Doom 3 Final Version Updated Hands-On Impressions

We stayed up all night plowing through id Software's visually astounding, new shooter. But has the great first impression worn off?

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This weekend, we were fortunate to get to play through the first 90 minutes of the final version of Doom III a few days prior to its official release date of August 3. As you may have gleaned from those first impressions, we were pretty much blown away by the game's visuals and thick atmosphere, though we noted that the gameplay itself was unmistakably reminiscent of the straightforward run-and-gun style of previous games in the series (as opposed to that of newer, more-complex shooters). We've since spent a lot more time playing the game--more than eight hours--and are here with our latest impressions, not to mention approximately 150 new screens and 25 new gameplay movies to show you. Consider all this as you ponder that obvious question, whose answer will be revealed soon enough: Was Doom 3 worth the wait?

We've spent lots of quality time with Doom 3 already. Take a look at this visually stunning game, but keep reading to get a sense of what lies beneath the gorgeous graphics.

For the record, we captured all our media (and, thus far, have exclusively been playing the game) on a custom-built, bleeding-edge 3.4GHz Pentium 4 system with an Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics card and a beautiful set of Logitech Z-680 5.1 surround-sound speakers. We're running the game itself at the "ultra" graphics setting at 1024x768 resolution with 4x antialiasing and all the trimmings and have been experiencing silky-smooth frame rates, for the most part--which is basically as we hoped, since the rig we set up has some serious horsepower. At any rate, even if you're already playing Doom 3 on your own machine, you might want to take a look at our movies as a point of reference. And if you aren't already playing Doom 3 and are holding out for our final verdict--we appreciate your patience. Read on.

Though we haven't finished the game yet, we've certainly played enough to get the gist of the action. And that gist is in two parts, as follows: We can't stress enough that Doom 3 is, by all means, a visually stunning game. And we also can't stress enough that, apart from the incredible graphics and the near-pitch-black darkness of most of the game's environments, it plays pretty much just like good old Doom. Which is to say, in these first eight hours of play, what we've experienced from Doom 3 is a traditional first-person-shooter corridor crawl, in which enemies frequently spawn in from dark corners (and oftentimes right behind you), and what you do is shoot first and ask questions later. Since most of the action takes place at close quarters, the shotgun proves to be one of the most effective weapons--it's capable of killing most opponents in one direct hit, and even tougher opponents like revenants and cacodemons die from just two or three blasts (at the middle "marine" difficulty setting we've been playing on, anyway).

Honestly, the darkness is really the most dangerous foe we've faced thus far in Doom 3. We haven't died often, and when we have, it's usually been because we got jumped from behind and couldn't really draw a bead on our hidden foes before it was too late. Since the game allows you to instantly quick-save your progress as often as you like (though, unfortunately, it doesn't store alternating quick-save files like many other PC shooters do), it really hasn't proven difficult to keep pressing onward. As in previous Doom games, here you keep yourself alive by frequently running across health kits, armor power-ups, and ammo packs, which tend to be predictably strewn about in the dark recesses of most rooms. And in case you were wondering, yes, there are numerous exploding barrels to be shot.

Doom 3 has been putting us in a very warm place, by and large.
Doom 3 has been putting us in a very warm place, by and large.

While the early portions of the game described in our previous impressions story did much to draw us into Doom 3's setting, we've since found that the plot has more or less taken a backseat to pure run-and-gun shooting--which is OK. The game itself thus far is following a straightforward, linear course. More weapons and more monsters are being introduced, and the gameplay seems to be growing marginally more challenging as we're encountering slightly larger skirmishes--but, in fact, since we also have more weapons to choose from, it's not as difficult to fend off most threats as it was in the early going, when we were still getting used to the dark environments. As a matter of fact, we're a little shocked at how easily some of the foes go down--they certainly look scary (particularly the two-headed maggots, which clamber about on all fours), but they're really not that tough.

Oh, man! Are we saying we hate Doom 3? Of course not! But it's true that we've taken issue with certain aspects of the game. Keep reading to learn more.

Oh, Shoot

Certain continuity issues with Doom 3 have irritated us a little thus far. The plot of the game is basically a retelling of the original Doom game, in which your nameless marine ended up pretty much all alone against the forces of hell, which ravaged the entire population of a Martian research facility. Here, we don't quite get why all the other marines are getting slaughtered, since, as mentioned, we're not having that hard of a time fighting our way past hell's armies. Also, the requirement to switch between wielding a gun and wielding a flashlight to cut through the darkness seems strange; the gameplay reasons for this are obvious enough, but it's a tough pill to swallow that none of the futuristic weapons in Doom 3's gritty world come equipped with light-amplification modules--or that our marine can't just find some duct tape (in a research facility packed to the brim with piping and air ducts, no less) or, like, maybe hold the flashlight under his arm, or something. Considering the intense realism of Doom 3's graphics, these "gamey" contrivances stick out to us more than they might in some other game.

 These spider monsters actually look a lot cooler when scurrying about in the game than they did in prerelease screenshots; and they're pretty tough.
These spider monsters actually look a lot cooler when scurrying about in the game than they did in prerelease screenshots; and they're pretty tough.

Doom 3's arsenal of weapons, like the action itself, are straightforward and direct. They're virtually all remakes of the original Doom weapons. The new machine gun is one of the exceptions, and it's a spitting image of Master Chief's assault rifle from Halo, right down to the 60-round ammunition clip and the digital blue ammo readout on the display panel. The chaingun, strangely enough, also uses 60-round clips and takes a while to spin up--but once it gets going, it cuts through bad guys very quickly. The plasma gun is similarly effective. These rapid-fire weapons chew through ammunition very quickly, though, so we'd often end up switching between these and the trusty shotgun. And, eventually, we got our hands on the all-powerful rocket launcher, for use in a pinch.

