DOOM (2016) was an incredible breath of fresh air. It took the old-school format of the granddaddy of the FPS genre, ripped and teared it apart, before putting it all back together again for a modern age. It was unapologetic about its non-stop violence and action, but proved that formula creates the smartest and most engaging combat compared to the dreary modern warfare shooters that dominated the market since Call of Duty’s Modern Warfare almost 10 years previous. Nothing for a very long time really compared to the joy of quickly switching between your diverse collection of weapons, prioritising targets amongst a bunch of unique enemies and darting around arenas to control the crowds.
DOOM: Eternal is the follow up to this seminal reboot. At its core, it remains a very similar game, but there is an injection of a bunch of new ideas to play with. Some work, some do not, but does it all manage to hold together to take the Doomslayer to even greater heights?
I expect my answer to the question would have changed on almost an hourly basis. As already mentioned, the gameplay through Eternal is quite similar to the previous game in the series. We are still fighting a range of demons in a variety of arenas. The doors are locked until you settle your differences with those demons and can travel through a series of corridors (albeit corridors with a few more jumping puzzles), until you encounter the next arena. Rip, tear and repeat.
If you enjoyed that process in 2016, there is a good chance that you are going to enjoy that process again. Eternal does add a bunch of other things to spice up these encounters though, from a few more abilities to some extra enemies via some more secrets to explore the environment for. In the early sections of the game this can be at times overwhelming, as your gameplay is interrupted by another pop up to explain something else about the game. Not too long into the game, your HUD will start to be mish mash of icons and counters to keep track of many different elements. Some will be familiar, such as your chainsaw fuel, but there is now so much more to look at that it can be tough to get your head around it all.
Where these newer elements do excel is with the extra movement options that they afford you. The dash is a wonderful addition to your balletic repertoire. Initially you may just use as required to jump between platforms in the obligatory platforming sequences, but once you start utilising it during combat you will wonder how managed to play the game without it. Closing that distance to land that glory kill, using it to assist with your movement to create distance between enemies or just simply to dodge the attack of a charging Pinky, I’m not sure how I would go back to the 2016 game and lose it.
Similarly, the new double shotgun is a joy to use, again adding more movement options during battles. The alternate firemode will shoot out a hook that grabs onto enemies propelling you towards them. Applying a sidestep to the Doomslayer as he flies through the air will let you swing around them. Combine this with the rune that slows down time when you hold down your alternate fire in the air and suddenly you can perform incredible feats of motion, whilst giving enemies both barrels. Plus, the double shotgun is also a great way to see the deformation of enemies, with you blasting chunks out of them in really satisfying meaty way.
When you are given the space to use all of these abilities it can really escalate the thrill of these battles. Combined with the thumping soundtrack that continues the DOOM tradition of blistering rock, when the game is hitting all the right notes it is incredible.
Then it throws a level at you that is much tighter and doesn’t allow you to move around so much and things become frustrating. Your tools become less useful during those moments and you are mostly hoping that you can put out enough damage before they hit you too many times. Others may have this experience less, but it definitely felt like more of a struggle to deal with the numerous enemies on some levels were less spacious. There were also some enemies that were noticeably less enjoyable to fight, in particular the Marauder – a shield carrying axe man that you can only attack when his eyes flash green and he is about to crush you with his axe. This seemed to require standing at just right distance from him to bait out this attack; stand too close and he would use a sawn-off shotgun, stand to far away and he would just fire some kind of magical attack at you. Worse was when he would summon some random wolf thing that would chase you down. On his own he wasn’t too bad, but the game would also insist on continually spawning enemies in most battles against him. Normally, these would just be your standard basic demon enemy, purely there to keep you stocked up on ammo or health (as before, chainsaw attacks spew ammo everywhere and glory kills will produce health), but sometimes there are larger enemies to distract you from just focusing on the enemy you really want to deal with.
Of course, dealing with these issues of enemy priority and crowd control are all part of what makes DOOM such a fantastic FPS game, but these segments often crossed into the frustrating, particularly as I often felt like I was needing to game the enemy AI to make sure he did the attack I wanted him do. This sort of annoyance carries through to some of the boss battles too, although those are fortunately not too frequent.
Talking of bosses and characters leads me onto another complaint. Do you remember that really great storyline in the first game, about the origins of the demonic invasion and the creation of the saviour who would destroy them? No, me neither, but apparently Id wanted to expand upon it. Fortunately, this fades away as the game goes on, with it being mostly ignorable, but the beginning definitely feels like it wants you to pay attention to the events that are going on. There is even a bit with some other person and the game does that lowering the gun animation that games do when they are telling you this is a person you can’t shoot. As the main thing people remember from the story in the first game is a computer being ripped off of the wall as it tries to give exposition to the Doomslayer, it is an odd choice to suddenly decide that people might actually care about the events that are propelling us forward.
There is also a slight amateurish style to the delivery, with cutscenes that feel almost reminiscent to the sort of static camera delivery we would have had in the late 90s. For such a big budget game and from something that has clearly had a huge amount of love poured into the mechanics, it is odd to see such lack of direction given to these sequences, jumping from staying first person to third person to just having the camera stuck in a random spot in the scene. We even have moments where you press a switch and there is a quick shot of the door the switch opened, instead of using the level design and environment to inform direction the player should head towards. These are elements that are less welcome to a modern game and could have been left back in the 90s. I also don’t recall them being present in the 2016 game, but perhaps those are rose-tinted glasses playing tricks.
There is even a weird Fortress of Solitude style hub area to go to in-between missions, where you can spend some your pickups to unlock more upgrade points, play songs that you have unlocked through secrets and get new costumes, which you can never really see, what with you being seeing through the visor most of the time. It is a mess of staircases and doorways that all look the same and it is easy to get lost in. Why all of this couldn’t have been presented as a menu I’m not really sure and it isn’t even as if they made the area particularly interesting to look at.
I think it is worth reiterating that the core gameplay loop, the thing that you spent the vast majority of the dozen or so hours doing, are still excellent and even exceed what went before. Many of the levels are excellent, particularly the Earth focused levels. Even the level that is mostly spent inside office blocks is thrilling in ways that no office level should be outside of FEAR. Many of the additions do work well, even if there are too many new things. Even much of those new things are mostly ignorable, even if they do clog up your HUD a bit. If in a year or two or decide I want to play another DOOM game, it probably will be this one. It’s just that it could have been perfect. Expand out some of those more claustrophobic levels, ditch some of the wonky cutscenes and rework some of the enemy design to be more interesting to battle and we could have one truly incredible game.
If you didn’t like DOOM back in 2016 than you aren’t likely to find much here that will win you back over. If you did enjoy it though and haven’t had a chance to play Eternal, step back into the heavy shoes of the Doomslayer and load up your BFG. Do the Danse Macabre one more time.