A new two-player cooperative mode really helps round out the experience, and those amazing good looks survived the translation to the Xbox well intact--along with pretty much everything else.
The Good: Stunningly believable, atmospheric visuals; xbox-exclusive co-op mode makes the campaign more fun and varied; good-sized campaign packs plenty of weapons and enemies; did we mention the graphics?.
The Bad: Straightforward, borderline-simplistic first-person-shooter gameplay; some silly contrivances, like not being able to hold a gun and a flashlight at the same time; not much of a challenge: hell's forces have more bark than bite.
Extremely impressive from a technical standpoint yet behind the times from a first-person-shooter design standpoint: This is the dichotomy that is Doom 3, the long-awaited sequel from well-known Texas-based developer id Software. Less than a year after it exploded onto the PC in the dead of summer, the game is now available for the Xbox, boasting a new two-player cooperative mode that really helps round out the experience, and which probably should have been in the PC version to begin with. Perhaps more importantly, those amazing good looks survived the translation to the Xbox well intact--along with pretty much everything else. And what that means is when you look past the spectacular appearance, you'll still find a conventional, derivative shooter. Some might interpret this straightforwardness as being deliberately "old-school," especially since Doom 3 is packed with direct references to its classic predecessors. However, Doom 3's old-fashioned gameplay mechanics and level design are very much at odds with its cutting-edge, ultrarealistic looks. Yet the quality of the presentation truly is remarkable--enough so that it overwhelms Doom 3's occasional problems.
There's no debating one thing about Doom 3: It looks absolutely, positively phenomenal.
In Doom 3, you play as a nameless, voiceless 22nd-century space marine called by the Union Aerospace Corporation to its Mars research facility, which is beset with mysterious problems. These "problems" are the forces of hell, to be exact. All alone or with an ally in the new co-op mode, you'll end up fighting back legions of hellspawn using weapons like shotguns, machine guns, and rocket launchers. Beware of one thing about co-op mode, though: You can choose to start a co-op session on any of the campaign levels. So if you haven't already played through the campaign solo, you could very easily give in to temptation and spoil it for yourself in co-op.
In terms of content, the co-op campaign is basically similar to the solo campaign, though there are additional enemies and power-ups to give two players their fills. And, in a decidedly caring touch, some of the dialogue is changed to reflect there being two marines trying to thwart evil, instead of just one. You'll notice a few other twists, such as doors that can only be opened when both players are present, and how a lot of the peripheral story stuff is stripped out to keep the game moving along. The gameplay is more fun in co-op than it is in solo (particularly if you toggle on friendly fire), even though it's functionally identical and easy as hell. Whenever you get killed, you just pop right back into the level and can run over to wherever you died and grab a backpack with all your weapons in it. Yet having a friend (or even a stranger) along for the ride will naturally make the journey more interesting, and having to pick off targets in narrow corridors while staying out of your buddy's way--and not mistaking him for a threat in all those dark shadows--adds a much-needed bit of depth to the action, not to mention an appreciable chunk of value to the entire package. Fans of the PC version might not be able to justify paying full price just to play Doom 3 again in co-op, but yes, it would be well worth their while to check this out.
While we're talking money, for an extra $10, the collector's edition of Doom 3 offers faithful ports of 1995's The Ultimate Doom and 1994's Doom II, classic first-person shooters each featuring support for split-screen co-op and deathmatch modes for up to four players. These collectively contain dozens and dozens of hours of old-but-good gameplay...plus better weapon sounds and tougher enemies than the wimpy Doom 3 equivalents, as far as we're concerned. Most collector's editions of games yield minimal benefits, but you won't regret springing for this one.
As in the classic Doom games, your foes in Doom 3 are liable to strike at any time, often just as you round a corner, grab a much-needed power-up, or set foot in a new area. So, while your enemies will materialize without notice and may occasionally startle you as they leap from the darkness, Doom 3 cannot easily be described as scary or suspenseful. On the contrary, it's quite predictable, and it more or less just goes through the same types of paces that you've probably gone through before in any number of other similar games. Of course, the quality of this game's presentation makes the experience unique in its own right. Like some blockbuster big-budget popcorn flick, what the game lacks in substance or originality, it more than makes up for with sheer "wow" factor.
Over the course of the game, you'll fight your way through a series of linear levels filled with locked doors, and you'll gradually find new weapons and occasionally meet new types of monsters. Early on, your apparent goal is to meet up with your squad, but as you might expect, you'll never actually get to fight alongside any human forces (unless you're playing in co-op). Despite the game's cinematic trappings, it follows a formula that generally lacks drama and tension. Occasionally, the game presents to you a shocking or surprising scene, such as a hallucination or some hellish, otherworldly image. These moments are effective but are too few and far between in the context of a shooter that's of above-average length, clocking in somewhere between 15 and 20 hours. Fortunately, the campaign definitely picks up during the last several hours, once you finally reach (and keep going past) the point where you confront the enemy on its own turf. Getting to that point may be your primary motivation for trudging through some of the repetitive middle portions of the game, though.
The world may never know if the PC version of Doom 3 was truly worth the wait, but the Xbox-exclusive co-op mode was definitely worth a few extra months of patience.
Part of the issue is that Doom 3's storyline and narrative technique are ineffectual. Since the main character has no identity whatsoever (for whatever reason), the game tries to get you interested in everyone else on the base. In the solo campaign, you'll frequently find voice recordings and e-mail from various characters. Not only is a lot of this stuff pretty dry, but also, having to take a few moments to switch to your bulky PDA to read text messages or to listen to a rambling monologue jarringly disrupts the flow of the action. Unfortunately, if you choose to focus on the action by ignoring the seemingly extraneous story elements, you'll find that some of them aren't optional. You'll need to sift through those e-mails and listen to some of those voice recordings to get passcodes for locked doors and storage chests. For what it's worth, the game does a fine job of drawing you in at first, as you explore the UAC base, eavesdropping on various conversations and observing great, little details here and there. But, all hell quickly breaks loose, and from that point onward, you'll encounter scarce few creatures that you won't want to instantly shoot.
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MY SCORE [b]8.5 out of 10