Friday, February 17, 2006

Doom 3

I very rarely play new games. Most of the time I hunt for bargains (which is also much more exciting than buying new games). Which is why I bought Doom 3 for the Xbox only last night, at an agreeable 15€. There were quite a few other cheap games on the "preowned" shelf, too, but Doom 3's been intriguing me ever since it was announced.

I haven't played the game on the PC, simply because my PC setup is no gaming rig. (Hell, it's barely a Windows rig.) But the game does feel at home on the Xbox. With the lights down, headphone volume up and gaze fixated on the big TV screen, I began a very scary trip to Mars.

I'm no Doom-phile. I've played the original a lot way back when it was released, even completed the shareware Doom on the N-Gage, and I liked the movie adaptation rather a lot. But I had no expectations going in, apart from being entertained.

After the mediocre intro sequence, I was almost floored by the actual in-game graphics. I had no idea the Xbox was capable of sights such as these (no, I haven't played Riddick). The lighting in itself is so much more than in any other game I've seen. In Splinter Cell and Thief, the lighting can be very cool and it's factored strongly into the gameplay, but it doesn't feel real the way it does in Doom. It's like the environment is sculpted from light and shadow. The flashlight feels like your very personal friend, something you're extremely hesitant to ever put down. And then there's something running at you in the pitch-black, only illuminated by your firearm's muzzle flash. Simply because of fearing the dark, I spent roughly half of my game-time standing with my back to the wall, steeling my resolve to approach a T-junction, listening very carefully for any approaching footsteps. I haven't been this scared since System Shock 2.

Apart from lighting, the models all feel solid and convincing. They may not be super-detailed, but they've got polygons where it counts. I haven't seen any illusion-shattering clipping problems or tearing. Much of the setting's weight is gained from the superb way it's bump-mapped. The same technique was used in Thief: Deadly Shadows and Deus Ex: Invisible War, for instance, but it felt really tacked-on in those titles. In Doom, it just works, adding immeasurably to the overall effect.

The presentation, overall, is very slick, down to menu design and ambient audio. There are very fews breaks to the experience and the loading times are short. The game just doesn't let you go. Yes, the PDA (inventory and log) screen does take you away from the action, but even then there's the option to put the PDA down and listen to the audio logs you find while exploring the setting. Even the sound is mixed so that it feels like it's playing from a PDA you're carrying at your side, as opposed to the basic stereo mix of the PDA view playback!

And the details are so rich. The way the monsters throw you around with their physical attacks, the way your flashlight sways a little, the manner in which your aim is thrown off by every shot you fire... it all adds to the experience.

I've only played the game for a couple of hours up to now, but I'm eager to continue as long as I don't play very late at night. I suspect it's a disposable ride, but with rides like this, I'm not complaining.

The one thing that grates me are the lousy weapon sounds. It really doesn't sound at all like you're unleashing destruction at your mortal enemies. Which is kind of odd considering that the rest of the audio design is top-notch.

Update: Whereas the regular weapons have unsatisfactory audio, the plasma gun is pretty much spoiled by weak effects. The visual thrill just isn't there, and it sounds like you're using a kids' toy gun. Weak! Then again, the "Mach 2" chaingun is very cool, as is the obligatory franchise crowd-pleaser, the chainsaw.

Also, the outdoor sections on the surface of Mars are tres neat.

2 comments:

Kai said...

How much does the either/or of flashlight use bother you?

Joonas said...

Most of the time, not at all. I think it actually adds to the experience: do you want to feel safe and use the flashlight, or be safe and use a gun? Of course it's nonsensical when you think about it, but in gameplay context it works very well.

However, there are times when it's pitch-black and you can't even see the silhouettes of the bad things coming at you. At those times I've wished that at least the muzzle flash would give some indication of where to fire. Now it's guesswork. But it's rarely a problem, because the game takes place in very cramped quarters: there aren't too many wrong places to fire at.