Almost 8 months after the release of the PC version, and coincidentally on the same day the PC expansion ships, Doom 3 for the Xbox has been unleashed on the console gaming community. Doom 3 is used as a benchmarking tool to absolutely crush most video cards into the dirt with its incredible graphics and cutting edge effects. People have said it would be absolutely impossible to bring this title to the memory-starved Xbox…they were wrong.
Id has partnered with Vicarious Visions, the genius behind Crash Nitro Kart and Spider-Man 2 for the DS/PSP, for the job of porting this game over to the Xbox. Traditionally, First Person Shooters don’t translate well to the console market, and certainly this counts double for cutting-edge titles. Lets find out how they did.
First off, the game runs in 480p making those folks with HDTVs happy. Vicarious Visions had to cut some corners somewhere though to accommodate the Xbox hardware capabilities and that means smaller levels. This gives the game a sense of claustrophobia that I really didn’t feel in the PC version. The textures and details of the game shine through the hardware limitations as you see that each character and demon as well as each blood-streaked wall is rendered to perfection without dropping a frame. During several hours of deathmatch and co-op play I didn’t encounter a single area that I thought could have looked better than it did. Given how fantastic the source material was, I think Vicarious Visions has really outdone themselves in the graphic department.
The lighting in Doom 3 has to be seen to be believed. So much of this game’s ambiance depends on the proper use of lighting or lack thereof. The flash from the barrel of your weapons, the flickering of overhead lighting, and the occasional pair of red eyes staring back at you from the alcoves is simply unmatched. While the game is not quite up to the incredible standards set by the PC version, the texture work and look of the game is certainly better than almost any game we have seen to date on a console. If you played the PC version you will certainly know the difference, but the game just looks too damned good to make you care. The animation system is obviously carefully ported from the PC version as well, the screenshots will show you how good they look, but you will be stunned by how well they move! This isn’t your daddy’s console shooter.
As much as light is a major element in the Doom series, sound is also an integral part of the gameplay. The game is presented in Dolby Digital bringing all of the sounds from the PC game into your living room. The crackle of a fireball that tears through a corridor headed for your face, the scrape of the chainsaw against the steel barricades, and the tinny hum of electrical conduits just screams immersion. Funny enough, the Demons scream too, but I don’t think its ‘immersion’ they are yelling.
The game keeps you on your toes if you have a good sound system and the lights turned low. There is one level that you can hear some breathing that intensifies as you get closer to its source. Sometimes it is what you can’t hear as the demons and undead shamble up behind you and rake their claws across your back and produce a hissing and screeching sound akin to metal on metal. Straight out of the PC version comes the steel clang of picking up armor shards, the whoosh of picking up health, and a distinct crack as you pick up a box of ammunition as if they had just settled into their plastic holder. There are few moments where things are all quiet, and if they are you might want to see what is behind you as it is probably about to take a chunk out of your backside. The graphics and sound work in a tight mesh to keep the immersion level high throughout the game. When you get to Hell it only gets better…Converting a game built around the WASD keys and a mouse for input into one built around a console controller is not an easy task. Many game developers have tried and failed. Vicarious Vision has done a pretty decent job with the controls with only a few hiccups with the default setup that can be easily corrected with a custom controller configuration. As you might expect, the left thumbstick is look/aim and the right thumbstick is used to move. A is Jump, B and Y are next and previous weapons respectively, and X is reload. The right trigger fires your weapon and doubles as a ‘use’ button. The left trigger is used to sprint. The black button is used for the PDA and the white button is the trusty flashlight. Clicking the right thumbstick zooms and clicking the left thumbstick allows you to crouch. The issue isn’t with the layout but with the sluggish camera turn. In a high-twitch game like Doom 3, you simply can’t turn as slow as the default configuration, so minor adjustments must be made. This is easily accomplished in the Settings menu where you are allowed to adjust the horizontal and vertical sensitivity as well as options such as optimizations for a headset experience. The fact that there is a way to remap the controls and tweak them to your preference negates anything negative you could say about the controls – they just work well once you tune them to your liking.
