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August 11, 2004 | id Software launched the original Doom PC game in the early 1990s. The ultra-violent game featured revolutionary graphics, sound, and game play. Doom has served as the basis for imitation and improvement over the years, spawning the famous Quake series (also by id), its closest competitor Unreal, and countless knock-offs, laying the foundation for the "first-person shooter" genre as we now know it.

By today's standards, Doom is antiquated, its once-cutting-edge graphics dull and chunky; its level-design trumped by dozens of successors. After a forgettable Doom sequel and a few mid-90s expansions, id's Quake series stole the spotlight, and most gamers never looked back.

The entire first-person shooter (FPS) genre has behaved a lot like its main characters, moving steadily along a linear path, collecting a few upgrades along the way—the biggest power-up being the ability to stage large multiplayer battles over the Internet. Outside of networked gaming, we've seen steady improvements in audio-visual quality, level of detail, and the artificial intelligence of computer-controlled agents.

Doom 3, which has been bubbling in the id Software cauldron since the turn of the 21st century, rewrites the simple plotline of the original with bleeding-edge cinematic style. Launched August 2004, Doom 3 represents one of the largest leaps in the first-person shooter genre since the release of its predecessor, sporting the sleekest game engine ever seen—robust, smooth, and sexy enough to cause more than a few gamers to upgrade or replace their computers for the sole purpose of playing the game. Like the original, Doom 3 will change the face of FPS gaming forevermore. Unfortunately, today's gamers are about to discover that looks aren't everything.

Doom 3's storyline, retold by sci-fi writer Matthew Costello, is much improved from the original in terms of scope and depth. Costello's challenge was making an future invasion of Mars by the legions of Hell seem plausible, and to his credit, he has provided a number of interconnected story breadcrumbs, gathered along one's Doom 3 journey in the form of email, audio files, and video disks. Costello's individual passages were written well enough, but the big picture is still lacking. There's just no hope of putting lipstick on this pig of a sci-fi horror plot—less likely events have spun more masterfully in literature, cinema, and even other games. But if we cared about such things, why would we be playing a first-person shooter anyway?

Gore is taken to near-pornographic levels in Doom 3, where people are turned literally inside-out for our viewing pleasure. Rorschach-blot bloodstains are the appropriate and satisfying result of blasting and grinding enemies to death. There is as much versatility in mutilation as the first Doom-all the original weapons are back, mostly with the same effects as before. Which is too bad, because there've been a lot better weapons in Doom's wake since the 1990s: most shamefully lacking is an alternative fire method for any of Doom 3's weapons. Alt-fire (found in many other FPS games) gives players the ability to zoom sights to varying degrees, shoot a different projectile from the same gun, or perform a secondary function with the same gun. Without such features in Doom 3, seasoned FPS players may feel like they're only getting half a weapon. Nevertheless, each firearm and melee weapon does its job well in the proper environment.

Add to the game's rather uninspired arsenal an equally lackluster control scheme. One high point is a fatigue meter, which runs out while making mad dashes around the levels. Conservation of your energy is important, and bleeds dry at inopportune times if you aren't paying attention. Aside from this, we're left with the bare minimum of FPS controls: Much like the original Doom, your character can jump, walk, crouch, and "strafe" (sidestep) in quite standard ways. Certainly you're playing a human marine, but given the apparent ease with which he dispatches the legions of Hell, you'd think the guy could pull off a few hot dog moves now and again. Possibly the best aspect of operating the main character is receiving damage. You can almost feel every blow—the camera shakes and flies off-kilter; the more abuse your character takes, the worse the effect—when you're close to death, the screen becomes reddened and blurry. The resulting visual trauma is enough to make anyone want to stay out of harm's reach.

Doom 3's carnage unfolds inside a vast, militarized Martian research and development base. The complex, and other, more interesting areas, were thoughtfully designed by the folks at id Software, from the coffee cups and display terminals in worker-cubicles to the blood-soaked toilets in the lavatories. There are no comfortable places in the Mars base, rather every edge is hard and riveted, every pipe heavy and ribbed, every computer keyboard a throwback to the 20th century. The maze-like corridors, nooks and crannies of the installation are awful enough when the lights are on-when All Hell Breaks Loose, the entire complex begins to degrade, short out, and sputter. A combination of film noir and the Alien series, Doom 3's sets deny the player full visibility of what's around the corner--familiar territory for veteran Doomsters.

Given the Byzantine layouts of Doom 3's levels, there are plenty of places for creatures to pop out and scare the daylights out of players. Nearly every space has at least one jarring shock. In the short term this is simultaneously terrifying and delightful. In the long term, however, game play becomes predictable, tedious, and in many cases silly (there's a monster hiding in nearly every closet). The Mars station environment becomes monotonous itself—some areas must be traveled through repeatedly, and there isn't much break from the gray-on-gray colour scheme. Compared to games such as Unreal and Halo, Doom 3 feels like a one-act play, which is unforgivable considering the power of the game engine.

Like its levels, Doom 3's characters are highly-detailed, from human researchers to 30-foot-tall behemoths—the modeling, textures, and animation breathe life into the game, but as seems to be the theme with the game's design, there is an overall lack of variety. Garden-variety zombies and a small pantheon of demonic legions are all that stand in your way. Some are genuinely creepy while others are just plain goofy-looking or unimaginative. While this may be the best Hell can muster, it doesn't really matter how laughable a monster is when it jumps fifty feet across a darkened room and bites you in the face. Unless of course, it's happened for the fiftieth time, and then it's just tiresome.

Ex Nine-Inch-Nailer Chris Vrenna provided Doom 3's soundscape. Sounds are derived from contextual sources (for example, creaking metal in a loading bay) and those manifested by the supernatural, such as unearthly chanting, gongs, and indescribable murmuring. Not quite a soundtrack, but more than merely ambient effects, the audio hovers menacingly in the background, subtle enough to avoid being noticed; waiting for an opportunity to strike. It's the sneaky counterpoint to the rest of Doom 3's dynamic audio, which is comprised of weapons fire, creature screams, human cries, and other incidental effects. Like the original Doom, Doom 3 gives hints about what lies ahead in the muted grunts, moans and mutters of invading Hell-beasts. You'll want to play this game with headphones or surround-sound for maximum effect.

Doom 3 is at the top of its game genre from a technical standpoint, with many of its creative elements done up beautifully by the id team, from set design to the level of detail in the character models. The game has many strong "wow" moments from the outset, but dulls quickly, becoming all-too-reminiscent of the original Doom in its game play and "feel." There is innovation here, but it won't benefit Doom 3 players. Instead, we're left hoping that other developers will pick up id Software's torch and burn outdated game play to the ground.

Tony Walsh is a Toronto-based freelance Jack of all Trades, practitioner of the Arts, avid gamer and renegade digital anthropologist. He keeps a near-daily journal at but lives at

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