Just as Memorial Day weekend opens the big summer blockbuster film season, August and September mark the opening of the preholiday blockbuster game-release season. And while legendary edge-of-your-seat crowd-pleaser producer Jerry Bruckheimer didn't have anything to do with either of the games I'm reviewing for this column, he may wish he had. With more explosive action than Bad Boys II, Doom 3 and City of Heroes may be the most cinematic yet.
Doom 3: Long-Overdue Graphics Update
I'll start with Doom 3, the perennially almost-ready game from Id Software that finally made it to store shelves a few weeks ago. Four installation CDs and about 10 minutes after receiving my copy in the mail, I was ready to go toe-to-toe with some really ugly bad guys.
The Doom series puts you in the jackboots of a hyper-steroided space marine who finds himself locked in a damaged, subterranean Martian base with monsters that come, literally, straight from hell. The rules: If you see anything move, you blast it ... several times, if necessary. The first Doom game pioneered the first-person shooter genre.
This game marks the Doom franchise's foray into the world of modern first-person shooters, with heavy system requirements and a lot of eye candy in the form of high-resolution graphics. You don't even need to fight monsters to see the improved graphics--they're subtly placed everywhere in the game.
In previous Doom installments, for example, computer consoles and other nonessential elements in the game were rendered as simple bitmaps over surfaces; if you walked up to them, they got more blocky. In contrast, when you walk up to Doom 3's computer screens they get sharper and resolve into readable, usable displays, while the game keeps the stuff in the distance sharp, as well.
Faces--whether of humans or hell-spawn monsters--also take on a creepily realistic cast. You can almost see every pore in a human's skin (or every I'm-not-sure-what-that-hole-is on a monster's head). Beyond that, the entire single-player game is sparsely lit with moody, upward illumination from whatever light sources are available after the monsters destroyed the Mars complex's generators.
But you can look at the monsters for only the blink of an eye. Once you see a moving shape, if you're not already shooting, you're well on the way to being dead. With such low lighting and fast-moving monsters, it's hard to get a full sense of just how horrible the creatures look. But the game is more than a science-fiction horror movie, anyway, so the looks on the monsters' faces are only a small part of the experience. Some monsters hurl fireballs at you, while others lunge for your throat. Even if you only catch a glimpse of them, they're pretty horrible in those instants.
As for game play, while Doom 3 gave me an adrenaline rush that took nearly 2 hours to subside, it still felt pretty similar to that of the original game. Turn a corner, open a door, or walk down a stairwell, and you're likely to meet one or more monsters, zombies, strange dog-like things, or other evildoers. No matter how you're being attacked, it's always a harrowing experience, one you're eager to end with a few well-placed shotgun blasts.
City of Heroes: By Day, A Mild-Mannered Tech Journalist
Taking a break from the dark, brooding tunnels of Doom, I looked at NCSoft's brightly lit and brightly colored City of Heroes. This massive multiplayer online role playing game puts you and thousands of other people in the role of superheroes, the saviors of Paragon City. I've got to admit, the quick transition from Doom gave me a little whiplash, but boy was it fun.
In this game, in which you and countless others fight purse-snatching gang members, mechanized bad guys, and dozens of other kinds of villains (super and otherwise), you're just another member of the extended superhero family.
To create a character, you choose your superhero's origin: Is he or she a mutant freak of nature, a mechanized Six Million Dollar Man, a paranormal who can summon powers from beyond, or just a really, really strong human who happens to be colored a deep blue? After that, you decide what your super powers will be (yes, you can fly, blast people with energy beams, or turn invisible), and design your costume. Finally, you learn the ropes of fighting bad guys on the streets of Paragon City.
Sharpen Your Super Senses
Game play is pretty simple, with many of the expected elements you find in MMORPGs such as Everquest. Experience, which you get from fighting evildoers or completing tasks, gets you new abilities. Bad guys drop stuff that you can trade in for items valuable to your character. And gangs of superheroes (unsurprisingly called "Super Groups") can pool their powers to fight even bigger, badder bad guys.
It's funny to note just how many superheroes one town can support (or tolerate). Simply watching other players can keep you occupied for hours, and some players make up hilarious hero names and back stories.
I'm only getting started with City of Heroes, but I'm already having a hard time splitting my attention between the optimistic City of Heroes, and Doom 3, a masterpiece of in-game horror. Both are hugely entertaining, and both cater to a very specific desire of gamers: to remove one's self completely from reality for a few hours per day (or week).
But if you're on the City of Heroes Champion server, and you see "The Urgent Haircut" fighting gang members with his trusty katana blade, or "The Bleem" flashing past in a streak of blue, wave hello and wish them well. They, like Doom's space marine, are ridding the virtual world of bad guys the old-fashioned way: one evildoer at a time.
Doom 3 costs $55; City of Heroes is $50, which includes one month of online play time (after that, you pay $15 per month). Both games run on Windows PCs.