Oh, and let's not forget the chainsaw, which--while not always useful--is certainly satisfying. As far as other melee attacks go, the flashlight can optionally be used as a bludgeon, but it's basically worthless in this respect (we couldn't even go toe-to-toe with a zombie). And the marine can put up his dukes and start throwing punches, though that's basically worthless, too--unless you find a particular power-up... Finally, we've got a big stash of grenades stocked up, since we haven't been using them often. The game's close-quarters battles make grenades quite dangerous to use in most situations. Also of note, the feared BFG-9000 remains to be seen.

 Doom 3 is mostly pure corridor-crawling action, but we've stopped once or twice for a few diversions, like this UFO Catcher-style puzzle.
Doom 3 is mostly pure corridor-crawling action, but we've stopped once or twice for a few diversions, like this UFO Catcher-style puzzle.

We're eager to continue further through Doom 3's single-player campaign, partly because we want to see more types of environments than the dank, claustrophobic corridors that have predominated the first eight hours of gameplay. The occasional scripted appearances by supernatural demonic forces have definitely been the highlights of the single-player game, which also does a nice job of introducing each new enemy in a brief cutscene the first time you encounter it. One interesting change of pace that the game has thrown at us from time to time revolves around sequences in which we needed to seal an airlock and rush through the Martian atmosphere to another point, all while our very limited air supply dwindled away. These sequences are punctuated by the marine's heavy breathing (and choking, if you run out of O2), which reminded us of that one really slow part in 2001: A Space Odyssey--as opposed to all of the action-packed parts of 2001. Ooh, that's low.

Doom 3's got some other neat tidbits that have stood out. Find out about those next, and also get our quick impressions of the multiplayer mode. We've already participated in 16-player matches, even though nothing more than four-player skirmishes had been expected.

The Road to Hell

Another cool feature of the game is the way in which you can manipulate computer terminals--just by walking right up to them and clicking on any clickable buttons. The game's textures are so sharp that any onscreen computer text is clearly legible, so you aren't taken out of the experience by having to switch to a different screen. Also, the marine carries around a big PDA unit, which keeps track of notes and audio recordings you pick up (as well as your point-A-to-point-B-style mission objectives). These info bits serve to flesh out the game's backstory somewhat. Actually, this particular element of the game seems like it was spliced out of the cult favorite System Shock 2. Listening to audio recordings seemed fitting in the context of System Shock 2's ominous setting and suspenseful and deliberate pace, but by comparison, we had a bit of a hard time getting in the mood for listening to monologues while desperately dodging Doom 3's imps and former human marines.

Imps are some of the most common enemies we've faced in Doom 3, and fortunately, they're also some of the creepiest.
Imps are some of the most common enemies we've faced in Doom 3, and fortunately, they're also some of the creepiest.

Did we mention that Doom 3 looks really, really impressive? While we're bummed out that most enemies disappear into ashes when killed (an effect reminiscent of the vampire killings in the Blade movies or the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television show), they sure look good when they're stalking you through the darkness, and the environments themselves look so authentic, it's as if you could reach out and touch them. The environments aren't very interactive, though, so don't expect to see major battle damage on the walls after a firefight, or any flushable toilets, or anything like that. On the other hand, there's some copious blood splattering in the game and a strangely frequent brain-popping-out-of-a-zombie's-head effect that's actually pretty funny. The game also sports realistic physics, though there isn't a very pronounced location-based damage modeling system in effect. For the most part, to kill an enemy, you may as well just blast it square in the chest--although, we've fought at least one type of opponent that made this particular strategy less than effective.

We should mention that, before we dove into the single-player portion of the game, we put the multiplayer portion of the game through some preliminary paces. There are already a good number of servers up and running, and Doom 3's built-in server browser makes it easy to find one with the lowest ping, or with your favorite map, and so on. As you may have heard, Doom 3's multiplayer options are limited to just old-school, free-for-all deathmatching...for four players. Actually, though, we've got some good news on this front: We've already found multiplayer sessions that have exceeded the four-player limit--in fact, we've participated in a 16-player battle, which ran surprisingly smoothly. The game's maps even seemed well suited enough for this larger number of players. The deathmatching itself is along the lines of what you'd expect if you've played a deathmatch shooter before. Power-ups are strewn about each map, so the goal is to make a beeline toward the best weapons and items while blowing away anything that moves. We actually managed to punch an opponent to death (refer to one of our earlier gameplay movies for evidence), which was the most satisfying multiplayer moment we've experienced thus far.

Count the number of death messages onscreen at the same time here; so much for a four-player limit to the multiplayer.
Count the number of death messages onscreen at the same time here; so much for a four-player limit to the multiplayer.

We must remind you that our final verdict is still out on Doom 3, since there's still a long way to go before we can consider the forces of hell summarily squashed, and there's still more testing to be done on the game's multiple difficulty settings and multiplayer features--as well as on its technical performance. That said, we're certainly enjoying our time with the game overall (it's not just any game that can make you ignore sleeping, after all), though for what it's worth, we've also really enjoyed several other first-person action games so far this year; the standards for this style of gaming truly have never been higher. Stay tuned for our full review and video review of Doom 3 later this week, and for the time being, don't forget about all those cool, new movies we posted. See, our old Doom skills haven't deteriorated one iota after all these years.

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