Sunday, August 13, 2006

Doom 3 (PC) Review

Nearly two years after its release, I finally have a PC that can play Doom 3. Back in April 2005, I picked up the Xbox version so I could play a version of the game, however for those not-in-the-know, the Xbox version featured a lot of level redesign, trimming the game's overall length and speeding up its pace. Since the Xbox is lesser hardware than the average PC, Vicarius Visions, the Xbox version's developer, not only needed to trim a bunch of the levels, but also remove a lot of the glass and more openess of some of the rooms/areas, as well as some of the Martian exteriors. For that reason, I decided to pick up the now inexpensive PC version to see what I missed out on.

If you've been living under a rock for the last few years, Doom 3 is a remake of the original Doom on id Software's latest engine. You play as a Marine who is recently stationed on the UAC's research facility on Mars. Shortly after your arrival, a demonic invasion begins via the base's experimental teleporters and its your job to stay alive and call for help. Doom 3 follows the classic shooter formula that id Software established in the '90's of moving from room to room and killing whatever monsters are in it. While Doom 3 is more of a horror survival title than its predecessors, it is very simple and straight forward compared to many of today's modern shooters, so be aware of that before you pick the game up. For me, I grew up on that kind of gameplay, so it was a real blast from the past.

Now I must say that aside from the level design alterations, I'm very surprised with how different PC Doom 3 is from its Xbox counterpart. The PC version is obivously vastly superior graphics wise, that's a no-brainer, but a great deal more is different as well. Weapon balance is a big difference. Mainly, you get some weapons earlier or later than the Xbox version, but some weapons behave differently as well, and this is most notable in the Shotgun. The ass-kicker of the series, I was most unhappy to find how wussified the Shotgun is in the PC version. Unlike it's Xbox counterpart, the Shotgun is a good bit more powerful at close range (that's good), but sucks moose nuts completely at mid-range (that's bad). Not only that, but it takes your Marine a bit longer to pump it after a shot, meaning you have to wait a bit longer before you can fire off a second shell. What does this mean? That the Shotgun, while still the general purpose weapon of the game, is only really effective if you Sprint to point blank range of your target and fire a shot at their head; and Lord help you if you miss.

There are also some AI differences. Revenant's rockets really are target tracking now, and can follow you a good way and spiral while in flight making them harder to hit. Imps can also change pounce direction at you mid flight (how the hell does that make sense?), Maggots are now simpler to take out with the Shotgun, Z-Sec Zombies with Shotguns don't seem to have the same, weak mid-range Shotgun that you do, enemies can come onto elevators with you, pathfinding is better with less monsters getting stuck on corners, Cherubs can leap at you from much farther away (I really hate those fuckers), etc. Based on the above, Doom 3 (PC) is a harder game than its console port. Not insanely so, but its worth mentioning, and the AI/weapon changes made it necessary for me to change many of my combat tactics (charging right up to Imps became common place).

The PC version also features better physics than the Xbox version, and while Grenades still bounce like rubber balls if you toss them too hard, they're simpler to control and actually can be thrown faster than you can shoot with the Shotgun, making them much more useful and a great Imp killer.

Many reviewers criticized Doom 3 for being too dark and too repetative, and while I disagree on the first point (there's a brightness control in the menu, and the darkness was a design decision to add to the atmosphere) the second point is true. My only major critique on the Xbox version was that midway through the game, the pace dragged a little, taking a bit too long to get from Alpha Labs to the Delta Complex. On the PC version, this is true in spades. It's not even the length itself that's much of a problem, but the constant monster closets and spawning monsters that keep popping up in abundance. In nearly every damn room. While the Xbox version had its share of the above, they were spaced enough apart to not be annoying and still provide the player with a respectable scare. On the PC version, however, id Software goes overboard and overkills those gimmicks.

Which again goes back to the level design. While many of the extra areas featured in the PC version are cool, they don't serve to enhance the story at all and really are just more of the same, hindering the flow of the game. Sure, you get to see more of Mars City at the beginning, chat with some more NPCs and find some more PDAs, but the trade off was not worth it. You also end up having to double back a lot more than in the Xbox version, and many of your Objectives are "extended", needing you to first go to this area to unlock a door, so you can go get an item, while the Xbox version would cut to you simply getting the item and moving on. The PC version is more anti-climatic and for that reason, more tedius.

A minor note as well is with the game's weapon sounds. The PC version does indeed feature weak sounding weapons, which surprised me as the Xbox version's are louder and more forceful. I guess many of the critiques on the game were listened to and adjusted for its console port.

When all is said and done, Doom 3 is a very good, classic styled PC shooter, but it does have its fair share of flaws. It's beautiful and full of classic themed fun, as well as some great horror "boo" moments, however its too drawn out and simply repetative for its own good. While I would recommend snagging the PC version to anyone who was interested, if you have an Xbox, I'd honestly recommend that version instead. After playing the PC version, it is truly a testament to Vicarius Visions and the strength of their port for the Xbox.

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