Guest editorial: Playwright Andy Johnston on Doom 3: BFG Edition!

It’s October, and as you know, that means it’s time for The Horror Pages to pull out all the stops and bring you the best horror game coverage available anywhere. To begin the Halloween Madness,  check out this very special guest editorial from no less august a personage than St. Paul, MN playwright and director Andy Johnston. He has some strong opinions to share after completing a recent playthrough of Doom 3: BFG Edition. Is it worth your money? Read on to find out! -RedgoateeRob

The Resurrection

Some time ago I heard that Doom 3 would be rereleased for consoles. Several details excited me- the HD retrofit, the remastered sound that would be more surround friendly, the inclusion of Resurrection of Evil as well as Doom 95 and Doom II, and of course, the addition of 8 new bonus missions.

D3logoSadly, that was the end of the good news. After reading through several press releases from ID, it became clear that this game would not be the same adventure I had enjoyed on my original X-Box back in high school. The devs felt that this was their chance to go back and address various issues the fans had with the game and really “get it right” this time around. Changes were to be made. Dramatic ones. As I read the growing list of gameplay mechanics that were being stripped or reworked, I grew less and less excited, until I eventually cancelled my Gamestop preorder completely and moved on.

Time went by, the game’s price fell, and eventually I found myself in a Gamestop in October, craving some sinister gaming fun. I had played the hell out of such favorites as Dead Space, Dead Rising 2, Devil May Cry, etc. My eyes then drifted to Doom 3 BFG Edition, a mere 18 dollars. Again, my mind spun back to the many terrifying hours I spent with the groundbreaking original, scared to death and loving every minute of it…

I sighed, telling myself that 18 dollars wasn’t so much to sacrifice if I could reclaim even half of the joy I had on my first playthrough. Maybe the new content would make up for the changes? Multiplayer could be fun too! If nothing else, having Doom and Doom II to play through would make for some fun times.

That was about a week ago. I’ve played through about half of the original, and I have thoughts. What follows doesn’t qualify as a full game review. I have yet to experience Resurrection of Evil or The Lost Missions. My feeling is what I’ve experienced thus far will be indicative of the entire game.

Some Background

First let me say that I LOVE the original Doom 3. It is easily one of the defining games of my gaming experience. Alongside of Half-Life and Red Faction, there’s no FPS I have garnered more enjoyment from. When it came out, we had seen nothing like it before. The lighting, the graphic prowess, the voice acting…the game was an achievement of a theatrical level. It was a melding of the old guard gameplay and the future of the FPS-Survival Horror genre that would championed by such games as Bioshock, FEAR, Painkiller, and the like.

Doom 3 is not only proof perfect that great horror is achievable in a video game, but that some of the old FPS standards can still serve to make a player MORE involved in the action than any new innovation could.

The discussion of the silent “Point Man”, or protagonist, being a more effective device to involve a player in a story is a debate for a different article. Let it simply be said that Id made a very specific choice when designing this game to not have the player character speak despite it being a feasible option, what with the amount of voice acting otherwise involved. In a post-Bioware age, this subtlety is lost upon gamers, who would prefer a strong voiced character to tell them how they should be reacting to a situation.

But not Doom 3. It’s just you, and you have to make your own voice. Lord knows I often did, shouting in fear at the TV as I fired desperate bursts of plasma into Pinky demons. During those moments, I was the Marine, alone on Mars, knee deep in Hell, my only point of contact the rusty, crooning voice of some distant doomed marine sergeant.

Finding Your Security Blanket

The experience became deeply personal, and as such, one might develop a somewhat personal relationship with various weapons and items as the game progressed. For me, the Plasma Rifle was my best friend through thick and thin. Other fans have also cited deep personal affections for specific inventory items ranging from the Chain Gun to the infamous BFG 9000.

These weapons were all that stood between you and the abyss. Finding ammo for your favorite weapon was just as good as finding another human being (moreso, as most of the folks you met would turn on you in a dime).

However, one item that didn’t receive a lot of love was the flashlight. Interestingly, when Id announced that this item would be cut in favor of a HUD light that would automatically recharge, this sparked an entire debate about the nature of the game and whether or not this was necessarily an improvement.

Shine On


In the original Doom 3, you had a flashlight as a separate piece of equipment. You had to choose whether you would use this item, or carry an actual gun. You could see, or you could defend yourself, but you couldn’t do both. The flashlight a
lso operated as a blunt force weapon, which was useful for saving ammo and the like. On normal difficulty, this game was terrifying, difficult, and one of the greatest survival horror games ever designed, and it was due to both the flashlight and the scarcity of ammo and armor.

D3flash

In BFG edition, you still have the same lighting (I swear they cut some shadows to make up for no flashlight though), the same fearsome foes, the same terrifying sound effects and dark corridors, but no flashlight and plenty of ammo and armor. You go from being a participant who is just barely able to scrape by what the game has to throw at you to being a god amongst men who is never without a shitload of ammo, is rarely unarmored, and is never in any real danger of dying. Oh, and I’ve been playing this on Veteran, which by ID standards SHOULD be frickin impossible.

What’s more, you’re never without a light (you can now use a rechargeable flashlight that can be activated alongside your weapon). The fear of the shadows in this game is nonexistent.

