We recently watched a portion of Doom 3's single-player game in action. The graphically impressive game is the successor to id Software's groundbreaking shooter series--a series that arguably put first-person shooters on the map. However, the previous Doom games' single-player modes focused on fast-paced action: You played as a lone space marine in a futuristic moon base that had somehow become infested by demons from hell, and, using only an arsenal of heavy-duty weapons (provided by the good folks at Union Aerospace Corporation) and the occasional health pack, you were a one-man army who single-handedly drove back the demonic onslaught by blasting the living daylights out of successive waves of monsters. We previously played the game's multiplayer component, but the new game's single-player portion instead focuses on providing a creepy and suspenseful atmosphere provided by the game's cutting-edge graphics engine. The engine provides extremely advanced dynamic lighting and shadows, as well as advanced physics that support rag-doll death animations and realistic behavior of inanimate objects, like ventilation grates, boxes, and other environmental fixtures.
Doom 3 retells the story of the original Doom, and, as such, you still play as a lone space marine in a base on the Phobos moon of Mars in the year 2145. However, you fight your way through a much more detailed world than the ray-casted, sprite-based world of Doom. This is due to the new game's highly realistic character models, which are adorned with bump- and normal-mapping to smooth out their polygonal edges and make them look more convincing. Developer id Software is also hoping to scare the pants off of you with roaring demons and groaning zombies whose voices are articulated by six-channel Dolby surround support.
Designer Tim Willits and id Software president Todd Hollenshead took us through an early level of the game, at a slightly faster pace than id expects most players to play at, but we were able to get a good idea of what the game was about. In the early part of the game, we were accosted by a few relatively weak, gray-skinned zombies who were wearing ragged clothes. They were easily dispatched by a few good shotgun blasts and flopped on the ground from the force of the shot. We later rounded a corner and came up against a much tougher opponent: the zombie commander. The commander looks far less human than the zombies, especially since one of its arms ends in an angled tendril that it lashes out at you like a whip and impales you with if you can't dodge out of the way quickly enough. After defeating the commander, we proceeded through an extremely dark corridor, which we navigated with the help of our flashlight.
The flashlight is present in both single-player and multiplayer modes. It serves as an exploration tool that realistically cuts through shadows, and it also serves as a last-ditch-effort melee weapon. But if you have your flashlight in hand, you don't have any kind of decent weapon equipped. This point was driven home by the sudden appearance of another zombie, who leaped from the shadows of the heretofore strangely quiet hallway. As we dodged away from it, we watched as it lunged for us and closed its arms around thin air in a failed attempt to grab us before we blasted it. We also came to a short stairway. At the top of the stairs was a heavyset zombie who noted our presence. He then grabbed a nearby barrel and hurled it at us. We dodged the barrel, but it tumbled off to the side, and the sound of it crashing to the ground reverberated realistically around us.
After clearing these areas, we came upon a downed marine who indicated that he wasn't "going to make it" but encouraged us to find the means to call Earth for support. This, Hollenshead explained, is one of the game's major goals. We took a closer look at the marine's face, which was convincingly contorted in pain, thanks to Doom 3's highly detailed skeletal face modeling, then made note of his remarks in our PDA. You carry a pocket computer to make note of important hints that characters give you. It also provides you with updated objectives and security clearance keys, and both are sent via e-mail.
Knee-Deep in the Dead
We then got a glimpse of Doom 3's interpretations of the series' classic monsters, like Doom II's revenant, which appears as a tall, flaming skeleton with a pair of rocket launchers strapped to its shoulders. Revenants pelt you with fiery rockets from a distance when they can't get in close for a swipe. After clearing out an abandoned restroom, where a few zombies had lain in wait, we then heard the sound of crashing footsteps above us and turned to see a bulletproof glass window. We noticed the pinky demon on the other side of it. While the pinky demon was a hunched, yellow-eyed, pink-skinned mass of flesh in the original Doom, in Doom 3 it's a humongous four-legged carnivore with an eyeless head and a pair of mechanical hind legs. The demon apparently saw us through the glass, but, unable to break through, the demon turned the corner behind it--in obvious pursuit. As Hollenshead explained, this dramatic moment didn't occur in a jarring cutscene that took us out of the action, but, rather, it happened in real time within the game. Other such scenes, like the encounter with the downed marine, also occur in Doom 3.
We then jumped ahead to a different level, called "Alpha Labs." Here the demonic possession became more and more apparent with what Willits described as "mini-hells." These were small areas in which pulsating flesh and occasionally embedded corpses covered the steely walls of the compound. In this level, we encountered small hordes of demontrites. They were bizarre, spiderlike creatures whose bodies were gaping, upside-down human heads with bony outgrowths that acted as legs. These critters scuttled toward us with surprising speed, and, when destroyed, they tumbled backward with their legs curled up in much the same way that spiders do when tossed into a fire. We also encountered maggots--pale, two-headed, vaguely humanoid creatures with an alarming tendencies to leap extremely fast and far at us from a completely stationary position, like the fiends from the original Quake.
In a later part of the level, Willits demonstrated a new environmental hazard: the hostile Martian atmosphere. One part of the level had a breach that went into space and sucked out all nearby oxygen. Coming near the breach caused an onscreen oxygen meter to appear and quickly drain, causing damage to our character. Presumably, this hazard plays a greater role in the later game.
After exploring the Alpha Labs even further, we found ourselves in almost complete darkness. We then happened upon one of the game's nonhostile characters, a frightened scientist who offered to help us if we accompanied him on his way. As Hollenshead explained, this and other missions are completely optional, but they directly affect the way the next part of the game plays. If you decide to take the scientist with you, he uses his own flashlight to guide the way, which frees you up to keep a good firearm equipped. However, if you don't want to deal with a defenseless tagalong, you can make your own way much faster. You then have to carry your own flashlight, which acts as a poor defense against any monsters who might try to ambush you.
We then visited another area where toxic gas was leaking from barrels that were stored in a glass-enclosed control room. To proceed, we had to take control of a crane inside the room. We then had to lift a limp, dead zombie with the crane and place it on top of the gas leak. We didn't drop the corpse squarely on the leak, so the zombie's corpse realistically flopped to the ground. Since we failed, we had to move the crane so we could try again.
What we've seen of Doom 3's single-player, so far, seems extremely impressive. Its graphics are nothing short of amazing, and the game sounds fantastic as well. What's more, while Doom 3 might have previously seemed like a rather straightforward shooter, it actually seems to have a number of interesting additional gameplay elements that directly affect the game. We earnestly hope that the rest of the single-player game can be as consistently atmospheric, good-looking, and as exciting as what we've seen so far.
Doom III is currently scheduled for release in 2004.