Doom 3 is a visceral experience – one moment it is all routine and normal grunt Marine business and the next you are plunged into a rift of hellish proportions where your fellow squad mates are possessed by demons and creatures most foul will do anything to rend your flesh from your body. The use of great sound and lighting makes the game that much better, even though some of the levels have been clipped here and there to make them fit on the Xbox. If you haven’t played the PC version, you’ll never know the difference between the two versions and you can just enjoy the carnage. The levels play out in a thinly-veiled storyline arc that leads you, the nameless Marine, through the bowels of a space station on Mars that has been overrun by the denizens of Hell itself. This certainly isn’t a new concept but it fits the subject matter just fine.
The single-player adventure wears out its welcome just about the time the game ends, so it is a good balance of time vs. subject matter. It keeps you on your feet the entire time and makes sure you never have quite enough ammunition to get comfortable. Without the roll of ducktape to strap your flashlight to your gun there is still the cumbersome switching between weapon and light source to contend with, but this is intentional to add to the panic of having a flashlight up in the face of a fire-throwing Demon instead of your trusty shotgun. Speaking of weapons, they are almost interchangeable after a certain point. Once you graduate past the pistol, your choice of weapons is simply a matter of which one you have extra ammo for. Since your Marine has only two abilities, the mysterious skill to zoom his eyes and the ability to run fast, you can expect that you will be relying on your weapons quite a bit. You can eventually get a special weapon called the Soul Cube which you can use to consume the souls of Demons. The Soul Cube transfers the health of the demons you slay and transfers them to you giving you a bit of a buffer against the tougher critters. Additionally you can siphon five souls and then unleash them to rip other Demons apart. It is a fairly spectacular process and seldom fails to destroy even the most obscenely tough Demon.
After you finish your trek through the bowels of Hell you can turn your attention to the multiplayer features of the title. You can play an admittedly vanilla deathmatch set of 5 maps where you can square off against four other players. Each level features some ‘hook’ that can be fun to watch such as incinerating your enemies in a burn chamber or grabbing an upgrade that makes you scream in terror while in a berserker rage where you can kill your enemies in a single punch. I got the opportunity to play against one of the playtesters at Activision and an editor from GameSpy. I repeatedly owned our friend in green but there was no denying that the testers know this game well – I got my ass handed to me on a platter. Ouch! You can compete in Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch (aka, 2 on 2), a Tourney mode (aka 1 on 1 with spectators) and Last Man Standing. Deathmatching isn’t my cup of tea, and vanilla deathmatch even less so. Lets move on Marines…
The mode that will bring people to the multiplayer table will be the new co-op mode. You can join with a friend via system link or Xbox Live to take on 20 levels that have been ripped from the singler-player experience and fine-tuned to fit two-player action. It isn’t anything particularly brain-teasing but you can use some limited tactics to take on the bosses like you would in an action RPG like last year’s Baldur’s Gate II. One character can blast away and dodge to distract the Demons while his friend circles around and blasts rockets into some Hellspawn backside. It isn’t going to suddenly make you a Doom fan if you aren’t one already, but it makes a good throwback to old-school nostalgia, but without the command-line configuration strings.
Doom 3 is fairly lengthy for a first person shooter – the game can be completed on the normal level in roughly 15 to 20 hours. The difficulty is challenging without really frustrating you making it possible to sit through a few hours of gameplay at a time without feeling like you need to stop and count to 10 without throwing the controller in frustration. A save-anywhere feature takes the edge off the tension of the game.
Once you complete the single-player game you can hook up with your friends for some online fragging. It isn’t going to replace a tactical title like Rainbow Six, but it certainly is more fun than running to Hell by yourself.
The collectors edition contains a few extra gems – specifically a fantastic sturdy metal case (similar to the collector’s edition of Halo 2) that isn’t oversized so it can join with your other titles on a normal shelf. You also get full versions of Ultimate Doom and Doom II including deathmatch and co-op, albeit only in split-screen mode. There are also a few interviews with the id team as well as a behind-the-scenes feature that shows just how the game was made. Rounding the package out you get a batch of concept art and storyboards showing how pencil sketches become the horrors you get you ‘enjoy’ as you play through Doom 3.