Doom 3: Muhahaha

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Apr 23, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 42 comments

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.

Doom 3
While many fans have dissed the survival horror aspect of Doom 3, I still think the game had some genuine scares and some good emotional hooks. Maybe I’m just a lightweight, but I thought several of the scenes were handled deftly and with an eye towards restraint. The whispering female voice and footprints leading you to the secret cache of supplies was a creepy moment. The introduction of the spiders was executed with cunning. And the “zombie” levels at the start of the game mostly worked. If you look at these parts of the game in isolation, it starts to look like a game with some subtlety and a good sense of how to manipulate the player. All of which makes it that much more frustrating when the thing spazzes out later on.

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.)


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42 thoughts on “Doom 3: Muhahaha

  1. Jeremiah says:

    I’m not ashamed to say there were a number of times Doom 3 scared the crap out of me. Especially playing in the middle of the night with all my lights off and only the feeble glow of my monitor to see by. There were a number of times I had to just sit there and let my heart rate slow down before continuing.

    And, yes, Dr. Betruger made the game much less enjoyable for me as well.

  2. Burning says:

    I haven’t played any of the Dooms, so I have no personal opinion about what did or didn’t work in them. I just gotta say, kudos for your dialog for the marine, particularly the last panel.

  3. Huckleberry says:

    You just have to love the guys who come up with these names in three easy steps: (1) Translate the job description into German [“Betrà¼ger”] (2) Add or remove dots at random (3) Ready to go!

    And for supreme viciousness, add a PhD.

    1. Scampi says:

      Well…I never played Doom 3, only a friend did-and he really was not too impressed with it. But I was wondering…what WAS Dr. Betruger’s job? I’m kind of intrigued^^

  4. asterismW says:

    Why people let me continue to get away with this will forever elude me…

    It’s because you write about them so well. I’ve never played a single game you write about, never played a computer RPG, much less a tabletop one, and yet I enjoy your posts immensely. They’re funny and interesting and always rewarding, regardless of the topic.

  5. Maddy says:

    Don’t underestimate the value of a new review for an old product. You can write a better review when you have the advantage of time and perspective. Granted there’s not as much demand for reviews once the game’s been out for a while, but it’s still useful for those who are playing catch-up on a series that they missed first time around.

    And there’s also the nostalgia factor. :)

  6. GAZZA says:

    Disclaimer: I don’t like the entire FPS genre, so I haven’t actually played Doom 3 (or 2, or 1, or either Quake, or Half Life, or … you get the idea).

    Having said that, wasn’t the most common complaint about Doom 3 that it overused “cheap scares”? The old “either use your torch OR your gun” stuff, the way that everything ambushed you from behind, and the “zombies coming out of invisible walls” syndrome? I got the impression from reading such reviews that many people were more disgusted with the game play than the storyline – which if true, is somewhat ironic given that Doom had previously had to survive ONLY on the gameplay (not really having any story).

  7. Adamantyr says:

    I thought Doom 3 was mediocre myself. At the time I bought it, my PC wasn’t quite up to snuff to run it, so that was a bit frustrating. But what really killed it for me was the game was so predictable.

    Yes, it had some scary moments. Unfortunately, they’re 100% scripted. That means if you reload a saved game, it happens in exactly the same way. In fact, the game’s strategy a lot of the time goes like this:

    1) Walk into a death-trap.
    2) Either die or expend a lot of ammo and health in an inefficient way
    3) Reload saved game, redo with full foreknowledge of what to expect and how to do it “properly”

    In particular, wandering around a level you cleared gets very boring. A good survival-horror game should keep a player on his toes. System Shock 2 did this… once in awhile, a random enemy would just spawn. This keeps you in a state of constant alertness, as you really don’t know what you’re facing. I think a good S/H game combined strong scripted events (and the scripted events WERE good, I don’t deny that!) and procedural randomness designed to keep the player off-balance.

    I did like the music though, especially the opening theme. Good stuff. And the story and plot are a little better than the path Quake went down after the first one… Romero may have been a total slacker when he was at Id, but he contributed something to the story process; they haven’t had anything quite so good since the original Doom or Quake.

