Doom Eternal REVIEW – a shotgun to the soul

 

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Doom. Very few games can elicit such a specific image and emotion from name recognition alone. There is something distinctly magical about the simplicity of Doom as a premise. Of course, there is more than enough room for complex, subdued stories in gaming, but sometimes you just want to kill some unambiguous baddies. Doom Eternal supplies this precise escapism like no other game I’ve ever played in my life, besides maybe Doom 2016. I know I described Ori and the Will of the Wisps as “the perfect sequel” last week, but Eternal may well have snatched that trophy before Moon Studios were even out the door. It truly is a game like no other, mastering story, visuals and, most importantly, gameplay, thee aspects together creating the ultimate Doom experience. Perhaps I’ve revealed my hand too early, but I absolutely adored this game, so think of this review as my way of trying to convince potential sceptics of one important truth: you need to play this game, and here’s why.

 

I suppose the most sensible place to start with a Doom review would be the gunplay, since that’s undoubtedly what the series is best known for. Doom 2016 was something of a shock to the system upon its release, utterly revolutionising the FPS landscape by making some small but meaningful changes to the formula. First of all, a priority was set on encouraging speed and manoeuvrability, meaning most gunfights became less about shooting the correct number of guys in the right places, but rather a gradual mastery of the environment, figuring out the most efficient way to run circles around the demons. It was an exhilarating change of pace, helped along by other important alterations to other shooters. Weapons no longer needed reloading, meaning no brakes on the action, and enemies constantly try to flank you, meaning standing still for more than seven picoseconds essentially serves as the signature for your death certificate, so you have to be moving at all times to try and flank them first. The inclusion of a double jump meant a chance to attempt a lot of daring leaps and adding to the verticality of any given stage. This is to neglect mentioning some of the unbelievably satisfying trickshots you can manage if you time your jump just right. Doom gives you a toolset and lets you build whatever playstyle you want, while maintaining a focus on fast-paced action. It was a breath of fresh air amongst the onslaught of realistic military shooters, and while nothing has ever quite met the visceral satisfaction of Doom, some having come pretty close with similar design philosophies, like Titanfall 2 or the Treyarch Call of Duty games. Hell, even recent releases like The Outer Worlds or Journey to the Savage Planet, games which are by no means praised for their gameplay, still include a number of abilities, like a dash or a jetpack, to allow for more freedom of expression during combat. Doom has had an unmistakably positive impact on the gaming landscape, but let’s be real: nobody does Doom quite like iD Software.

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The reason I felt the need to run down the fantastic elements of Doom’s gunplay is because Eternal does all of that and more, and polished to a mirror shine. iD have continued the core philosophy of keeping combat fast, frantic and complex by throwing in some fresh ideas that don’t change Doom’s original style in any major way, but rather simply build upon it and refine what’s already there. Eternal reduces the amount of ammo you can possibly find in an area, which encourages the player to utilise their entire arsenal as well as their grenade and brand new flamethrower attachment. It also means the chainsaw actually feels necessary, which it very rarely did for me in the first game. In Doom, the chainsaw often acted as a get out of jail free card, causing enemies to spew copious amounts of ammo and health, saving you from a fair number of sticky situations you really ought to have died in. Now, using the chainsaw gives you next to no health, but this absence is instead replaced by the flamethrower. Setting enemies alight causes them to spew armour pickups from every burning orifice, which can often be a moment that turns the tide in a fight. However, instead of being the “mummy please save me from this party the kids are snorting Dib Dabs” move, it instead becomes an active choice that still requires skill to escape from, further emphasising that need for constant movement.

 

Another clever addition is 1-Ups, which allow you to instantly regenerate from the brink of death. This might seem like it’s making the game easier, but I believe the true intention was to maintain that all-important sense of momentum, the game trying its best to avoid breaking the pace. It’s a cool idea and I still like it, but it’s not quite perfect. Knowing that I had 1-Ups meant I felt able to switch off a bit during gunfights, causing the tension to dissipate a tad. Since the threat of permanent death is absent in this scenario, I felt less of a need to survive at all costs, and it lead to a marginally more passive experience than I would’ve liked. Perhaps this is just a problem with my dumb brain and not the game, but it did somewhat affect how much I was able to engage with the game.

