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.
The Dark Mod Review
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.
Mastering the Art of Thievery
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.
Working with the environment
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.
Putting your game in the hands of the Community
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.
Fan Mission Reviews
As of yet there isn't a single fan mission which truly embodies everything The Dark Mod has to offer, which isn't surprising given how young the mod, it's tools and it's community are. However the following fan created maps showcase some of it's core features in a variety of ways, each being a remarkable achievement in their own right.
To make life easy we've uploaded a single zip file containing all the following fan missions, which can be downloaded from:
If due to some wretched curse you are only able to play one of the missions listed here, make sure it's this one, as the modest but deep variety of environments and gameplay is the strongest single showcase of the Dark Mods features.
You've tracked a group of thieves down to an old warehouse, where they are storing an antique scepter which has caught your fancy. The mission begins in an extremely dark building with just the right touch of detail and lighting to create a very erry mood. From here you'll traverse an open area complete with a small boat yard before entering the warehouse itself.
Once inside you'll have to deal with a relatively large number of enemies in any which way you can. Thanks to the variety of the architecture and object placement, exactly how you do this is completely up to you. It's a very short mission, and newcomers may find it somewhat unforgiving, but it's consistent balance of atmosphere and gameplay makes it one of the best of the bunch, and a great showcase of what the Dark Mod has to offer.
The Crown of Penitence
Jesps (Jesper Thingholm)
One of the more polished maps available, Crown of Penitence's environment is restricted to being indoor, but its use of artistic elements is generally of a high standard, with neat details and believable lighting conditions giving every area a unique sense of immersion.
Though not a great leap forward in terms of freeform design, Crown of Penitence is a little more encouraging of players who wish to explore it's environment, though this itself becomes problematic in a couple of instances where I became stuck on the geometry and had to use a cheat to release myself.
Nonetheless, this mission looks consistenly great, will reward you for taking the time to explore it's various areas, and will test both your wits and your nerves.
Angua and Greebo
While not the most visually breathtaking or unique in terms of gameplay, the Outpost (like ‘Too Late') stands out thanks to the consistency and standard of it's level design, made all the more impressive by the short time in which it was completed.
The entire mission takes place within a nicely crafted castle, where you must find and steal a valuable golden ingot. It's winding corridors, multiple armed guards and careful use of lighting make this a real test for anyone wishing to push themselves on its highest difficulty, though the gameplay rarely expands beyond hiding, waiting and striking.
It's clear that the designers understand the flow of gameplay, which makes the Outpost one of the most suspensive, challenging and rewarding fan missions available.
The Chalice of Kings
Intense confrontations lie waiting around every corner of this predominantly indoor based mission, which despite making extensive use of claustrophobic corridors (leaving players with few navigational options), does a fantastic job of showcasing The Dark Mods core features.
Your mission is to retrieve the Chalice of Kings, a very shiny object locked inside a mansion under heavy guard from numerous personnel. In terms of gameplay it doesn't support player freedom as much as it possibly could, but it provides enough that you'll feel compelled to try it a few times adopting different strategies. Enthusiasts who manage to complete the mission on it's highest difficulty setting without alerting any guards will find it a particularly rewarding experience.
Artistically it's inconsistent, with rooms that boast clever lighting and well thought use of props quickly followed by visually dull corridors which do little to stimulate the imagination or sense of immersion. However when it looks good, it looks really good, and is easily one of the most visually compelling fan mission available. Despite being fairly linear the gameplay is great, and areas such as the kitchen, armory and study/library more than compensate for it's other aesthetic shortcomings.
Someone has stolen your beloved Christmas present, so you're going to storm their home and take it back!
Once again the Mod is predmoninantly set indoors, although the opening sequence in a snow covered courtyard is a welcome change to some of the other maps, and certainly adds to the overall atmosphere.
Very linear and minimalist in it's use of artistic assets, Parcel will pose very little challenge to seasoned stealth players, although it's a great starting map for those who are still getting to grips with the mods mechanics.
Now for something a little different. Unlike other missions where you're essentially breaking into a building to steal it's treasures, this time you've been captured and imprisoned by a band of thieves and must find a way to escape, taking any treasures you can find along the way.
The opening section is easily the most intuitive of all the fan missions reviewed here, forcing you to make use of some of the interactive features built into the Dark Mod. Soon after this initial piece is completed you find yourself navigating a generally derelict building, with a compelling atmosphere thanks largely to good lighting effects.
Sadly the innovative design showcased in the initial sequence isn't continued through the rest of the mission, as once again it's based entirely indoors with very few opportunities for players to be creative. That said, the balance of tight corridors and open rooms (complete with plenty of obstacles to interact with and use to your advantage) keeps it from feeling too laborious.
Some players may find it's maze-like design confusing and at times disorientating, but the opening puzzle and general consistency of gameplay and design stand as strong indicators of what the Dark Mod can do. Definately worth playing for the first section if nothing else.
Silencium, RailGun, Fidcal
Adding some welcome variety to the environments, the Thieves features outdoor and indoor areas, both of which offer a handsome amount of gameplay variety. The shift in dynamic from the open spaced streets to the tight confines of the gang's base gives the mission a real sense of progression, and although the use of geometry, object placement and lighting is generally somewhat simplistic, it's enough to convey a strong atmosphere.
The mission doesn't really allow or encourage you to make full use of it's level design, but it still manages to provide one of the more varied experiences from this selection.
Navigate a series of houses and streets while avoiding the town guards in this compelling fan mission.
Patently Dangerous stands out from the crowd thanks to it's substantial use of outdoor areas, of which there are more than featured in all other missions combined. You'll find yourself breaking into various buildings, stealing various artifacts as you do so and spending as little time on the streets (and in sight of the guards) as you possibly can.
It's a refreshing change from the predominantly indoor areas featured in the other missions, and will pose a worthwhile challenge to stealth players of all skill levels.