Don’t get me wrong- this game is still tough enough, scary enough, and pretty enough to garner just enough chills and thrills to still be enjoyable. Finally being able to play all the bonus content in one place is a big plus too.

That said…when you remove the flashlight and the survival mechanics for the item availability, you’re changing genres. Doom 3 BFG edition is no longer survival horror. It is a straight FPS. It is point and shoot, run and gun, with no sense of strategy and no third dimension. It’s a damn shame that the good folks at ID bowed to the complaints and demands of stupid, stupid “fans”. While the game is great enough that it isn’t mangled completely, it’s still a complete waste of an opportunity to have a fully restored version of what is, in my opinion, one of the greatest FPS experiences ever. 

I haven’t played Doom 95 or Doom 2 yet. I assume they’re still just swell.

Tarnished Memories

One fundamental scene where the lighting issue is essential-

Alpha Labs Zone II- you have to go through the EMP generator room, and the lights are totally out. I mean, there is NOTHING. A lone scientist escorts you through the lab with a lantern, warning that the lights could go out at any time due to EMP. 

In the original game, you’re terrified. This level feels like it goes on FOREVER, and with every EMP blink and plunge into total darkness, you’re scared shitless. When enemies approach, you’re blindfiring and hoping to god the very fragile scientist doesn’t get obliterated. 

This is one of my favorite gaming memories of all time. 

In BFG edition, my scientist died immediately, but thanks to my handy chest light, I was able to run through the entire level blindly firing my machine gun in about 30 seconds flat. 

Another example of gameplay mechanics being tarnished-

D3horror

The first time you meet a Pinky demon you’ve just found the shotgun. You have a limited number of shells (maybe 12). The demon starts busting through the doors and you’re terrified. The first time I played the game, I practically screamed as the demon busted through the glass. I was backpedalling, firing, and hoping like hell that I wouldn’t run out of shells before the thing went down.

In the new game, I had about 32 shells. No question whether or not I would be able to take this thing down. What’s more is I had 100 health and 125 armor (as I had for most of the game up to this point). I wasn’t afraid, I was just a little worried about how much backpedal space.

What’s a Marine to do?

My understanding is there are also unofficial rereleases floating around on places like TPB that have reduxed graphics but the same old gameplay. 

I’ve heard the suggestion that the best way to go would be to dust off an old copy of GOTY Doom 3 for the original X-Box. If this is feasible for you, I highly recommend doing so. ID was so far ahead of their time when they made this game that the graphics STILL hold up just fine under scrutiny. You won’t be missing out on much if you go this route. 

The game in any incarnation is still a must-play though. Games like FEAR, Bioshock, Dead Space, and many, many others wouldn’t exist if not for Doom 3’s survival horror formula and PDA/HUD interface (including the bread crumb audio logs and the like that are so common these days). 

The Nature of Fear

I understand why some people found the scarcity of ammo and the flashlight mechanic as annoying. Fear isn’t a fun emotion to experience. As human beings, we have a natural defense mechanism against it. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. We don’t want to constantly be looking over our shoulders. Also, given the places Doom 3 takes us (Hell, demons, the occult), we don’t want the game to pry too deeply into the very familiar fears that our Christian-based society has instilled into us. We want what might be veiled in the darkness to either remain there or be fully exposed to us.

D3gore

The brilliance of Doom 3 was that it forced us to take the driver’s seat and charge fully into these fears. The flashlight was there both to expose our fears, and then to for us to get too close to them for comfort. The lack of ammo was a constant reminder that even in a game we are merely human, and as such we ought to take notice of the danger around us. Thus, the experience became more than point and shoot- it became a triumph of survival that tested both our mental fortitude as well as our gaming prowess.

It can all be summed up with a quote from the immortal Rod Sterling, who once said “There’s nothing in the dark that isn’t there when the lights are on.”

It’s not an adventure all of us are meant to embark upon. My hope is that in the future, devs will stick to their guns and willingly admit this, as opposed to nerfing the experience down so that its more suitable for everyone. If you’re afraid of what might be lingering in the dark, then maybe it’s best not to go probing those experiences that might force you shine a light on those dark corners to begin with.

-Andy Johnston, St. Paul director and playwright of various works, including License.

Images in this article were sourced from the Doom 3: BFG Edition promotional trailer. Doom 3, Doom 3 BFG Edition, and all associated IP are the property of their respective owners. Images are intended compliant with applicable fair use law. 

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~ by Redgoateerob on October 15, 2013.

2 Responses to “Guest editorial: Playwright Andy Johnston on Doom 3: BFG Edition!”

  1. I tried to avoid adding much in the way of commentary to this article because it was important to me to let my friend Mr. Johnston’s voice come through free of any meddling on my part, but, for my part, I want to take the opportunity to add a ringing endorsement to just about everything he wrote. As a great fan of the Doom games, I was also disappointed when I learned about the changes made to the BFG Edition re-release of the game was going to allow the player to run the flashlight all the way throughout. I never picked up the BFG Edition for that reason, sticking instead with my original PC and XBox Collector’s Edition discs. Major thanks to Andy for speaking out on this issue, and for picking The Horror Pages as the venue for doing so.

  2. […] time ago, my friend, playwright Andy Johnston (who recently served as a guest author on The Horror Pages) asked that I post my thoughts about a film I had recently purchased on DVD. After a mutual friend […]

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