Doom 3 for Xbox Review

Still regarded as one of the most successful video games of all time, DOOM was a seminal title in the history of video games, offering players a scary and fun single player version and, innovatively f...

Paul Thurrott

October 6, 2010

23 Min Read
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Still regarded as one of the most successful video games of all time, DOOM was a seminal title in the history of video games, offering players a scary and fun single player version and, innovatively for the day, a way to engage in network-based multiplayer tournaments. DOOM brought with it a number of words that are now part of the wider gaming vocabulary, including frags and deathmatches, but its biggest impact, perhaps, was that it helped establish video games as viable economic force that could compete with, and one day surpass, the best Hollywood had to offer.

DOOM 3, first released for the PC in August 2004, is not a sequel to DOOM and DOOM II. Instead, DOOM 3 is a remake, of sorts, of the original DOOM using modern graphics technology and a professionally-written plot that unfolds as you move through the game. The Xbox version of DOOM 3 is surprisingly faithful to the PC original and stretches the limits of what's possible on today's most powerful video game system.

In this review, I'll examine DOOM 3's single player and multiplayer experiences, and compare the title with the original PC version. But I've been a first person shooter fan for over a decade, so I'd like to first share with you why it is that I'm even writing this review in the first place.

My history with first person shooters

In 1992, I was an Amiga user and advocate, positive that my computer of choice was superior to all comers, including the suddenly surging Windows-based PCs. Commodore's wonderful Amiga had hardware sprites, multi-channel sound, and the best games money could buy, including my personal favorites Shadow of the Beast (Pygnosis), Defender of the Crown, and Wings (both from Cinemaware). The PC, meanwhile, was just entering the VGA world, but most games ran at far lower resolution, and with few colors. Sounds consisted largely of monophonic beeps. Secure in my world view, I was sure that the Amiga was the place to be. My Amiga 500 was tricked out with a ROM switcher and an internal hard drive, the latter being an expensive rarity in those days. Life was good.

My wife's PC, an anemic IBM PS/1 sporting a screen with 4 shades of gray and a feeble 10 MHz 80286 processor, only amplified the problems with the Wintel world in my mind. When Windows 3.1 shipped that same year, I asked a friend who owned a local Amiga shop (that, irritatingly, had begun selling 386-based PC gaming rigs as well) to give me a copy. The PS/1 was so slow--and I'm not exaggerating here--you could actually watch it draw the Windows UI in real time: Click the File menu, and wait 10 seconds. Suddenly, the outline of the menu would slowly draw. Then, the first menu item would draw. Then the second. And so on. A full minute later, the whole menu would be drawn and you could click on a menu item. And then the wait started anew. Such a system, I thought, would never be capable of playing games. Ever.

Mein Lieben! Wolfenstein 3D

Then the impossible happened. Id Software released a stunning PC game title called Wolfenstein 3D. Inspired by the early 80's MUSE games Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein 3D was unique because it upended the over-head, Venture/Berserk-style view of the originals and made it first person. In 1992, first person shooters didn't even exist per se. And the only games that offered that view style at all, for the most part, including Dungeon Master on the Amiga (by Mirrorsoft), didn't offer smooth scrolling. Instead, you would move down a passageway in a herky-jerky fashion, and each segment of the view in front of you would render as you moved.

Wolfenstein 3D was different. It was one of the first games--and certainly the first I'd seen--that offered a smoothly scrolling, first-person experience. You could navigate through an environment, move indiscriminately in any of four horizontal directions (forward, back, left, and right, but not up and down; that would come in future Id titles) and fully explore massive levels without any disk loading. And the game itself was wonderfully violent, pitching your alter-ego against the ultimate enemy: World War II-era Nazis (and, curiously, their dogs). In Wolfenstein 3D, you needed to find keys to enter new areas, could pick up and use new weapons, could gather food to increase your health, and in the end of each episode, you battled a super-powerful "end boss" with resulting secret hordes of weapons, health, and ammo.

Wolfenstein 3D was impressive for a number of reasons--it was released through Apogee, which at the time was busy creating the Shareware model that would dominate the non-retail software market until the Internet took hold years later--but it was most impressive, to me, because it ran on my wife's pathetic little PC. And when I say ran, I don't mean it sort of ran, like Windows did at the time. I mean it ran, and ran well. Yes, you were limited to four shades of gray on the lowly PS/1, but damn me if that game didn't run full speed. Though my beloved Amiga would continue to offer better platform scrollers for years to come, something was changing, and I could feel it. With Wolfenstein 3D, Id Software had single-handedly made the PC into a viable gaming platform. Little did I know at the time that they were just getting started.


