I have an interesting genesis as a gamer. Unlike a lot of my generation, it didn’t start as a full-on hobbyist on classic consoles like the NES, Genesis and SNES. I played those of course—plenty of friends owned them and I have fond memories of Track and Field, Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario All Stars—but I never owned any of those groundbreaking games or consoles. My parents weren’t exactly of the “video games are the DEVIL!” variety, but they did think it was more sensible to own a home PC you could do homework on instead of a console that only played games. It’s ironic, then, that I became a gamer because of a video game that WAS the devil, or at least about shooting up the devil and his minions.
Wolfenstein 3D was the small burning taste I needed, and then Doom got me hooked—I was a PC gamer, primarily of first person shooters, until years later when GoldenEye 007 tempted me back to consoles and I spent several subsequent years as an ardent Nintendo fanboy. But Doom…there’s something virulent about it, that heady mix of violence, triumph, adrenaline and terror. It’s an addiction I thankfully never kicked, or perhaps an alluring nightmare I can’t put to rest.
I have some fond memories of Doom 3—I even built my first gaming rig to play it back in ‘04 as I was just starting college. Then again I always felt that Doom 3 fell just short of its potential, so I was pretty excited when I heard that id Software was re-releasing it as Doom 3 BFG Edition. I’ve spent some time exploring BFG Edition over the past few weeks—perhaps too much time, I’m not sure when I grew this beard—and I’m here to report on what I found.
BFG Edition isn’t just Doom 3. It also includes Doom 3’s original expansion pack, Resurrection of Evil, as well as a new 8-mission bonus episode called the Lost Missions. For good measure it also comes with the Xbox Live Arcade versions of Doom 1 and 2 from a few years ago, which has Nerve software’s modern Doom 2 mission pack No Rest for the Living. So BFG Edition isn’t exactly the complete, essential Doom collection, but it still has plenty of Doom packed into a single $30 compilation, and it’s the only place you’ll get the Lost Missions.
Naturally, I dove right into this feast of blood, violence and demonic hell-spawned terror. I started with Doom 3, and it is true that id has made a few changes. First of all id listened to all the needless complaining about having to switch between a gun and a flashlight; they implemented an “armor light” that you can switch on at any time, the only downside is that the light slowly drains power and must be switched off for a few seconds to recharge. You can’t even pick up and use the original, separate flashlight anymore. Amusingly, when you go to grab your gear from the first equipment locker, the old flashlight is still in there—you just can’t pick it up. I have a feeling this is a half-smirking joke by id on their more vocal fans.
A lot of critics are being rather hipster-ish and claiming that “I liked the old flashlight! It made the game tense!” Personally I think it’s a bunch of crocodile tears, because back when the game first came out there was an inordinate amount of whining about the flashlight, and I actually did and still do prefer switching back and forth. It added an element of strategy and challenge that isn’t there anymore. Darkness was a huge aspect of the game’s atmosphere and impacted the gameplay tremendously—it’s probably the whole reason id worked so damn hard back then to make the light and shadow system so realistic and creepy.
Being able to switch your light on whenever you want does take something away from the experience, but it also feels like the armor light is sort of half-implemented. The actual flashlight beam texture is grainy and low-res, and maybe this is just my perception, but it doesn’t seem to cast as dynamic or powerful shadows as the original flashlight. It also, somewhat realistically, only illuminates the left 75% of your view. It takes some getting used to but after a level or two I was back in the groove.
Doom 3’s gameplay is just as rock-solid as it was eight years ago. I remember actually preferring Doom 3 to Half Life 2 back then, mostly because Doom 3’s engine just ran more stably on my admittedly modest rig. Half Life 2 was suffering in the birthing pains of Steam, which was horribly buggy and unstable when it first launched, and for a mid-range rig back in 2004, the then-new Source engine had a ravenous, almost unnecessary appetite for RAM.
Doom 3 and its id-Tech 4 engine, comparatively, installed and ran without a hiccup. It took some considerable memory resources and a solid graphics card to run, but if you had those things, Doom 3 did as it was told and didn’t complain. For a poor college kid with his first tentative hardware build, starting Doom 3 and playing it as expected was a lot nicer than coaxing Half Life 2 and Steam into a mood where they might let you play.
BFG Edition runs just as smoothly, now purchased and launching from Steam ironically enough, and it’s also a little funny to call such a game “old school.” In 2004 Doom 3 represented everything about the future of videogame graphics in general and first person shooters in particular. It was bleeding edge. Comparing it to Black Ops and Crysis 2 feels a little weird but it does make me long for Doom 3’s era of shooter design. Ironically it actually has more in common with legacy shooters than what passes for FPS these days. The nameless Doom marine doesn’t have recharging health or armor, but he can carry an entire arsenal, including low-tech fare like a pistol, shotgun and chaingun, and futuristic guns like the plasma rifle and of course the BFG 9000 itself. Once you move onto Resurrection of Evil and the Lost Missions you can also acquire the gravity gun-like Grabber and the beastly double barreled Super Shotgun.