  8. krellen says:

    So you’re this gun-toting, demon-killing marine badass, right? That’s standard fare for Doom. So why does this marine just stand there letting this crazy old kook threaten him like that? You’ve got weaponry that reduces demonic menaces to paste; surely some old man can’t stand up to that kind of fire-power.

  9. Stark says:

    Well, I imagined that I didn’t kill him becasue I was badass demon killing marine… not a murderer of old and obviously insane humans. Maybe that’s just me though.

  10. i, squub says:

    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.

    Well no wonder I didn’t like Doom3. I was waiting all that time for Doom 2 2. Being only an occasional-gamer, I had no idea that plotless games like Doom 2 had become frowned upon. Plus Doom 3 DID have way too much something-jumps-out-and-scares-ya things, which I don’t enjoy.

  11. Lain says:


    …and always the Germans are the bad guys.
    Only because of an AUSTRIAN before 60 years.

    Betruger is written correct with two points over the “u”. That means Betrayer in english.

    How unsuspecting and unclicheefull.

  12. Saint_007 says:

    While admittedly some techniques in Doom 3 were cheap (use only torch or weapon, I mean, geez, modern Rangers have the dexterity to use BOTH, do futuristic Marines get cheap training or something?) and things got repetitive once played through, however the atmosphere and ambushes scared the living crap out of me. Once I was playing late, and someone came in on me. I literally jumped out of my seat with terror (I was unnerved to the edge of my sanity by Imps and Lost Souls).

    You’re right about Bertruger; he does get old after a point. And annoying.

  13. lxs says:

    Lain – Godwin’s Law.

  14. JFargo says:

    It sounds like someone decided the game needed a main human enemy, a reason for all the evil that was more than just “the gate opens and stuff happens because of it.” They needed to give it a human face.

    Of course, I find that any time a video game taunts me about my soul burning in hell, it really doesn’t scare me nearly as much as the zombie scenes in Doom 3. I’m not worried about my character’s soul, I’m worried about making it through alive. It just feels contrived or something.

  15. Shamus says:

    krellen: You never actually meet him face-to-face ilike this in the game. He’s always on the other side of a window or talking to you via video.

  16. Dan says:

    The Betruger Protocol could have been easily solved in another way: by allowing the player to respond exactly as he does in the above panels!

    That was hilarious!

    Old reviews are the best. I’m 10 to 20 years behind on the PC gaming frontier. I still go through Infocom games.

  17. MPR says:

    I liked and disliked Doom 3.

    The whole thing was on rails … walk down a hallway, monsters jump out of closets, kill them, find small room, monsters jump out, enter next hallway, repeat, repeat, repeat. It was a complete opposite of Deus Ex 1 in that regard.

    The thing they got totally right, and I don’t think credit has been adequately granted, was the user interface. You interact with consoles and your environment in a way that seemed completely natural and preserved immersion. It was genuinely masterful.

    My favorite bit was after you talk to the soldier at the front desk and he tells you to go see the commander, and returns to the report he is writing at his computer. You can read over his shoulder what he’s typing – pretty dry stuff, until he starts putting in something like “This new guy is annoying, he is standing here reading this right now. Go away.”

    And you can’t not play Super Turbo Turkey Punch 3 in the breakroom.

    Also, Doom 3 taught me a valuable lesson: If I ever find medkits or other goodies lying unguarded in a corner, there are monsters waiting to pounce. Always.

  18. Roy says:

    Hey, if I were a monster, that’s how I’d do it.

  19. Ranneko says:

    Yeah, Doom 3 was fun and did give me various scares, mostly around the start, but it had only had a limited set of tricks and you soon were fairly wise to most of them.

    Big gun/medkit/important PDA out in the open, enemies spawn/are revealed from concealment.

    Lots of small vents? Spiderlings

    Enemy spawns in front of you, Move the the side because the bastards ALSO spawned one behind you.

