Note: This is a pre-release review, and as such some features such as the multiplayer aren’t covered here because they weren’t available. Multiplayer doesn’t work if it’s only game journalists online because everyone knows game journalists are shit at games. Keep up to date with the NGB podcasts for more information on these post-release features.
Hell is other people, as the saying goes. However, we’re all in self isolation at the moment as COVID-19 continues it’s world tour, so for the time being we’ll have to make do with actual hell. In 2016, Doom shook up a genre that was (and still is) in a quandary, determined to prove how serious and realistic it can be, preaching of the horrors of war while simultaneously glorifying them and rinsing it’s target audience via micro-transactions.
Devoid of such frivolities, Doom ripped and tore the template and brought the genre back to it’s roots, fittingly since it more or less started the whole thing. It was quick, frenetic, devoid of plot if you wished, and immense gory fun.
Four years on, enter Doom Eternal (it’s probably supposed to be in all capitals), the follow-up to 2016’s triumphant return for the franchise. After it’s announcement at Quake Con and the usual E3 and trailer hype, and then a minor delay, a lot of the NGB team were pretty keen to see what had changed, and what hadn’t.
Returning from exile following the previous game, the Doom Slayer has found himself needed back on earth as pesky demons have launched a full-scale invasion. Apparently they fancied living on earth, so we can only assume they don’t get BBC News in hell. This gives rise to an extreme version of the now familiar videogame mainstay of post-apocalyptic city scape, except designed by that black metal band that did those murders. Burning hellish symbols everywhere against a blood red sky? You know it. It’s cliche but also it looks awesome, so it’s a good cliche.
Despite all that, the attitude of the game is slightly less flippant and rebellious, this time around. There’s still metal that kicks in before big brawls and in the title scene, there’s a part of your central hub (more on this later) with stylised guitars hanging off the wall and you solve a lot of puzzles simply by punching stuff. That said, the intro is sadly nowhere near as iconic as the 2016 elevator sequence (recently woken Marine gets sick of scientist’s excuses for unleashing hell, punches screen, cue metal, everyone headbangs), but here we are. However, there’s also a record of collectible data entries that reveal quite a wealth of lore that I wasn’t really anticipating. I suppose it is all ignorable if you want to keep it to blasting and not reading, but if you do venture into the codex to read these then it’s a fairly interesting insight into demons and that.
There are more new details to flesh out this new entry. Prior to encountering a new adversary, you’re greeted with a brief synopsis of their weak-points, showcasing the destructibility of the character models. To be honest, this took some of the gleeful terror of encountering a new foe completely blind and having to figure out a strategy for yourself. These heads-ups do, however, give you some filler for the loading screens, of which there are many. I did miss the original’s lush space vistas and poetic clippings in comparison to Eternals cold practicality. Even once the percentage counter has hit 100 and you press X to continue, there’s yet more loading, an issue that is one of the less favourable new additions to the sequel. This can make replaying difficult sections a bit of a drag, the lengthy delays before restarting putting dents in the frenetic pace which the game seeks to cultivate.
These introductions to new demons were in the original, of course, but easier to ignore. You used to get a prompt on screen, and by then heading to the codex if you wished you could get your info-shot of demon data. Now, this jumps right up in front of the screen until you dismiss it. What’s more intrusive is the odd, forced chainsaw tutorial. Upon acquiring the favourite tool of zombie fighters and tree fellers, you’re dropped into a sparse training room to try it out. It’s an odd diversion, and not one that sits well with me after the immediacy I was expecting. Surely just a room full of harmless zombie demons to go to town on would have been a smoother way to incorporate this learning curve into the experience?
Speaking of the chainsaw, however, this is now used by hitting square, rather than that button being just the quick change to said mutilator. This speeds up the melee even further, and is a deft trick.
