I remember when Doom was released. I got the shareware version on floppy discs from a friend and installed it to DOS on a 386 PC with only 4Mb of RAM. I played those first free levels for countless hours before I managed to get my hands on the full version of the game.
Doom wasn’t the first FPS I’d played – Wolfenstein 3D took that accolade – so perhaps that aspect of its pioneering impact on the videogame industry passed me by a little bit at the time. For me, though, Doom had a much more significant gift to offer my gaming history, and that of the industry, than simply pioneering a viewpoint.
That unnamed space marine, rushing around one of Mars’ moons engaged in a gruesome battle with the hordes of hell, was the first time I felt like games could be grown up experiences. Running through the corridors on Phobos was the first time I think I ever felt a sense of suspense or nervous tension with a videogame. Previous to Doom, all the tension in my videogames had come from experiences that said “will Mario make the jump to that platform?” or “can that spaceship finish this level with only the tiny sliver of health it has remaining?” Doom said “will I survive?”[drop]In hindsight, I was perhaps too young for the joyous possibilities of finding a secret room that contained a chainsaw but maybe my parents thought it was all just gruesome good fun. Like fake blood at halloween. Perhaps my parents knew that, growing up in Belfast, the nightly local news bulletins showing security forces clearing up after atrocities of “The Troubles” were far more horrific than any digital rendering could ever be. Either way, I was allowed (and actually gleefully encouraged by my enthusiastic dad) to keep playing.
Doom 2 is just as fresh a memory to me, although the enduring recollection I have for that sequel is that it was rock hard and that I bought various incarnations of it when it was bundled as Ultimate and Final versions in successive years. It certainly wasn’t as innovative but it was probably a better game in itself than its predecessor and it showed that the kind of setting and atmosphere Doom could evoke was one with plenty more potential.
Doom 3 was a bit of a marvel in its day but it’s the game in the series that I have the least recollection for. I remember reading a lot about it in magazines before it was released. I remember being quite amazed at how great it looked in screenshots. I don’t recall playing it much.
So this upgraded re-release of the series (Doom 1 and 2 are both included) is somewhat fortuitous for me. Aside from reminding me how old I am – it’s almost 20 years since I first slid that Doom shareware disc into my old PC – it gives me the chance to play a game I kind of skipped from a series that I love. Best of all, Doom 3 BFG Edition is a hugely impressive rebuild of the game that’s more than just a simple HD remake.
At its core, of course, it’s still Doom 3 which was a kind of beefed up retelling of the original Doom itself. If you loved Doom 3, BFG Edition won’t disappoint you. However, the improvements they’ve made make Doom 3 feel like a much more modern game, contemporary in most ways with many games released in the past couple of years.
It looks pretty good too, upgraded textures and a frame rate that is much smoother than most will have experienced first time around make this game seem younger than it is – at least outside of cutscenes where the age of the character models is more obvious.
Lighting was always a key weapon in Doom 3’s attempt to set up scares and the BFG Edition continues in that vein. Lighting works in extremes, there’s little middle ground and there’s even less ambience. Either there’s light or there’s blackness. At times, this is extremely effective for increasing the suspense but just as often, it’s frustrating and needlessly squint-inducing. The lighting model also seems to be a little rough, with a startling lack of penumbra at times leading to light spots with sharp edges and no reflected or ambient lighting at all. The game is smart with its use of lighting though, regular sparks and flashes combined with flickering main lights and harsh contrast make for a foreboding environment in which to set up the horror.
In the 2004 release, your torch wasn’t fitted to the end of your firearms. This made for an interesting choice – would you be able to see or do you need to shoot into the blackness? BFG Edition fixes what many thought was an unnecessary hindrance to the gameplay experience. The original Doom 3 release saw a “duct tape” mod which stuck your torch to your gun – BFG Edition has that baked in.
Die hard Doom fanatics, or those that gleefully inched their way through the original release, might think this is cheating. It certainly makes the game more playable but it does remove an element of tension that, while frustrating at times, made the game a much more emotional experience. Of course, they can turn the torch off manually and see if they still enjoy inching their way down tight corridors in the pitch dark, listening for signs of demon activity.[drop2]In this kind of game, sound design can make such a difference. BFG Edition’s mixing is occasionally a little wild, incidental audio can overpower important speech and onrushing enemies can scream a little too loud at time. Overall, though, the surround sound implementation and the general sound design are great for perpetuating that tense atmosphere which is so important. There’s also 3D support in this release so those with a compatible TV (it supports all the usual kinds) can opt for an even more immersive experience.
Doom 3 BFG Edition is a competent remake of a well-loved game. Not only that, it’s a great value package too. At a budget price (RRP is £25/$40) and with the first two games included on the disc, it’s definitely worth revisiting if you were ever a fan of the series. It’s even worth the cover price if you’re a fan of horror in video games or like to be scared.
If you’re new to Doom games or if you think that an fps game isn’t complete without twitch aiming, it might be a little harder to recommend but if you’re in any way interested in the history of videogames then this bundle should be a definite purchase.