  20. Stu says:

    I have to say I absolutely loved Doom III. Playing it late at night in the dark probably did nothing good for my blood pressure or nerves. Even today the sound of ‘tippity tappity’ fills me with dread.

    The people who didn’t like Doom seem to dislike it for the wrong reason- “it’s too linear”, “it’s just shooting monsters and that’s it”- personally, Im glad it remained faithful to the original game.. that is, the game were you are not required to think much to win.

  21. qrter says:

    I think what made Doom 3 annoying for a lot of people (including myself) was that they didn’t make a clear choice – either do a story and do it well or drop the whole pretense of doing a story and just let crap jump me from every angle. Now the game had this half-assed story that was haphazardly implemented.

    If I remember correctly, when you were listening to the PDAs, you couldn’t do anything else while listening, which I thought was very annoying and took all the pace out of the game. At least in BioShock, to name an example, you could still keep moving and/or exploring while listening.

    I think what really bothered me about Doom 3 was how you could always see the artifice – don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind it if a game is artificial, simply because in the end that’s the nature of what a game is. In this case it ties into my first point – basically the game was: walk down corridor, shoot crap, find blue key for blue door, open blue door, etc. id then tried to hide this under a thin layer of story, which for me only accentuated the frame it was draped over.

    I want a game world that I can ‘believe’ in, Doom 3 couldn’t do that for me.

  22. evilmrhenry says:

    qrter, I’m fairly certain you could startup a PDA audio file, then exit the PDA interface, and have the file keep playing.

  23. Lanthanide says:

    You could listen to PDAs while doing other things. I think they tried to rely on that for the Hell sections when you get the sound discs from the guy who was exploring there.

    Most people complained about the monster cabinets that would open up as soon as you went to retrieve some ammo/armor/health. It got extremely predictable towards the end. I found that the game was easy enough that it didn’t really matter though – I was usually full health when I walked over the medkits, so I could take a few knocks from whatever monster jumped out and then use the said medkits to heal myself back up again.

    The spiders also got very predictable – oh look, I’m stuck in a small area for a set amount of time while I wait for an elevator, and there are those little small vents that the spiders always climb out of… It would have been much neater if they threw them at you randomly while fighting other enemies, say an arch-vile and then you try to retreat and get a massive fright from the spiders that have appeared behind you.

  24. capital L says:

    For me, Serious Sam was the true successor to Doom: kill a whole bunch of stuff, and then kill a whole bunch more bigger stuff with bigger guns, and then finally kill the big bad while being accosted by way too much stuff. You might run low on ammo or armor or health, but there’s always be plenty more, so that’s not an issue. Monsters are apt to teleport in when you pick up said goodies, but that’s more exciting than scary– you’re a killing machine after all…

    Maybe some people played the old Dooms with the trepidation of a horror-survival shooter, but my caps lock was on.

  25. Avaz says:

    I never played Doom 3. Now I’m glad I didn’t.

  26. This is the first I’ve heard anything about someone saying anything bad about Doom3. I’m actually surprised!

    Story lines in video games almost ALWAYS make you hate the game and downgrade it. We’re spoiled with books and movies, and the game companies just rarely give that extra effort.

    Doom3, gave me r/l nightmares, and r/l heart attacks!

    As crappy as you can always claim its story is, no other game can compare with those two facts!

    Hell, I didn’t know there was a expansion…!

    Honestly, the only computer that would run Doom3 was my husband’s and after he defeated it.. by cheating by not using earphones or speakers, I decided to take a break from it due to the excessive heart attacks I would have, still being in my mid 20’s. Then it was uninstalled to make room for other games and well, I never got to defeat it. (bummed)

    And while I’m tempted to play it again, the pain and horror associated with it make me 2nd think that.

    Just my 3 cents.

  27. Zaxares says:

    I think Doom 3 gets a lot of bad rap. Sure, it fares poorly in the ‘Terror’ score card, but it scores fairly well on the ‘Horror’ score card.

    What’s the difference?