Where Doom Eternal really fires on all cylinders, as with it’s predecessor, is the combat. Developer id could probably even make Dark Souls bearable with their trademark gun-feel and shooting mechanics, but Doom Eternal really steps this up. There are subtle additions to the movement, such as the quick dodge, that make combat even more frenetic, yet seem so intuitive it’s hard to imagine that it wasn’t in the original. The dodge takes up residence on the circle button, which therefore means there’s no longer a crouch option, something which makes perfect sense when you think about it. It was largely superfluous in the original, mainly for exploring, so chucking that in favour of a quick side-jump for projectiles is a smart move.
What’s a little less welcome is the increase in platforming. Typically fiddly and awkward in FPSs, Doom Eternal is no exception. Sometimes it works, and the ability to grab and climb walls gives a satisfying thwack, but grabbing then turning while racing against time is tricksy. There’s frequent use of the dash and double jump to cover large distances, but this doesn’t feel like the right game to be exploring such things.
The Doom Slayer has been kitting himself out since his last outing, with a shoulder-mounted flame belch triggered using the triangle button that coats anything within a few feet in fire. While alight, demons will drop armour upgrades. Similarly, he’s also borrowed one of those sneaky assassin blades from Ezio, here called the Doomblade, which makes up most of the glory kill animations you’ll get. This was a bit of a bummer in my playthrough; using the blade feels less visceral, not to mention less entertaining, than the Doom Slayer simply pummelling everything and ripping limbs off foes. You do still get a bit of ‘pull bits off demons and insert them into other bits of the same demon’, but it’s less frequent and the new knife has taken away some of the dumb, OTT violence that made the original faintly hilarious in an Evil Dead sort of way.
Another notable addition includes, the ice-bomb, an alternative to the frag grenade that freezes everything but big bads in place for a few seconds, either to buy yourself some time or to give them a sustained thrashing.
All of this is part of the flow, rhythm and constant push forward of combat that made the original so damn good, building on this idea in all the right ways. Enemies drop items when you take them out, but what you get depends on how you finish them off. Glory Kills, a sort of full-stop to finish off staggered enemies, will produce health, the aforementioned flame belch gives you armour and use of the chainsaw provides ammo. This means that in order to keep yourself topped up on armour, health and ammo you’ll need to remember to use your available moves regularly, rather than settling onto one style of play.
The weaponry mods give this even more of a push in the right direction. There’s a wealth of additions to add to the standard arms as you pick up the unlockables throughout the campaign, but some of these are unmissable. The shotguns get treated particularly well; get the ‘meathook’ add-on for the Super Shotgun as soon as you can. A grappling hook that attaches to enemies, you can combine this with the slow-mo rune buff to get some beautiful pin-point shots as you fly towards and over your adversaries. There’s also a nice auto-fire option that feels like you’re wielding a beefed-up uzi and is obviously brilliant. Couple these ridiculous upgrades with some crunching, orchestral metal from Mick Gordon and the intensity of the firefights is a joy. On top of that, occasional Buff Totems exist at certain points around the map which make any demons in range charge around double-speed.
Another new addition to push the game beyond the concentrated mayhem of it’s predecessor is a new central hub area. Between sorties, Doom Guy can retreat to his space station, subtly called the Fortress of Doom, overlooking earth to shred on guitars so pointy even Mick Thomson would raise an eyebrow, grab new weapons or change costume. I’m not convinced this area is totally needed, and the game wouldn’t be any worse off without it. You can collect batteries throughout the campaign to then re-activate parts of the ship to get suit upgrade points or weapon mods, but there’s no reason these couldn’t have been squirrelled away in a level elsewhere. Nevertheless, being able to obtain vintage Doom marine suits to customise your protagonist is nice, and having them as obtainable through gameplay rather than micro-transactions is even nicer.
Visually, Doom Eternal could have benefitted from a little more of an upgrade. Up close, textures look jagged, and explanatory text for commands is eye-squintingly small. Overall it’s a little sharper, but there’s no great leap, or even a double-jump, forward. However, there are some natty customisation options for your player this time around, although the SnapMap feature has been banished. I don’t think this quite for the traction that Bethesda hoped for last time around, so it’s relegation was perhaps inevitable and not a great shame as far as most players are concerned. This isn’t Dreams, after all.