The recent release of the Doom trilogy on Switch has been a welcome one, even though it’s been one mired in controversy over ‘login-gate’. Doom remains a fantastic game more than a quarter of a century after its initial launch, and that’s more or less the case with Doom II as well. Doom 3, meanwhile, is a very different game and one that requires its own scrutiny.
Released a full decade after Doom II, the third Doom game is something of a reboot of the original. As in that, you play a nameless marine who’s been sent to Mars on security duty to protect military research into portals. Something goes massively wrong and a portal to Hell is opened, leading to demons and possessed soldiers all over the shop.
Despite both games having the same plot, however, Doom 3 is significantly different to the first Doom: not just in terms of the obvious graphical upgrade, but in the way the game feels to play in general. Whereas Doom and Doom II are relatively fast-paced games where aiming can be relatively loose and carnage is the name of the game, Doom 3 is a much slower, more atmospheric experience where you’re rewarded for careful aiming (i.e. headshots) under pressure.
Enemies tend to put up more of a fight here than in the previous games, and tend to be a little more accurate with their attacks. As such, you’ll be far more conscious of your health and your ammo here than in the first two Dooms. Enemies also have an annoying tendency to pop up just as you do certain things – picking up weapons and ammo, for example – giving it more of a jumpy feel and keeping you on edge throughout.
Some Doom die-hards were critical of the game’s feel when it originally launched, and it’s easy to see why: this is an atmospheric and scary adventure in its own right, but it doesn’t really feel like a Doom game. That doesn’t necessarily make it any better or worse, mind you: just different.
As a polygonal game from the mid-noughties, Doom 3 is showing its age in some areas. Character models look distinctly low in detail, and facial animations are iffy. Everything generally has that chunky GameCube-era look to it, despite the obvious increase in resolution (which we’ll get to), and the voice acting is as ropey as a sailor’s knot-tying lessons. One area where it does continue to impress, however, is lighting.
The lighting in Doom 3 was the big selling point when the game first launched in 2004. Using the id Tech 4 graphics engine, id Software made a big deal of the fact that the light sources were calculated in real-time, meaning illumination and shadows were far more realistic than anything that had come before it. Of course, technology has improved in leaps and bounds since then but 15 years later it still looks extremely impressive.
When it was originally released, lighting was one of the most controversial elements of the game too: specifically, the way the flashlight worked. Many of the game’s corridors are extremely dark, meaning the flashlight you received at the start was essential. The problem was, you could only hold either your flashlight or a weapon, not both: as a result, any time you encountered an enemy in a dark area you had to switch to your gun and blindly fire into the darkness, hoping you hit them.
This was fixed in Doom 3: BFG Edition, a 2012 re-release on Xbox 360 and PS3, where the handheld torch was replaced with an armour-mounted version, meaning you could shine a light and fire at enemies at the same time. Thankfully, this Switch version is based on the BFG Edition, so there’s no flashlight-fumbling here (other than the fact it only lasts for a while, at which point you have to turn it off and charge it for a few seconds).
This means the Switch port also includes the two expansion packs that were bundled with the BFG Edition: Resurrection of Evil (which introduces new weapons like the Half-Life 2 style Grabber) and The Lost Mission (an 8-level chunk that was cut from the original game). Combined, they add another 20 stages to what’s already a pretty lengthy game, meaning you’ll definitely get your money’s worth in terms of content.
The Switch versions of Doom and Doom II suffered from two main issues: the aforementioned requirement to sign up for and log into a Bethesda account, and some slight performance problems. The good news is that Doom 3 doesn’t require any account shenanigans, but the bad news is that the performance isn’t perfect here either, and the issues are far more noticeable this time.
In terms of resolution, there’s nothing to complain about: everything renders perfectly at 1080p when docked and 720p in handheld mode and looks beautifully sharp throughout. The problem is the frame rate, which aims for 60 frames per second and hits it much of the time, but regularly drops and gets stuttery during moments of action or particularly intense lighting effects. You can fix this a little by going to the options, turning off flashlight shadows and reducing the depth of field, but there’s still a degree of stutter regardless.
Also disappointing are the lack of subtitles. Granted, they weren’t in the original release either and would have required more work to add, but in today’s day and age subtitles are more or less a standard: not just for accessibility purposes for those who need them, but for those of us who just like having them on to make sure we catch all of the dialogue (and there’s a lot of it here, from chatting with characters at the start of the game to the numerous audio logs you can find). It’s especially a shame when you consider that depending on your situation you don’t always get to play with sound on in handheld mode, meaning you’ll miss out on the plot entirely.
As long as you can cope with those drawbacks, you’re left with a lengthy, atmospheric and hugely entertaining shooter that somehow manages to look dated in some aspects but continue to impress in others. We said in our Doom II review that which game you preferred – Doom or its sequel – would really come down to personal taste. That’s the same situation here, but multiplied countless times given the sheer difference between Doom 3 and its predecessors. It may not be Doom as traditionalists know it, but it’s a fun time nonetheless.
A stuttery frame rate isn’t enough to derail one of the most memorable FPS campaigns of yesteryear. Doom 3 still has the power to unnerve and while elements of it may be showing their age now, the overall package – complete with the BFG Edition improvements and expansion packs – still guarantees value for money.