, Unreal Tournament 2004, Thief: Deadly Shadows, Counter Strike: Source and of course, on consoles we had Metroid Prime 2 and Halo 2. Oh, and there was the little matter of something called Half Life 2 as well.

Even in 2004, Doom 3 was a relic of a bygone era. It was a closed corridor shooter in an era that was starting to find its feet and aim ever higher – Far Cry was gloriously open and beautiful, sharp and crisp. Tough, sure, but a great game. Unreal Tournament 2004 introduced battlefields that at the time were utterly mindblowing, with draw distances and details that really made you feel special. Metroid Prime 2 was detailed, sharp and intelligent. Thief: Deadly Shadows was witty and wry, with a bite and a twist. Half Life 2 redefined how to tell a story in a gaming medium; although the wait for Episode 3 does cheapen its original intention somewhat. Everywhere Doom 3 turned, all it had was looks. It was a cover girl, and was never going to win the Oscar for Best Performance. It just didn’t have the raw talent inside it to attain that. It was outclassed in every regard, by the years biggest stars. And whilst it looked sensational on the red carpet, we all knew at the time it would have to perform deviant favours behind the scenes to get anywhere near an award.

Still a better love story… this joke is still valid, right?

Today, Doom 3 has seen a revival in the BFG Edition, with HD reworking and some tightening up. But I can’t see the point of this.

Doom 3 is not a game to remember fondly – it’s a game to pull up every so often as an example of how resting on your laurels can get you into a pickle. You can woo the world with a batting of your eyelashes, sure, but once that novelty wears off you need talent or personality or some other vehicle to drive your career onwards and Doom 3 even now doesn’t have that. What it does have, sadly, is a name. A name it trades on to ensure more and more are suckered in so it can make more money, before they leave feeling they’ve been conned.

Doom, you see, was once a fantastic FPS game in the 90’s and the reason for its monolithic success in that era was because of three things; the first one was that it was intelligently designed, using basic puzzles and challenging enemies in very well pitched arenas and scenarios. It didn’t have a story and nor did it really need one; the aim was simple – get to the finish at any cost, like a warped and gory racing game. The second was that it was sold as Shareware to start with, so people got to experience it as demos before being pulled into buying extra packs – in an era before DLC and expansions, Doom was already delivering the business model with perfection. Grab them with the basics and reel them in for more.

The third is arguably more difficult to define; the ideology of it being a Gaming Nasty. For you see, we have come far and Doom was one of those games that wound up the press and the conservative adulthood of the era in equal measure. It was a violent, gory, deeply unsettling game that used sound with devastating precision. You could be surprised very easily, you could hear doors open from far away and the silence otherwise was brilliant, and when music did play it was fitting and moody. Everything about Doom, Doom 2 and Final Doom was perfectly executed. And if you are tempted by Doom 3: BFG Edition, note that Doom and Doom 2 come with it. And are arguably far superior games, despite their age. They are the games we know, and the games we should remember and love because they were brilliant and they wound people up, but ultimately it wasn’t just a mere pretense to generate column inches like Mortal Kombat (which was awful then and is awful now). It was flavour to a really brilliant game, a horror game. A horror FPS. Take away the gore and Doom would still come up smelling of roses because of its excellent design.

Doom 3 isn’t as complex or as detailed in the design as its classics. It fell short on its own grounds, let alone the grounds the competition was claiming for itself. It didn’t have the same horror impact, the same thrill or haunting melancholy. It didn’t feel as open, as expansive and exploratory. It was okay, but compared to what it had been in the past? The old days were better.

It’s not that I deeply dislike Doom 3 because truth is the engine was fantastic and I feel id Software and others could have – and should have – done so much more with it. For all its rigidity and brilliant light and shade, it could have made some deeply disquieting survival horror games. Or brilliant first-person puzzlers. Because Doom 3 had a mood about it that lent itself far more towards a more subtle, more intelligent sort of game. It’s an engine that just didn’t quite click with the Doom feel unfortunately, because even in full light the original Dooms were haunting. The emptiness and silence just had something about it, even in the light of outdoors. But it could get messy and mucky when everything went wrong. Doom 3 is already murky and grimy and dark. Things have been wrong for a long time. You don’t get the same surprise from it.

Doom 3 wasn’t subtle or intelligent. And it certainly wasn’t a good game based on games of the era, and it wasn’t a good game compared to its predecessors. Every angle you look at Doom 3, it was a cock up. It just didn’t have it. And no, it’s not a terrible game but we can’t just pretend it was good because it was nice to look at. We’ve had better games since, and even better games this year. Even indie titles such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Zeno Clash have demonstrated you can do so much with intelligent design over just basic looks.

I’m under no illusions. Doom 3 is guilty of being a pretty average game, and it doesn’t deserve to be revived. The idea of reviving old games is to find the good ones and pitch them once more to a newer market, to show them what we had in the past. Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft have all actually done a pretty stellar job making sure that the games selected at least had something of an impact when they were released, games which had something about them that deserves to be preserved and remembered and enjoyed by a modern audience. All Doom 3 ever had was matinee idol good looks. It couldn’t compete with its contemporaries then, and it sure as hell isn’t going to compete with more skilled and intelligent games now.

It really does still look good. Welcome to the Nip/Tuck Generation…

We can remember Doom 3 from images, and remember it was a good looking beast. But like always, it’s seeing the game again in flow that just reminds you why it faded in the first place. It looked great, but had no ambition or drive or talent to really see it through the hard times. It got little additions here and there, the multiplayer was shoddy and the alright follow up/expansion to it a novel idea but one that still sadly stuck in the same rigid, dull routine. It just wasn’t good enough.

id Software may think we need to remember Doom 3. Really though… we don’t. It’s time they moved on from it now and got on with something new and left this shallow vessel to take its rightful place in obscurity. Doom 3 was doomed then. And doomed now. And will be doomed another eight years from now. It’s just not the game they should be proud of.

It’s the other games in the pack they should be most proud of, the first Doom games. And you shouldn’t be selling Marilyn Monroe movies on the back of the face of Lindsey Lohan.

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