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Monday, September 06, 2004

Welcome to Hell. This way, sir.

I'm not much of a gamer. I did play FarCry earlier this year while the Mrs was away for a few days and I had a brief but torrid affair with Snood a while back; oh, and then there were a few months of after-hours Unreal Tournament with the guys at work a few years back. And many years ago, I really liked Civ III. But, compared the people I work with who subscribe to multiple gamer magazines, buy every game that comes out, and build their own computers with gaming performance as the top priority, I'm not even an amateur. Nevertheless, after many weeks of part-time effort, I've finally finished Doom 3. And here's my review.

First, it's long. The game is basically many hours, many days, weeks even, of walking room to room, killing the demons that appear. And it's frightening. After the first ten minutes, you know that each time you walk into a new room something is going to jump out and try to hit you with a wrench, shoot you with a pistol, burn you with a fireball, chop you to bits, sting you, eat you, or blast you with a rocket; yet even though you know it's coming, it's nearly always a surprise. It's fun to play: the fighting is fun, the weapons are cool, the physics are realistic, etc.. And it's a dark, creepy and disgusting game: corpses and skeletons, body parts and blood are everywhere. Some tunnels are covered in graffiti written in blood, some wind through the throbbing and dripping flesh of some gigantic organism; there are people wrapped in coccoons, twitching; demons skitter away down the hall with corpses for snacking on; some levels literally take place in Hell where souls scream and fly around you, and half-insect / half evil-human-baby creatures attack you and scream in agony when you kill them - disturbing. All the rooms are intricately detailed and there's even a lot of humor in the little things: funny magazines lying around, video games you can play, clever emails on the PDAs of deceased workers, etc.. The designers clearly went out of their way to make it all feel as real as possible - and they succeeded.

There's a grand story that explains why you're running from room to room, and why you're being attacked by demons and why you have to go into Hell itself - something to do with evil scientists, alien artifacts and ancient civilizations, but it's not important; you don't have to know anything about the story in order to finish the game. And that's the weakest part: I can't think of a spot in the game where your movement isn't completely guided - you can't turn down the wrong hallway and end up not finishing the game, because there never is such a thing. If there's a door you can go through, you just go through it - it's the right way. So, you find a door and go through it, kill whatever attacks you, pick up any goodies you can find, and then you go through the next door : ad infinitum. The scenery and the monsters keep changing but the game remains the same. You never have to know what you're doing in terms of the big story, because there's no chance for you to deviate, even a little, from the path the game sets for you - you can't even get lost. And yet, despite such simple dynamics, it's still fun, engrossing and scary. A testament to the room designers' talents, I suppose.

FarCry, the last game I played before Doom 3, has a similar storyline (evil scientist creates monsters, stop him). But, FarCry doesn't guide your actions as strictly as Doom. In FarCry you are often outside, walking around in the jungle, or bobbing around on a raft, and it's not quite clear what you need to do or where you need to go. You need to explore a little and sneak around looking for ways to approach the tasks you're given: you know there's a group of bad guys over there, but you don't know if you have to fight your way through them or not; maybe you can sneak around them, or maybe you don't even need to go in that direction - you can choose. Eventually you'll have to fight your way through some bad guys, but you don't have to fight all of them. In Doom 3, there is no choice: you have to fight everything you see and there are no alternate paths. That's a bit of a letdown, in my opinion. Doom 3 is still a good game, but knowing that you're simply following a pre-determined path the entire time, and that your only job is to kill everything, sucks a bit of the mystery and fun out of the experience.

All images Copyright 2004-2005, cleek.