A First Look at Doom 3

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PHOTO-REALISM: A screen shot from Doom 3

Sometime in 1993 I noticed a dramatic decline in my personal productivity. Also affected were my sleeping habits and personal hygiene. Same thing happened in 1996. It may or may not be a coincidence that 1993 was the year id Software released a video game called Doom, and 1996 was the year they put out Quake. Maybe there's a connection, maybe not. But I have a feeling it's going to happen all over again in about three weeks when id releases Doom 3.

If you've read this far, you probably already know what Doom 3 is — the next big game from id — and who id Software are — the spiritual and technological fathers of the modern video game as we know and love it. From the title you'd think Doom 3 was a sequel to the earlier Doom games, but you'd be wrong: It's actually a wholesale reimagining and retelling of the original Doom scenario. You're a Marine posted to a fancy-pants research facility on Mars. You show up, something goes really, phenomenally wrong, and suddenly you're squaring off against a crapload of demons.

The similarities to the original Doom end there. Doom 3 runs on all-new technology, and let's not mince words: there has never been a game that looks this good. I'm not sure what does it — the highly detailed textures, the fancy colored light and shadow-play, the all-new physics models, the "normal mapping" (whatever that is) — but id has created a virtual environment that's more compelling and immersive and realistic than really seems possible. Get up close to one of the demons and look at his skin: it gleams with a dull, matte, scaly sheen that's disturbingly lifelike. Warning: staring at demon skin up close may result in you being gutted like a fish.

Doom 3 is scary: A couple of times — embarrassing but true — I physically jerked my head back from the screen. But there's other good stuff in there, too: The id team has paid a lot more attention to storytelling and voice-acting in Doom 3 than they have in past games. This isn't just a run-and-gun scenario; there's actual plot points and stuff. There's a more cinematic sensibility at work too — watch for some nice virtual camerawork in the cut scenes. And of course, the creature design has that signature sick flair that one expects from id's artists, who almost certainly were badly mistreated as children.

More than this I can't say. id is keeping Doom 3 tightly under wraps until its release the week of August 2. But sit tight and you won't be disappointed. As for me, I've been to Hell and I survived, and I'll be going back just as soon as I possibly can. Hold my calls.