The next several years were a flurry of change and upheaval. My wife and I moved to Phoenix, Arizona so I could pursue a career in computer science. Our years in Phoenix can be marked in various ways--they concluded with the birth of our first child six years later, after which time we moved back to Boston--but the mid-1990's were an amazing time during which Id Software and other companies continued to improve the technology behind first-person shooters. Not surprisingly, I finally bagged the Amiga for a home brew 386 machine and haven't looked back since. For its part, Id followed up Wolfenstein 3D with the ridiculously fun DOOM in late 1993. If Wolfie (as gamers liked to call it) was the Shot Heard 'Round the Gaming World, DOOM was surely the gaming equivalent of the H-bomb.

Released before the Internet, DOOM was ultimately purchased by over 15 million customers, who called Id directly and ordered the floppy-based title by mail. It was an instant smash hit, caused many people to buy new PCs, and is still one of the most popular video game titles of all time. From a conceptual level, DOOM is a simple title: You play a space marine battling creatures from Hell who somehow escape to Mars. As with Wolfenstein 3D, there is key gathering, enemy killing, and level and episode completing. But DOOM was a hit because it was so visceral: Just grab the shotgun and go to town. You were a one-man killing machine. And there's nothing so satisfying as killing off such obviously evil monsters in very satisfying ways.

From a technical standpoint, DOOM offered a number of improvements over Wolfenstein 3D, including the ability to navigate up and down stairs and other heights and depths (but not look up and down, or around). But DOOM's biggest innovation, perhaps, was network play (though one might also make the case for the game's extensible nature, where users could create their own levels). On an IPX/SPX (Novell)-based network, 2-4 players could simultaneously enter any of DOOM's levels and battle each other. It was kludgy and error-prone, but DOOM's network play set the stage for the next era of gaming, and users would come to expect this capability.

Over the next few years, I played virtually every first person shooter that came down the pike, including DOOM II, Heretic, Rise of the Triads, and Duke Nukem 3D, among others. At Scottsdale Community College near Phoenix, I would gather with a group of friends on weekends to play these games on the school's Novell network. We whittled away countless hours fragging each other and hooting like children as we egged each other on. Multiplayer gaming is great. But when everyone is in the same room, it's just amazing.


By 1996, the world had changed yet again. By that point, Windows 95 had secured Microsoft's dominant position in the market and the Internet was reaching mainstream users. And Id's next game, Quake, predictably turned the gaming world upside down yet again. Unlike previous shooters, Quake offered gamers a truly 3D world in which one could move in any direction: Up, down, sideways, whatever. Based on an advanced 3D graphics engine, Quake was an odd game, set in a sort of medieval fantasy world populated by monsters. The weapons, however, were straight out of the DOOM playbook with a few changes.

Quake offered integrated network play capabilities, but Id was unhappy with the performance, so the company released a free add-on in late 1996 called QuakeWorld that was designed solely for online play. QuakeWorld offered a number of multiplayer-oriented improvements over the original Quake, including optimized network code, a new physics model, and an integrated master server system that allowed players to maintain rankings.

By the time Quake and QuakeWorld were released, I was a dedicated online gamer. Thanks to my coincident move to Phoenix, I was among the first in the country to get a non-trial cable modem account, and in the early days of that service, had amazing bandwidth. I'd gather with friends online, where we'd dress our QuakeWorld avatars up with the latest skins and deathmatch over the broadband connection. We'd stay connected by phone during gaming as well, developing seriously creaky necks until we wised up and got headsets.

A commercial release unlike the DOOM titles, Quake begat a few sequels, of sorts. Quake II shipped in 1997 and, unlike the original, offered a stunning single player experience with a plot and actual objectives. It also took place in a completely different universe than the original Quake, and instead of the curious medieval/monster mix of the original, Quake II offered up a cool sci-fi story line. However, Quake II's graphics were somewhat odd, being completely 3D. Even gun blasts were rendered in 3D. The thing has a sort of plodding slowness to it that previous (and more recent) Id titles do not.