    Terror is more like a deep seated fear that stays with you for hours after the fact. Terror tends to be more cerebral in nature; games like Silent Hill, F.E.A.R. are built around this concept. It’s normally achieved by a lot of stalking and taunting and half-glimpsed monsters that never quite attack. It relies on the human fear of the unknown, the knowledge that there is SOMETHING out there that wishes you harm, but you don’t know what it is and you’re unable to retaliate.

    Horror tends to be more visceral in nature. The shudder that runs through you when you glimpse the half-rotted visage of the zombie lurching towards you, the sudden clenching of your heart when the Imp leaps out at you from the shadows, and the rise of bile in the throat when you come across the bloody, mangled remains of a friend; these are all elements of horror. They are gripping and terrifying, but their impact is usually over once you’re away from the scene.

    Doom 3 tends to focus a lot more on the horror aspect than it does on the terror aspect. Most of Doom 3’s scare techniques are quite predictable:

    1. The ‘unguarded powerup’. Oh look, there’s a powerup right in the middle of the room. I bet if I pick it up, all the lights go out and monsters jump out at me. … … Hey, guess what, that’s exactly what happened!

    2. Doors are bad news. Be very, very careful when going through doors. Odds are, there’s a monster right behind it ready to jump at you.

    3. Beware big open spaces. You’re either likely to be swarmed by a horde of little flying enemies, or attacked by one or two BIG enemies.

    Still, even though you might know the above tips and keep them close at heart while playing, you still can’t suppress the surge of adrenaline when a Pinky Demon bursts through the glass wall, or when you enter a room and hear the tell-tale sounds of enemies spawning in, or when you enter a room and see zombies shuffling towards you from the shadows. Doom 3’s graphics and sounds are excellent, and they never fail to instill that sense of horror in me, but after the game is over and I switch off the computer, it doesn’t really stick in my mind.

    One large failing of Doom 3’s to make itself more overall ‘scary’, though, is that all encounters are scripted. There are no wandering monsters, and thus no chance of you being surprised by enemies if you stay in one spot. Therefore, once you clean out a room of enemies, you can quite happily stay there to calm your nerves, read your PDA or play Super Turbo Turkey Puncher as long as you want. Despite how spooky the immediate area may be, nothing will attack you as long as you don’t do anything to trigger more monster spawns (going into new rooms is a surefire way to trigger said spawns).

    That said, Doom 3 did pull off some genuinely creepy moments. The best one I believe was the ‘They took my baby…’ scene. I still shiver when I recall that part. Another part was reading the journal entries of the base’s psychologist when he was detailing the slow slide into insanity (and possible possession) of one of the marines.

    Overall, I feel Doom 3 is a good game. People just need to realise that it is an action game with horror elements, not a horror game with action elements.

  28. WindBlade says:

    Two things bugged me about Doom III – the torch (seriously, this was a dumb design idea), and the Attempts to do a System Shock via the audio logs.

    When playing both System Shocks, listening to the audio logs and exploring,I found myself wanting to explore Citadel Station and the Von Braun under better days, before everything had gone wrong. Doom III just didn’t come close to that kind of depth, and the place sounded pretty awful before things went all to hell. (admittedly, thats probably the point, to build the image of a cursed place).

    Those grumbles aside, I did enjoy the story somewhat, but I felt the gameplay was too repetitive. In the end, I downloaded a torch mod that dealt with my torch issues. This didn’t make the game any less scary, just took away the really bloody stupid game mechanic that punched a hole in the suspension of disbelief

  29. ryanlb says:

    Well, all this talk has made me want to go play Doom 3.

    The same thing happened with Fate and Jade Empire. Oh, and the previous discussions about Deus Ex and it’s sequel, which I think I’ll play first, since the first is so much better.

    I think this site has convinced me to get more games than any other single advertising venue. Now, off to eBay to find Doom 3…

  30. McNutcase says:

    Serious Sam as the successor to Doom? Hell yes. I loved Serious Sam.

  31. Jeff says:

    I got as far as the first imp, where apparently my marine is too stupid to use both hands, and you had to choose between a flashlight and a pistol… and subsequently died.

