They don’t all need pictures, do they? I didn’t think so. This one was called Doom 3, or: My Love Affair with Survival Horror. 25 July, 2005. Special Feature: foolhardy, youthful optimism about the Silent Hill movie. Sigh.
Okay, so. I suppose since several people have reassured me that I haven’t been fooling anybody and that my geekdom is obvious despite my best intentions, it can’t hurt to make another post about another video game.
The other day I picked up Doom 3 for XBOX. Before I get a volley of responses from friends of mine who worship the PC as the ultimate gaming platform, let me redeem myself a little bit here by saying that the optical beam on my CD-RW drive in my computer has crapped out and won’t read data CDs anymore…so I don’t wanna hear about it.
I grew up playing the original Doom. I thought it was absolutely terrifying at the time. Looking back, maybe that seems laughable, given the bitcount and the corny sound effects, but when it was new it was the scariest thing I had ever played, and it is probably singlehandedly responsible for my transformation in early adolescence - from the wussy little girl who had nightmares after watching the sandpit scene in the movie Enemy Mine to the ballsier pre-teen who couldn’t stop watching Alien and Aliens, and who thought she had died and gone to heaven when this obscure, poorly-voiced little game title from Japan - originally titled ‘Biohazard’, and based on a Famicom game called ‘Sweet Home’ - was released in the U.S. under the soon-to-be-infamous name Resident Evil.
Now, with all four editions of the even more terrifying Silent Hill series under my belt, I consider myself a fairly hardened veteran of the survival-horror genre of games. Granted, Doom 3 more properly belongs in the FPS category than the survival-horror category, given its interface and the fact that it (thus far) seems to lack the requisite obscure puzzles that sort of define survival-horror games. Even so, lumping it in with games like Silent Hill, Resident Evil, The Thing, Fatal Frame, and others wouldn’t be too far off of the mark, because let me tell you: this game is fucking scary. I am embarassed to say that I am having a very hard time playing it alone in my house.
The first time I ever sat down to play Resident Evil (alone, in my dark room), I remember trying to get a handle on the slightly strange movement controls, the unusual targetting and aiming controls, and what’s more, the seriously bizarre fixed camera locations, all of which seemed to be designed to show you as little as possible and heighten the suspense. I remember guiding my stupid, slow-moving character down a hallway to check out a noise (not my idea, I wasn’t happy about it, but do they give you a choice? No. I have a feeling that Ms. Jill Valentine wasn’t being paid NEARLY enough to follow that kind of order, but whatever). I remember being sucked suddenly into a cinematic full of slurping noises and a first-person view…walking around a corner and seeing a decomposing zombie dining on what was presumably one of the people I was there to find.
I remember being absolutely terrified, and refusing to play the game by myself…not because it had zombies in it, but because of the way in which the game presented you with them: they lurched out of dark corners, came to life suddenly when you thought they were dead to gnaw on your ankle as you ran by. There were zombie dogs that leapt through the windows as you walked past them. After the first zombie encounter down that dark hallway, I remember thinking, ‘fuck this…we are so out of this house,’ and heading to the main hallway and opening the front door, and HOLY SHIT THERE’S A ZOMBIE WOLF TRYING TO EAT MY FACE OFF! - what a dirty trick that was. It was unlike anything else in the console industry, and I was immediately in love.
It was a long time before anything else hit the shelves that came anywhere near that first experience in terms of sheer fright-factor - Resident Evil was released in 1997, and it wasn’t until 1999 that the first game in the Silent Hill franchise would be released. It was completely different from RE in its visual style, unapologetic and grotesque and incredibly gory. It didn’t have lurching zombies, it had horrors on half-formed appendages. It didn’t send you to high-tech steampunk science labs in the bowels of cartoonishly-huge mansions - it sent you to an abandoned hospital full of empty gourneys, blood-soaked walls and wailing two-headed ‘nurses’ who would emerge from the pitch-black corridors like pale nightmares. It didn’t rely on things leaping out at you to frighten you - it blinded you with fog and darkness and soaked you in breathless silence, and gave you a little pocket radio, the only function of which was to start spitting static anytime anything dangerous started to close in…leaving you trying to figure out which direction it was coming from so that you could aim your pitiful, inadequate little flashlight beam in the right direction before it found you first. It trumped RE in almost every single way, save that its one flaw, perhaps, was that it required a lot of patience from its players: the action was extremely slow at the outset and the puzzles were incredibly difficult and, at times, nonsensical.
Nothing has ever frightened me like Silent Hill. And the games keep getting better and better. The last one, The Room, employed a few different means of moving through the story that were unusual and unique, and the visuals were incredible (much to my occasional chagrin).
Doom 3 seems to incorporate all of the best qualities of all of the best horror games and put them together in order to serve up one of the most eerie experiences that I have ever encountered on a console. The controls are smooth. The character models have perhaps suffered a little bit in the transfer from PC to XBOX formatting, but the environments are gorgeous - full of depth in both texture and shadow. In many games, an object or item will stand out from its environment, cluing you in to the fact that, hey, something is probably going to bust through that door, or maybe you need to shove that statue there over that floor panel to solve some puzzle…not so with D3. Things look seamless. There are scripted events that you don’t expect, and stretches of time when nothing happens that make it even worse when something finally does. I haven’t spent any time worried about when the next time I’m going to find health or ammunition will be…which means less time running away from things, and more time unloading that shotgun into beasties and watching them dissolve into a shower of hellish sparks.
I haven’t gotten very far, in all honesty, but if what I’ve seen thus far is any indicator of the quality throughout the rest of the game, I can say without a doubt that Romero has achieved the unexpected - what I figured would be a sort of creepy first-person-shooter has become legitimately one of the scariest games I have ever played.
…Anybody want to keep a girl company while she cringes under a blanket with a controller? :p
EDIT: So, I feel like I should mention that there’s a Silent Hill film coming out. It’s being directed by Christopher Gans (Brotherhood Of The Wolf), and I have mixed feelings about the fact that they’re going to do a movie at all. At least Gans’ other film was pretty decent. There’s an article at: http://www.bloody-disgusting.com/index.php?Show=3424&Template=newsfull if you’re interested.