Review by Steerpike
Even people who haven't heard of computer games have heard of DOOM.
It is one of the seminal events in PC gaming and sparked the
stratospheric rise of this medium. Thus, when id Software announced
in 2000 that its next project would be a story-driven sequel with
a focus on single player, there was plenty of excitement. John Carmack's
new engine was rumored to be far more advanced than anything anyone
had imagined, and as the breathtaking screenshots trickled out,
excitement grew proportionally. And then id fell largely silent
for four years.
While those screenshots still look really good, they are no longer
the mind-blowers they were when we first saw them in 2001. Back
then, their competition was the Quake 3 and Unreal
engines, powering games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein.
Though it's still the best engine currently available, these
days it does face some visual rivalry. And four years is a long,
long time to work on a game; generally such a lengthy development
cycle implies problems at the studio. Given id's rocky past and
"fire everyone" business model, no rumor is too farfetched.
id Software has matured a lot since the early days, when it grudgingly
included stories to appease gamers it considered to be missing the
point. John Carmack is famous for saying that "story in a game
is like story in a porn movie"that is, present but unnecessary
and kind of stupid. Odd, then, that DOOM 3 sports an
intricate, well-written storyline that drives the game forward as
much as the action does. DOOM and DOOM 2 are
famous for how scary they were despite being "narrative lite"in
this installment, id tries its hand at some emotioneering techniques
that really build the fear factor through narrative and environment.
Anticipation reached a fever pitch before the release, with some
eager gamers committing felonies to get their hands on a copy a
day early. So any review faces this question first: is this game,
for which we have waited so long, really worth all the hype? Answer:
There's a magic about the DOOMs we've never seen anywhere
else, and fans are justifiably curious as to whether DOOM 3
will share that magic. Sure, it looks great, but is it as special
as DOOM? Answer: no, because the halcyon days of DOOM
are long gone and sepia-toned memories of that game have placed
it on a pedestal so high that nothing will ever measure up. But
this one is close enough.
DOOM 3's pedigree has a lot more in common with Half
Life and System Shock 2 than it does with its own predecessors.
Conveniently, both of those games are hall of fameworthy classics,
remembered and cherished years after their initial releases. If
imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then those two are
blushingbut DOOM 3 retains its own impressive
The Short Version
DOOM 3 is a rare event in PC gaming these days: it's a game
that delivered on all of the promises it made. It's scary, it's
got a good story, and the writing and voice acting are superb. It's
also action-packed and exciting. The gameplay, while not terrifically
different from any other FPS, has that magic something that keeps
you coming back for more. You are always challenged but never frustrated
by the combat or the puzzles, nor do you sense that any part of
the game is there merely as window dressing. Everything serves a
purpose in DOOM 3, and serves it well. This is the definition
of a five-star game in every respect.
It is not, however, very similar to the DOOMs of old. It
is much slower and slightly more cerebral, and it is objective-
rather than progress-driven. People who want a pure Serious Sam-style
rampage may be disappointed. Having (hopefully) firmly entrenched
my admiration for this game in your mind, I'm going to refocus and
talk mostly about bad stuff from now on. Because this game is getting
too much gushy press and, great as it is, it's not perfect. But
despite those flaws, it remains a real treasure.
Are You Listening, Crytek?
The fantastic new engine under DOOM 3's hood will be
powering a lot of games over the next eighteen months, and some
fret that there's no way plain-Jane systems will be capable of running
But DOOM 3 runs great on anything within its requirements.
This was apparently a priority at id. What's really astonishing
is that it also looks great on anything. If you want to run
it at a super-high resolution, you will need heftier hardware, but
even those requirements are startlingly reasonable considering the
graphic syrup you get.
So don't upgrade your rig to play this game until you've actually
tried running it on what you've already got. If you do have your
heart set on an upgrade, your money would be best spent on some
combination of a good sound card, a set of 5.1 speakers, more RAM,
and a top-notch video card. DOOM 3 is an OpenGL game,
and nVidia's GeForce cards are historically better performers under
OpenGL, but ATI is working feverishly to bring its Radeon drivers
up to snuff.
