Tuesday, 8 January 2013

PC Game Review: DOOM 3: BFG Edition

Platform: PC (Steam)
Released: 2012
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Buy on Steam

The first person shooter genre is without a doubt one of the most prevalent game genres in the industry today and one of the games that truly popularized the genre and brought it into the mainstream was Wolfenstein 3D (of which you can read my review here). However where Wolfenstein 3D made the genre popular, DOOM was the game that for many years to come would define the genre for good and set the standards not only for the paradigms upon which single player shooters are made, but also the rules for how it would be played on the internet and being released with a much more open structure than its predecessor, DOOM was one of the first game to encourage its players to modify the game's content, to create not only their own maps but even their own games using the game engine. DOOM was in many respects id's first open game engine and it didn't take long before DOOMers all over the world started posting their own modifications to it. This practice was later perfected by id's game Quake, upon which the extremely successfull game Half-Life was based and the rest is history. With such a strong history in the PC gaming market and with such a strong connection the mod community, it is therefore weird to see id's focus shift towards a console audience and while this was definitely evident with their previous title RAGE which had probably the worst launch bugs I've ever seen with any PC game, rendering it pretty much unplayable the day I picked it up, and while DOOM 3: BFG Edition thankfully didn't suffer any launch bugs, it is evident that DOOM 3: BFG Edition is not aimed at the PC gamer crowd. What DOOM 3: BFG Edition basically is, is an excuse for id Software to release DOOM 1-3 in one package onto the XBox 360 and PS3 console, and thus the PC version ends up feeling a bit superfluous. This review will mostly focus on DOOM 3 although I will touch upon DOOM and DOOM 2 briefly.

The story in DOOM 3 is told quite efficiently. Similar to Half-Life, the game starts off like just another day at the job. You're an anonymous marine sent to Mars to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a worker, however you quickly notice that your employer, the Union Aerospace Corporation, are up to something fishy, diddling about with teleportation technology to some kind of unknown dimension, bringing back specimens and so on from this dimension. When you find the person you're looking for, who seems rather stirred up, all hell literally breaks loose as a portal to, you guessed it, hell opens up and lets in Satan's unholy offspring into the base. People start turning into zombies before your eyes, the base structure starts changing to resemble hell itself and all kinds of demon spawn are also popping up. It is pretty much a straight up rewrite of DOOM actually, although taking place on Mars instead of Phobos. The man responsible for the mess is Malcolm Betruger, who early on pretty much has a look that screams "badguy" a long way and you don't believe for one second he's not some kind of Satan worshiper so naturally, and this shouldn't be any spoiler to anyone since it's glaring obvious, it doesn't come as a big surprise when you realize he's in bed with the Devil himself and is responsible for all the experiments and teleports to hell and the whole invasion thing going on.  

DOOM 3 is still a pretty atmospheric shooter and light and dark plays a huge role in creating it.

DOOM 3 was originally released in 2004, to rather mixed reviews. While the id team had crafted a polished and stunning engine that powered a game that in all respects holds up well today in terms of graphics and atmosphere, it felt like the game tried almost too hard to stay true to its roots but also mixing in some modern survival horror elements. For instance, you were forced to use your flashlight as a separate item, and even if Half-Life already in 1998 had established a way to use a flashlight and weapon simultaneously, DOOM 3 did away with this and forced you to swap between the flashlight and a weapon and a lot of people, including myself, felt that this felt like more an annoyance than creepy as the game was dark, quite literally pitch black in certain places and I was probably not the only one who promptly downloaded a "duct tape" mod as soon as I noticed its existence. This is one of the key changes in the BFG Edition, as the id team has realized it was a mistake and now you have a shoulder-mounted flashlight you can use any time you want, although it has a battery, quite similar to the game F.E.A.R. (a game I plan to review later) which I personally think implemented a flashlight much better than DOOM 3 did as by having a battery, it does create suspense but it doesn't end up feeling as contrived as it did in DOOM 3. One reason I prefer the shouldermounted flashlight is that it makes DOOM 3 feel more like an action-oriented game, which it is at heart, being a remake of the original DOOM and the lack of a proper flashlight doesn't get in the way of the intense action. The BFG Edition also does a good job remedying the pitch black darkness that plagued the original game as DOOM 3 had quite an intense contrast filter that made everything either light or pitch black and with an updated engine, the BFG Edition has more soft lighting that makes the game overall feel a bit brighter, although it is still quite dark.

Another problem that gathered a lot of criticism was that you were more or less forced to listen to PDA's lying around in order to get codes for some lockers and such, and while I think it's usually not much of a problem, it does tend to get quite annoying, especially when I am in the middle of an audio log and there's suddenly an enemy attacking. I dunno, it often tends to feel like the game wants you to stop up and have a break but forces you to continue on and you get this conflicting nature of whether you should stop and listen to an audio log or continue fighting. The game is after all at its core made as a remake of DOOM and especially in the BFG Edition there is a bigger focus on non-stop action and more than often, I end up not listening to audio logs unless I absolutely have to.

