No one expected the 2016 reboot of Doom to be good, let alone the incredible blast of demon-crunching action it turned out to be. Doom 2016 achieved a wonderful thing: it was very dumb but also extremely smart. While its story was nonexistent and its aesthetic was ripped from the walls of a teenage metalhead, its combat was a fast-paced, pitch-perfect blend of thoughtful mechanics that never got old.
For the sequel, id Software had the strongest of bases to work from. The studio could’ve easily done what it did for the original game’s sequel, Doom II: Hell on Earth, and essentially just crank out a bunch of new levels. Instead, Doom Eternal dramatically expands the scope of Doom, jacking up the action in all directions. The result is a game that’s impossibly extra, and not always for the better. But in most ways, Doom Eternal is a glorious, hilarious delight.
Like 1994’s Doom II, Doom Eternal sees your space marine brotagonist return from hell to find Earth besieged by demons. Billions have been slaughtered, but no one is fighting alongside you, really. It has simply fallen on you to fix this situation because you are the Doom guy. In a nice touch, id didn’t contrive a way to strip you of your acquired abilities from the last game; previously unlockable things like double-jump and the chainsaw are accessible to you right from the beginning. You even start out with a shotgun.
This frees up Doom Eternal to offer a more kinetic, exciting experience as soon as you see the title screen fade out. The level design is far more open, diverse, and vertical than in Doom 2016; survival is about acrobatics as much as it is headshots. There aren’t many first-person shooters that show such a creative approach to moving through space. Doom Eternal is frequently reminiscent of Titanfall 2 in its almost Nintendo-esque lack of restraint when it comes to constructing elaborate, dangerous environments. Sometimes, you’ll literally see spinning fire bars straight out of Super Mario Bros.
This extends to the combat arenas, which benefit from the expanded focus on movement. You’ll often find yourself, say, swinging from a bar to avoid an energy blast from an enemy before shooting them on the way down and gorily dispatching them with one of their own limbs in the space of a second or two. That such a thing is even possible is the result of Doom Eternal’s unique system-driven combat, which is mostly unchanged from its predecessor.
Doom’s combat is like the video game equivalent of an expertly cooked Wagyu burger. You can appreciate the incredible artistry and the beautiful marbling if you look closely, or you can just chow the hell down. Here’s how it works: you have guns, obviously, and you can use them to kill scary monsters. But if you do the right amount of damage before sending them back to the underworld, they’ll stagger back and glow orange, opening the door for you to perform a gruesome finishing move and restore some health at the same time. Your chainsaw, meanwhile, is a one-button option that can be used to carve enemies apart and gain some more ammo; the only catch there is you need to find gas to keep its tank full. You also have a flamethrower that can toast demons and bestow you with armor, but that ability resets on a timer.
Doom Eternal’s new additions include an ice bomb that freezes enemies in place and a “blood punch” attack that breaks through armor, but the basic flow feels more or less the same. Battles will typically see you use most of your abilities in a perpetual whirlwind of resource management, killing enemies a certain way depending on what they’re weak to, which color they’re glowing, and what you’re running low on in the heat of the moment. At its best, Doom Eternal feels like Guitar Hero: you enter the zone and do what needs to be done almost without thinking.
Speaking of guitars, Doom Eternal’s soundtrack is pitch-perfect. Australian composer Mick Gordon has returned to deliver another original score, which continues to be metal as hell and perfectly suited to Doom’s aesthetic. Gordon’s work is intense and original, blending industrial sounds with deep bassy grooves that serve as a pulsating backdrop to the demonic action. It’s perhaps the most acute example of how well id has handled the tone and vibe of the new Doom games. Doom always had cool music, but it would have been the easiest thing in the world to re-create the early games’ famous MIDI jams with butt-rock guitars. Instead, Gordon has carved out an iconoclastic sound that people will come to identify with Doom just as much as the ’90s soundtracks.
For all of its satisfying, sparse design, Doom Eternal does occasionally overextend itself. Things like the weapon upgrade system feel like meaningless busywork, while the addition of a hub world-style spaceship doesn’t bring much of interest. And while most of the story is largely ignorable and told through a lore database, you’re still presented with a lot of exposition and cutscenes that outstay their welcome. There is definitely a sense that Doom Eternal wants to be a little more than it should be.
I get it. Doom Eternal’s combat is incredible, but I couldn’t play it for hours on end, so I appreciate the attempt to break things up a bit. The problem is that I don’t really like much about Doom Eternal other than the seconds I spend balletically blasting demons in a destroyed world that just so happens to be perfect for parkour. Fortunately, those seconds make up the vast majority of the game and are more entertaining than basically any other shooter out there today.
Doom Eternal isn’t quite as focused as its predecessor, and sometimes it gets bogged down in unnecessary additions. But they don’t compromise the core experience, which is as giddily indulgent as anything else you’ll play all year. Doom Eternal is a bigger, more ambitious version of Doom, and for the most part, that’s exactly as much fun as it sounds.
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