Doom 3: BFG Edition’s most critically detrimental problem is that, being re-released eight or so years after its first go around, the things which seemed at least fairly new when first experienced back then now only seem like the tired tropes they’ve since manifestly become. The game has, as a product of its age, lost all novelty, and that’s a major hit to its attractiveness to gamers because it simply doesn’t have the narrative or gameplay chops to compensate.
Doom 3 featured the nondescript space marine and monster infested abandoned space base before these archetypes consequently became overused to the point of becoming figures of disparaging ridicule. Furthermore, despite being one of the noted originators of its use, the game’s visual style – which is best characterised by its muted (e.g. grey abundant) color palette, the seemingly wet sheen and shininess of its many metallic textures and a harsh duality between lighting and shadows – will likely already be off-puttingly familiar to gamers because of its shameless replication in countless games since. Dingy corridor shooters have since become a dime a dozen, which spells doom for, well, Doom 3: BFG Edition.
Having had so long to gestate in the hands of talented modders, the improvements to Doom 3’s graphics which Id Software have cherry-picked, appropriated and implemented do an admirable job of lessening how dated the game looks, but even with them there can be no mistaking that the game is decidedly a product of last-gen graphical fidelity.
Strikingly, Doom 3’s gameplay is deliberately, unashamedly, and unmistakably old school. Hell, in a way, it even felt like that when it was first released back in 2004, so juxtaposed against offerings from the contemporary FPS genre, it feels positively Jurassic.
Probably the most immediately noticeable antiquation is that, in some key ways, the gameplay of Doom 3 tangibly echoes the rudimentary 3D heritage of its franchise namesake; although there are the occasional (or rather, token) flying monsters, the vast majority of the enemies you’ll encounter will be horizontally strafing and hallway bound, so it very often feels like your reticle might as well be locked to the strict X-axis range of movement found in the original Doom. Basically, you’ll be horizontally aiming and strafing a lot, and it gets old quickly.
The simplicities of the gameplay don’t quite end there either. Though there is, ostensibly, a variety of enemies to mow down, they all feel fairly homogenized and generally the only strategy required to best them is to circle strafe and fill them with the required amount of lead whilst simultaneously avoiding their predictable sequence of return fire. Boss battles try for a little more complexity, but, expectantly, ultimately devolve into dodging or moving behind cover to avoid cheap one-shot kills and then shooting the glaringly obvious weak point over and over again.
Doom 3’s actual narrative is so negligible that it might as well not be there at all. You’re trying to save humanity from a demonic invasion, and if you want your motivation to be any more complex than that, this is definitely not the game for you. As Doom 3’s meager plot unfolded, I was constantly expecting there to be some cool plot twists concerning the protaganist’s role in proceedings or perhaps even the nature of the demonic forces you’re facing, especially when the story ever so briefly touches on elements of the occult and transdimensionalism, so it’s thusly a little surprising when the story turns out to be so one dimensional. The moment when any faith in the game’s story is completely dashed, and is shown to simply be the optimistically hopeful folly of gamers who have become used to fully fleshed out narratives in their games, is the belaboured revelation that those innumerable hordes of demons really did just drag their sorry behinds here from boring old hell.
As for the included expansion packs, Id Software practically gave up on including any semblance of real story and instead chose to implement the most bare bones narrative possible in them. In Resurrection of Evil you’re inexplicably returning to the literal hellhole you spent so long trying to stop anyone from coming back to, and in The Lost Mission you’re just playing out irrelevantly tangential plot points from the original narrative. They’re both just unapologetic excuses to add new guns and enemies, which somehow still fail to feel new or interesting in any way. You’ll be shooting demons with guns in exactly the same way as before, so how they’ve reskinned the monsters or changed the way a particular weapon goes pew-pew in their direction makes very little difference to the core gameplay.
The canned dialogue from the uniformly wooden and entirely unmemorable characters certainly can’t help pick up any slack either, because they follow the story’s lead in clearly solely existing to push the player forward to the next objective. Speaking of which, the mission-to-mission objectives often completely disregard the urgency presented by the paltry overarching narrative and have you endeavouring to complete outrightly trivial tasks ad nauseum. The formula you’ll repeatedly encounter is go here, do this, over and over again, only to rinse and repeat yet further whilst backtracking to the beginning of the level. This unsophisticated level design makes no real attempt at maintaining any facade of a more elaborate nature either: it remains as transparently A-to-B from the first level to the last.
Now, you might be asking ‘Is it really all bad?‘, and I have to answer ‘Well, no‘. As it happens, Doom 3’s single player does have one impressive trick up its sleeve, and that is the rich atmosphere that the game’s world presents. Id Software have done a great job of creating a constantly tense and unsettling environment with the abandoned Mars complex you explore. Despite essentially being an amalgamation of grey corridors and grey rooms and grey walkways, you still feel like you’re exploring a veritable ghost town where there might well be something unpleasant waiting to jump out and scare you around each corner. Unfortunately the novelty of the creepy atmosphere does begin to wear a little thin the further you progress, and when you’re traversing grey metal panel clad corridor #152, the panels which mysteriously blow off the walls exactly like they did in grey metal panel clad corridor #79 will cease to be unnerving in any way whatsoever.
