Doom 3 gets another chance, with new content that shows id still knows how to get it done
Doom 3: BFG Edition
Doom 3: BFG Edition has been released with only moderate fanfare and without many supporters. Doom 3 was a controversial game, and the arguments about “monster closets” and the fact you couldn’t turn on your flashlight while aiming your gun continue. I was one of the few supporters of the game when it was released, around eight years ago if you’d like to feel old, and I dug into the PC version of the BFG Edition with glee. This was a world I was looking forward to re-visiting.
Why this is worth your time
BFG Edition uses a combination of the game’s original engine and id Tech 5 to bring the game up to date visually, and it has never looked better. You can still see the bones of the earlier versions of the graphics, especially in some of the character models, but the environments and lighting effects look beautiful on modern systems. John Carmack and company knew how to create drama with lighting effects, and these moments of gently swaying lights and fireballs that light up a hallway as they careen past your head remain amazing.
While some aspects of the game may seem classical, including the somewhat thin and reedy sound design, the emphasis on lighting and how it be used to unsettle the player is fresh and modern. The game plays with light sources and shadows in a way that you rarely see in even modern games, and this is an art I’d love to see in more games.
Doom 3 is the same as it ever was, but last night I played through the “Lost Mission” portion of the campaign in its entirety in a single sitting (I’m thinking it took around 4 to 5 hours?) and it felt good to go back to a much more action-oriented feel for an id-created first-person shooter. I was no fan of Rage’s mixture of styles and bland setting, but the “Lost Mission” addition shows id digging back into what they do best: giving you ugly demons to destroy with a satisfying array of weapons. There isn’t much of a story, you simply move from room to room and kill everything that spawns in front of you. The combination of enemies, and their methods of attack, mean that you must be constantly moving while paying attention to your use of weapons and the ammunition for each gun. This is the sort of action game I want from id, and I left the new campaign satiated and ready for Doom 4.
Yes, the monster closets remain, although id has since admitted the flashlight issue was technical and you can now use your light at any time. There are critics who think the idea that enemies can come at you from any direction, at any point, or even just from panels that open in the wall, is a cheap way to maintain suspense. They can go to hell; we’re dealing with pan-dimensional demons who can teleport anywhere they’d like, a fact we establish in the early portions of the game.
The demons can control the basic laws of physics, and they’re out to terrorize and ultimately kill you. The fact that you are never safe is part of what makes the game so unsettling; it’s always important to keep your eyes open for the sounds of new horrors creeping up behind you, even in rooms you think you’ve cleared. You’re always checking your back, or just spinning around to make sure nothing is close to taking you out. The monster closets never bothered me, and in fact they make sense within the game’s mythology. This is a haunted house in space, expect hidden monsters to come from sneaky places and trap doors that allow enemies to crawl up from under your feet. You’re never safe, and they could be coming at any time, from any direction. Be prepared.
The game rises above its reputation
John Carmack lives in the future in a way that makes him somewhat unrelatable to those of us without space programs, and BFG Edition suffers from this to an extent. The game has been designed to play in 3D, complete with a laser-sight clipped to every weapon that allows you to aim without a reticle. This is nice if you’re playing the game in 3D and want a way to aim that makes sense in three dimensions, but it takes getting used to if you’re playing the game in 2D. That’s likely to be the majority of players.
The quick-save button on the PC version of the game causes everything to pause for a moment while the game is saved, and that can be distracting when you’re just trying to make sure you don’t lose your progress by dying in the next battle. The environments can look similar after a while, and the sequences that take place in hell look like massively updated Quake levels, although to be fair I’m almost tempted to put that one in the “plus” column.
“The Lost Mission” feels like an old master picking up a guitar to practice a few scales. There’s nothing new going on here, but it’s just great to hear them playing again. This is the sort of thing I want to see from id, and I hope they’re warming up to bring more of what makes Doom such a special series. Now that you can have your shotgun and flashlight at the same time, and the game looks better than ever, complete with new content, it may be time to give it another chance. Block what you’ve been told about the game, and try to see it with fresh eyes. It’s much better than its reputation would have you believe.