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Last Updated: Friday, 13 August, 2004, 07:59 GMT 08:59 UK
Review: Doom 3 lets Hell break loose
By James Bregman
BBC News Online staff

It is rare enough to encounter a film that truly has the power to scare, but instilling a frightening atmosphere in a video game is an even tougher feat.

Screenshot from Doom 3
Demons unleashed from Hell stand in your way
Doom 3 manages it with gusto, combining hectic gameplay with genuine shocks to deliver a deliciously uncomfortable gaming experience.

This long-delayed title retreads the ground of the original genre-defining Doom game, putting the player into a labyrinthine scientific research facility on 22nd Century Mars, where ill-advised experiments have led to ominous disturbances.

The opening scenes are reminiscent of the classic title Half-Life, as you enter the distinctly sinister outpost.

Playing through these early stages, gathering information from loquacious co-workers, the sense of unease is palpable.

It is like the misleadingly tranquil early stage of a rollercoaster.

Portal to Hell

Even this preamble segment, which is detailed enough that you can stop to watch TV news bulletins and even play arcade games within the game, is hugely atmospheric.

You do really feel like you are exploring a living, breathing location.

Screenshot of Doom 3
The lighting is key to creating a sense of dread
Chaos descends when you venture alone into the depths of the facility, where someone has rather carelessly opened a portal to Hell.

Soon enough, demons arrive through it to turn the workers into marauding zombies.

Luckily the distressingly wide array of ghoulish enemies is complemented by a variety of available weapons, from a spanner to the devastating Soulcube which steals the bad guys' souls.

Doom 3 is ultimately a technically-sophisticated remake of a decade-old game, novel in its day but still a simplistic opus of running around corridors shooting at things.

It gave way to an endless slew of first-person-viewed shooters that sought to spice up the genre with new twists.

For those averse to the more traditional, even outdated "blast your way from A to B without dying" sort of task, Doom 3's linear gameplay may seem limited.

But whilst it is simplistic in that sense, the technical excellence and unrivalled ability to generate scares add so much value that it is hard to complain.

Incredible looks

The game's truly stunning graphics are as impressive as anything the PC has seen.

Players lucky enough to own a high-end system are in for an absolute visual feast.

Screenshot of Doom 3
Co-workers are turned into zombies
Everyone else may feel compelled to upgrade their hardware to some extent, and if ever a game justified shelling out, Doom 3 would be it.

Backgrounds, creatures and fellow earthlings all look phenomenal, although if there is one overriding complaint about the game, it is that you do not get the chance to stop and marvel at how incredible it looks.

You will yearn to pause and stare at the aesthetically-marvellous creatures as they stagger towards you, but they need to be dispatched instantly.

There is certainly no leeway for stopping to drink in the surroundings the way you might in Far Cry.

So uncomfortable and cramped are the environments that the overwhelming compulsion is to keep moving, before another Netherworld entity attempts to relieve your character of his spine.

Deadly cherubs

The game's lighting is particularly effective.

Screenshot of Doom 3
Screeching horrors lie in wait down darkened corridors
The power goes out when the facility comes under attack, and navigating by torchlight makes the glimpsed beasties and jumping shadows even more creepy.

Many moments are strongly reminiscent of the gloomy, flickery scene in Aliens where marines venture into an apparently empty base. It is clear there are dangers nearby but locking eyes on them is difficult.

And as in any good horror film, the sound plays a critical role, engineering yet further unease with stark industrial effects mixed with hellish screams and groans from the demonic hordes.

Speaking of Hell, that is a hotspot you end up in during Doom 3's latter stages, and it consolidates the game's mightily impressive capacity to generate a fearful atmosphere.

It is a stunningly nightmarish concoction of fire, brimstone, screeching souls and deadly baby-faced cherubs, attempting to climb up your legs and inflict damage.

Be it in a film, book or game, there is always the finest of lines between laughable and horrifyingly scary, but Doom 3 triumphantly falls into the latter category.


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