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In Defense of Doom 3

EtherBot January 9, 2017 User blog:EtherBot

Doom 3 is probably my favorite main series Doom game and that's a pretty bizzare statement to everybody here who somehow drunkenly stumbled onto this post without reading the title and maybe half of the people who clicked this post well fully sober and just expected me to say Doom 3 was "not that bad"


I think Doom 3 is great, specifically I think the setting, flashlight, horror, story and voice acting is great and I lost you guys. Shit.


Well to the 30 percent of you actually still reading and not analyzing my words looking for ways to prove me wrong, here's my case for why Doom 3 is actually pretty great.

General

A lot of people might scoff at the idea of making a Doom 3 defense. It's not like it was critically panned or suffering from DOOM 64-itus where it was massively overlooked (but maybe Brutal Doom 64 will help pull it into the limelight). It's not like it was apperently disliked by critics or by the general populous, and if you played it and liked it you can sort of tell that the design isn't atrocious or anything "avant-garde" that needs a second look. But it seems pretty commonly dismissed to me, people talking about Doom 3 seem to either brush it off as "that Doom game" or place it under the other Doom games in their rankings.

And I guess it's hard for me to put it above Doom but it's also a kind of unfair comparrison because their both kind of focusing on different things. Both games try the same things but Doom 3 had different aspirations for the impression it wants to leave. Doom was a revolutionary action game with a sort of realistic scary edge, well realistic for the time, and Doom is a revolutionary horror game with a sort of realistic action edge. Trying to describe what Doom did right and saying that Doom 3 is a bad game because it did those things poorly is just not fair because they have very different goals as video games.

Similarities

For the most part, Doom 3 has a pretty similar progression as Doom Classic. And the vibe it holds is strikingly evocative of the first two Doom Games...playing them interchangably on the BFG Edition was surprising in how much I retained my mood from both renditions. I still felt like the Imps were the same imps, the Cacodemons were the same Cacodemons, this new UAC was the same UAC as before, and the Revenents were still assholes. They didn't all look the same, but they all still feel the same. They capture the same essense.

I'm of two minds on the Cacodemon model because, although I like it, I like it for reasons very different from the old Cacodemon. It doesn't have the whole "Chesire grin" vibe but it just looks really neat and like a thing that feels at home in real actual brimstone Hell. Less like a DnD monster, and more like a real actual monster, more like a real actual demon, and a real actual threat.

And maybe that's a sentiment I hold for Doom 3 as a whole, I still like it, but for very different reasons from Classic Doom. It feels weighier, more like the demons are here because they actually hate you as opposed to Doom's sort of toungue and cheek vibe of "the monsters are here because this is a video game about shooting monsters"

Keycards are also back. Both as actual Keycards and as PDA's, which are neat because they do what Keycards already did but also can have codes for unlocking storage cabinets. And the codes are hidden deep in a maze of emails and audio logs which means you invariably have to engage the game's plot and backstory and short little vignettes of buildup logged away in people's PDA's if you want to actually play the game succesfully.

And there's something to be said about just how much weird stupid and cheesy nonesense is written in those emails. The audio logs, for the most part, are made up of either boring technical stuff or paranoid scientists saying that "This is it! Mars was giving me the creeps from the start, but this is the final straw! I'm filing out of here next chance I get!" and I enjoy that a lot as well, in the sense of the various personalities of the voice actors and the kind of insane twisted cadence that they all exhibit. but the emails...that's a cut of cheese above the rest.

Mountains or pages of paragraphs of text of cheesy obvious foreshadowing, foreshadowing that would have felt on the nose if you hadn't gotten it hours after the big twist was already revealed. Warped around door codes and progression clues are the ramblings of scientists and guards ineffectually talking at the player while pretending they're talking to "Stan Sherman" or whichever stock scientist who's PDA you've swipped.

Intentional or not, the PDA's are a ton of fun for those who don't treat them like an annoyance, if you fully thrust yourself headfirst into the weird stupid world of Doom and Doom 3 than the sort of pandering nonesense in the emails and audio logs should be great fun, and an excellent way to relieve any tension and stress from the actual scary bits.

Horror

Perhaps the biggest and most common complaints I've heard for Doom 3 is that the scares are too predictable. There's a clear pattern for the ambushes and you can spot them from a mile away. And that would be a serious problem if Doom 3 was intending to surprise the player with it's scares, but it doesn't want to surprise the player. (Well it does but hear me out)

Doom 3 wants the player to know about the ambush. Demons leaping at you from behind doorways, around corners, spawn behind you and just off-screen, stroll out from monster closets and jump up out of floor vents. Demons attacking you is a certainty, but you just don't know from where. 

You know for a fact that that armor pickup will make a demon show up from somewhere. So you pull out the gun you're pretty sure is the one that will probably be ok for whichever demon shows up and slowly go picking it up--waiting shiftily and turning  around as quickly as you try and find where the demon will attack from and which demon it will be. There are too many uncertainties here, but the fact that their will be a monster? That's inevitable.

And what that does is make the player paranoid. Every corner becomes a weird scary gamble, every doorway becomes a risk. Ammo and health aren't scarce but they're spread out and even hunting them down causes monsters to appear. Monsters that exist in the darkness and prey on the lonely and scared.