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A different, but much stronger, addition are weak points, which are such an obvious inclusion to Doom that I’m amazed it wasn’t in the first game. Essentially, you are now able to shoot specific parts of certain enemies to limit their offensive options, as well as dealing a fair amount of damage simultaneously. This was somewhat present in 2016 in an unspoken sense, but here the idea is fleshed out and given much more depth by the ability to take out specific enemy weapons. Blowing up a Revenant’s rocket launchers means they lose their ability to (surprise) launch rockets, taking out the Arachnotron’s machine gun limits their ranged attacks, shooting a bomb from your shotgun into a Cacodemon’s mouth will instantly open it up to an instant kill, and there are many more options like this. It’s not a huge step up from Doom, but Eternal certainly improves upon those original ideas.

 

So far I’ve only really spoken about stuff Eternal improves upon compared to its predecessor in a gameplay sense, but Doom is nothing without its distinctly disgusting visuals. The word of the day for Doom Eternal is *spectacle*. The environments in this game are such a ridiculous step up from what came before. What was once a samey collection of red and brown industrial hallways occasionally broken up by slightly more interesting Hell levels has been confidently replaced by a series of universe-spanning vistas, ranging from decimated cityscapes to otherworldly fortresses suspended in the sky. Every level feels a bit different aesthetically, which adds immensely to the sense of being on a journey to Hell and back. Show me three images from different levels of Doom and I guarantee I would struggle to tell them apart.

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Meanwhile, I can clearly picture most of the areas in Eternal purely from a visual standpoint. One minute you’re jumping between the different ribcages of fallen demon Titans, then suddenly you’re dashing through laser traps suspended in the air, and before you know it, you’re making impossible from one crumbling skyscraper to another, as you slowly whittle down the demon army. Each level poses a slightly different challenge with its very own unique environmental quirks. This is all without mentioning the stellar musical work by Mick Gordon, whose heavy metal tracks never fail to get your thirsting for demon spines. He brings a slightly different style to each new area, which does a lot for establishing the atmosphere of any given setting. I found Eternal to be one of the most absorbing games I’ve played in a while through environmental design alone. I have to commend the developers for giving every place visited by the Doom Slayer a fascinating sense of history and otherworldly significance, almost eliciting a feeling that you don’t belong here. Their work is sincerely on par with some of the best output by From Software and Naughty Dog, and I do not say that lightly.

 

And here’s the part where I try and argue that Doom Eternal tells one of the most compelling, deeply involving stories I’ve experienced in years. It is undeniable that Doom is not known for its narratives; in fact, the series is often used as a key example of why games don’t need stories to still be fantastic. However, I’d like to posit that this argument is actually taking away from some of the genius behind Doom and more specifically, the Doom Slayer. The voiceless protagonist of the reboot Doom games is beloved by many, although this adoration might be a little confusing and perhaps even worrying for an outsider looking in. The reason often cited as to why the Doom Slayer is so well liked is because he’s so simplistic. All he wants to do is kill demons. He could not give less of a fuck about nuance or diplomacy; his entire purpose in life is to murder creatures from Hell. This is all completely correct, but it’s the context within which Doom Slayer exists in the first game that makes him so endearing.

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Within the first five minutes of Doom, you obtain your classic Doomguy armour and elects to completely ignore whatever plot-critical exposition sexy voice man Samuel Hayden attempts to subject you to. Hayden attempts to justify the many thousands of deaths that have resulted from his attempts to harness Hell Energy, but Doom Slayer isn’t having any of it, immediately destroying Hayden’s means of communication. There’s no moment where the game considers that perhaps it was worth sacrificing 200,000+ in the name of progress, because when you take even a slight step back and look at what is even going on, you realise that this company, the UAC, literally made a deal with the devil to get what they wanted. Doom Slayer being such a simple one-note character with one unwavering motivation is so liberating for many because, sometimes, there is no two justifiable sides to the coin. Doom is a triumphant spit in the face against the unsustainable nature of corporate growth and progress, and I absolutely love it.

