December 20, 2004 | Michael Yanovich
The package arrived in the mail in an unmarked manila envelope. Well, not totally unmarked. I mean, it had my address on it. And a return address (Aspyr Media's). And a stamp on it that said “Confidential,” so I guess it wasn’t unmarked at all. But it did not specifically name the contents, though it was clear to me this was an almost-beta copy of the Mac version of Doom III.
Now don’t let the fact that the envelope was marked as “confidential” worry you, dear reader. You are not breaking the law by reading this. I, on the other hand, will spend the next several years using assumed identities and constantly looking over my shoulder before I feel the slick blade of death slide in between my 3rd and 4th ribs down some dark alley in goodness knows where. But I take that risk willingly.
Then again, I don’t know what’s left that can be considered confidential. Let’s face it: Doom III has had more than its fair share of press. Anyone with a misguided, PC-owning friend has surely seen at least a few moments of it by now. And PC Doom III reviews are as easy to find on the web as some of the internet’s less salacious content.
But hey, here it was, in my hands. Mac Doom III.
Installation was a snap – just copy the folder onto my hard drive. And I was ready a few minutes later to give this bad boy a test run on a dual 2.5 G5 with an ATI Radeon 9800 XT cranking pictures to my 23” screen.
Before I play any game, I tend to hit the settings. I played around with all the options, and had to restart the program to use the new settings. Which is when the program stopped running. That’s ok, this is what betas are for. So, a quick uninstall and reinstall later, I decided to forget customization and play with whatever the standard settings were.
That’s when I got a real taste of Doom III, which comes down to pure anachronism. Shove an old-school first-generation shooter into the most advanced FPS engine you’ve ever seen and you’ve got this strange hybrid of a game. For that reason, I want to break this preview into two distinct sections, gameplay and engine.
Engine-wise, Id has made it clear that they’ve designed an engine that no home computer around today can fully take advantage of. In other words, the results are spectacular but we won’t know what’s really under the hood of this puppy for a few more years. This was designed to grow and to be licensed to other games for several chip generations to come. But even in the current configuration, the results are stupendous.
Real-time lighting and shadows are just…. so cool! I mean, really really cool! Seeing a monster in front of you by the brief flash of your shotgun is something that needs to be experienced first hand for the full effect. And when the creature’s remains glow brightly as they fall back to the fiery pit from whence they came, the dying embers cast their feeble light all around before fading to nothingness. And you’ll know it when a fireball-hurling monster is behind you, because the flames are hard to ignore as they reflect off the metal surfaces that surround your fleshy target self.
The physics are just as advanced. There’s something very immersive about shooting a desk chair across the room, seeing it fall in the open doorway of an elevator, and watching the elevator door close on the chair and bounce back open, again and again, the chair shifting ever so slightly with each impact.
These details make you really feel like part of the game.
The audio is 5.1 surround sound capable, which I sadly don’t have. Yet my two THX certified speakers and subwoofer happily threw the sounds around. Ambience galore. But one note to all you game designers out there: during cutscenes, please keep ALL dialogue centered at all times. It’s very disconcerting that with every camera cut, the voice of the person speaking shifts from speaker to speaker. Stereo is meant for all the other sounds. That’s why 5.1 systems have a center dialogue speaker for movies, and it’s about time games figure that out, too. Once you’re playing, it’s fine to have a character on your right come out of the right hand speaker, because it’s an important spatial clue. But for cutscenes, this stereo dialogue trend has to be stopped.