aka Doom: I Can't See What The Fuck I'm Shooting At Edition
Though Doom 3 would eventually move an impressive amount of copies, when it first came out it wasn't exactly greeted with the rapturous fanfare one would expect for what was once the most popular series in PC gaming by a long shot. One reason was that id took over ten years from Doom 2 about releasing it, during which time FPS as a genre had both technologically matured and diluted off into numerous specialized sub-markets. The other was that, for whatever reason, it insisted on being the Ultimate PC Gaming Master Race Graphics Whore Game of its time, requiring an absolute top-end rig to run. Of course, it's nearly 10 years later now, and even a modest laptop from the last couple years can handle it. So without the graphical flash, does it hold up at all?
Load screens in-level; we're a long way from Doom 2.
The answer is "Yes, but in a very basic, modest way." Doom 3's initial review consensus was generally that it was a well-made shooter with impressive visuals and audio ... but also surprisingly by-the-numbers and derivative in its structure considering the franchise's status as genre pioneer, playing like a fairly standard horror-zombie-alien-themed FPS. That's exactly where it still sits in 2013. Remember how you could jump right into one of the original Doom's fast-action levels and immediately begin circle-strafing, shotgunning and chainsawing? Yeah, we're not doing that anymore. Instead, the game apes Half-Life with a lengthy "prologue" of a solid 10 to 15 minutes to establish "atmosphere", wherein you walk around a Mars base talking to goombas, watching non-interactive cut-scenes and shooting absolutely nothing. Remember the rockin' catchy MIDI tunes of the original games? Yeah, again in service to "atmosphere", music is almost totally absent. Remember all the hidden secrets? Linear scripted events instead, and storage lockers that require you to sit and listen to the entire length of boring audio tapes to get their codes.
We're a long way from Doom 2 Pt. 2
Also in service to "atmosphere", most of the game is played with the lights either troublesomely dim, or out completely. The idea is that you have a flashlight which, for whatever stupid reason, cannot be held simultaneously with your gun (it's the year 21whatever, they have space travel, but marines don't have tactical lights on their vests, helmets or rifles? Sheebus). So you'll often be in dark areas where you can't see anything going on and need the flashlight, but then you get attacked and have to drop the flashlight and equip your gun, but then you can barely (or not at all) see the attacking baddie. In reviews of various horror games here, I've talked about how game design decisions that favor atmosphere often do so at the direct expense of playability, and it's a tricky line that's very easy to blunder across and ruin a game ... welp, here's Primo Example Numero Uno right here. The only way you'll be in favor of this element is if horror atmosphere and jump scares are paramount to you; if you're here for the shooter gameplay - which you'd think Doom fans would be - you'll find this mechanic pointlessly clunky and irritating.
And though John Romero was long gone at this point, some of his cheap tricks of the early '90s remain. Chiefly, totally random and illogical spawn-ins behind you ... it seems to be the game's only means of generating challenge, because the AI is terribly stupid and always falls for the "wait for them to blunder through a doorway with your shotgun at the ready" trick. This gets spammed so often you start automatically checking behind you all the time ... the other thing is the old "pick up armor or health and suddenly these inexplicable panels in the wall drop down, and some monster that should have died of oxygen deprivation hours ago runs out at you" thing is also back and abused to death here.
Non-interactive cut scenes; we're a long etc. etc. pt. 3
One of the most interesting bits, however, is gradually seeing in what new & improved form the old Doom beasties will appear. They're drip-fed to you slowly as you progress ... very slowly, with new ones showing up maybe every two hours or so. And as it turns out ... there really aren't very many. Most of the length of the game is padded out with the same Marine Zombies, Imps, and Spiders making up the bulk of the foes you face. They just seem to magically get a little more resistant to bullets or something the deeper you get in.
The one concession to tradition they did make, however, was a pretty good one; the game was openly moddable from release and has a decent community that has been at it for nearly a decade now. So, if the campaign pisses you off or bores you, at least there's that.
I guess the devs looked at Half-Life and System Shock 2 and decided that was what FPS was "supposed" to be now ... that and the decision to commit so heavily to graphics probably steered the design direction away from the fast-paced kill-frenzy style of the original to the more plodding, atmospheric style Doom 3 wound up with. For a plodding, atmospheric zombie horror shooter it's perfectly servicable, and even has its impressive qualities. The trouble is, it has the name Doom on it, and the Doom tradition had nothing to do with plodding atmospheric zombie survival horror. You can't blame longtime fans for waiting 10 years for this then feeling bait-and-switched. I'd be pretty pissed if I'd paid $60 at retail for it back in 2004 ... paying like $2 for it in 2013 on a Big Steam Splooge Sale was perfectly OK with me, though.