Just yesterday I was rummaging through my article archives when I had a run in with my Doom 3 DVD. It’s been a while since I played Doom 3, actually it’s been almost a year and a half since I abandoned the game half way. Interesting, since I hate leaving games mid-way. I generally have two particular reactions to games, a. I don’t like the game in the first few levels and never look at it again. This can be due to several reasons like bad controls, bad graphics, crashes and generally things like that will put off any normal person, or, b. I take an interest in the game and play it till the very end. However Doom 3 is an exception and that got me thinking as to what it was about the game that made me turn away from it.
I got my hands on the game a while back, about 6 months from its release. I was excited about the graphics and wanted to see what all the talk about stencil shadows and Carmack’s new and then controversial algorithm was. Unfortunately a series of accidents (with hardware failures) and incidents (job) kept me busy. When I did finally fire up the game, it was mind blowing. Most of id’s games are, nothing new about that. (For the record I have played every one of their games excepting Commander Keen series.) However after playing a couple of levels, I was already turning away from the game. For one, the game is set in a very dark backdrop and the whole gameplay revolves around getting the player shit scared. Dark alleys, claustrophobic environments and very little to no light. Everything is designed to play on basic human fear. It’s like the whole game is designed keeping only one intension in mind, FEAR.
Along with the environment there are some subtle tweaks done to the FPS style of play that aliments to the overall fear factor. Small things that you may or may not have noticed. For example, notice when you hold a torch, you can’t hold your gun at the same time. This is just an immensely powerful physiological disadvantage that has been designed in. It leaves you virtually helpless against an attacking enemy. Take away the light and hold the gun, and you can’t see what is approaching. The game tries to lead you into a dark void of the unknown! This “unknown” and the “fear of the unknown” is the gameplay of Doom 3. The best way to generate fear is having a set of unknowns. The game is very smartly designed to have you believe, of course, subconsciously that the environment is fearful. You start off on a Mars base where everyone is jumpy and fearful. Again no one knows anything (an unknown there). The base is flush with rumors and information is intentionally kept vague. The PDA you like so much, ah huh, again just used to play on your fears. The PDA messages are intentionally vague and misleading all done deliberately to keep the unknowns pilling up.
The overall game progress is slow and sometimes very slow. You might not have noticed this, but try adding up the amount of time you spend reading your PDA, listening to conversations, switching between the torch and the gun, and loading up saved levels and you will see what I mean. This is very contrary to most FPS style games where the action is fast paced and certainly for id’s games which are known for their shoot and frag style games. All well and good, so what had me dump the game. For one, I got tired of getting scared. Yes I did. I mean after playing the game for like 6-7 hours (total) that fear factor kinda gets boring. All due respect to the game designers, but th game has very little and too few “cool off” periods. A cool off period is an interval just after a intense fight sequence where the player is given time to cool off. This is an integral part of gameplay design especially for action oriented games. There are small and large cool off periods and their placement in the overall game flow is critical. While there are a number of small cool off periods, the game misses out on larger periods which generally occur after a level is completed. Yes, they are there, but they are short.
Another thing that bugged me a lot is the spawning of the enemies. In later stages of the game, enemies get spawned when you pick up a health pack or an ammo kit. This is somewhat controversial. Ammos, health packs, and other goodies are there to give a the player a reward, and often a well deserved one. To have a monster spawn up when you pick up a health pack makes me feel cheated! Period! In the end I just feel that the game lacked variety. Doom 3 is an old run of the mill fire and forget FPS style game, but then again we have played such games too many times already. I was coming over from playing Half-Life 2 and so the comparison couldn’t have been starker. I switched over to Quake 4, completed it and loved it. That’s because the game has a well balanced gameplay, great variety and never got me bored once. Maybe I had expected too much from Doom 3 since I am such a great fan of the old legacy Doom and Doom 2 series of games. They were like the ultimate technology adrenaline boosters when I played them. Maybe my expectation from Doom 3 was a bit too much. Maybe it’s just me getting older or maybe my tastes have changed over the years. I don’t know.