Having this formidable collection of firearms on you at all times really mixes up the combat. As you cautiously make your way through the hell infested corridors of UAC’s Mars base, you quickly determine which weapons work best against each enemy. Before long you develop a rhythm of sorts, swapping between guns in battle, reloading and firing in turn in a gruesomely choreographed gun ballet.
That isn’t to say Doom 3 is a breakneck-paced circle strafe-athon like the original Doom and Doom 2; it’s slower, more forbidding, and when the monsters do come after you, more adrenaline-laced.
I was, however, a little puzzled by a few changes made to the weapons. Some, like the shotgun, seem to pack a little less punch, and the full-auto guns like the plasma rifle and chaingun have had their rate of fire significantly decreased. This makes them a lot less fun to fire, and considering Doom 3’s guns were slower and more subdued than other shooters’ arsenals when the game released back in ’04, it’s a little disappointing that they’re even quieter and weaker in BFG Edition. It’s not a deal breaker but it is distracting.
The other thing people complained about when Doom 3 first came out were the monster closet scares. I have to be honest, I’m with Jim “Jimquisition” Sterling on this one. If used well monster closets aren’t a bad thing, and as Doom 3 is a game made my id Software, the monster closets are very well done. Creeping along, peering into shadows, knowing all the while that something is inevitably going to jump out at you makes the dread build exponentially. I know when I go for that badly needed medpack or ammo that a monster will jump out of a wall or teleport in—I just don’t know from what direction. Sometimes a hellspawn will jump out just for fun. As I played BFG Edition I recalled many of the scare points in the game, but as I hadn’t played Doom 3 in a few years there were just as many places that I was surprised and startled all over again.
Doom 3 is a long, nuanced experience that is much more involved than most modern shooters, and the same can be said of Resurrection of Evil. Starring a different marine and taking place about a year after the events of Doom 3, it explores a new area of UAC’s Mars outpost. A lot of the areas look similar to the ones in Doom 3 but very few are the same, so you get a lot of new ground to explore. In particular you get a more extensive look at the artifact dig sites and the disused, out-of-the-way maintenance areas that keep Mars City running—dripping work tunnels, repair bays and toxic waste sewers. You also explore a more challenging landscape in Hell and fight a few new monsters and bosses, with a separate Hellish artifact to battle them with. Resurrection of Evil is an excellent companion to Doom 3 and is almost as long, even if its story isn’t quite as satisfying as I’d like.
There was also another minor issue I encountered. There’s a sequence about halfway through where you are preparing to enter the radioactive waste tunnels. In the original version the marine grabs a helmet from a wall alcove, and the subsequent level was played from behind a hazmat visor. Your objective menu even tells you to grab an environment suit. If you’d never played RoE before you probably wouldn’t think twice about it, but at first I thought the game had glitched. I’m not sure why they removed this very brief explanatory cutscene, but maybe it was because playing in the hazmat suit was kind of annoying.
The Lost Missions are quite a bit shorter than Doom 3 or RoE. However, with eight years of experience with the engine and art assets, it let the developers pack the best level design and balance into eight brief levels, using the weapons and monsters from both Doom 3 and RoE. I really enjoyed the Lost Missions and appreciated just how refined and classic they felt—the folks at id could keep making levels on id Tech 4 for years and they would still be fun. My only quibble is that they reused one of the bosses from Doom 3 for the final fight, instead of creating a new intimidating monster. I was really holding out for that Spider Mastermind to rear its hideous face.
Back when it came out Doom 3 was the absolute pinnacle of graphics and sound design—there were very few video cards at the time that could even run it at full spec. Nearly every surface and texture was glazed in the then-cutting edge technology of normal-mapping and real time lighting. Even more than Half Life 2, Doom 3 was the portent of what all games would eventually look like going forward, at least on a technical level. The intricate, beautifully grim and starkly hellish art design was also head and shoulders above the rest of the industry, so naturally it has aged pretty well.
Indeed, the art direction is the reason the game still looks so good. As this was one of the very first normal-mapped games, shaders were used to disguise a lot of smeary textures and low-poly models. If you scrutinize surfaces up close the game’s age is apparent, but taken as a whole it’s still an impressive work of art. The enemy animations are still creepy as hell, and the throaty roar of a spidery Trite or creepy whispering from around a corner can still send a chill down my spine.
