Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Windows PC
Developer: Id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: March 20, 2020
Last week I reportedAnimal Crossing: New Horizons for Nintendo Switch was a great way to restore some much-needed routine and find a bit of happiness as we all practice social distancing.
Doom Eternal provides a, um, slightly different sort of escape.
With a difficulty option dubbed “I’m Too Young to Die!” and the very first level named “Hell on Earth,” it’s clear from the start that this isn’t going to be a game of mellow, feel-good vibes. That said, it’s so ridiculously violent that it might just provide a welcome bit of catharsis for some.
Indeed, Id Software’s latest entry in its seminal first-person shooter franchise is nothing if not a means to purge via the cleansing power of chainsaws, super shotguns, and trusty old BFG-9000s. Nearly every inch of the experience has been architected to keep players eyebrow-deep in the blood and gore of the cacodemons they slaughter. It is endlessly inventive in its scripted animations depicting the impaling, eviscerating, and general rending of demon flesh.
In fact, we’re encouraged towards the game’s most vicious violence via a mechanic that rewards us with health, armour, and ammunition (a resource you’ll likely find almost always to be nearly depleted) should we opt for a gratuitous finishing move rather than simply shooting from a distance. Dispatching your enemies by the grisliest means possible isn’t just a guilty pleasure, it’s an essential strategy for survival.
Beyond the viscera and carnage is an interactive experience that can only be described as a gamer’s game. Some games make sacrifices to play for the sake of developing story, characters, and worlds. Not Doom Eternal. Its narrative and mythology (delivered mostly via lengthy apocryphal text found on pieces of burnt parchment that are a bit of a slog to read through) are wholly optional. Every design decision feels as though it was made explicitly with action in mind rather than storytelling.
The locations we explore, for example, are often pocked with portals, air boosters, and monkey bars, clearly laid out to facilitate satisfying movement and combat rather than to replicate any sort of practical real-world environment. Some areas almost feel as though they were designed for competitive multiplayer rather campaign play.
And for the first several levels we are absolutely bombarded with weapons, mods, runes, abilities, and mini-game-like side missions, all of which serve to keep our attention focused squarely on combat, acrobatic environmental traversal (there are times when it almost feels like we’re in a challenging 3D platformer rather than a first-person shooter), and the occasional action-oriented contextual puzzle.
In these and other ways, Doom Eternal is clearly an ode to the franchise’s past. It’s loaded with familiar character designs, a complete arsenal of all of the series’ most beloved weapons, and tons of hidden secrets and collectibles. Thankfully, finding this stuff scattered around the game’s sprawling, labyrinthine levels is made a little easier thanks to one of the best in-game maps I’ve yet encountered; a fully navigable 3D recreation of the level that makes it very easy to understand exactly where everything is and how to get to it. You can even use the map to fast-travel to various spots so you can go back and collect anything you might have missed rather than restart the level from scratch.
Some players are bound to find it all a little overwhelming. It’s ludicrously fast-paced in spots, and even that “I’m Too Young to Die!” difficulty mentioned above can be surprisingly challenging. Plus, an exceedingly busy heads-up display — crowded with colour-coded icons and numbers meant to relay key information about your weapons, mods, active abilities, perks, and objectives — takes quite awhile to fully interpret and understand.
But hopefully the time you invest figuring out how to play won’t feel wasted once you finish the campaign. Id has included a competitive asymmetrical multiplayer mode called Battlemode, where one player takes on the role of the game’s super-powered space marine, going up against pairs of demons controlled by other players. It’s delicately balanced — the space marine is incredibly tough, but the demons can summon helpers and call on special abilities as they cooperate in taking down the Slayer — and looks to offer plenty of opportunity for the development of novel strategies.
I didn’t get a chance to experience much of Battlemode during my hurried pre-launch evaluation, but it looks like it will provide good reason for the game’s most ardent fans to keep coming back.
Confession time: I’m likely in a miniscule minority of folks who believe Doom peaked back in 2004 with Doom 3, which delivered the franchise’s most thoughtful and compelling narrative to date and a legitimate sense of horror. I call it “the serious Doom.” Had I my druthers, I’d have opted to see the series continue along that path.
But Id’s move to make 2016’s Doom and now this direct sequel more reminiscent of the series’ roots is fine, too. Sometimes all a person wants is a way to forget about the rest of the world while mindlessly ripping mancubuses to bloody shreds. In this modest ambition, and others, Doom Eternal succeeds sparklingly.