 

Doom Eternal does something similar with its story, but widens the scope like any good sequel ought to. The first game might have a deconstruction of the absurd lengths people will go to grow under capitalism, but Eternal takes the same vague premise from a borderline existential angle. By expanding the Doom universe, we discover that the human race is stuck a horrific cycle of servitude, destruction and rebirth for the purposes of repeating that same hellish existence. Through reading the Codex, you learn about the Night Sentinels, a people from another world tasked with protecting their realm from the forces of Hell, but early on in their history you get the sense that they see themselves superior to the “barbarians” who also occupy their world, purely due to the fact that they excel in the areas their culture deems important. They are later made aware of the Khan Maykr, the leader of the Maykr race whose aim is to expand their influence across the universe through their advanced technology. They decide to assist the Night Sentinels in their war against Hell and, awestruck by the sheer power of the Maykr, they begin to view their newfound allies as gods. The Night Sentinels, who once saw themselves as the dominant race in the known universe, quickly become subservient to the Maykr, and the power balance shifts once more. Soon, the Doom Slayer appears in the story, and his bloodthirsty ravings and desire to kill all demons piques the Khan Maykr, who then seeks out the realm this mysterious murderer originated from: Earth. This is where the story of 2016’s Doom intersects with Eternal, as Samuel Hayden and Olivia Pierce access Hell to acquire their limitless energy source, which turns out to be fuelled by human souls. Of course, the Doom Slayer puts a stop to this, but that isn’t enough to prevent the Khan Maykr from discovering Earth and unleashing the forces of Hell unto its occupants, hoping to acquire that aforementioned energy from the billions of lives lost.

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One point must be made absolutely clear: the Khan Maykr is full of shit. She isn’t a god, but simply a very clever manipulator. She’s a opportunist operating from the shadows as those underneath her perform the dirty work, all of she can reap the benefits of their labours. Expanding the scope of the Doom universe opens up this staggeringly layered universe where one seemingly obvious antagonist makes way for another, corruption running deep through the DNA of this narrative. I shouldn’t have to spell out how this reflects the power structure we see in contemporary capitalism. The Hell demons may appear the obvious antagonists of the story, but as you delve deeper and deeper into this web of lies and deceit, you discover that, much like Doom 2016, the true villain is the cyclical system of death that facilitates the needless suffering of billions, completely without their knowledge. All of this is exactly why the Doom Slayer is such a phenomenal protagonist. Unlike the other characters who appear willing to compromise with the literal army of Satan, he sees it for what it is: a ruse. The Doom Slayer recognises that in order to put the army of Hell to rest permanently, he must eliminate the root cause of the issue. It’s in his simplicity that the character reaps its bizarre beauty. He doesn’t waver from his goal, or undergo a character arc where he realises maybe his narrow-mindedness was the true evil all along. He never once remotely entertains the possibility that maybe not all demons are *that* bad. He understands that in some cases, there is not secret third option where everyone comes out happy. You either oppose the unseen other-realm beings literally reaping your soul, or you don’t, and implying there is any middle ground is simply condoning the horrific life-sucking cycle.

I hope I explained well enough why Eternal struck such a strong chord with me, and even had me almost tearing up by the end. It’s not subtle by any means, but sometimes certain stories need to display their perspective on full, explosive display. I wasn’t prepared for the profound places Eternal goes with its narrative and the surprise resulted in a power fantasy that went far beyond the simple ability to punch man good. Doom Eternal lets you tear down a system of suffering in the most cartoonishly violent way possible, and it’s one the best games I have ever played.

PHENOMENAL

9/10

 

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