Cacodemons are back, uglier than ever. KILL IT WITH FIRE!

A lot of people also criticized the game for being, well, a little too simple by today's standards. Where other first person shooters like F.E.A.R. and Deus Ex had incorporated a lot more functions than the average FPS, DOOM 3 does away with a lot and feels almost oldschool in execution. None of the weapons have any alt fire, there is no way to lean left or right, and there is no melee function (you have to manually switch to your fists or chainsaw in order to do a melee attack) or ironsights. While I do enjoy how simple and straightforward DOOM 3 plays as a shooter, I can see why this would annoy people who are used to more advanced shooters where you have more options. It is this reluctance to stick with modern standards that makes DOOM 3 feel rather dated today and it felt dated when it came out but if this is not a problem for you, you will definitely have a lot of fun with it.

On PC and the consoles, the BFG Edition adds Steam achievements and trophies not only to DOOM 3 but also to the original DOOM 1 and DOOM 2 games and this adds a little added incentive to play through the games again, at least for me. Another thing I love about the BFG Edition is that the original DOOM 1 and DOOM 2 games don't run in a simple DOS emulator but uses a proprietary emulator that runs a lot smoother. The controls on PC are similar to modern FPS games so you'll probably have no problem getting into the old DOOM games again.

DOOM is still a classic by all means and here's one of the iconic scenes: You, a shotgun and a room full of pinkies and barrels. A recipe for bloody awesomeness.

In terms of graphics, there is little reason to buy the BFG Edition if you already own the original DOOM 3 on PC. Like mentioned earlier, the BFG Edition is clearly aimed at console gamers and there is a notable lack of customization options in the menues for anything but the most basic stuff like windowed mode and resolution. Hell, in-game the textures definitely look a bit worse than they did on DOOM 3 in Ultra mode and the slightly brighter lighting does not help. If you are a total graphics whore, I strongly recommend getting the original DOOM 3 as the BFG Edition comes without any mod support too so there is no way original DOOM 3 mods work with it. It's sad that the game has been so heavily "consolized" that it's borderline impossible to make it look as good as possible. However, one good side to this is that the game runs at a guaranteed 120 frames per second and it feels delightfully smooth so personally, the graphics work fine for me as I care more about the gameplay, and the gameplay definitely comes first in this version. A huge update to the BFG Edition is support for widescreen HD resolutions and stereoscopic 3D so if playing DOOM 3 in 3D sounds tempting to you, this version is a must-buy. I haven't had a chance to test out the 3D yet since I don't own a 3D card but I hope to try it out some day.

Graphics: 5/10
Nothing groundbreaking, you can get much better graphics with mods and source ports on PC, although the stereoscopic 3D and HD support is pretty cool.
Thick atmosphere and a well integrated soundtrack makes DOOM 3 an intense sonic experience. DOOM 1 and 2 still have great MIDI soundtracks that are as awesome today as they were in 1993. The only downside is that the DOOM 3 weapons still sound a bit unsatisfying and lack that certain "oomph" they need.
Gameplay: 8/10
The addition of a shoulder flashlight definitely helps make the game feel smoother and more streamlined, without taking away the suspense. Otherwise, DOOM 1 and 2 are still more than playable and fun to pick up any time. DOOM 3 does feel a bit dated though in comparison with other shooters, but is still a lot of fun to play.
Story: 6/10
Nothing groundbreaking. It's still DOOM just with more depth. These are not games you play for the story.

Final score: 7/10

So, is DOOM 3: BFG Edition worth buying? Well, DOOM 3 is still a rock solid FPS that, while it isn't really that scary or frightening, is very atmospheric and really fun to play. It's very hard to recommend if you already own DOOM, DOOM 2 and DOOM 3 on PC as those games still have somewhat mod support (DOOM 1 and 2 can be played with ZDoom or similar after all), especially DOOM 3 and would look graphically more impressive with mods, but if you don't and want the ultimate DOOM experience on PC, PS3 or 360, I'd say buy it. If you're a total id Software whore like me who HAS to have a complete DOOM collection then yes, by all means get it! In my opinion it's totally worth the 15 bucks! The third "Lost Mission" and the ability to play the original DOOM 1 and 2 games WITH the additional DOOM 2 mission that used to be XBox exclusive, without the need for DOS emulation or any source port and just having it all in one place is so convenient and I think all the additions and good things about the BFG Edition, the updates I've mentioned, more than make it THE version of DOOM, DOOM 2 and DOOM 3 to own for any self-respecting gamer. However, if you like mods and want mod support, then I'd say get the original DOOM 3. I own both though and that works fine for me.

- Alyxx