Flashlight

What the flashlight design did for the vanilla Doom 3 was make everything automatically scarier. You always felt unprepared. 

In vanilla Doom 3, one of your weapons was a flashlight. So if you wanted to see anything in the darker areas, you needed to pull down all your other guns and pull out a real actual flashlight

You had to choose between the fear of the dark, of the possibility of monsters coming from somewhere you can't see, of growls and hisses in the shadows and the stark black corners with red glowing vents and fog flooding in from the hallways.

Or

The fear of being defensless when the demon's inevitably come attacking. The consistant dread of knowing that when demons do arrive, you won't be able to fight back until you lower your flashlight.

What the flashlight does is make the player, without question, as a perfectly calculated design fight the demons in the dark, always. You can not shoot at demons and also see the demons in clear light. It turns the monsters into growls behind walls, glowing eyes in the shadows, shuffling feet from just behind you.....Sure, there's enough light to know where they are most of the time. The entire game is designed so that you shouldn't actually need the flashlight to navigate or even find the enemies. But if you play the game right you'll never see the demons in the beam of your flashlight for more than a second.

The flashlight is just there as an illusionary failsafe. It serves, no purpose other than to trick you into using it. As a mechanic, it means that the player will try to help their fear of the pitck black corners and hallways by handicapping themselves. It punishes the cowardly, and teaches you that this world has no escape from any fear or terror. It lurks everywhere, especially when you try to look for it.

So how about in the BFG Edition?

It's a flashlight. Ya press the button and you get to uh... use a flashlight and see things. 

Doom 3: BFG Edition

Holy hell do the design choices for the BFG Edition baffle me. 

So in the BFG Edition of Doom 3 you hold down the left trigger and an armor mounted flashlight beam lights up until a meter runs out. You have to turn it off periodically to let it recharge, but other than that there's basically no reason to not just use the flashlight 100% of the time. 

This isn't even an awful idea, either, there's potential to make it still work. At least they could have made it recharge really slowly or something. But it just recharges incredibly fast and then you pull it out again. It lasts too long and recharges too fast. There is no reason to not just have the flashlight on the entire way through except out of respect for the horror, and "respect for the horror" should be the developer's job...not the players.

BFG Edition also has some pretty bad settings. You cannot tinker with anything and the graphics seem like a pretty noticable downgrade from vanilla Doom 3 when it's graphics were set to Ultra High. The lighting settings were vaguley improved, some of the architecture and models were tinkered with, and the outside mars bits look more organic. Other than that, there's nothing about this that looks any better than Doom 3 and some of it manages to look worse. A lot of the textures have baffling low resolutions, the type of thing that makes you wonder how nobody noticed they looked fake and awful before they shipped the game, and the models for the main enemies have a noticable lack in polygons. Not so noticable in vanilla Doom 3 but now that you'll be seeing them more clearly it becomes pretty clear that the models aren't very crisp all the time.

My point is that the changes they made won't please the people who didn't like Doom 3 and will only piss off the people who did. If you want to rerelease a game and celebrate it, you don't openly admit that you're ashamed with one of the major, gameplay defining mechanics of the original game! It'd be like a 30th anniversary Doom 2 remastering collection that removed the super shotgun and replaced it with a regular shotgun that had twice the ammo. You just do not do that!!

And the sense of "we're sorry for Doom 3" is apperent everywhere in the BFG Edition. The Lost Mission abandons the gameplay rhythms of Doom 3 in favor of a "Doom 2-ish" gameplay vibe. They staple Doom and Doom 2 onto the package in the hopes of getting people to buy the collection. They drastically remove a lot of options and setting that were already there before, too. And it just makes the whole package feel stale, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It's great to play the entire uncut game on the 360 with the first two games tacked on as well as RoE, but it feels like a wasted effort.

Conclusion

Doom 3 is my favorite offical, ID SOFTWARE Doom Game. I have my problems with it, but I have problems with every Doom game, both main series, and spin-offs like Final Doom or Doom 64. I think it's a fully realized and deeply personal project from a lot of passionate developers who would have made the exact same game if given a bigger budget or more time. A lot of games, like Doom 64, Halo 2 or Bioshock Infinite, reek with a sense of lost potential. Like the developers knew there were things they really wanted to do, or things that would have made the game better, and knowingly did something else for whatever reason. From cut content, or just under-developed ideas, they have an unfinished feeling. They seem like projects that needed more time to ruminate before releasing, desperately.

The first two Doom games, and Doom 3 for that matter, don't have that feeling to me. There is no lost potential for me, they seem like the exact right games for what they tried to be. The exact game that the passionate and talented developer set out to make. As dark as it may be, Doom 3 still has that glow the first two games have, and it's a glow that seldom games since have really captured. It's the nice satisfying glow of a project well realized.

Doom 3: BFG Edition doesn't have that glow, and on that note I think it might be the biggest mistep in the entire Doom Franchise.

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So what do you guys think of Doom 3? Did I manage to convert any non-believers or am I just preaching to the choir? Tell me your thoughts down below. PS: The sort of "glow" is a similar factor in why I think Bioshock 1 and 2 is better than Bioshock Infinite. Whenever I play Infinite I can't shake the feeling that it sort of wasn't the game the developers were totally after. IDK tell me what you think about that also, if you want.

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