Quake III Arena saw Id's return to pure online gaming bliss in 1999. Arguably the perfect deathmatch game, Quake III Arena is designed for online gaming only, and if you play the single player version, you simply compete in each level with computer-controlled characters, which is great practice for the real thing. (For the record, I've beaten Quake III on the hardest skill level several times) As with previous titles, Id's genius programmer John Carmack created a wonderful new graphics engine for Quake III Arena, and this time the company found the perfect blend of graphics beauty, speed, and game play. Quake III is still great fun today, and the perfect way to blow off some steam. However, while Id was busy getting deathmatch basics right, some of the competition, including the excellent Unreal Tournament series, was innovating with new game types, including team-oriented levels. So Id released the little-known Quake III: Team Arena add-on in 2000 to address concerns that the company was falling behind.

That year, Carmack revealed that Id's next major game would be a remake of the original DOOM, featuring next-generation game technology. Though critics were at first skeptical about the company rehashing previous successes, the 2001 release of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, a Gray Matter/Id Software title that resuscitated Id's seminal game title using Quake III Arena graphics technology, was a huge critical and commercial success. Maybe a DOOM remake would be interesting after all.

Return to DOOM

Five long years after Quake III Arena, Id Software finally unleashed its long-awaited DOOM remake, DOOM 3, for the PC. Featuring one of the most advanced graphics engines ever created, DOOM 3 features a real-time 3D environment with real shadows and dynamic lighting, and a level of detail that, almost a year later, has yet to be duplicated. DOOM 3 is a scary, scary game, not aimed at youngsters, that creates a successfully believable 3D environment and contains a well-designed if a bit overly-scripted single player experience. On the PC, however, DOOM 3's online gaming experience is surprisingly bad, given Id's past experiences. The company provided very few multiplayer maps, and game play online is slow and plodding, and ultimately uninteresting.

That said, DOOM 3's biggest failing, perhaps, is that it was released in the same 12-month period as UbiSoft's Far Cry and Valve's Half-Life 2, both of which offer unbelievable graphic experiences and vastly superior single player storylines. And let's not forget Halo 2, which provides a vastly superior multiplayer experience. DOOM 3 succeeds at being atmospheric and truly terrifying, but Far Cry and Half-Life 2 offer much lusher environments and better replay value. I've played through all of these games at least three times each now, and while it's hard to pick a true winner, I'm reasonably sure that DOOM 3 is the lesser of the bunch. (See my Connected Home review of DOOM 3). And its 2005 expansion pack, Resurrection of Evil, is a joke, offering little in the way of new gameplay.

Others have offered even harsher criticisms of DOOM 3. Many have complained that the graphics engine is so heavy that Id was able to only add a few monsters at a time, a far cry (pardon the pun) from the number of bad guys you see simultaneously in a game like Halo 2 or Half-Life 2. Id, for its part, says that this is by design: They argue that the game is designed specifically to be scary and atmospheric, and not a balls-out action shooter (like the original, ahem). I bought that argument at first, but the lackluster multiplayer support--where only four players can compete in a level at a time--suggests otherwise. And scripted events--where you open a door and a demon attacks you immediately--aren't realistic; they're, well, scripted. Somehow, in all the technology that makes up DOOM 3, it seems that Id has lost some of the things that it got so fundamentally right with the original.

Thus, when Id shipped its version of DOOM 3 for the Xbox in April 2005, my initial reaction was disinterest. Aside from the obvious issues, I find the keyboard/mouse combination on the PC to be superior to the Xbox's hand controller for first person shooters, because it is more precise and fast. But a recent period of Halo 2-heavy gaming on the Xbox (see my Halo 2 review) caused me to rethink these types of games on consoles. Maybe it was time to try a different and yet familiar first person shooter on the Xbox and see it how it compares to its PC version and the Halo competition. After all, I have a lot of Halo and DOOM 3/PC experience already.

DOOM 3 for Xbox

My first impression about DOOM 3 for Xbox is that it is amazingly faithful to the PC original, given the relative limitations of the aging Xbox platform, and of CD-based console gaming in general. Once you sit through the minute or more it takes to actually get to the title screen, or engage in the normal Xbox button-pushing chicanery to skip the intros, you can jump in.

The DOOM 3 menu (Figure) offers three main options, Campaign, Multiplayer, and Settings, and a fourth, Extras, if you get the Limited Collector's Edition (which I did, see Availability and packaging below). Campaign is the single player version of the game, and you can start a new game from the Campaign submenu, load a previously saved game, or replay a previously completed map. Level load times are fairly long, as I had expected both as an Xbox user and as a DOOM 3/PC player.

