Somehow, against all odds, Doom 3 got yet another shot at life this past week. I was stunned and baffled, and bought it immediately, because it’s one of my favorite games of all time.
I felt exactly the same shock in 2012 when iD Software released Doom 3: BFG Edition, a new port of the game powered by the then-new iDTech 5 engine that also powered the first Rage.
BFG Edition was a weird mix of Doom 3 fan service, a pile of new content, and an awkward attempt to address complaints from critics and enthusiasts about the core design of the game.
It also ended up being John Carmack’s last game.
It was supposed to usher in cooperation between Bethesda and Oculus on a number of VR products…but instead a messy legal battle ensued.
The original PC release of Doom 3 was a big hit commercially in 2004, but critics and fans were divided about its new core design direction.
It started a brand new era of graphics rendering techniques, and many of the visual techniques in games today can in some way trace their lineage back to what idTech 4 was doing. It was a new paradigm for real-time lighting and shadows, and everything was slathered in normal maps.
Even on lower specced PCs at low settings, or in its later Original Xbox port, the reliance on normal mapping for most of the character and environment lighting detail allowed the game to look good and run smoothly.
Unfortunately for many fans, the game wasn’t at all like its predecessors. Doom and Doom II are deserved legends of the first person shooter genre, combining labyrinthine map layouts with high speed non-stop action. “Doom” came to mean equal parts adrenaline machine and navigation puzzle.
Doom 3 threw all of that out. And didn’t look back. It’s a soft reboot of the franchise, and it’s a slower-paced action horror game that would go on to inspire things like Dead Space. It’s still a breathless and tightly-controlling shooter at its core, but the level designs are more about enclosed spaces, and they unfold like a carefully engineered theme park ride.
Also there are audiologs everywhere. So. Many. Audiologs.
The biggest point of design contention on release was the flashlight. In order to amp up the horror factor, and to show off the inky black spaces possible with the new lighting system, Doom 3 doesn’t allow you to use your flashlight and your gun at the same time.
I thought this was brilliant, but a lot of people disagreed. The game only has a handful of combat rooms that are completely dark, and I thought they were all cleverly designed around the tension of the flashlight mechanic.
2012’s BFG Edition tried to “fix” all of this by slapping a band aid on it, and porting it to the newer idTech 5.
The amount of ammo pickups was increased, and the difficulty of certain combat encounters was tweaked. The flashlight was jammed inside the shoulder of the main character, and you could turn it on while still holding up a gun. Guns no longer cast light into the environment since your flashlight is always available, and to save performance since idTech 5’s lighting actually works in a totally different matter.
I don’t personally think any of these changes actually made the game better so much as different.
Thankfully, BFG Edition included both the Resurrection of Evil expansion and a brand new decently-long campaign called The Lost Mission. The latter was the first new Doom content from iD in years, and fills in some of the story gaps in the original campaign. It’s good, and well worth playing.
Fortunately, you can now once again easily do that as Doom 3 BFG Edition is BACK, and available now for a measly $10 on Xbox One, PS4, and Switch. The BFG moniker has been removed from the name, but it’s still the same exact collection of content and design tweaks as the 2012 release.
I’m about halfway through the game on Switch, and outside of one or two very obvious laggy moments, it has held solid at 60 frames per second thanks to the porting wizards at Panic Button.
I still think the BFG Edition is a little too action-y and easy compared to its more methodical forebear, but if you’ve never played Doom 3 it’s absolutely worth picking up.
In fact, out of the three classic Dooms that got re-released during QuakeCon last week…it’s the only one I’ve bought so far.
I know, I know.
I just love its sense of atmosphere so much. It’s one of the only games that’s ever managed to truly make me feel like I’m in a different place almost instantly.
The level designs are packed with weird little details and interesting lighting. Giant machines and computers whirr away and all seem like they’re doing real and important things, and then suddenly a monster blasts through a door and you’ve got to fight it.
It’s one of the best examples of theme-park-design-as-game-design ever created. If you’re a fan of dark rides or horror movies, it’s very much going to be your thing.
In spite of their hi-res normal mapped wrappings, many of the character models look much more ragged now than they did in 2004, but other than that the game still holds together very well.
In playing it, I realized I miss the era when first-person shooters didn’t have to also be a big open world full of things to do or loot to collect.
In 2004, it was more than enough to build a visually-sumptuous immersive linear experience. It’s a lost game design art that doesn’t really exist at a high budget level any more.
It did for a little bit in Wolfenstein, but Youngblood has turned the franchise into a pseudo-Destiny clone. But that is a tale for another time!