    He’s worse at shooting a pistol with a flashlight than I am, and he’s supposedly a professional. WTF.

  32. Harvey says:

    Two words: Duct tape:

    “Under the crazy presumption that a roll of duct tape has to exist somewhere on the Mars facility, the Duct Tape mod sticks flashlights to your machinegun and shotgun.”

    I wouldn’t even consider playing Doom 3 without it.

    1. jojo says:

      oh come on! the game isn’t really that dark anyway, I remember only having to switch between flash light and gun like 2 to 4 times in all 30 or so levels.

  33. Anonymous says:

    I don’t have Doom 3 (sorry if I’m disturbing the Doom 3-centered conversation), but I wanted to know what this ”They took my baby” thing was. People often mention it as their scariest video game moment, it looks kind of creepy… If someone could maybe explain me, it’d be appreciated =) Then when I’ll have more money I’ll buy the game and enjoy it without fear of being surprised/shocked/scared/whatever by that baby thing =P

    1. jojo says:

      The scene was slightly more than what the other guy made it seem.

      Okay your walking onto a walk way after killing some monsters when you hear a girl whisper into your ear; “follow me” then you hear a strange splattering sound in a constant beat (like wet footsteps) and sure enough, you look down and see blood foot prints being made as if someone was walking. The footprints walk along the path to a closed door. Curiosity makes you go through the door but the path stops on the other side. Just before you decide to turn around and walk away the voice whispers in your ear again; “this way!” with a slight sense of urgency. Then the footprints continue forward down a dark but not pitch black hallway. You follow them until the path takes a left turn and the footprints stop again to say “come on, hurry!” the footprints continue down the turn to a locked door, and stop. You walk to the door and an illusion (making you immobile) is started with you staring at the door in red light, with the voice sounding quiet hostile now; “THEY TOOK MY BABY!” followed by a baby cry coming from the room that some may say was normal, but personally I thought it sounded a tad off on a natural level…also I don’t know how many people notice this, but right as the baby stops crying and the illusion stops (letting you move again) you can just slightly hear someone else quietly laughing and or sobbing from the same room. Either way, the laugh/sob sounded very creepy and like I said I don’t know how many players actually notice it.

  34. Shamus says:

    They took my baby: It’s just a set of bloody footprints, walking along. If you follow them, you get to a dead end, the lights all go red, and a female voice whispers “they took my baby.”

  35. Anonymous says:

    Oh, ok, thanks =) I can’t wait to play Doom 3!

  36. savegameoften says:

    Doom Resurrection for iphone drove me to fire up Doom 3 again. I think Doom 3 almost gets my “Blade Runner” award. Meaning, when it came out everyone said it was crap. Now, years later, it’s looking pretty impressive.

    Still too bombastic for my tastes, though. After playing it for an hour I feel like I’ve been bludgeoned, and that ain’t fun. Also, the initial setting is so inherently grim and devoid of humanity, after a while I begin to wonder what the point is of blasting the monsters. Seems a more entertaining place with the monsters than without.

    Oh, and my fave scare is the Imp in the stasis chamber. Knew it was coming, but it still made me jump, cuss, and turn off the computer to go outside in the sunshine. Damn game.

  37. Austin says:

    The Funniest part of the game is when Sarge talks to you on video for the first time and he says “Marine, I can’t belive you’re still alive.” I could’t help but think ” Yeah, neither can I…”

  38. el b says:

    i might be a little late for the main discussion but i think i can probably solve the confusion regarding bertrugers motivations. in an audio log it states that bertruger went through the portal before the game starts, testing it on himself, and came back changed somehow, able to work almost constantly without rest to complete the full scale portal. it would make sense that he was replaced, since anyone else who comes through is driven insane or zombified and he just went evil. this idea has been used several times in games, films and tv shows, the ones that come to mind first are captain black from captain scarlet and jedidiah morningside/the tall man from phantasm.

    if you think about it this way it does add extra depth to his character and the backstory, and the voice actor is pretty damn good for what its worth.

  39. deathkeys says:

    Burning on hell??? hahahahahaha !!!!!!

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