Also, although I’m sure some might find it a clever homage to the original Doom games, Doom 3’s extensive utilization of actual literal monster closets feels incredibly incongruent with the scary atmosphere the game so distinctly tries to generate. Any tension built up as you begin to nervously anticipate where the next monster will surprise you from is instantly eradicated by the immersion breaking absurdity conveyed when a section of the wall slides away to reveal a small, but cosy, alcove or recess where a fearsome demon has apparently been patiently playing sudoku whilst waiting for you to obliviously stroll past.
Conversely, the sound design and lighting effects deserve special mention for how they combine to contribute to an inescapable air of menace rather effectively: audio cues regularly subtly indicate that horrible things are lurking just beyond the veil of shadows which each area routinely features in some fashion.
Talking of shadows, the updated in-game flashlight, which allows you to turn on its beam without losing the use of your weapon, does sacrifice the, admittedly often frustrating, mechanic of balancing when you absolutely need to illuminate those dark corners with a feeling of impotency at being unable to shoot. Still, had this remained in the game, it certainly would have alienated gamers unused to such hardcore, even practically masochistic, inclusions which Doom 3’s era of games rarely shirked in order to foster the sort of hand holding accessibility today’s gamers have been conditioned to expect. The more elitist Doom 3 fans may be disheartened, even crestfallen, that this has been removed though, and it definitely eliminates an element of tension from the game.
The whole Doom 3 single player package, especially when the expansions are played back to back with the main story, feels far too long. In fact, the overwhelming repetition of the gameplay will thoroughly weary you before you even complete half of the main game’s campaign. A good metaphor for how the single player’s design artificially stretches out the gameplay until it outlives its already strained welcome is conveniently provided by one of the game’s new achievements: which simply requires that you intentionally mindlessly mash the same button over and over again at an in-game arcade machine for literally about fifteen or so minutes. The designers apparently extrapolated Doom 3’s overall gameplay design from this torturously tedious mini-game.
This is not to mention the fact that the small glimpses of fun which can occasionally be gleaned from the constant action become diluted as the gameplay grows bloated from unnecessary additions like the occasional platforming sections or the entirely superfluous parts where you venture across Mars’ surface and have to manage your oxygen level whilst doing so. These rare deviations in the gameplay initially seem as though they might be developed into more fully formed diversions in order to play a bigger role in gameplay later but they’re quickly relegated to emergency palate cleansers at points where the shooting fatigue grows absolutely unbearable and any sort of change-up becomes a desperately welcome departure.
As for multiplayer, well it’s here that there might be some limited opportunity for pleasant nostalgia. If you have fond memories of Quake-era style deathmatch gameplay, replete with bunny hopping and circle strafing, you might find some minor enjoyment in reliving the glory days with Doom 3’s sparse multiplayer suite. If that is the case though, you’ll soon realise that the execution of this tried and tested model is so mediocre that actually blowing the dust off of and booting up one of the Quake games once more would far better serve your lust for old-school deathmatch multiplayer.
To boil it down to its essence, the biggest problem that Doom 3: BFG Edition faces is that it seems torn between wanting to embody fan service for the gamers who played, and presumably loved, the game originally or wanting to act as an introduction to Doom 3 for gamers who have never played it before. Unfortunately, it won’t serve either group well.
Old fans will discover that their nostalgia for the game is instantly, and possibly irrevocably, shattered when they actually try to play Doom 3 now, only to see it dragged out into the harsh revealing light of contemporary gaming’s day; they will be forced to confront the game’s many flaws and inadequacies, which are only magnified and worsened when contextualized by their experience of modern FPS games. This group would do well to let their fond memories of the game remain unrevisited and, after seeing how undignifiedly the geriatric Doom 3 has grown old, unrevised.
Whereas gamers looking to finally try out that Doom 3 game they’ve always heard talked about in flattering tones will discover that this game, which was well revered in its heyday, does not stack up well to the current FPS games which it can’t help but inevitably be compared and contrasted against. This group would do well to let this re-release pass them by too.
Doom 3 definitely deserves credit for what it achieved, along with earning pride of place in the annals of gaming as a trendsetter and innovator of its time, but, just like the past technologies of every other such museum exhibit, you’ll find that its archaic nature means that while you can academically appreciate its merits, it simply has no place in your gaming life now.
- If you’re especially receptive to its unsophisticated charm, the game undoubtedly provides a certain amount of old-school shooter fun
- The constantly unsettling and tense atmosphere that the game manages to present is absorbing
- Good God it’s dated!
- The unashamedly repetitive gameplay provides gnawing tedium throughout
- The single player’s campaign has insultingly negligible story
- Multiplayer is dull and frustrating for all but for the most hardcore old-school deathmatch enthusiasts
Article from Gamersyndrome.com