This engine has undergone massive optimization and requires little
input from you. Tweak your resolution and quality settings, but
leave the advanced options on their defaults. If you simply must
mess with something advanced, fiddle with the anti-aliasing. Set
it as high as you're able while still retaining a solid frame rate.
Also, be advised that the four quality choices apply to both graphics
and sound, so you will not be able to tweak individual audio settings
from this menu. Irritatingly, you have to restart DOOM 3
before any changes are applied.
It's clear that id spent thousands of man-hours optimizing for
the ideal combination of fast and pretty, and it paid off. Development
studios like Crytekresponsible for the ridiculously clunky
and unnecessarily computer-punishing Far Cryshould
take note. Both Crytek and id peddle their game engines, and if
Crytek doesn't get its act together fast, DOOM 3 will
walk all over it. I have what can only qualify as a midrange gaming
PC these days: an Athlon 2800+, a Radeon 9700 Pro, and a gigabyte
of PC2700 memory. To my great surprise, I was able to run DOOM 3
out of the box at 1280×1024 on "high" quality,
with 2x anti-aliasing, and still average a frame rate in the high
thirties. I can't say the same for Far Cry.
Why Science Is Bad
Veteran game writer Matthew Costellowho also wrote The
7th Guest and The
11th Hourwrote the script for a game that id CEO Todd
Hollenshead described as "a walking tour of Mars with a brief
stopover in Hell." DOOM 3 is not actually a sequel,
but a "retelling" of the original DOOM, which everyone
except Toger probably knows is the tale of a disastrous experiment
in teleportation that opens up a gate to Hades. Demons come swarming
through, your character is the only one left alive, and hilarity
While DOOM took place on the twin Martian moons of Phobos
and Deimos (that's "Fear" and "Dread" to Greek-speakers),
the setting for DOOM 3 is an enormous research installation
on the surface of Mars. The Union Aerospace Corporation employs
this out-of-the-way facility to conduct dangerous or inhumane experiments
best kept off the world's front pages. Doctor Malcolm Betruger runs
the place, but he seems more interested in continuing his teleportation
research than in the base's alarming number of accidental deaths
and incidents of psychosis.
You play a marine assigned to the lab's security detail, and on
your very first day, before you even get a chance to put your socks
in your sock drawer, the teleporter goes haywire and the Kingdom
of Satan pours forth into the base. The story unfolds through emails,
video logs, and various communiqués from the (increasingly
few) survivors of the demonic invasion. These are collected on your
PDA, which manages your mission objectives and keeps your email
As in System Shock 2, your character is a nameless,
voiceless, and lonely cipher who must jump through assorted hoops
in order to set things right. You'll need to get the power back
on, send some "help us" messages to the fleet, close up
the portal to Hell, andmost importantlyfigure out a
way to keep the demons from reaching the human buffet that is Earth.
This is an objective-driven game, but, unlike the sprawly System
Shock 2, it is quite linear. You seldom have more than one objective
at a time, and there's rarely more than one path open to you, so
it's really about going from point A to point B without getting
shot, pulverized, or eaten. The journey is what matters in DOOM 3,
however, and it's just so good that even its stark linearity
and relative simplicity compared to the game on which it is so obviously
based are forgivable.
It's as If You Were Blind
The lovely graphics are even more wondrous to behold when in motion,
and yet at the same time they are also significantly more disappointing.
They were going for fear and suspense in this game, and to a certain
degree they were successful. DOOM 3 has more than its
share of jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and its environments range
from the really eerie to the scary as (quite literally) Hell. One
of the ways they accomplished this was by making the game dark and
providing a flashlight on which you will depend utterly. Flashlight
and I become very close friends, but the game is too dark for its
DOOM 3 makes Thief:
Deadly Shadows look like a sunny day in a meadow
filled with 6,000-watt Klieg lamps. It is so gloomy that it's usually
impossible to see what's going on during combat, and the brightness
controls do not affect most shadows. "Pitch black" is
too minimal a term to describe the lumen-sucking vortex of darkness
that is this game. Even worse, at one point you and Flashlight are
You can't have Flashlight and a gun out at the same time (there's
a mod that changes this, download it here).
