It's the exponential progression of these things that bothers me most. Ever since the original Doom, the majority of First Person Shooters (FPS) have followed an incredibly strict formula: The hero begins the game with a ridiculously underpowered weapon, and is besieged by an army of enemies that can be just barely killed by that first weapon (it's challenging enough that each enemy put down feels like something of an accomplishment). Then, in the next area or level, after a harrowing experience, it becomes clear that the first weapon just isn't going to cut it against the sheer volume of simple enemies the hero is facing. Just then, when things are looking their worst, the hero will discover the second weapon (generally a shotgun; although sometimes it's a futuristic shotgun, or a space shotgun, or an energy shotgun) and the tables will have turned. The zombies that just a moment ago spelled my imminent doom suddenly fall like tenpins before my mighty will, their heads only a single click away from exploding. It's a great feeling, suddenly going from prey to predator, and the adrenaline kick of easily mowing down what was, a moment ago, an impossibly overwhelming threat. The real sense of satisfaction gained from doing this goes a long way towards explain why this genre continues to be as popular as it is.
The problem with FPSs is that historically, and especially here in Doom 3, the designers don't have any idea what to do after that first big reversal. So they just do it again, confronting players with bigger monsters that aren't afraid of a puny shotgun, then providing with the player with a gun that will make them stop in their tracks. Unfortunately, it's just not as satisfying the second time around, or the third, or the fourth… Worse still, while the power of the weapons and monsters is increasing, the health of the player never does, so by the end of the game, I'm invariably packing weapons that can kill any enemy with a single shot, batting enemies that can kill me with a single shot. By that point, the gameplay boils down to who gets the first shot off, and arbitrary enemy placement ensures that most of the time, it ain't gonna be me. By the end of Doom 3, I found myself quicksaving every minute or so, to ensure that next time I fell victim to one of the game's endless deadly ambushes, I wouldn't have to replay more than sixty seconds worth of game. I'm sure it's possible to play the game so cautiously that the constant ambushes aren't invariably fatal, but I can't imagine it would be any more fun than the way I was playing.
Mike's right about the storytelling being very effective at drawing the player into the game. The terminals that allowed me to interface with the game's computers in real time rather than on a separate screen were also a huge step forward for immersion. Of course, fans of System Shock 2 are quick to point out that this dynamic is taken whole cloth from that game. The only thing I find surprising about that is the fact that it took game developers five years before they started ripping off the best system of FPS storytelling to date.
Doom 3 begins wonderfully, with more than half an hour of wandering around the Mars station before all hell starts to break loose (although I understand this was cut down somewhat in the Xbox version). This builds an incredible amount of tension that pays off when the first zombie finally appears. It was here that I enjoyed the game the most. Slowly inching my way through dark tunnels, listening for movement, keeping my pistol at the ready… Zombies and ammo were so well-placed that the game managed to make me feel like I was always on the cusp of running out of ammo, and becoming dinner for some vicious monster. My heart rate was continually elevated, and I couldn't help but think that if the game could keep up this brutally tense pace for the rest of the game, I'd be looking at the best FPS I'd ever played. Of course, the game couldn't maintain the pace, and shortly after I found a submachinegun and started seeing Imps, it became painfully clear that Doom 3 was beginning that long slide down towards tedium that I'd become all too familiar with in my years of playing FPSs.
In his review, Mike referred to the game as "old school," and he's not wrong. I differ from him in that I don't think that's a very good thing. Games like Halo have proven that there are other, better design concepts to model your game on. And while I understand that Id was trying to recreate the feel of the original Doom, I can't imagine that I'm the only one who thought there were fundamental problems with Doom's design that didn't deserve to be recreated so exhaustively here. Sure, it's prettier now. But that doesn't make it any less dull or frustrating than it was when I was growing sick of Doom 2 all those years ago.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PC version of the game.