So this takes me back. In the early 90s I played through Doom, then Doom 2, and then replayed them, and then played them some more. I found their every secret and every secret level in the days before my 56K internet brought me walkthroughs and guides. And here they are again, along with their younger brother Doom 3, brought onto Nvidia’s Shield tablet-console mashup. Of course it’s Doom 3 that takes top billing: it was ID’s attempt – in a world after Quake – to modernize their classics for the post-Half-Life era. After spending a few hours on it I reckon it probably belongs in the ‘noble failure’ category. It’s an uncomfortable hybrid of horror and shooter, with the horror mostly confined to ‘enemies appearing behind you’ and the shooting hamstrung by the fact that you move like an overweight glacier and have to continually try to dance about as enemies pop up behind you. Despite id’s high production values it’s a game that, though visually appealing, has suffered from conceptual bloat: its competing gameplay elements continually force each other into uncomfortable compromises.
Nowhere is this better exemplified than the game’s movement. In the original Doom games you moved fast, and the sprint key acted as a kind of turbocharger; you mostly moved sideways, strafing in deadly circles around the hordes of demons that you pecked away at with whatever weapon you had the most ammo for at the time. In Doom 3 that disappeared. You trudge through grey-brown corridors that look like rejected concept art for the interiors of the Nostromo, constantly checking for enemies behind you. The spaces are tight, dodging is unrewarding, and the game bogs down into a grind of slowly plugging away at each area’s monsters. Admittedly things pick up in the later levels, where things become more open, and a neat life-stealing mechanic is introduced that adds to the tactical nature of the game, but – the magic is gone.
As such, including the original Doom games in the package seems like a mistake. Where Doom 3 is like trying to wade through fondue cheese, its prequels are fast, frenzied, and stripped down to the barest of pixels. Your character zooms about, shooting, dying, reloading, shooting again. It’s an adrenaline-fuelled blur, as bloody as it is brilliant to play; the bare-bones design, faux-3D and painfully-low-res pixel art almost gives it the feel of a contemporary indie game. Your character – your avatar’s – name and identity have disappeared into the pit of their unadulterated, murderous lust. Playing it on the Shield was a good experience, too – the twin-stick control setup really made things feel fluid, almost dance-like.
It’s a comparison that only serves to show up the newer, bigger game: in Doom 3 you play as a marine whose character is so utterly tedious that everyone has forgotten his name. You have to waste your time exploring the nonsense plot and watching unskippable cutscenes. You can’t whirl through your enemies like a ballet dancer with a shotgun, but you must shoot, take cover, reload, shoot again. The gunplay is as grey-brown as the setting. What horror there is mostly comes from realizing that this game took almost a decade to arrive – and that it was already obsolete when it did get here. System Shock 2 had better horror and atmosphere – and as the Amnesia games demonstrated to us, monsters can only be so scary when you can actually blow them up with rockets. The original games had better shooting, and, like their spiritual successor Serious Sam, weren’t afraid to count the bodies in the hundreds and thousands rather than the pitiful ones and twos offered by Doom 3.
But the originals are here, available for you on the Shield, and for a limited time they’re on sale on Steam. I’ve had so much fun from the original games in the past day or two that I’d say for $10 it’s still worth your while. When you add the controller-driven smoothness that the Shield can bring to the mix, if you like your shooting fast and brutal, this new edition of the Doom franchise could still be a winning combination.
Is it Hardcore?
They brought the word ‘Hardcore’ to gaming.
The main game isn’t much to write home about, but its prequels are so good that it’s like their time has come again. If you’d consider paying the asking price just for the first two Doom games, Doom 3 is a nice bonus.