Doom 3 E3 2004 Hands-On Impressions

Yes, Doom 3 for the Xbox is at E3, and, yes, we got to play it.

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One of the biggest lines at E3 can be found at the Activision booth, because Activision and id Software have a small theater set where up to four people at a time can play the Xbox version of the eagerly awaited first-person shooter Doom 3.

The game looks just as good as when we last saw it a few weeks ago at Activision’s pre-E3 press event. The level we played was the same level we were shown back then. You start off in a small room while someone gives you some instructions over your headset. When you open the first door, you enter a very dark room with a swinging light at one end. There’s a dead body sprawled out in a nearby chair, but it’s making some kind of moaning noise. When you step forward to investigate, the body jerks to its feet and starts to come after you.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

You start off with a pistol, some grenades, and your fists. Of course, we unloaded a full pistol clip into the zombie before it finally died. We tried to experiment with different kinds of hit locations, but it’s still unclear whether headshots are more effective than torso shots. As soon as we dispatched the first zombie, we still heard moaning coming from a dark corner of the room. Another zombie--this one a fat, bald shambling man--stumbled around the room. So, of course, we picked up a shotgun and nailed him.

We entered the next room, which was full of some kind of weird machinery. Three possessed guards were in it, and they opened fire with their weapons. By moving around the room, we kicked boxes around and crouched behind some for cover. The shotgun isn’t too effective at a distance, so we had to close the range between us and them to take the zombies down. Luckily, we were rewarded with the machine gun, and we looked around the room to find ammo and health too.

The next door we opened scared the hell out of us, because some strange humanoid-like demon leaped straight at our head. We got off a panicked shotgun blast and killed it, but as soon as it was dead (and dissolving), the door at the end of the corridor opened, and another possessed guard opened fire on us. We crouched behind some barrels and tried to push other barrels into the guard, but we ended up just rushing forward and planting some pistol rounds into his head.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

During the exploration of the level, a strange event happened where a loud noise built up, kind of like an approaching freight train, and everything flew about the room. This is apparently some kind of dimensional shift that introduces more demons into the environment.

The game looks very good, but it is the lighting and shadowing effects that are top-notch. The Xbox version does not compromise from the vision that programmer John Carmack had for the game, though, of course, the Xbox version is probably comparable to Doom 3 on a lower-powered PC. And there are a few jerky moments, at times, when the frame rate drops, but they usually occur the first few times you shoot the shotgun. After that, they seem to smooth out.

The controls work very much like those for other Xbox first-person shooters, including Halo. The left thumbstick controls movement, while the right thumbstick controls the direction you’re facing. Pushing down on the left thumbstick allows you to crouch, while the D-pad switches weapons. The right trigger is context sensitive and is mainly used to fire weapons, but you can also use it to both activate panels and open doors. Perhaps the most critical button is the white button, which toggles your flashlight. It’s dark in Doom 3, and you often need to switch on your flashlight to cut through the darkness. It’s especially unnerving to hear something breathing nearby when you can’t locate it in the dark.

And that brings us to sound, which is just as important as the visuals in a game for creating a creepy mood. As we noted, you spend a lot of your time fumbling around the dark in basically a haunted base on Mars, so the sound effects are working overtime to unnerve you.

Doom 3 is definitely slower-paced than most first-person shooters, but that’s the point. It’s not about blowing through a level as fast as you can but about building up your courage so that you can step into the next room. Thankfully, you won’t have much longer to wait, because Activision confirms that Doom 3 is due out for the PC this summer, while the Xbox version is due sometime after that.

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