It’s almost too bad that id decided to up-rez a few of the textures, specifically on character models. Seeing crisp modern textures on the low-poly models, especially when contrasted against the low-rez background textures, can be pretty distracting. I understand that id wanted to touch up a few things but they really should have overhauled the whole game in that case by bumping the overall polycount and applying all-new textures. That said the overall experience of Doom 3, Resurrection of Evil and the Lost Missions is an artistically attractive, hearty chunk of gameplay that should keep you busy, and tense, for a good few weeks at least.
The multiplayer is another story, however. While the player count per map has been increased from 4 players to 8 (thank god), there are no random servers to choose from. You can only play with friends on your Steam list who also own BFG Edition, which is a huge oversight on id’s part. Doom 3’s multiplayer has always been kneecapped in one way or another and I was really hoping BFG Edition would finally unlock its potential. Until id allows for random and dedicated servers between anonymous online players, sadly I don’t see many people getting into BFG’s multiplayer.
The included ports of Doom and Doom 2 are also a mixed bag. The version of Doom 1 you get is the Ultimate Doom collection, which includes the original three episodes from 1993 and the additional fourth added for the game’s Windows release in 1995. Doom 2 also has the No Rest for the Living episode added by Nerve Software for the game’s XBLA release a few years back. Both ports are perfectly workable versions of classic Doom, if not true to the original DOS versions.
Like the XBLA ports they have a number of mildly irritating changes. You can’t use cheats and there are some content cuts—the health boxes now have small pills on them. This is probably because the Red Cross pitched a fit a few years back about so many games using the universal symbol for first aid, a little red cross, on healing items. Also, the secret Wolfenstein levels in Doom 2 have had all SS soldiers, pictures of Hitler and any other Nazi references removed—maybe so the game will finally be legal to sell in Germany?
Most galling, however, is that the PC version of BFG Edition cuts the multiplayer from Doom 1 and 2. Remember the countless hours you spent in Doom deathmatch over a 28.8k modem? Well, you can’t relive those glory days in BFG Edition. This is particularly disappointing because the PS3 and 360 versions of BFG Edition do include the classic multiplayer for Doom 1 and 2 over PSN and Xbox Live respectively.
For these reasons and a few others, I can’t recommend Doom 3 BFG Edition as the end-all Doom series compilation. The included re-releases of Doom and Doom 2 are decent ports and are fairly faithful to the original games, but the changes id has implemented might be hard to ignore for purists. It also doesn’t include the excellent official expansions—Final Doom and Master Levels for Doom 2. If you’re dead set on getting the complete classic Doom experience, BFG Edition just won’t deliver that.
It also won’t allow you to explore the rich and boundless world of Doom modding that has evolved over the nearly two decades since the first game was released—at least not out of the box. I haven’t tried my hand at installing any mods yet, but from what I’ve heard from the fan community, BFG Edition isn’t very mod-friendly. This is particularly problematic because for a while, Bethesda took all the legacy versions of Doom 3 and its predecessors off the Steam store, to promote sales of BFG Edition. After a justified fan outcry Bethesda remedied that, and you can get most of the classic Doom titles on Steam once again.
If you’re that determined to play all the classic Dooms, there are better ways to do it than BFG Edition. Buying them all for cheap on Steam gets you the original WAD files. You can then launch them with a wide variety of very accessible fan-made source ports, such as GZDoom, Skulltag or my personal favorite, Doomsday Engine. These source ports let you play Doom in classic mode or update it to the point where it plays a lot like Quake, with enhanced graphics and controls. The inclusion of Doom and Doom 2 in BFG Edition is a great thing to have and it gives you a ton of content for your money, but I understand that some old school fans want something a little more retro.
I’m also sad to say that I enjoy a modded version of Doom 3 better than the one on offer in BFG Edition. Denton’s Enhanced Mod for Doom 3 will always be the best way to play the game, at least to me, and there are a number of fan made high-rez texture packs out there that bring Doom 3 up to the levels of Skyrim or Crysis.
Doom 3 BFG Edition is not a bad update to this modern classic, nor is it even all that bad of a Doom collection. It’s just not the ultimate, all-inclusive package the fanbase was hoping for. It is, however, a great place for new fans to introduce themselves to the venerable grandfather of the first person shooter. It’s also a good way for a lapsed fan to reignite the passion that hooked them back in the 90s or early 2000s, without all the start-up effort and frontend it sometimes takes to collect copies of the original games and mod them to perfection.
In the end, Doom’s draw is the same whether it is action packed or cloaked in inky shadows. It’s that atavistic drive to survive against the most hopeless of odds, laid against the backdrop of the ghouls, demons and eldritch horrors of folklore and childhood night terrors. If you’ve been curious about this “Doom” thing you’ve heard so much about but never played, or if you’re looking to get addicted all over again, Doom 3 BFG Edition is a pretty good place to start.