The devil’s in the details.
People love to tell you that looks aren’t everything, and those people are right…sort of. We agree that beauty is more than skin deep, but which one of us (given the option) wouldn’t seriously consider swapping our regular girlfriend or spouse for a vapid supermodel? At least for a couple weeks? Or how about just a day? Please?
So it is with Doom 3, a gorgeous, rollicking haunted house ride with all the depth of the kid’s wading pool in Munchkinland. Nine months after the PC version of Doom 3 set new standards in overhyped fragging, those martian demons have finally invaded the Xbox, and in classic id tradition, haven’t changed a thing.
The so-called plot, for example, hasn’t changed since the first Doom. The forces of hell have invaded a base on the planet Mars. You, the intrepid, nameless space marine, must shoot them. Why Mars? Why Satan? How did the chainsaws get there? Who the hell knows. Now quit asking questions and get back to shooting demons.
Oddly enough, the story (or lack thereof) is apparently even too ridiculous for Hollywood. Now there’s a statement I never thought I’d write. Yes, it’s true, they are making a Doom movie featuring The Rock as “Sarge.” However, the movie now takes place on the planet Olduvai, where a super-virus is mutating people into monsters. Then the fun begins. Exactly what this has to do with Doom – other than the title – is beyond me. This is going to be a bad movie.
So, the first-person corridor shooter that started ’em all is exactly the same as it ever was. You roam scary martian corridors shooting the same fireball-throwing demons with the same guns while picking up the same armor shards and health packs. The single-player game is a linear adventure that always sends you looking for the key to the next door. In an attempt to resemble some kind of reality, the blue and red keys from the older versions have been replaced by dead people’s PDAs, which give you access to different doors and storage lockers. Doom has so inexplicably, stubbornly remained unchanged over the years, it’s practically a form of rebellion.
Xbox owners will be happy to know that the playability hasn’t suffered one bit in the translation. Using the Halo control scheme, Doom 3 is smooth, responsive and intuitive. It plays great, provided you’re just looking to frag the hell out of, well, Hell.
The biggest change from past Dooms (and the raison d’etre for Doom 3) is the fancy new game engine with its cutting-edge graphics and physics. The Xbox port is particularly impressive because it’s every bit as good as its PC counterpart. It was Doom 3 that forced me to replace my graphics card last year, so frankly it’s a bit of a magic trick how they got it to run so well on the Xbox. The environments are just as detailed, the graphics and textures are just as slick, and the cool lighting and shadow effects are totally intact.
Of course, you need all that fancy lighting to showcase the game’s most controversial bit of design. You see, the Mars base is dark, and the demons have a habit of turning off the lights, so in order to see anything, you need to use your flashlight. A lot. However, this means putting away your guns…all of them. Apparently, despite miles and miles of ducts, there’s still a total lack of duct tape on Mars that you could have used to strap your flashlight to your gun.
This was a bone of contention on the PC and remains one on the Xbox, which still makes you swap back and forth endlessly between the ability to see things and the ability to kill things. While the mutual exclusivity of the two leads to some truly scary moments in the dark, it’s also a little annoying.
The sound, however, is not. There’s no music in the game, but the creepy, ambient noise fills the gap quite nicely. There’s some good voice-acting early on with the few living people before the game moves to nearly 100% shooting. Gun noises are adequate, but vaguely unsatisfying. Thankfully, the demon shrieks and groans are as perfect as always. Many of the best moments in the game occur when you can hear a demon scuttling around somewhere, but you can’t see it, and you just know it’s going to leap out at you any second. Those gamers lucky enough to have their Xbox hooked up with Dolby 5.1 will have an easier time tracking enemies thanks to the sweet surround sound.
Doom 3‘s multiplayer mode on the PC seemed like more of an afterthought than anything else, and the Xbox nearly falls into the same trap. The scant Deathmatch modes aren’t very compelling and support only up to four players. However, the one new thing added to the Xbox is pretty cool: cooperative multiplayer. You can play any of the game’s levels over Xbox Live (or a link cable) with a buddy. The game changes a bit for two players with some slightly different items and doors that suddenly require two players to open. Co-op mode, while fun, is also almost ridiculously easy since you can respawn infinitely. Plus, if you go back to where you died, you’ll find all your stuff waiting in a convenient backpack. Still, at least it’s a new way to tackle this nine-month old port.
Doom 3 for the Xbox might not do much new, but it still does what it does very well. It looks great, plays good, takes a nice 20 hours or so to complete and it’s genuinely scary, which is all you really need to have a good time. I wouldn’t swap it permanently for Halo 2, but it’s perfect for a weekend romp. Just don’t let Master Chief find out you’ve been messing around.