Published by Activision. Co-developed by id Software and Vicarious Visions. For Xbox. Rated M for Mature.
For a brief period in the mid '90s, first-person shooters like Doom existed as harmless distractions – more an awe-inspiring vision of technological capabilities than an exploitation of carnage and mayhem (although there was plenty of that, too). By the end of the decade, when students were executing their classmates, these harmless distractions suddenly became enemies of the state, and anyone who played them became suspension fodder for leery school administrators. It’s refreshing, then, that Doom 3, released on the Xbox eight months after its PC counterpart, has landed without so much as a hint of controversy (except maybe, Why’d it take a frickin’ year to come out for Xbox?).
It wasn’t like Activision and developers id Software and Vicarious Visions were re-inventing the wheel with this one, although that would have at least merited its long gestation period. Instead, they’ve taken back what every other action-shooter has cribbed from the original Doom and come up with a game that’s infinitely more satisfying, and scarier, than its imitators. It’s Resident Evil without the puzzles, and with bigger guns.
Doom 3 succeeds as a shit-your-pants-scary game not only because of what it includes, but also what it leaves out. There’s no thudding nu-metal soundtrack to compete with the hellish whispers of unseen victims (or worse), and some of the most frightening moments occur when there’s no noise at all, heightening the dread of the entire mission.
You play as a nameless Marine who is being transferred to the Mars base of the United Aerospace Company. The UAC is, in the mold of the Corporation from the Alien films, a shady galactic company with goals too big for its britches. They're on Mars to develop a way to turn Martian air into useable fuel, or something like that. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that things go horribly wrong, and a portal to hell is opened up on the planet’s surface, unleashing flaming demon heads that turn every scientist into a pasty ghoul and every soldier into a clone of those Nazi nasties from the dream sequence in AnAmerican Werewolf in London.
The majority of the action takes place in the UAC base. You must navigate skeletal, dimly-lit corridors while battling not only the ghoulish scientists and soldiers, but also some truly frightening creatures that appear in plumes of red smoke, burning pentagrams into the floor. Strewn throughout the levels are the various PDAs of your fallen comrades, which act as your access keys to locked areas, inform you of your mission goals, and contain personal voice and e-mail messages which aid in unlocking storage cabinets. It’s a little annoying, this having-to-go-up-stairs-to-go-back-down style of advancement (and nothing we haven’t seen before), but the scares are genuine, and the Starship Troopers–like feel of the UAC videos keep this game from becoming stale.
The Xbox version gives you the option of binding your weapons to the D-pad – allowing for quicker access to choice weapons like the chainsaw and shotgun – but I found myself fumbling around, and sometimes switching hands altogether when trying to change weapons against certain foes. The PDA is accessed via the black button, and the flashlight is accessed via the white button, which often resulted in the wrong button being pressed at the wrong time (let's see if I can say button any more). You still can’t hold the flashlight and a weapon simultaneously, and while some may find this an aspect that should have been remedied from the PC version, I found all the scrambling between the two heart-pounding.