As for the plot, I assume you're basically up-to-speed on DOOM lore, unless of course you've been living under a rock. As with the original game, DOOM 3 presents a universe in which a dubious corporate entity has uncovered a portal to another dimension and has unwittingly unleashed the monsters of Hell, who would like nothing more to overrun Mars and make their way to Earth. You are the Last Marine Standing, so to speak, and all that stands between Hell's hordes and humanity. You battle an amazing array of creatures, including the reanimated corpses of your fallen comrades (Figure). In a latter sequence, you journey to Hell itself. If you're familiar with sci-fi horror movies such as Aliens, you get the basic drift.

Down a dark hall we go: DOOM 3 single player

Having played through, and beaten, DOOM 3 on the PC, I was curious to see how the Xbox version of the single player game would compare. Surprisingly, it's pretty darned close. Graphically, DOOM 3 for Xbox is superb, and while I can run DOOM 3 on the PC at amazingly high resolutions, the smoothing effect you get from playing the game on the TV with the Xbox compensates nicely for any lack of detail. The levels themselves are graphically faithful to the PC original, and the moving creatures are so close that only a purist would claim to notice a difference (Figure). The music and sound effects, too, are just as good as in the PC version, which is to say excellent.

As for the levels, they appear to have been truncated and shortened in some cases, but an amazing amount of content from the PC version is in here. That extends to the cut scenes, the in-game PDAs (Figure) that guide your way, and in-game chatter, too: In early parts of the game, when you are trying to get back to Sergeant Kelly, his voice communications to you and other separated marines appears to be identical to the PC version. That's a nice touch, too, because these are the pieces that help give DOOM 3 its atmospheric feel.

DOOM 3 is a dark, dark game, and while that's by design, some of the scripted scares seem a bit less effective now that I'm expecting them (Figure). But the Xbox version of the game delivers the same darkness--we're talking utter darkness here--as the original, and the same creepy hallways and suddenly attacking monsters. In some ways, DOOM 3 is a George Romero "Dead" movie come to life, with room after room of scares, zombies, and monsters of all kinds. Some have complained about an obvious issue: You can't hold a flashlight and a weapon at the same time in the game. And yes, while we might assume that duct tape had been invented in this game's universe, there's a simple explanation for this limitation. DOOM 3 is a game, people. Id didn't want you using a flashlight and a weapon at the same time, so they made it impossible. It's part of what makes the game interesting and scary. Deal with it.

There are puzzles to solve, sort of. A number of supply lockers can be found around the base, and each is opened with its own unique three-digit code (Figure). These codes are typically found in the PDAs various victims have left scattered around the game, though DOOM 3 is occasionally inventive, by offering codes in different ways (in one case, a locker code is found on a whiteboard in an office). In this sense, DOOM 3 is a classic scavenger hunt, albeit one that takes place in a very realistic and horrifying setting. You are trying to get from Point A (the beginning of the level) to Point B (the end of the level) and must find certain items (PDAs) to unlock doors to move on to new sections. Along the way, you battle the best Hell has to offer and pick up new weapons. It sounds a lot like Wolfenstein 3D or the original DOOM when you think about it.

The monsters in DOOM 3 are a delicious mix of classic DOOM creatures and some new inventions (Figure). For an old timer like me, the new take on old classics is much appreciated, and I loved seeing how they were updated for the new millennium (though I enjoyed this more last August when the original PC version of DOOM 3 shipped). The Revenant, especially, is well done, with a weird luminous pseudo-skin over its skeleton frame. The often-battled Imp, too, is excellent (Figure).

The controllers aren't half bad either. One of the benefits of a mouse/keyboard set up on a PC is that you can map keys as you see fit, and there are so many to choose from. DOOM 3 uses every single button on the Xbox controller, and often uses a single button for different actions, depending on the situation. For example, the right trigger fires your weapon normally, but can also be used to enter a code on lockers, open doors, or interact in very basic ways with non-player characters (Figure). I found most of the buttons to be logically assigned, and though I'm a keyboard jockey I picked up on the layout right away.

What helps, of course, is that DOOM 3 for Xbox is not as picky about weapon aiming as is the PC version. That must be by design: The Xbox controller is simply not as precise as a mouse is on the PC, so it would be incredibly painful to try and aim directly on zombie bodies to get a direct hit. On that note, you are able to wing enemies in DOOM 3 for Xbox and do serious damage. That's how it should be, methinks.

Head to head: DOOM 3 multiplayer

Given the lackluster feel of DOOM 3 multiplayer on the PC, I was surprised to discover that it's not as horrible on the Xbox. It's no Halo 2, mind you, but the game seems more responsive on the Xbox than it does even on my decently-equipped gaming PC.

