Friday, April 08, 2005

Doom 3: The Game Of The Year?

There is a cavalcade of great games being released over the next few months for the XBox - the only console that matters in the current generation of gaming consoles. These range from Jade Empire to Forza Motorsport, and the XBox version of GTA: San Andreas (for which I will gladly trade Halo 2, as promised).

ID Software released Doom 3 for the XBox in two versions this week - the Ultimate Edition is the better version - it comes with XBox updates of the original Doom games - Ultimate Doom and Doom II. There are also interviews, a photo gallery, etc.

Doom 3 is a striking, powerful, freakingly scary game. It fully utilizes the rich surround-sound capabilities of the XBox, and the ability to render darkness, light and narrow. cramped, claustrophic cargo holds of spacestations in a manner that you wish you were not there.

The storyline is basic, placing the player on a space installation as a sort of security dude/investigator, who is forced to defend and fight his way out when the residents turn into zombies and monsters - some borrowed from the original Doom (the wookie-type monster who shoots balls of fire, for example). You can only hold one weapon at a time, and it is often necessary to switch to your flashlight to peer into the dark spots. That takes the weapon out of your hand, a difficult situation, and a step back from the two-handed fighting of Halo 2. A PC Mod apparently exists for this difficulty, none that I am aware of, or would want to apply, for the XBox.

Not a game for kids or the faint-hearted, the sounds are very effective at creating a dark, corrosive atmosphere of dread. The game can also be played on XBox Live, although the matchmaking interface is terribly clunky, and commonly tries to connect you to games that have ended or are not available. The very cool feature on XBox Live of showing you which games your friends are currently playing tells me however, that many of my Halo 2 friends and clansmen have deserted the Covenant for the gates of Doom. A very cool feature on XBox Live is co-operative gaming, a first, I believe.

I also picked up a nice, low-priced anniversary collection of all 10 Megaman games - these were N64 titles that featured Megaman jumping, kicking and fighting his way through a series of sidescrolling levels against a variety of heavies, and set against varied backdrops. This nostalgic update is interesting in showing how far games have already come, from their humble beginnings. A willing suspension of disbelief is more easy now, gaming having become, in many cases, relatively indistinguisable from film-making.

The gaming industry is setting up for a Doom-like battle of their own. Over the next couple of years, the three big players are slated to release next generation versions of their consoles. Microsoft may be the first in this generation, with indications that XBox 360 will be demo-ed at E3 in May. Sony has already published plans and some details of the microprocessor termed 'Cell' that will power their device, and it seems that it will deliver on all quarters. Even Nintendo has a console in the works, after earlier reports that they may not release another console for a while. The elusive Phantom may still appear, too.

From the industry's perspective, an upgrade cycle is overdue. The average gamer can be expected to spend between $500 to $800 on games, etc. over the life of a console, a number I'm pulling out of my hat after reasoned deliberation and an overview of the good games of this generation. The introduction of the XBox Live service provided a separate and valuable reveneue stream for Microsoft, although their share of the low subscription fees is likely split among the game vendors. Technologically, too, the gaming consoles, particularly the now-ancient PlayStation 2, have less than half the computing power of modern PCs, leave alone gaming rigs, like those from Alienware. Further, the convergence of media, technology and entertainment is ahead of the curve of gaming consoles, except again, the XBox, which has more home-theater-related features.

Wishlist features for nextgen gaming consoles:
> Multi-core, 64 bit processors
> Large hard disks, supporting TV-in, DVR and CD ripping
> Gaming profiles stored on the network, allowing anywhere, anytime gaming
> Kick-ass, immersive, visually rich games
> The end of franchise-driven game releases
(Doom 3 comments at blogcritics.org)

Doom 3 Collector's Edition Doom 3 Halo 2 XB MEGA MAN ANNIVERSARY COLLEC XB Jade Empire (Limited Edition) Forza Motorsport Xbox Core Console USM The Black Art of Xbox Mods/Jonathan S. Harbour Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering/Andrew Huang

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