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Checking For A Pulse: Doom 3 Mods

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Everyone loves an underdog – but Doom 3 is in the curious position of being an underdog whilst simultaneously being big enough to be widely loathed. Arguably, only Bioshock has stolen its crown as king of the PC FPS whipping boys – both being heavily-trumpeted games that didn’t live up to their own enormous hype, and suffered a disproportionately vicious backlash as a result.

Doom 3 -which I found bland and repetitive but often fun and certainly atmospheric, its major crime being stretching its few ideas over too many hours – however, has managed to enjoy a huge and enthusiastic modding scene nonetheless. There’s everything from extensive co-op versions to an infinite array of flashlight tweaks and assorted mini-campaigns, maps and graphical upgrades. It may not enjoy the profile of the big Half-Life 2 mods, but its scene remains alive. Hoping to throw this underdog a bone (I have no idea why – these cursed whims of mine), I’ve spent today wading through a few of them.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been terribly impressed by what I’ve found. Granted, any game with a large mod community is absolutely knee-deep in dead-end ideas or pointlessly samey drek, but it seemed especially hard to find true highlights amongst D3’s hundreds of modifications. Is it something about the nature of the game – a very specific look, bound to very specific geometry and geography – or about the nature of the game’s fans? An ‘orrible sweeping generalisation would be that a game solely about shooting monsters from hell in the dark to the accompaniement of a heavy rawk soundtrack might not attract quite as, ah, diverse a range of fans as Half-Life 2’s intermittently more thoughtful content (relatively speaking, of course). In other words, they’re probably going to make mods about shooting monsters from hell in the dark to the accompaniment of a heavy rawk soundtrack. This is not something I can back up in any way, and saying it makes me afraid I’m one step away from becoming a Daily Mail reader. Perhaps I’ve taken too much from Jim’s fearful tales of the crowd at the Quakecon he attended a few years back.

Elements I have seen repeated throughout a worrying number of the mods I tried include:
– a heavy rawk soundtrack on permanent loop
– Mumbly German men intoning a largely incoherent and over-long voiceover in broken English.
– Incredibly ugly menus, containing a surfeit of silly webnames in an I_will_kill_joo vein
– Level design that consists of traipsing down maze-like, oddly featureless corridors until I had to reach for Alt-F4 before I threw up or passed out.
– More positively, a clear emphasis on trying to make a faster, more adrenalised game than Doom 3 Vanilla’s often ponderous wandering around.

The clear stand-out was the long-running Classic Doom 3 mod, which has diligently recreated Doom 1’s maps and general crazy-ass feel in the gloomy D3 engine. The metallic murkiness doesn’t look quite right, but the increased player movement speed, decreased beastie hit points, omni-present health and armour pickups and that music is a proper ear-to-ear-grin-time carnival of carnage. It’s Doom, and all the speed and fun and violence and silliness that entails. Even in the new engine, the maps feel as comfortingly familiar as a hug from your mother. In some ways it looks a little worse due to lose of bright colours, but in others genuinely better – in particular, there’s a meatily visceral feel to shotgunning an imp in the face that their semi-intangible 2D predecessors have always lacked. The fan-acted intro sequence is rather less impressive, but hey: I defy anyone not to enjoy this.

Visual mods seem a little hit and miss. There’s a bunch to improve the muzzle flare and suchlike, but the one I ended up using for a while was multi-mod collection Dentonmod3. It sparkles stuff up quite a bit, especially the otherwise block-headed character models, and generally makes for a game that looks a couple of years younger than it really is. Usefully, it also corrects some of the annoyances id have never bothered to patch, such as the inability to select widescreen modes without editing configuration files, and automatically restarting the video renderer upon a settings change rather than unhelpfully demanding you exit and reload the game manually. Unfortunately, it required a patch made by someone else entirely to save the screen from being largely black on my system, and even then the picture was distractingly washed-out. Definitely work a look if you’re considering tackling D3’s singleplayer again, though.

Wraithchild sounded interesting on paper, as it was an attempt to create a vaguely Deus Exy game, with interactable objects and NPCs and whatnot, all within a custom-created Blade Runner-esque world. Unfortunately, one of those aforementioned German chaps droning and typoing away made it a little difficult to get into, and on top of that I lost interest after 15 minutes of frustrated failing to work out how to leave the first room. There may be stuff of interest later for more patient chaps than I, and the use of some of Vampire: Bloodline’s soundtrack lends it an agreeably maudlin/psychotic atmosphere.

Hell Island certainly got the first word right. Its key crimes are the single worst example of voice acting I have ever heard, and yet another case of bad and bewildering level design causing me to Alt-F4 out due to a miserable, aimless lack of progress. Fuggin’ locked doors.

Event Horizon XV is a curious project, as it’s an attempt to recreate the divisive sci-fi horror film inside Doom 3. In practice, this means an inadvertently comical frequency of spoooooky visions that appear and disappear within seconds, including a distressingly diligently-modelled naked lady. Well done, you. The first few minutes are like The Shining: The Theme Park Ride – but with a little more pacing it could be a genuinely unsettling, what-the-hell’s-going-on experience. Then it’s more of those maze-like identical corridors, a few zombies, confusion and tedium, and quit.

I’m sure there are many better examples of the scene out there, but I’d lost patience by this point (with a few apparently broken ones also nosed at) and had burned too many hours in this search for diamonds in the corridor-bound rough. Once my motivation’s restored, I wouldn’t mind a gander at the Co-Op mod Last Man Standing at some point, which I hear very good things about, and of course there’s the Thief remake/tribute The Dark Mod. From what I’ve seen so far, however, it seems as though Doom 3’s essential structure and aesthetic may be a little too limiting to achieve many truly surprising things. So what I’d hoped would be a woo! lookit this! post has ended up being a bit of a downer. Hopefully someone out there knows of a D3 mod that’ll cheer me right up, as I’ll fully admit to being overcome by the sheer amount of chaff I need to separate from the oh-so-rare wheat I’m positive does exist. Other than Doom 3 Classic, of course – that one’s certainly as fun as a campsite full of monkeys.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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