THE DARK MOD is a total conversion of Doom 3, turning it into a dark and moody stealth game inspired by the Thief series by Looking Glass Studios.
Anyone who is an active member of this community owes it to themselves to download and play The Dark Mod 1.0 for Doom 3. Here is one of the truest examples you'll find of the term - total conversion.
Posted by Koroshiya_Ichi on Jan 2nd, 2010 Page 1 of 2
It's a sad fact that the vast majority of mod's simply never see the light of day. Whether it's because they're over ambitious, the outside world (life, ‘real-jobs' and all that stuff) intervenes, or that they're managed by deluded individuals who're led astray by the glory of ‘indie-developer' self-proclamation, most mod's just don't happen.
This is precisely why anyone who is an active member of this community owes it to themselves to download and play The Dark Mod 1.0 for Doom 3. The latest version (beta) comprises of 5 years of development from over 50 permanent and freelance contributors, a time period which has seen every element of the original Doom 3 game be enhanced, from level textures and high quality character models, right up to the core AI and sound effects, amounting to over 1.4gb of custom content.
Here is one of the truest examples you'll find of the term - total conversion.
What makes The Dark Mod unique is that it is as much a development kit in its own right as it is an actual game. The team has explained that the basic premise is to offer stealth enthusiasts the tools they need to create deep, immersive missions, set to a medieval backdrop. As such the mod itself only comes with a training level which allows you to get to grips with its many gameplay features, with additional missions developed by fans using the ‘Dark Radiant' toolset. A handful of these missions have already been made, so while the first part of this review will purely cover the mod itself, the latter part will focus on some of these fan creations.
As you'd imagine, the training mission is designed to show you the ropes, covering navigation, combat, item usage, and other useful bits of information. Each tutorial takes place in a different area within the medieval town setting (refreshingly, you're able to pick and choose which of these tutorials you do, so if you need a refresher course in archery, you don't have to wade through multiple other tutorials to get there). Though there isn't a massive variety in the locales you traverse, there's enough to keep things interesting and really allow you to become engrossed in the atmosphere. Aesthetics aside, it's also an effective way of teaching you the essential gameplay elements, of which there are plenty.
In The Dark Mod, appearances can be deceiving, and this is clear right from the word go. Your initial steps into navigation for example involve the typical ‘crawl, walk, climb and jump' we've all come to expect in modern shooters, but it isn't long until additional mechanics and elements begin to surface which significantly alter how you approach and execute different maneuvers.
The ability to grab onto ledges (and subsequently move along or hoist yourself up onto) instantly increases how many options you have available, making previously unreachable areas within your grasp. This integrates nicely into jumping, whereby you are able to leap from a platform and grab onto an opposing ledge. Although these are standard features in third person games, they are rarely integrated into FPS titles with such seamlessness, the closest in recent memory being Mirrors Edge, which didn't encourage nearly the same level of player interpretation.
It's not just limited to navigation. In object interaction for example you are able to pick up and place objects in much the same fashion that Half-Life 2 popularised, but you can also manipulate them 360 degrees (which looks fantastic in the dynamic lighting), adding greater variety to their potential useage.
This principle also extends into the environment and how you work with it. Exploiting different lighting conditions is key to remaining hidden and progressing through each mission, and the team has made far more effective use of ambient lighting than Doom 3 ever did, though it does come at a small price. Although it's far more realistic and adds greater depth than simply being ‘light or dark', a few areas do feel slightly ‘washed out' visually, losing some of the dramatic impact of id Tech 4's signature stencil shadows. Despite this however, the Dark Mod makes exceptional use of an engine over five years old.
Different surfaces also have varying effects on the volume of your footsteps, and guards will react accordingly should they hear them. To avoid alerting their attention, you'll often find yourself looking for alternate routes or potential distractions which can be exploited as easily as possible. As you spend more time with the Dark Mod and become tuned-in to its environment, you'll be surprised just how many potential tactics are available at all times.
Further strategies are made available by your trusty bow and arrow. Arrows come in a variety of forms, such as water arrows which can be used to extinguish lights and torches, moss arrows which when fired onto the ground suppress the volume of your footsteps, noisemaker arrows which are great at causing distractions, and the ever awesome rope-arrow which when fired into an object can be then climbed up, helping you reach new areas. Just make sure that the object you're firing at will support your weight, otherwise expect a lot of objects to come crashing down on you, creating plenty of noise in the process.
On their own many of these details and mechanics may appear minute (even miss-able), but when bought together you have a style of gameplay which is not only accessible to newcomers, but also offers incredible levels of depth and customization to seasoned veterans. Where one player might just wait for a guard to turn their back before trying to sneak past, another may throw an object to knock an item off a table to get their attention (which is as effective as it is satisfying!), or another may find an ingenious way of navigating the environment around them.
All these different gameplay opportunities are only effective due to strong AI, and the evolution in NPC AI from the original Doom 3 is nothing short of breathtaking. Enemies react to different events and situations convincingly, are able to use doors, elevators, and will even notice if some objects have gone missing. It's not perfect as guards sometimes miss distractions but a few feet away from their position, but for the most part it's robust enough to support the gameplay. The enemies themselves will brutalise you if you're not careful, so there's plenty of encouragement to stick the shadows, and do everything you can to avoid confrontation.
Sometimes though fighting is just unavoidable, and it's here that the mod's shortcomings become more apparent. Sneaking up on a guard and taking them out quietly can be a pulse-racing, nerve wracking experience when you're deep into a tough mission, but man on man fighting is neither as rewarding or immersive. The character models look fantastic, but in contrast the fighting animations often appear stiff, and it never feels like there's any real ‘weight' in an opponents attack. Likewise voice acting is not to nearly the same standard as the rest of the mod, with guards spouting generic lines which sound more like they've been read from an autocue than truly acted.
But neither of these are game-breaking (and it's important to remember that the mod is in beta), particularly when you remind yourself that combat isn't the focus here - thievery is. While many objects can be stolen from tabletops or other surfaces, more valuable ones are kept within chests or behind fortified doors, which is where your lock picks come in to play. Though you use two kind of lock picks throughout the mod, they essentially operate the same way. You hold the key inside the lock waiting for the clicking noise to stop, at which point you must let go (or the sequence starts over). Depending on the locks complexity it'll either open, or you'll have to repeat the procedure with the other pick. On the surface it sounds quite tedious, but it isn't nearly as repetitive as some lock picking mechanics used in other stealth titles, and allows you to maintain the first person perspective, never breaking immersion.
Despite it's minor shortcomings, The Dark Mod is a deep, rewarding mod where players will be made to feel not invulernable, but powerful, challenged, but not overwhelmed. Doom 3 really has been 'totally converted', with enhancements, tweaks and creativity which would put some commercial titles based off the engine to shame.
This review barely even begins to scratch the surface on whats available, and although it can take a bit of getting used to (particularly if you're a newcomer to the stealth genre), it truly allows, and indeed encourages you to personalize the gameplay experience, not penalizing or restricting depending on your skill level.
The trouble with having all this freedom and depth is that it truly depends on the execution of the design itself as to whether or not it is successful. As the team are putting the creation of the actual levels in the hands of their fans, it's up to the community itself to define whether or not The Dark Mod lives up to its potential.