Universal law demands every video game series to have its own black sheep. For every Fallout 2 or Ultima VII, there is a Fallout 76 or Ultima IX that brings into question the existential crisis of the respective series. From that point on, the IP in question can either go on a redemption arc through the following entries or like in the case of Ultima, go bust. Today in The Noob Recommend, I’ll be talking about such a black sheep. A game that is an excellent game in its own right but generally looked down upon by the series veterans. That’s right, today I’m talking about 2004’s DooM 3 and its subsequent expansion, Resurrection of Evil.
2004 was a monumental year for PC gaming. The year that gave us the groundbreaking Half Life 2, the visually enticing Far Cry and the beloved Vampire: The Masquerade- Bloodlines also brought us the highly anticipated second sequel to the iconic DooM series.
DooM 3 was a game long in the making and time hadn’t been kind to its developer id Software. Long past their glory days in the 90s, id was suffering from internal disputes, frustrating developmental cycles and the questionable design philosophy of technical magician John Carmack. With DooM being the most influential FPS of all time, the expectations for DooM 3 was very unreal. When it finally launched in August 2004, the reception was very polarizing. DooM 3 was lauded for its impressive visuals (thanks to the mighty id Tech 4) and atmosphere but was heavily criticized for sacrificing the series’ fast-paced run ‘n gun formula in favour of a more linear, slow-paced gameplay that emphasized on storytelling and horror. Hence, it’s not hard to see why DooM 3 is considered to be the black sheep of the franchise. The fact that id followed it up with the exceptional 2016 soft reboot DooM makes the position of DooM 3 in the franchise ever the weaker.
15 years have passed and DooM 3 and its expansion Resurrection of Evil is held somewhat positively by fans unlike when it launched. It’s safe to say that time has been kind to the game. DooM 3 holds a stellar 9/10 score on STEAM with 371 positive reviews. All the hate now goes towards Bethesda’s half-assed DooM 3: BFG Edition. Seeing all the positive reviews, I decided to head back and revisit DooM 3 for one last time before doing an Ultra Nightmare run of DooM 2016. After all, I haven’t played DooM 3 in over 10 years and thought it was time to rethink my original opinion on the game (that it’s a steaming pile of shit).
Doom 3 or Alien: Doom Marines?
For the uninitiated, DooM 3 is yet another soft reboot of the classic FPS series which is all about running fast and gunning down each and every demon that has invaded the Union Aerospace Corporation base in Mars. Except that in DooM 3, you aren’t going to be running very fast nor there are many demons to slay, at least not in the same number as the previous games. DooM 3 gets a lot wrong in the process of bringing the classic shooter to a modern audience. Its biggest problem is that it doesn’t really feel like DooM at all. DooM 3 feels more like an adaptation of the Alien IP than the titular series. A lot of it has to do with the slow-paced gameplay, scripted sequences and the featuring of darkness as one of its prominent elements. Ridley Scott’s space horror opera Alien was always a big inspiration for the series but in the previous entries, this element was overshadowed by the influence of Army of Darkness, H.R Giger, Pantera, Slayer and Metallica. But all those elements are removed in favour of slow, creeping horror.
Instead of blazing through arcade-ish maze-like levels, DooM marine slowly and carefully moves through the dark, claustrophobic corridors of the Mars base. Instead of a horde of enemies, the Doom Marine encounters mostly single but strong enemies throughout the game, a design decision supported by the narrow moving space that doesn’t leave much room for strafing. Instead of color-coded keycards, you’re on the lookout for PDAs containing security access codes as well as bits of lore. Instead of cleverly hidden wall secrets you need to dry hump, there are storage containers locked with 3-digit security codes. The colour palette is mostly composed of various shades of grey and eye-piercing red lights, a clear departure from the first two games. But the biggest departure of all is the sheer absence of orgasmic metal tracks playing in the background while you dismember poor demons from hell. In its place is creepy ambient audio, mostly coming from broken machinery or metal walkways. Very fitting for the direction of the game but hard to accept for a veteran DooM fan such as myself.
