Right, I’ve landed the first part and am now clinging to a wall – scope the area out, looks like that’s my next target (given it has a bright green light on it, very subtle). I’ll need to double-jump then air dash at least once, try to collect the mid-air power-up to recharge my dashes, hit that pole to vault myself a bit further, then dash carefully and quickly to avoid a couple of traps before landing on the platform below. Then back to the regularly scheduled ripping and tearing. DOOM Eternal is an odd one.
Because yes, DOOM’s second outing of this, the modern era, brings with it a whole host of platforming sections. You jump, you cling, you dash, you plummet – it’s all present and correct. And shockingly, it’s all pretty good too, with a crispness of control that echoes the game’s return (elsewhere) to tight, satisfying combat. Adding in platforming to an FPS has been seen as a negative since even before Half-Life polluted the waters with its Xen section in 1998, but that hasn’t stopped id. And fair play to them – I find it hard to accept that platforming really fits in a DOOM game, but progress makes a fool out of all of us, right?
The core of the experience in DOOM Eternal does, of course, stick to the tried and tested elements that made 2016’s reboot so impactful and brilliant. While those platforming sections do add a bit of change, a bit of depth, to what you’re doing in your downtime, the main game is still ostensibly a series of monster rooms. They’re just bigger this time, you’re facing more enemies, they’re smarter and more aggressive, but you do have a few more boomsticks and other techniques to take them on with.
So while you might see yourself being overwhelmed by the addition of waves of irritating, quick-moving gargoyles and their hellbeast brethren, there’s plenty that’s been added on the other side to make sure you’re able to cope. There’s a definite feel of pinging about the place, with Doomguy displaying more agility than one might assume of a large ball of meat carrying a gun. What this leads to is many combat encounters where you actually spend very little time on the ground, instead flinging yourself about the mini-arenas with abandon, peppering Satan’s frontline workforce with lead, energy blasts, or the odd violent stabbing session in order to top up your health using the returning glory kill system. Said system, rewarding players for being on the front foot as much as possible, also includes topping up your ammo and armour, and I’m delighted it’s returned as it is the most perfectly DOOM thing id could have brought to the series’ modern incarnation. Basically, DOOM Eternal is big and dumb and silly and Not An Art Game, but it’s also big and dumb and silly and utterly exhilarating.
The game’s big dumb silliness does get away from it a bit when it comes to the lore of DOOM Eternal, though, with an emphasis on storytelling – and unironically making you listen to soliloquy-spouting demon priests – getting in the way of the better features both new and old. It’s a taste thing, and it’s probably a tradition thing – the original DOOM didn’t really have a story, with a lone page tale retconned into being after the game eventually received a commercial release (and a manual to go with it). Now we have vast quantities of codex entries, fine, but a wave of grandiose villains and their villainy being villainous at our mute hero does have the tendency to rip and tear you out of the experience, in a way it’s hard to justify to all but the most evangelical of the lore society. It’s rarely too long an imposition, but it is an imposition, and that doesn’t work well in a DOOM-shaped situation.
There’s also, dare I risk turning what is meant to be a roundly positive review into one full of needling issues, a seemingly huge reliance on bitty little upgrades and extra powers to unlock. It’s another aspect that dilutes and leaves you feeling things are a mite less pure than they were before, and while making your new shoulder-mounted cannon’s ice grenades more impactful is a thing you’ll probably want to do, would any of us really have missed it if there weren’t yet another upgrades screen to figure out? I’d hazard a guess at: no.
I don’t think I was ever going to be as enamoured with DOOM Eternal as I was the 2016 reboot, given how shocked the world collectively was at how great that last game was. It’s impossible to live up to that combo-weight of both expectation and relief. What few would have predicted, though, is that one of the sequel’s real areas of innovation (for this series alone, of course) would be in smart, skilful use of platforming sections. I still don’t think they actually fit – it jars almost every time the aerial navigation comes to the fore – but it’s fun to do them and, bar one or two grab-the-wall glitches, the sections work well.
Equally few would have predicted DOOM Eternal’s slide into the realm of unskippable, endless-feeling sections of lore-heavy exposition – and that’s an area it does start to feel like not only has id diluted the DOOM experience, but it’s done so in a distinctly non-positive fashion. So a mixed bag? Not really, no: DOOM Eternal is still brilliant; relentless and genuinely adrenaline-pumping, adhering to a purity of moment-to-moment design that will always shine through, regardless of the experiments and trinkets adorning its extremities. I’d just ask, next time, please less blah from people while you have to stand there and listen.
Doomguy’s room in the Fortress of Doom ship/hub is a pleasant little bundle of references, collectables, and jokes. It’s genuinely interesting to potter about in there for five minutes between the carnage, and when you figure out how to unlock DOOM II on the old PC… well.
A loss of simplistic innocence doesn’t stop DOOM Eternal from giving you a thoroughly superb time. Bar that emphasis on story, at least.
Genre: Adrenaline stimulator | Format: PC (tested) / PS4 / XBO / Stadia | Developer: id Software | Publisher: Bethesda Softworks | Price: £49.99 | Release: Out now