Multiplayer can occur over Xbox Live or System Link, the latter requiring two or more Xboxes on a local area network (LAN), each with a copy of the DOOM 3 disc. In System Link mode, you can start or find a match. Either way, there are five game types, Deathmatch, Team DM (Team Deathmatch), Cooperative, Tourney, and Last Man, which is reasonably diverse. However, the number of maps is tiny: Delta Lab, Frag Chamber, The Edge 2, Tomiko Reactor, and Outpost round out all five of the levels you get. All of these were designed specifically for deathmatch, or modified from the single player game.

(One exception: If you choose to play the game in Co-op mode, which is unique to the Xbox version, you get the full suite of single player levels. These include MC Underground (Mars City Underground), Mars City South, Mars City North, Administration, Alpha Labs, Enpro Sector 1, Enpro Sector 2, Communications, Recycling, Delta 2 North, Delta 2 South, Delta 4, Hell Part I, Hell Part II, Delta Complex, Site 3, Caverns Area 1, Caverns Area 2, Primary Site, and Mars City.)

Let's look at a typical Xbox Live-based multiplayer experience. Once you've logged on to the system, you can choose between Quick Match and Optimatch (and two other choices, Download, which will presumably offer new content at some time, though I have my doubts, and Create Match, which lets you start your own game). Quick Match basically queues up a single available match using the "Any" game type (Figure). You can choose to enter that game or choose a new game type (like Deathmatch) and refresh.

In Optimatch, you select a game type and then a map, or you can pick "Any" in either category. I generally prefer the Deathmatch game type, so I select that and then Any for map. DOOM 3 then connects to the Xbox Live service and queries about any available games. Because DOOM 3 hasn't really caught on in the same way that games like Halo 2 have, the list of available games is usually disappointingly small, and it seems like a small group of the same gamers are always online, especially during the day. I've even hit times where there were literally no available online games, which is a bad sign. In such a case, you're prompted to host your own game.

In any event, once you get into an online game, it's very similar to the PC experience, but doesn't feel as bogged down (Figure). Maybe it's just the controller feel or whatever. You don't have that wonderful feeling of weightlessness that you often get in Halo 2, but it's still not the lead-weighted shoes feel of DOOM 3 on the PC.

Xbox Live is, of course, a mixed bag. For all the pleasant people, there are an equivalent number of idiots who get on with the headsets and just act stupid. That said, I've found the Xbox DOOM 3 "community" (such as it is) to be quite nice. In my first few excursions online, for example, someone showed me around a few of the levels when no one else was playing, revealing various secrets, which I really appreciated.

Note that DOOM 3 does not offer a split screen co-op or multiplayer option for some reason. Split screen is standard fare on the Xbox (Halo 2 lets you split the screen 2,3, or 4 ways), though I've never been a big fan of it, regardless of the size or orientation of the TV. That said, some might find this oversight to be disappointing.

Availability and packaging

Id sells two different versions of DOOM 3 for Xbox: the standard (green box) version and a Limited Collector's Edition that includes full versions of Ultimate DOOM (the original DOOM with a bonus fourth episode) and DOOM II, and video content such as a four part G4TV making-of featurette, short interviews with Id Software developers, and a gallery of concept and production art. The Limited Collector's Edition also includes a nice slipcase cover if you're into that kind of thing. I picked up the Limited Collector's Edition just for DOOM and DOOM II, of course. Those games are still a lot of fun, and naturally the Xbox is easily capable of rendering these games identically to the way you remember them. Plus, you can't beat the big TV experience.


DOOM 3 for Xbox isn't horrible, but it isn't a must-have title either, unless of course you feel that you must simply buy every Id product possible (which, frankly, I'd understand). As a first-person shooter, DOOM 3 is an admirable attempt to create an atmospheric and stunningly realistic 3D environment, and as I mentioned earlier, it's unbelievably scary the first time through. The multiplayer version is decent, but not great, and certainly no competition for genre-defining games such as Halo 2. The single player mode is more successful, but again falls short of incredible PC-based titles like Far Cry and Half-Life 2. Given my long history enjoying the products that Id, its partners, and competitors have made over the years, I really wanted to love DOOM 3 for Xbox, but I can't. It just doesn't elicit an emotional reaction on way or the other.

About the Author(s)

Paul Thurrott

Paul Thurrott is senior technical analyst for Windows IT Pro. He writes the SuperSite for Windows, a weekly editorial for Windows IT Pro UPDATE, and a daily Windows news and information newsletter called WinInfo Daily UPDATE.

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