However, my biggest gripe with DooM 3 is with its gunplay. It’s not terrible but not anything special either. I mean when you’re making a sequel to one of the most satisfying shooters ever made, this is the number one aspect you have to nail down. The base game features a returning set of arsenal only missing the super shotgun. I have no idea who thought omitting the most iconic gun in the series would be a great idea. In its place, you get a wimpy machine gun. Then there’s the returning roster of pistol, chainsaw, shotgun, chaingun, plasma rifle, rocket launcher and the BFG 9000. There’s also something called the soul cube, which is even more of a BFG than BFG 9000. Yet, none of these weapons feels particularly satisfying to use. The shotgun has a terrible spread, the plasma rifle fires very slow, the machine gun feels like a water gun and there aren’t a lot of suitable encounters for the BFG.
Atmosphere is king
I wrote off DooM 3 as a glorified tech demo, showcasing the prowess of id Tech 4 in my first impressions. That still holds some truth. There’s no denying that along with HL2 and Far Cry, DooM 3 is the best looking game released in 2004. It’s a technical marvel and at the same time, highly scalable, as evident by the console ports. The lighting and shadow rendering capability of the engine is utilized to maximum potential in DooM 3. The lighting and shadows hold up well even today, 15 years after its release. Much like Escape From Butcher Bay and Dead Space, lighting is a very important aspect of the game, both visually and mechanically. Thus, there is an over-emphasis on navigating pitch-black environments throughout. This is the best and the most divisible feature of DooM 3. Your only weapon against the darkness is environmental lighting and measly flashlight that has to be equipped like any other weapon in the game. You’re unable to shoot while carrying the flashlight and hence, you sacrifice visibility for protection. The whole idea of DooM 3 was built around this feature. While a large part of the community disliked this feature at the start and asked for the flashlight to be bound to the player’s body, everyone kind of got adjusted to it. The thing is that when you take out this horror element, DooM 3 becomes nothing but an above-average shooter. That’s why DooM 3: BFG edition gets so much hate.
While the main focus of DooM 3 is on horror, it’s not really a scary game. Maybe it was when it came out but definitely not in this day and age. The game has a habit of throwing stuff in your face and often goes around to spawn enemies in your back when you least expect it and the eerie darkness can be unsettling but that’s about it. Creepy and foreboding, yes. Scary, no. In a way that is a good thing since I’m way much of a pussy to play scary games. DooM 3 does succeed in making you feel like a survivor battling the ever-increasing odds. It’s no longer a power fantasy. This phantom feeling that a Hell Knight could jump out from the darkness and nibble on your bones at any moment is ever-present throughout the campaign and that’s where DooM 3 truly shines. You get a decent 10-hour campaign that’s clearly not ‘DooM’ as you remember it but it’s a highly polished experience that barely costs 2 dollars. Just make sure to download the Redux mod to get the maximum out of the game. Just don’t buy the trash BFG edition.
The physics is strong with this one
Some of the problems of DooM 3 are averted in the Resurrection of Evil expansion pack. RoE puts you in the shoes of another nameless marine, this time a space engineer who unknowingly gets caught up in yet another hellish invasion. While retaining the core gameplay of DooM 3, the 4-hour long campaign of RoE is far better paced and sacrifices some of the horror elements for a more action-packed experience. Resurrection of Evil adds twelve new single-player levels, six new enemies, four new multiplayer maps as the addition of the iconic double-barrelled shotgun (which also has terrible spread).
However, the biggest addition in RoE originates from the influence of Half Life 2 and Max Payne. For the first and only time in the series, RoE features the Grabber, a clear-cut copy of the Gravity Gun from HL2 that can be used to capture enemy projectiles and other physics-bound objects and use them against the enemies. It is so useful and overpowered that you can almost finish the entire game just by using it. Then there’s the Artifact which has three rechargeable abilities that are periodically unlocked. Firstly, it grants you Hell Time, which is basically Bullet Time but for the Doom Marine. The next unlock for it is Berserk, which functions similar to Quad Damage and grants you the ability to kill even a Hell Knight to death in one punch. Finally, there’s Invulnerability, which is self-explanatory. All powers possessed by the Artifact are activated simultaneously and hence, it goes without saying that you become an unkillable death machine near the end of the game. This brings back the power fantasy element DooM 3 clearly lacked and makes the campaign far more engaging than the base game. But since it retains the core gameplay feature of DooM 3 at the same time, the whole experience sits awkwardly between the old games and the third entry.
Despite all the issues I have with DooM 3, I’m including the game and its expansion in The Noob Recommend because of two reasons:
- It won’t cost you more than a good chicken biriyani on a good day
- You can have a decent experience if you don’t consider it a DooM game