Doom III has been hotly anticipated for quite some time now. It´s been ten years since the original Doom introduced thousands of people across the world to first person shooters, causing many of us to be running bleary eyed around labyrinthes full of hellish monsters well into the night. While id Software have certainly taken their time with this it is still a very popular brand and so any new offering has to do justice to the old favourite and give gamers something they can really get into.
Doom III is a frightening experience, a meaty action-packed first person shooter which really ramps up the horror. The development of a decent dynamic lighting system which allows for the appearance of realistic lighting and shadows has enabled id to create a seriously creepy atmosphere. However is making things look more realistic enough? What about the gameplay?
The story is similar to the original, a shadowy organisation are conducting morally dubious experiments on Mars and they unleash some kind of hellgate which leads to demons galore. You turn up to clean up the mess, which translates as shoot anything that moves. This is a pretty cheesy backstory which was easily ignored in the original game however this time around the story comes through much stronger and is developed through your interactions with the staff you meet and personal communications you can access. Sadly the story isn´t very good and so having to scan through emails and audio clips to find codes for the various ammo dumps soon becomes a chore.
The environments are very impressive, beautifully realised and quite fun to explore. This is the main selling point of Doom III the incredible environments with great lighting, real shadows and complex machinery working away. The models are also gorgeous although they obliterate when you kill them so it is difficult to get a close look. There are also some really nice interactive textures, such as control panels on machinery which you can operate. In fact id have done a good job here adding some context sensitive control options, when you can operate something your gun is automatically lowered and pressing left mouse performs the action, this makes picking up the game very easy.
The weapon set is similar to the original and features all the usual suspects from shotgun to rocket launcher. They look good and have some nice visual effects when fired but they don't feel responsive. Throughout the game you have to choose which weapon to use and find ammo, naturally at close range nothing beats the shotgun and ammunition is quite liberally scattered. Further into the game the ammo is in short supply and this makes progress frustrating, often you need to find codes for the ammo dumps in order to go on.
In terms of gameplay Doom III really hasn´t moved on from ten years ago and I found this very disappointing. Creatures spawn in all around you often two in front and one behind and the environments are very cramped which can make the actual combat very annoying. They have also chosen to do damage effects and knock your point of view around when you get hit or shot but this makes it very difficult to return fire, particularly with multiple enemies. When you consider what you are inputting as a player it is pretty clear that the gameplay is identical to the original and after this long it should be progressing, offering something new. Inevitably the action becomes very repetitive after a few levels and the regular demon spawnings detract somewhat from the creep atmosphere.
The sound in this game goes a long way towards putting you on edge. It really is horrible in places with constant whispering and wailing in your ears. The voice acting is ok without really impressing but the sound effects and ambient noise are fantastic, exactly right for the game and for conjuring up scary images of what might be lurking in the shadows.
Beyond the dull gameplay Doom III is also a major disappointment in the multiplayer stakes. The multiplayer mode feels tagged on with the recomendation that you have no more than four players. Four players? I guess you pay the price for having dynamic lighting but I for one would trade it for the ability to have 30 plus multiplayer games. This mode plays like a bad version of Unreal Tournament, it feels similarly chunky but when I press right mouse instead of alternate fire I jump. The weapons are much more limited in imagination and beyond the ability to turn off the lights in one map this mode was a total letdown. If you like to play first-person shooters on line then this is not the game for you.
Doom III promised much and it delivered on some levels but this game will not have the impact of the original and with Half-Life 2 around the corner I think it will soon be forgotten. As a single player horror experience it works very well but to truly make the most of the creepy atmosphere you would need a slower paced game with less action. Beyond the beautification and streamlining of the control system there isn't much new here, I chuckled at the now obligatory exploding barrels which seem to have crept into every first person shooter nowadays, a highly explosive barrel in every room next to where some AI spawn in just reinforces the scripted feel of events. Anyway I don't want to be too critical because there is much to recommend the game as a single player experience and it did scare me when I played it. You could certainly do worse than give Doom III a go but it falls short of true greatness.