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Doom 3 ≈ Half-Life + Cutscenes

It feels weird comparing Doom 3 to Half-Life instead of, you know, Doom. The comparisons to Doom are much more obvious and blatant. But this game also had some striking similarities with Half-Life 1, so much so that I think it’s worth talking about how the two games are similar.

The basic story structure is extremely similar between the two games. You’re in an isolated facility of workers experimenting with strange concepts, when suddenly the entire facility is attacked by weird, foreign, alien-like creatures of varying sizes and shapes, some of which have the ability to teleport. Then you have to fight your way through the whole facility to defeat the leader and restore peace to the land, but once you beat the big bad you get left with a silly cliffhanger.

I already mentioned in that id Software post that the intro to Doom 3 feels very Half-Life-esque. You’re at a space station type place instead of a science facility, but it’s the same basic concept. It’s your first day as a marine and you’re walking around the station, getting to see people on the job. At first things seem pretty normal, but over time you hear more and more people saying that there’s some weird stuff going on. You keep getting a bit of a creepy vibe, until you finally see the aliens go loose and start turning everyone into zombies.

And then all restraint gets thrown out the window.

But seriously, the beginning is really cool. You get a sense of how these people live their lives, and there are a few toys for you to play with. You can even play a little arcade game:

META!

Also, the moment when the guard dude forces you to pick up your security armor and pistol seems to have been ripped straight out of Half-Life: Blue Shift.

About that beer I owed you…

Another section of the game that felt very Half-Lifeish was the segment where you enter Hell. It felt very much like the final level in Half-Life, wherein you enter the alien homeworld. Think about it. You’ve been fighting these crazy alien-type dudes out of your domain, and finally towards the end of the game you get to fight them on their turf. Sure, they might be demons instead of aliens, but tear off the paint job and it’s the exact same thing.

This part of the game does have pretty interesting scenery, and it’s a nice change of pace from the endless identical space station corridors you traverse throughout the rest of the game, but it does have its problems. The monsters are all the same ones you’ve been fighting, so the combat does get tedious to a degree. You lose your flashlight for this segment, so those dark areas just have to stay dark, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

And like the alien homeworld in Half-Life, Hell apparently has a few jumping puzzles.

Don’t slip!

I’m actually not as bitter about this as you might think. I’m one of the four or five people on the planet who thinks that first person platforming doesn’t automatically suck. It just sucks if it’s done badly and used in an engine that doesn’t really allow for it. For example, I was pretty much alright with the platforming in Half-Life. And Doom 3 doesn’t ever demand as much agility as Half-Life does, so it’s not too much of a nuisance. It wasn’t for me, anyway.

Here’s some other similarities between Doom 3 and Half-Life, in no particular order:

  • A mixup of fights between alien monsters and gun-wielding marines
  • A silent protagonist who everyone orders around like he’s some kind of goddamn repairman
  • A legion of uninteresting NPCs who are easily killable by the player
Hah! That’s what I think of your boring dialogue.

But hey, you know what Doom 3 has that Half-Life doesn’t? Cutscenes. Cutscenes out the back end.

Different people have different opinions on custcenes and how they should be used in games. I think that, generally speaking, cutscenes are the antithesis to good storytelling in games. Resorting to cutscenes because you don’t know how to use interactive storytelling is like a film resorting to text walls every five minutes because it doesn’t know how to use visual storytelling. Games are interactive by definition, and taking that interactivity away just so you can make sure they don’t muck up your magnificent story just comes off to me as ham-fisted and self-indulgent.

However, I can begrudgingly accept a cutscene as long as

  1. It seems necessary to the plot,
  2. It is concise and well put together.

Doom 3 fails in both of these regards. Most of the cutscenes are entirely needless, the dialogue is badly written, and they typically screw with the atmosphere of the gameplay. Almost every time the game brings forth a new monster, it’s introduced in a cutscene first and in gameplay second. Especially since this is trying to be a horror game, all these cutscenes seem to do is completely remove any sense of suspense or fear we may have had.

Just as an example, in one of the early levels you enter a closed-off room to press a button which opens a door in another room. As soon as you do this, a cutscene begins which carries the camera off to the outside of the room, where this dude appears:

He’s like a demon cow. I know, spooky, right?

He jumps off of the railing and runs up to the locked, windowless door to your little chamber. It switches back to gameplay, where you can’t see the monster but can hear it smashing against the door a few times before he moves over and smashes through a window. Then he dies in two shotgun blasts. On hard mode.

I can’t help but feel like that sequence would have been much scarier if they just cut out that cutscene. That way I wouldn’t have known what was smashing against the door, but my imagination would have filled in the details. And your imagination will always be scarier than reality.

I bet if they just removed 95% of the cutscenes in this game, it would be far more compelling.

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3 responses

  1. David T

    **The following refers to cutscenes in general, including real-time and prerendered.**
    I’ve always liked cutscenes (if they’re well done, of course). The prerendered ones played a more important role in older games because of real-time rendering limitations, but I still like them today. Uncharted 2 did them fantastically (I could go on and on about that game, but I’ll leave it at that). There are some things that are better told outside of the normal camera conditions. I agree though, that with most fps games, staying in first person is a safe move. It kind of lets you “be” the person. The way I kind of see cutscenes now is that the more complex the action is on screen, the more likely it should go outside of the normal game camera (just so you can see and experience it better)

    July 22, 2011 at 3:20 PM

  2. I’m one of those people who doesn’t think first person platforming is automatically bad. I’ll just say, almost every instance of first person platforming I’ve ever done is really frustrating. Only a few games have done it in a way I find enjoyable.

    with regards to cutscenes, the problem seems to be that it interrupts the actual gameplay. The comparison to wall of text in movies immediately made me think of Star Wars. It would ruin the movie to keep interrupting the action with text, but as an intro I thought the wall of text was okay(although some might disagree and hate walls of texts to ever be used in movies). So for games, I guess an intro cutscene, and another at the end to wrap things up is okay. Although really I don’t mind a few more cutscenes spread out in the game.

    Although incredibly long, and/or frequent cutscenes can really bother me(fucking MGS4) I’m quite a bit more forgiving of cutscenes than you seem to be.

    July 22, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    • JPH

      Yeah, I’m alright with cutscenes at the beginning and ending. I was also pretty okay with the cutscenes in between missions in Thief: The Dark Project. I guess the overall point is that as long as it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game, it’s probably okay. And as long as it doesn’t drag on. And as long as it’s necessary to the plot.

      And with all that in mind, interactive storytelling is still better.

      July 22, 2011 at 4:53 PM

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