When I was young, the ideal situation was being too sick for school but not too sick for videogames. So that after a good long sleep I could get up, get myself some toast, and play for a couple hours before my mom got home — and I was wiser to be back in bed lest she arrive with sympathy and freezies to find me doing something more active than reading.
Now, sick with a damnably tenacious late-summer flu, I’ve decided to review Doom 3 (Activision, 2004). In my weakened, hypersensitive state, even coffee can make me break out in a dizzying sweat — a single cup of the stimulant ravages my body. So I’m a little worried that the infamously brutal videogame, the game whose predecessor brought first-person shooters to office networks and introduced “frag” to the general lexicon, will literally blow my head off.
Avoiding the game, I found some interesting comments that Justin Hall had made on the excellent gamegirladvance.com: “I’m sick, and I’m tired, and I don’t want to play games because when I’m playing games I have to make decisions. And I can’t handle too much recreational decision-making right now.”
As much as being sick sucks, it’s shown me how much energy I have in my normal state. Enough to burn some in recreational decision-making, apparently. Justin also observes in another blog entry: “When I’m sick, I want a little bit of hand-holding from a game. Some pacing maybe, not just nonstop action, but action and repose.Knights of the Old Republic (LucasArts, 2003) would have been a good choice if I hadn’t already solved it nearly twice — I could have made some tea, blown my nose and used the bathroom during any of the long loading times.”
When I fire up Doom 3, it too has a long loading time, so I have reason to hope for a little hand-holding myself. There’s a lengthy series of cut scenes that establish the world: you’re a marine sent to Mars City, an earthling settlement on (you guessed it) Mars. There’s some kind of cover-up going on, unorthodox experiments and whatnot conducted by a corporation that is not just evil in the normal ways but in fact is in league with Satan.
I’m not going to harp on the predictability of plotting here, I’d just like to direct story-engaged readers to the game that Doom 3 reminded me of most: Half-Life (Sierra, 1998). I’ve never done a review of this game, but it was perhaps the main reason I started playing videogames again. It’s light on exposition, instead of beating the player over the head it (rightfully) assumes a certain amount of familiarity with secret laboratories, things gone horribly awry, and puts you in the shoes of a scientist rather than the standard-issue grunt. Oh, you still have to shoot your way out of the dimensionally challenged underground complex, but there are a lot of original twists and turns through its hallways. Plus, it’s old enough that non-gamer computers of today can run it.
Doom 3, on the other hand, needs a fair amount of recent hardware to run on. I myself had to run it on the very lowest level, and when the cut scenes ended and the action started, facing more than one enemy caused the motion to stutter considerably. But thankfully, at least at the beginning, you’re facing the enemy one at a time. The zombies lurch toward you and if you don’t blow them apart in time, they claw bloody health points from your face. They’re very reminiscent of The House of the Dead (Sega, 1997) in how they move and attack, but I found this familiarity comforting in my weakened state: these were zombies I knew how to deal with, fairly slow and with their bald heads like bullet beacons.
Darkness is used to excellent effect in Doom 3. You’re always having to go into a dark corridor and decide between shining your flashlight around or keeping your shotgun levelled. (It’s a nice game dynamic, though it’s hard to believe that an army capable of settling Mars doesn’t have the technology to mount lights on weapons.) In some circumstances you have to shoot at a movement in shadow, not sure if you’re imagining things.
More stressful than zombies are the grey demon-creatures who leap out suddenly and throw balls of fire and all sorts of awfulness. They spawn from sparks from loose wiring and such, which is a nice mythical touch. The excitement of this is diminished once you’ve played through an area and realize that they’re scripted moments. Like stepping on a rigged floorboard in a house of horrors causing a coffin to open, many of the attacks are triggered by passing certain points.
But even with foreknowledge it can be challenging. There was one part where I was down to one health point and had to get past stairs that one of those demons kept bursting from — it took a lot of running backwards and firing to get him to lie down, let me tell you.
After that, I needed to lie down.