It’s time to over-analyze a dusty old videogame once again! Why people let me continue to get away with this will forever elude me…
A lot of people have dumped on Doom 3. Certainly no game could live up to the hype that preceded it, but I don’t think the game was quite as brain dead-as some made it out to be. I’ll even go so far as to say that I think it was a fine story, all except for the character of Dr. Betruger. If it wasn’t for him, this game would have been about twenty IQ points smarter.
The original Doom was about as thin as you can get, story-wise. The introduction to the game wasn’t even part of the software: You had to peruse the README text file if you wanted to put the events in their proper context. The intro wasn’t much, just a basic outline of the situation and a little bit of flavor text, but it at least explained where you were and how you got there. I wonder how many people played the game without even knowing about it.
When id Software went to make Doom 3, they faced the challenge of how to do so without making an unintentional comedy. Videogaming had evolved in the ten years since the original, and plotless games with a procession of mindless foes to gun down were no longer taken seriously. id Software needed to start over. The only thing they could keep – and the thing that would make it Doom – was the premise. So they were stuck with grafting a plot and characters onto the original idea. I actually think the writer did an admirable job, right up until he got to Dr. Betruger.
The characters Campbell, Swann, Miller, and Sarge were fine and they worked well within the Doom 3 story. They weren’t Shakespeare, but I don’t think they needed to be. They had just enough motivation and depth to make them interesting. But Betruger was pulled from an entirely different reality, as if someone lifted an old Snidely Whiplash knockoff and tried to wedge him into this sci-fi story about inter-dimensional monsters invading a Martian base run by a corrupt corporation. All he needs is a handlebar mustache to twirl while he monologues about his vague, nonsensical schemes. He delivered in cackles what should have come in whispers. He said plainly what should have been hinted at. His appearance was lame, his motivations were nonexistent, his dialog was gibberish, and his delivery was pure comedy.
As the game entered the second act the serviceable survival horror stuff gave way to “The Dr. Betruger Show”, where the old boy would get on the intercom and start shouting about his ridiculous plans like a carnival barker. His dialog in the comic above is lifted from the game verbatim, and he delivers those lines more than once. They are not scary the first time, and they do not become so through repetition. If he had a British accent his entire contribution to the plot could be seen as a long, elaborate Monty Python skit.
The saddest part is that Betruger isn’t even integral to the plot once the invasion has begun. His only purpose is to act as a catalyst, opening the gate and letting the monsters in. For the purposes of the story, he should have died soon after. Bringing him to the forefront makes it seem like this crazy old man, not the monsters from hell, is the chief antagonist.
Despite the criticisms leveled against Doom 3, I think at the heart of it the thing was a great game with a couple of ruinous elements. Betruger was the Jar-Jar Binks of the story; he was a mood-destroying force that crippled the plot instead of advancing it, detracting from the atmosphere and making the world as un-frightening as possible.
(Don’t even get me started on the expansion, where all of the characters – that is, both of them – were so shallow and nonsensical they became my chief foes, stopping me from enjoying the game. Even though I was supposedly playing one of them.)
The game was a dud, and I'm convinced a big part of that is due to the way the game leaned into its story. Its terrible, cringe-inducing story.
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