A distant flickering light is your only company through the void of darkness. Through squinting eyes you can barely make out the walls and floors, a prison of stainless steel. It's been just seconds since you called for the elevator, but it seems more like hours as you count through your last remaining shotgun shells in the hallway.
Suddenly, a torch beam cuts through the darkness with the brutal efficiency of a plasma rifle, and the elevator hums into action like the buzzing of a chainsaw in your ears. Your fellow space marine rushes up, puffing and panting into his Xbox communicator. He's trying to warn you but it's too late. As the elevator doors open, a zombie pounces out and smashes a monkey wrench into your skull.
Back in the real world, if you could pause time at that exact moment, you'd actually be able to reach down and feel a few centimetres of air between your backside and the chair you were sitting on. There's no shame in admitting that you will jump out of your seat when playing Doom 3, it's simply unavoidable.
A franchise as legendary as Doom carries a huge but burgeoning legacy. Millions of fans would have been outraged if Doom 3 didn't continue several important traits. Firstly and most importantly, it needed to be scary as hell. Second, it needed cool monsters and weapons. Third, it must have a compelling deathmatch and co-operative mode, and finally, simple, balls-to-the-wall gameplay.
Everything the fans wanted, Doom 3 offers in spades. It's a big silver lining with a small grey cloud on the side though, because id Software and Vicarious Visions' faithfulness to the traditions of the series occasionally leaves the game feeling a little behind the times.
For the first few hours of Campaign mode, you'll be absolutely bricking it. You'll be tenser than Vanessa on deadline day, and take it from me, that's no small achievement. The nervous anticipation as you wander through Mars's creepiest corridors is cruelly unrelenting. There's simply no let-up as you expect a demonic fiend to pounce from every shadow, nook and cranny. You won't find any light relief or even a proper story to take away the strain!
An atmosphere this draining doesn't come cheap or every shooter would have it. Doom 3 is a cut above everything else in this respect, built confidently upon a stupidly impressive custom-built game engine.
id Software doesn't use other companies' game engines and neither does it ever turn its back on quality. Before Doom 3 started development, there was a huge internal debate about whether current technology could deliver Hollywood-quality graphics and sound in a game. John Carmack's programming genius was, in our eyes, the balance that tipped the scales. His wizardry has produced a bespoke FPS engine with striking real-time lighting, per-pixel shading, animated wall textures, ragdoll physics and a totally unique user interface. You often see these individual qualities in other FPS games, but rarely ever working together with such efficiency and cohesion.
But what does this mean for the actual gameplay? The most obvious quality is realism. Exploring Mars's UAC base in Doom 3 seems only a fraction away from walking around an actual movie set (it's particularly reminiscent of Aliens). The maintenance tunnels, medical stations and control stations are saturated in detail. If you thought The Chronicles of Riddick looked amazing, this is going to kill you! Pipes hiss with startling releases of steam, lights cut out just when you're reaching boiling point and the walls and floors glisten with startling metallic realism. The wall textures are even rendered in 3D so that they all cast individual shadows in real time. It's incredible, for a while at least.