You generally just shoot at glowing eyes. Also, your enemies move
really fast. At most you'll usually register a blurjust enough
to identify what it isbefore a creature is upon you. This
is a pity, because many attacks are part of in-game scripted sequences
that are really cool and deserve more screen time.
I don't mean to speak ill of DOOM 3's graphics. They
are astounding, breathtaking, head and shoulders above everything
else out there right now. Attention to detail on environments and
monsters is impeccable; every bump map, every surface, every texture
is the product of obvious loving care. Flashlight and I felt humbled
by the beauty of DOOM 3. It's just that the game is
so dark, and the action is so fast, that you don't really get to
Steerpike's Annoying Audio Problem
The sound of DOOM 3 is worthy of a review by itself.
Dolby 5.1 surround pumps out spatial effects the likes of which
we've never heard before. This is one of those games that makes
you look nervously behind you and even jump in terror and swivel
around when those rear speakers blare something unexpected or particularly
There's little music to speak of in DOOM 3; the soundtrack
is mostly environmental. The ambient sound goes a long, long way
toward making it scary. Before long, you and Flashlight are alone
in a vast, dark complex, and every noise makes you jump and squeak.
You'd do well to shut off the lights, crank up the volume, and play
this game as it's meant to be playedthere's even a card in
the box that says as much.
The sound has major bugs, though. It kept quitting on me without
warning. Other times it got staticky and out of sync. In both instances,
it's necessary to drop out and restart the game from Windows. This
is annoying, and it happens every ten minutes or so. It would seem
that lots of people are having problems with the sound, and right
now all Activision can recommend is updating the sound drivers.
Everyone's done that, and the problems haven't gone away.
Top Ten Reasons Not to Open a Portal to Hell
There really wasn't much story in the original DOOM to be
faithful to, so DOOM 3 is faithful in other ways. All
of your favorite monsters from the originals reappear, from the
humble Fire Imp to the run-for-cover Hell Knight. Because this game
is much more System Shock than Serious Sam, you generally
only see one or two opponents at a time. This is a thinking man's
It's also a very, very difficult DOOM, more "be careful"
than "blast everything," and opponents have been tweaked
to mirror that. Even the little Fire Imps are no longer just chaffthey
are dangerous in the extreme, fast, crafty, and capable of scuttling
along ceilings and on walls, then attacking from the darkness. Other
favorites like the pink pig-demons are so fast and so lethal that
your first instinct is to run rather than fight.
Unfortunately, you can't do that. I would have liked the opportunity
for a little more evasion in DOOM 3, and it's not there.
Monsters are stationary and don't move until they see you. It gives
the game a predetermined feel that worked in 1994 but doesn't today.
I'd much rather that all the creatures had the run of the base,
like the opponents in System Shock 2. This would make
for more intense firefights and probably more tension while moving
through previously visited areas.
Throughout the game, secret doors will slide open, revealing demons
that were apparently lurking in tiny, featureless cubicles until
you walked by. If a monster flings itself out of a closet to eat
me, I want to know what it was doing in there in the first place.
This game is make-you-jump scary rather than beside-yourself-with-terror
scary. The Shalebridge Cradle mission from Thief: Deadly Shadows
is that, and comparing that two-hour shriekfest to the "Boo!"
of DOOM 3 is like comparing Dracula to the Count from
Sesame Street. There are scary moments, even terrifying ones, but
they often feel manufactured. DOOM 3 also has the nasty
habit of spawning enemies to punish you for completing objectives
or for picking up objects such as weapons and health packs. What
was supposed to be always scary comes off instead as often scary
and sometimes cheesy.
