This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine…
Believe it or not, my mom once punched Chuck Norris right in the face. Really. Chuck and his family lived in my neighborhood in Los Angeles, and every year the local parents would get together and do a big Halloween Haunted House full of fake cobwebs, grisly displays, spooky music, and volunteers in rubber masks who hid in the shadows and jumped out at you.
This was all great fun for a kid…except for my youngest brother, who one year got too scared and started crying. So my mom took him out a side door and through the back garden to get him out quickly. What my mom didn't know was that the garden was still part of the tour, and Chuck Norris was lurking behind a bush wearing a ninja suit. He leapt out in front of her, scaring her half to death.
So, flailing wildly, my kind mother socked him right in the kisser. I guess ninjas aren't always so awesome.
And clearly what's fun for kids isn't always fun for adults, but in the case of the Haunted House, it turns out to be just as fun as ever in its most current binary form: Doom 3. This highly-anticipated remake of the game that put fragging on the map is full of gory corpses, scary noises and monsters that jump out at you. I've had great fun with it, especially with the lights out, and yes, occasionally I've flailed wildly when something particularly unexpected and gross has leapt at me.
Like a Haunted House, it's just scary for scary's sake without any real story. Why is the Disney Haunted Mansion haunted? Errr… someone died there, I guess. Pluto probably. As far as I can make out in Doom 3, some sort of flaming skull is trying to take over Mars using the forces of Hell. It's a bit like The Exorcist meets Total Recall, and it doesn't really make a damn bit of sense.
I think the story was grudgingly written after the game was already finished. I can practically picture the scene in my mind: John Carmack calls Activision and says "Hey guys, it's all done. It looks great and there are lots of scary demons to shoot. Woohoo! " and the Activision exec says, "Great! What's the storyline?"
Let me put it this way - as you play through the game, you will discover an unlikely series of e-mails written by Mars base employees trying desperately to explain why there are hundreds of chainsaws on the planet Mars. Chainsaw-wielding zombies, anyone? Anyone?
Luckily, the plot doesn't need to make sense, because Doom 3 is really just a remake of the earlier Doom games, which, as I recall, had no stories whatsoever. You just ran around in some scary corridors, shooting demons and looking for the blue key. Doom 3 is exactly the same, only now the corridors and demons look much, much cooler and the blue keys are dead people's PDAs that allow access to different areas of the Mars base. Besides, most of the time you're playing Doom 3, you couldn't care less about the story because you know something extremely scary is going to jump out at you any second now and try to eat your face.
The suspense is heightened by Doom 3's calling card: the gorgeous graphics. If you have the rig to run it (ignore those minimum system requirements and start upgrading, by the way, especially if you don't yet have Win 2000 or XP), Doom 3 is an awesome experience. It's got all the bump-mapping and rag-doll physics you'd expect from a high-end game these days, but most impressive is the lighting. Rooms and corridors are filled with changing light sources, from swinging overhead lights and short-circuiting wires to spinning sirens and imp-tossed fireballs. The effect is unrivaled; at times, Doom 3 feels like an id Software tech demo.
But the most important light source is your flashlight. Doom 3 is dark - very dark - and there's no way to see what's lurking in the shadows without whipping out your electric torch. In perhaps the game's most controversial design decision, you cannot use the flashlight and a gun at the same time; you'll find yourself constantly switching back and forth between the two throughout the whole game. To its credit, this heightens the sense of vulnerability and enhances the scare-factor, and I think it generally works, but many gamers will find it frustrating and curse the total lack of duct-tape on Mars that would enable you to strap your light to the front of your gun. Perhaps the duct-tape shipment got mixed up with the chainsaw shipment.
When you do pull out a gun, don't expect it to be particularly thrilling. The weapons in Doom 3 are merely updated versions of those found in the other Doom games, from the almost useless pistol to the shotgun, chaingun and, of course, BFG. Oddly, the developers did not see fit to include the now standard alternate fire ability, so don't expect any burst shot types or anything.
The same holds true for the enemies, as the zombies, imps and demons are all redesigned versions of the old Doom classics. That doesn't mean they aren't impressive, though. They look great and move fluidly with deliberate, fiendish purpose. The A.I. hasn't improved as much as the graphics, however, and while some demons will try to outflank you, they make little use of cover, and many just run, scurry, fly, crawl or shamble straight towards you.
But while Doom 3's gameplay sticks firmly to its roots, it's all done very well due to the high level of polish and terrific feel. It's hard to describe exactly what makes the game feel so intuitive, but when you combine the smooth control with the great scripting and chilling atmosphere, you get a fun, unique, visceral experience.
Much like the original Doom, the multiplayer game is pretty much an afterthought. There are only a handful of maps and a few basic Deathmatch modes. Due to the insane graphics engine, the game only supports up to four players at a time (yes, you read that correctly), which among things makes it hard to find a server with an empty slot. I think they included it merely to prove that their new game engine could go multiplayer, because it's certainly not robust compared to what else is out there.
However, it's clear that the developers had a mission and a focus, and what might be lacking in the plot and online departments is made up for by a gorgeous, exciting and genuinely scary single-player experience. Id pretty much invented the first-person-shooter with Castle Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, and though they haven't really changed their formula, at least it was a good one to begin with. Some will surely sing the praises of this game without duly noting that it's actually quite typical in its gameplay, but if you're ready for a good fright, pick up a copy and start peering nervously into every dark corner. Just keep an eye out for Chuck Norris.