As some of you may know I have always been a huge fan of the original Quake game released way back in the 90’s (on the N64 in my case) so much so that I did a Halloween tribute to it a few years back and the beginnings of a Let’s Play! On Youtube (links to both at the end of this post.)
It seems hard to discuss Quake without people inevitably making comparisons to the Doom franchise. Therefore I have always avoided playing Doom, possibly feeling that it would be some sort of slur on Quake to do so, but most likely it was more a case of not seeing how it could ever live up. However, when I came across the special edition of Doom 3 for a few pounds in a second hand shop I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to find out what the franchise is like to play.
To be honest, my expectations of this game were quite high (Quake prejudice notwithstanding) as it regularly makes appearances in people’s lists of the scariest video games. Happily, I have not been disappointed. As a horror game, it’s a very competent effort indeed, and manages to create a wonderfully creepy gaming experience. The opening level sees you on a Martian outpost of a sinisterly powerful corporation tasked with exploring space and conducting scientific research. From the get-go there is a feeling about this place is not quite right. Whether it’s the oddly overly sterile environment, the egotistical overseer/manager of the facility or the disembodied android voices echoing down the corridors, the place just feels like a disaster waiting to happen.
Sure enough within minutes of your arrival everything starts to go horribly wrong and you find yourself tasked with hunting down some employees who have gone missing. The horror and suspense is built up well as you being to explore some of the abandoned sections of the base with only a flashlight and some of the terrified maintenance personnel for company. Naturally when you find the missing staff everything kicks off, with the creepy devil’s heads appearing out of the walls and possessing the hapless scientists and turning the marines into mindless zombies. This doesn’t sound particularly original, and it isn’t, but it is done with polish enough to make it seem both frightening and refreshing.
It’s quite hard to pin down what makes this game so frightening but here are just a few of the factors which combine to make the overall effect. This game manages to create a perfect sense of isolation; you very rarely run into anyone who hasn’t succumbed to the possessing force which has ravaged the base, and the few who have mostly die pretty quickly. The lighting and level design is used to great effect to further emphasise this sense of loneliness and isolation; the claustrophobic corridors, ventilation shafts and access tunnels lend themselves well to creating an overall sense of dread and impending doom. You also begin the game with very little actual information about your surroundings and narrative; most information in the game is gained through finding personnel PDA’s which hold a variety of voice memo and staff e-mails which shed light on what has been happening in the research facility. The audio effects and monster design in the game are also top notch, managing to be both crisp and yet retaining an almost retro sort of feel; you can see the care and attention which has gone into bringing out the canon in this game.
Overall, this is a great horror experience. My only real criticism is that the lack of overall narrative and character interaction can sometimes seem stifling at times; but mostly this is a great game and well worth a play through. Does it compare to Quake though? I can’t really answer that as I have not played any of the more recent entries into the series for a fair comparison. I did enjoy playing the original Quake more, but that is not a particular criticism of Doom and may have as much to do with nostalgia as anything else. The Doom 3 BFG edition also comes with the original versions of Doom and Doom 2 so perhaps a more direct comparison would be more appropriate there.