(Xbox 360 Review) Doom 3 BFG Edition

Developer: id Software / Nerve Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Players: 1-4
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: George Damidas

Overall: 7.5 = Good

Doom 3 was a long time coming. After Doom II: Hell on Earth‘s release in 1994, so quickly after Doom‘s release in 1993, it seemed to be a given that id Software would quickly follow up with a third entry in the groundbreaking series. As it turned out, the famed Texas-based developer did release another first-person shooter, only it was the first in an entirely new series—Quake.

After a decade-long break, Doom was to return not with the iconic “Doom Guy” marine running headlong into Hell or revisiting an overrun Earth, but instead, he would find himself back where it all started: Mars. After sending the green-armored soldier blasting through a demon-infested extraterrestrial research complex, the pits of Hell, and an invaded home world, id decided to go back in time and place Doom 3 at the very beginning of the Mars invasion. Gamers would finally get a chance to find out how everything went wrong.

Doom 3 wasn’t a traditional sequel but more of a reimagining of Doom, updated with an eye towards the day’s conventions. That doesn’t just mean the addition of crouching and jumping, but also a more involved approach to storytelling. The story wasn’t just of a lone soldier landing in a world gone mad but one that emphasized the human element of the catastrophe. This was achieved by aping many elements from Half-Life, whose influence is evident from the outset, with the opening’s slow burn of the marine making his way from the transport amidst the hustle and bustle of the facility’s staff and into headquarters to gear up and receive his first orders. The world is fleshed out by the game starting out shortly before the original Doom, which not only allows for a glance into the research facility’s everyday operations but also offers the chance to see the first wave of Hell’s forces breach the interdimensional portal. After all hell breaks loose (literally), an assigned PDA—they were still a thing in 2004—is then used to download and browse emails, listen to audio clips, and hold the access cards that replace the classic tri-colored key system of yore. Along the way, survivors will give hints and instructions while supplemental emails and audio clips detail the events leading up to your deployment, and they also offer tips on the location of stashed loot and codes to unlock supply lockers. This refocus did more than just give the game a contemporary feel; it replaced the pure chaos of the original with a more staid design that put as much emphasis on scaring as the original did on frantic combat.

The shift to a more atmospheric, survival-horror-styled design required that id rein players in to keep them from resorting to their old run-and-gun tactics. The developers confined gamers by using linear levels, and slowed their pace by utilizing two additional and controversial elements: the flashlight and encounter rate. In an effort to balance out the game’s advanced engine with the technology of the day, a flashlight, which was absolutely vital given the game’s heavy use of shadows, could not be kept on at all times. To maintain a steady framerate, id limited players to either having their flashlight out or their weapon drawn; players quickly tossed aside this reasoning and released a series of mods that allowed the flashlight to stay on while a weapon was out. The level designers tried to work around the limitation, but in the end, the game would find itself ridiculed for the decision—a trained soldier can’t carry a gun and a flashlight?—and praised for it, with the tension being ratcheted up as you were forced to make your way through the pitch black. The state of near paranoia that the game achieved with this mechanic was also as a result of the encounter rate, or as it’s become derisively known as, the ‘monster closet’ design. The problem people had with Doom 3 then, and that I still have with it today, is that it doesn’t know when to let up; the game can’t resist going for a cheap scare, and it pulls the same stunts every time to get them. But there’s a case of diminishing returns that wasn’t accounted for, which causes the game to hit a more-of-the-same note by the end—it’s hard to be surprised at the expected. That isn’t to say that the game still can’t pull off some scares—I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have me shifting around in my seat—but it would’ve definitely benefited from a more balanced approach.

Doom 3 BFG Edition does away with one of these complaints entirely by allowing for an armored-mounted flashlight to remain on as long as it’s charged. While there are those who liked the tension that the trade-off created, holding off until the last minute before switching to a gun and blasting away at a demon’s last location, I found that the constant need to recharge maintains much of the same feeling. A fully charged battery can only keep the flashlight lit for half a minute, and most of the rooms include the ‘boo’ encounters that occur after the initial clearing and within the recharge period, so there is a bit of a balance in that the light is on more than usual but never for long. That said, I can’t imagine why there isn’t an option to use the old method. I know plenty of people wanted the option, but it seems like a simple accommodation for those who’ve become accustomed to swapping over the years. The light doesn’t cast shadows, either, which is odd, but it also makes for some stark contrasts between the dim areas and those the beam illuminates. On the whole, I found the armor-mounted flashlight to be a good addition that managed to maintain much of the tension while also making the game much more convenient.