Alas also that Hell itself, when you get there, is somewhat derivative.
was much more creative and avant-garde in its portrayal of the
Nether World; id went with tentacles and ugly gothic stonework and
stuff that glistens and breathing walls and lots of lava, but we've
seen that Hell in a zillion video games.
Like the monsters, the weapons from the original make a return
appearance. You've got your pistol, shotgun, chaingun, plasma rifle,
a cool new BFG, even the chainsaw. It's funny how these mundane
weapons are perfectly fine when they're part of a good game. I felt
no desire for more weapons or for more unique ones. They look great,
they sound great, and they do the job. The new hand grenades bounce
like superballs and are very difficult to aimanother example
of "too much physics" in a gamebut I depended on
them nonetheless. Big props to id for staying faithful to much of
the DOOM legend.
Multis and Mods
Though primarily a single-player game, DOOM 3 does
include blah deathmatch multiplay. A maximum of four players can
try to kill each other rather than demons, provided they all have
a broadband connection. Multiplayer DOOM 3 is okay,
but it's neither as entertaining nor as varied as Unreal Tournament
2004, and the four-player minimum makes finding a game quite
a challenge, since most servers are always full.
A mod is in the works to increase that player limit to 32, which
will be welcome; there's also a mod to address the glaring lack
of cooperative play. I'd love to play through DOOM 3's single-player
story in cooperative multiplay.
All of id's games are famous for their moddability, so we'll doubtless
see plenty of interesting tweaks in the days to come. DOOM 3
must be easy to work with, considering that the first mods for
the game were available the day it landed on shelves. The DOOM 3
engine is even being considered by a group of indie modders
who want to use it for a total conversion ofget thisSystem
Despite good replay potential, DOOM 3 could stand to
be a little longer. Any game four years in development ought to
sport more than 25 hours of play. In FPS titles, the change from
discrete levels to more persistent, objective-based environments
has contributed to this, as its harder to test a persistent game
for length. Still, given that this was a "retelling" of
the 50-hour DOOM, I don't see why they couldn't have stuck
with the more episodic structure of that original.
id farmed out all responsibility for DOOM 3's Xbox
incarnation. Recognizing that its strength was the PC platform,
it handed over all assets to Crash Bandicoot developer Vicarious
Visions and took little further interest in DOOM 3 for
the Xbox. The result is that the PC version doesn't play like a
console port and the console version won't play like a PC port,
and everyone is happy.
id Software and DOOM have a lot to do with the enormous
success and acclaim that the medium is currently enjoying. DOOM
are arguably the two games that really sparked mainstream interest
in PC gaming in the 1990s. With luck, the release of DOOM 3and,
in September, Half Life 2will be just what the
flagging PC platform needs. Even developers are acting like the
PC is dead, so when id unapologetically creates this new sure-to-be-a-bestseller
game for the PC and fobs off the console responsibilities, it's
a powerful statement. People watch what id does.
No one really knows what the future holds for John Carmack, the
driving force behind id's success. He doesn't play the games he
makes; indeed, he only makes games because that's where the exciting
programming is going on. He is deeply committed to winning the X Prize
(though a recent crash
has all but put his team out of the running) and has devoted a significant
part of his fortune to it. More and more, the X Prize seems
to be his priority, which is part of the reason DOOM 3 took
so long to ship. Thus, many speculated that it would be his last
game and that he'd pull a Ground Control to Major Tom on us shortly
after its release; but id just announced that it's working on an
original new property with Carmack developing an entirely new engine.
Other than that, all they're saying is that this next game will
not take four years.
2004 has been a loser year for PC games. Titles we expected to
be great sucked; other titles never appeared at all. DOOM 3
joins the tiny handful of games we've seen this year that really
are all they're cracked up to be. It's got fun, excitement, good
lookseverything people look for both in a potential mate and
in a video game. Replay and moddability guarantee that it will stay
on hard drives for years to come. It was a long wait, but now that
it's here, there's no doubt that it was worth it.