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DOOM 3 Finally Here! - 8/4/2004 5:20:41 PM   

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Hour 21: Nerves rattled, I'm physically and emotionally spent, but I'm done playing the most intense experience in gaming. While I'm not a big fan of being locked in a dark Altered States-like room at Activision's offices to prevent game piracy, it was worth the effort just to have bragging rights for playing Id's newest creation early. Yes, Doom 3 is finally here, so let's get to the big question first: Is it as good as all the hype would have you believe?

Hell, yes!

Doom 3 is more than just one of the best games of 2004 -- it's also better than this summer's spate of action movies. OK, so the plot isn't a big surprise to anyone at this point (a lone marine has to fight off an invasion from hell). It's the execution that makes this game so damn good. The stellar visuals, amazing audio, and incredible attention to detail draw you into another world.

Just take the beginning of the game as you arrive at a bustling Martian research facility. The base is open for business, and you can see a whole lot if you choose to explore. People are wandering halls, informational videos are playing, and true to form, there are plenty of secret things to find (anyone up for a round of Super Turbo Turkey Puncher 3?). As the game progresses, the story advances through quick in-game cut-scenes, e-mails, and video clips that slowly tease you with as much backstory as you want to sift through. The first level eases you gradually into the game mechanics, teaching you the basics in a fashion similar to the one the original Half-Life used back in the day. Kick start the action as soon as you think you re ready by reporting in for duty. Brace yourself.

Jumping at shadows
The next 20-some-odd hours will have you constantly on the razor's edge -- kind of like the classic horror-movie scene in which there's a sudden musical spike and a cat leaps from the closet (you jumped at those, admit it). All of Doom 3 is goosed with similar moments. You'll be wandering darkened hallways armed with a flashlight. You spin around to a hiss, but it's only some hydraulic machinery grinding away. Can a human being sustain that kind of heightened paranoia for hours at a time? It wasn't pretty, but I did. Let's just say that you need to go slow and steady through each level. Running and gunning, outside of multiplayer, will just get your damn fool self killed right quick.

Graphic details like volumetric shadows (some dandified, fancy-boy term for the dark) provide only half of the tension. The audio is an as big, if not bigger star than the zombies. However, you really do need a 5.1 surround system to play. Toggling between speakers and stereo headphones, I found a lot was lost in translation.

I also ran into a small audio hitch while playing, a new phenomenon in games that rely on in-game 5.1 surround sound: audio overlap. Imagine you have one guy standing to your immediate left and talking into one ear while two guys are talking across the room and a television is playing at the same time. It may sound simple, but all the audio has to be intelligently spaced around the room. I could only re-create this problem once at the very beginning of the game, but Thief: Deadly Shadows had this exact problem as well.

Scary good
So as we've established by now, you will jump back. A lot. Even if you've played through an area before, even if you know where all the demons are, you will still be jolted because Id's craftsmen did such a careful job orchestrating your claustrophobia. Yes, we may be a little jaded on scripted sequences guiding the action, but this three-ring circus of adrenaline and fear elevates gaming as an art form and puts it on par with Hollywood. All the event triggers are strategically placed and add that extra bit of fear just when you thought you were safe.

Another way the game immerses you is with interactive devices. That's right, the days of using red and blue keys to advance are long gone. It's now a world of utilizing security codes and fetching various components to get gear up and running again. Turn off lights, operate machinery, download information -- there's a lot to do here. But this immersion also lets you choose some courses through the game. An example: At one juncture, you can opt for either jumping puzzles or some seriously hairy firefights to advance. There are other choice turning points but, unfortunately, they have no direct effect on the ending. You're steered to one very cool but inevitable conclusion in hell and the archeological dig site of an ancient Martian civilization.

In a locked box
Obviously, there is a price to be paid for all this: a new computer. If you're still getting by on Windows 98, upgrade (it only works for Windows 2000 and XP). If you've got a machine with less than 384MB RAM, upgrade. If you don't have a 5.1 speaker kit, buy one quick. You'll need it all if you hope to get the game looking as good and running as well as we did (in Activision's offices, we played on a 3GHz Dell with 1GB RAM, GeForce 6800 GPU, and a Logitech Z-680 5.1 speaker kit). There is one thing you should know, though. While we played the game at various detail levels and resolution settings, we decided to show you what the game looks like at 800x600 pixel resolution. We aren't kidding; all our screenshots were taken at 800x600. The crazy part is that there is an "ultimate" graphics setting that machines aren't even ready for yet and won't be able to support until the next generation of graphics cards come out.

So, with the game done and review written, I can finally rest easy for a few seconds. Sure, there were a few nitpicky points, but that won't stop anybody from enjoying this game one iota. Doom 3 blew my mind and messed with my precious sleep patterns for two days straight. Give me a week and I'll be ready to play it again. Now that Id has grabbed back the FPS crown, we say, "Hail to the king, baby!"

Source : CGW
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