In addition to the main campaign, the collection also features the expansion Resurrection of Evil and an entirely new chapter, The Lost Mission. These share the enhancements found in the original—a checkpoint save system, enhanced graphics, and support for stereoscopic 3D. The 60 frames per second are nice, and the lighting remains impressive. However, the update slips up when it comes to the character models; by and large, inorganic objects look good but organic objects—primarily the characters—look very angular. Round objects, especially the numerous bald heads, end up looking like a series of spikes, while the facial and clothing textures just aren’t as pronounced or sharp as those used on the robots and equipment. I also experienced slowdown whenever the rocket-firing Revenants were on the screen with other enemies. The Xbox 360 can more than handle whatever the collection can throw at it, and the fact that this occurred even after the game was installed makes the hiccups all the more galling.

Graphics aside, the two pieces fare pretty well. Resurrection of Evil has held up nicely, with its throwback faster pace being complemented by several welcomed weapons, including the double-barreled shotgun, Grabber gravity gun, and a time-slowing demonic artifact. While the expansion takes place two years after Doom 3, The Lost Mission takes place around the same time, with a group of marines going in to execute a rescue mission. As with the expansion, the pace and encounter rate is increased significantly over the original. The extra missions only take a few hours to complete, but they include the weapons added by Resurrection of Evil and make for a decent side story to the main campaign.

As an added bonus, the package also contains Doom and Doom II. Both titles are the Live Arcade releases, which means that the original is actually The Ultimate Doom, a later version that includes a fourth episode titled Thy Flesh Consumed, and the sequel is the special Live-only release that added the Nerve Software-developed nine-level chapter, No Rest for the Living.

For gamers who haven’t played either release, you are in for a great time. Both games have held up incredibly well, with the original still holding the crown as not only the best Doom release but one of the best first-person shooters, period. Our review of Doom II goes into even greater detail about what to expect, but newcomers should know that the games do not feature many now-standard features, such as looking up and down, jumping, or crouching. That is also what makes the level design so impressive: id infused the original games with a heavy platformer design, inspired in part by Super Mario Bros., which allows for levels to still have chasms and elevated navigable areas despite the limited controls. The fast gameplay, hidden secrets, and much more visceral combat—Doom 3‘s weapons lack the same satisfying impact—make these as timely as ever.

Multiplayer is supported in all games. Doom supports splitscreen and Live play, allowing for one to four players to take part in deathmatch or co-op, as does Doom II, which also supports party play. Not many people are playing them, though, which made it difficult to test for the lag spikes that reared their head during Doom II‘s release back in 2010. Players looking for some multiplayer action will need to be sure to bring friends along to ensure that there will in fact be some company to mow down Hell’s minions. Doom 3‘s multiplayer, on the other hand, was much more active and provided a lag-free experience. The restriction to versus-only modes limits the game’s longevity some, and was a little disappointing after the co-op-friendly approach of the first two.

And a final bizarre note for those who like to install their games: if you install Doom 3, you will be unable to play Doom or Doom II from the in-game menu. Aside from being odd, I was especially surprised considering I already had Doom II installed on my hard drive. However, this is only in reference to the in-game menu: both games can still be accessed through the dashboard’s My Games menu, even with Doom 3 installed.

Doom 3 BFG Edition
is, on the one hand, a grand celebration of Doom, bringing together the first two games with an updated version of the third, along with its expansion and a new side adventure, and on the other, a bit of a mess. The minor slowdown, the weird restriction of having to play the original two through My Games and not the in-game menu if the third is installed, and the lack of an option to revert to the old style of play are unfortunate, given the age of the titles and the opportunity to bring Doom to a new generation. Even though its cyclic encounter design wears thin towards the end, I was surprised by how much I still enjoyed Doom 3 and how atmospheric it remains. It may have lost some of the ‘oomph’ of the first two by going the horror route, but it remains a solid shooter—and one that happens to be available alongside two of the best.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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