Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Doom 3: BFG Edition

Post-Launch Review
Doom 3: BFG Edition (PC)
Developer: id Software
Released: August 2004
Played: Doom 3 complete in 9 hours; Resurrection of Evil complete in 3 hours; Lost Mission complete in 1 hour 50 mins


As a marine newly stationed at Union Aerospace Corporation's Mars research facility, you have the bad luck to arrive on the day that everything goes to hell. As one of the only survivors of an invasion of horrific monsters, you'll have to fight your way through the base to close the portal and prevent the creatures from reaching Earth.

At Launch

Doom 3 did quite well, earning average review scores of 88%. Critics were very impressed by the graphics, animations, and environments. Opinion was a little divided on gameplay - many reviewers enjoyed the classic run-and-gun style, but others were disappointed with the predictability of enemy patterns.

Post Launch

The Resurrection of Evil expansion pack released in April 2005, eight months after the release of Doom 3. The expansion adds a new single player campaign with 12 levels and a few new weapons, wrapping up the story of Doom 3.
Doom 3: BFG Edition was released in October 2012, collecting Doom, Doom II, Doom 3, and the expansion packs for each game. It also includes a new expansion for Doom 3, The Lost Mission, mostly built from levels cut from Doom 3. The BFG version of Doom 3 features enhanced graphics, checkpoint saves, 3D display support, and the ability to use the flashlight and a weapon at the same time.

I was never much of a Doom guy (ha, ha) so this is my first full playthrough of any game in the series.

When the game first came out I remember Doom 3 being mocked endlessly for not letting the player use a flashlight and a gun at the same time. There was a well-known "duct tape mod" that let you use both at once by claiming that the marine duct taped the flashlight to the gun. Well, BFG edition lets you use both, so that's nice - but I actually kind of wish I'd tried the original way, because despite the lack of logic it actually sounds scary: do you want to see or shoot the monsters? Pick one, but not both.
If you notice that things look kind of fuzzy, there's a setting you should know about: "texture LOD bias", which is a setting name I haven't seen in any other game. LOD is a performance-enhancing feature that reduces the level of detail of objects the further they are from you. The odd thing about the setting in Doom 3 BFG is that turning it up increases the fuzz (use of LOD textures) and turning it down makes things sharper - it's the only setting I've ever seen in a video game where turning it down makes the game look better, which is awfully counterintuitive when you're used to turning things up to improve the visuals.

LOD max setting
After getting rid of the fuzz by cranking that LOD setting down to zero, things look much sharper and more detailed. The art direction and graphics updates make most environments quite believable, if not exactly photorealistic. The human characters look dated even with the enhancements, but animation and movement are pretty good and mostly make up for it. Actually, playing Doom 3 makes me miss high contrast lighting. It may not be strictly realistic but it's really paranoia-inducing to realize that even in brightly lit rooms you'll have to double check the corners because they're so dark.

LoD minimum setting
Early game starts out pretty slow. There's an initial "wander around the base doing your daily tasks" period, much like the original Half-Life, where you overhear ominous conversations aboutequipment malfunctions and missing persons and hearing voices that aren't there. That's fine - it does a good job of building atmosphere. The slowness I'm talking about is actually the early action. The pistol fires slowly and you'll need five or six hits to take out the first enemies. The shotgun is also slow and requires two or three hits from any further than point blank. Slow gunplay contrasted against responsive floaty movement makes the game feel responsive but a little sluggish for a horror-themed action shooter.

Things pick up quick though. Combat moves at a good clip once you find the assault rifle, and when you obtain the chaingun and plasma rifle the action gets more tense and exciting. Most enemies are either melee attackers or fire slow-moving projectiles, so the best option is to sprint-strafe around, dodging attacks while firing. There are no iron sights and rooms are mostly pretty tight, so even with few enemies combat tends to be quick.
Actually, I've already mentioned Half-Life, but it struck me that the plot is very similar for the first half of the game: high-level research lab investigating an alien dimension has a terrible accident, monsters attack, teleportation technology is involved, and one man must work his way across the labs with the assistance of surviving scientists to put an end to the horror. Of course when it becomes 100% clear that (highlight for spoilers) the invading force consists of demons from Hell and the teleportation technology comes from the ruins of an ancient Martian civilization that teleported to Earth and became us, well, that's a bit of a different take on things.
The majority of enemies in Doom 3 are jump scares - scripted "burst through the wall" stuff, or waiting around corners to attack as soon as you're in range. Normally I don't like jump scares. I criticized the Dead Space series for overuse of jump scares that became predictable. But surprisingly, I like the way Doom 3 handles them. In Dead Space you can expect that no corpse is actually dead, and if you see a vent something will come out of it, and every enemy shows up in front of you. But in Doom 3 monsters will rip through ordinary wall panels and spawn behind you, so you never know where or when you'll be attacked. This creates a constant level of tension and vigilance.
Your aim gets shaken up quite a bit when you take damage. It's really annoying but it's also a good incentive to avoid damage, so I'm not sure how to feel about it.

I was actually kind of disappointed with the BFG. Playing on normal difficulty like I always do for first runs, I never really got into a situation where it felt necessary to break out the big gun, especially after I obtained the Soul Cube. When I hit the final boss I thought, finally, I can blow all that BFG ammo I've been hoarding! But he doesn't take damage from conventional weapons so I had no use for it there either.
Resurrection of Evil ties up the rather massive loose end remaining at the end of the original campaign. The expansion introduces a couple of new mechanics. Early on your objectives will be collecting power cells to turn on mobile generators. You also get a gravity gun grabber that can pick up, move, and throw objects (Half-Life 2 came out only months after Doom 3, so I'm sure the gravity gun influenced the expansion). The most significant addition is the new artifact, powered by human souls, which provides bullet time and a massive damage increase. If you can move quickly, the artifact makes combat trivial, so if you had an OK time in regular Doom 3 you might want to boost the difficulty setting for the expansion.

The Lost Mission is okay but a little weak compared to the other stuff. It's just more game, without much story. Not much to talk about here.
BFG edition on Steam has a bug with achievements. If you take a screenshot with the Steam overlay and then pick up a PDA or activate a storage locker, the game thinks you've enabled the dev console and therefore disables achievements for that game session. If you don't take screenshots you won't encounter this problem, and even if you do it doesn't affect gameplay, but it's certainly annoying for people like me. Because I needed screenshots for this review I only managed two achievements.

Recommendation: play it.

 With the graphical updates, Doom 3 holds up pretty well. It's a little light on story, but the PDAs full of text and audio logs help a lot by building the sense that the Mars UAC facility is an actual place. The classic run-and-gun gameplay is solid and good at building tension, even if the weapons are a little unexciting. The add-on packs are well done, but if you play everything back to back it might start to feel tedious. The inclusion of Doom and Doom II is nice if you want to replay them or see where the series had its roots. I had fun with my run through Doom 3, but it's just dated enough that I wouldn't recommend the full $20 price.

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