“You sound real good and you play the part well, but the energy you givin’ off is so unfamiliar — I don’t feel ya.”
Man alive, 2020 is an absolute mess, isn’t it? That bloody virus, our stupid leaders powering the economy with our dusty bones, like there’s going to be an economy if we keep throwing workers’ skin into the grinder. While it’s refreshing to see people realizing just how little of a shit the 1% gives about them, it’s a sentiment that was timed poorly with my playthrough of DOOM Eternal.
This is a sequel that needs no introduction, of course. The highly anticipated follow-up to one of the most revered games of the 2010s, DOOM, which electrified and revived a genre that was widely considered to be in need of re-invigoration. It’s been a long time coming, and it should’ve been something that took longer, but in due time, let’s just rip (and tear) this band-aid off.
You still are the infallible Doom Slayer, fresh from err… well, we all know what happened at the end of DOOM (2016), with the Slayer stuck in stasis after the imposing Samuel Hayden threw him in there and stole his sword. None of that matters now, as Eternal kicks off with Earth pretty much past the point of recovery, and the Doom Slayer now has a flying fortress outside of Earth, inexplicably.
I am aware that there’s already a knee-jerk reaction when someone critiques a narrative as arguably unnecessary as DOOM’s; that “story isn’t the strength,” or the infamous plot-in-pornography counterpoint. This isn’t John Carmack’s world anymore, however, and it doesn’t excuse the progression, the context, and the reasoning behind why Eternal‘s narrative and writing is so bloody poor.
It adds further insult to injury when you realize that DOOM (2016)‘s story was perfectly acceptable, even great in places. One could wager that it came from the same coin as Resident Evil 4’s irony-coated way of life but from the other side, so that instead of B-movie cheesiness, it’s absurd ultra-violence brought forth with memetic energy via the infamous DOOM (1993) tie-in comic. In Eternal, they’ve gone so far past fan service that it just turns it all into a bit of a cringy mess.
The viking tie-in stuff, the energy that the Doom Slayer’s presence emanates, the smartly placed comedic moments that gave the Doom Slayer’s foreboding character that ounce of personality. It’s all turned silly now as he becomes the polar opposite to what B.J. Blazkowicz became in The New Colossus, except instead of eternal monologues of nihilism, it’s eternal monologues of suffering from whomever Doom Slayer chooses to bisect.
The worst of it comes from the odd UAC adverts that pop up in a lot of the missions. Here, a hologram will cheerfully celebrate Hell’s dominance on Earth, while also referring to demons as “mortally challenged”. It’s quite obviously a quip on PC culture, and while I have no quarter on whether or not it’s right or just to make a jab at “easily offended” groups, it’s a joke that comes across as childish and overplayed along the course of the game.
It’s especially annoying when you consider how interesting events have been in-between DOOM (2016) and Eternal. Samuel Hayden leading an army against the first waves of Hell on Earth, the mystery of how the Doom Slayer left wherever the fuck he was after DOOM (2016), this is all fairly important info that is either relegated to an info dump or not explained at all.
“Maybe this is all stuff that can be explained in the campaign DLC,” he says with gritted teeth and an upset stomach. At this point, however, playing as anyone other than D. Slayer Esq. is grounds for execution in the eyes of wannabe-boomer-shooter players, who only found out about the Slayer’s 20-year-long career from diluted Reddit posts and a love for a warbling Shih Tzu.
I shouldn’t be harping on the story this much, but when this mismanagement of different resources seeps into the gameplay, that’s when you have problems. It’s actually interesting to examine and consider how DOOM Eternal manifests three different generations of game design within its brief but fairly satisfying blast of a campaign. It’s a point I’ll get to soon, but right now, let me get this out of the way: yes, this is still a faithful rendition of combat that retains the horizontal nature of DOOM with the verticality of Quake.
The speed, the violence, the gibbing, the meat, the fire, the sounds, and the passion of it all, it’s still out in full force, grinning at you with bloodstained teeth and a star in its eye. Eternal‘s arenas show vague upgrades in terms of defense, mobility, and pacing. There are a few additions that don’t stick to the wall properly, like the stupid monkey bars you awkwardly fly off in order to take a few hits, but in due time.
It’s 90s combat: pure in its essence and warm in its embrace. You won’t be able to rocket jump like the old days, but you could retain a sense of skill throughout as the enemy roster attempts to keep up with your energy and endless stream of bulle– Oh shit, I’m out of ammo. I guess I need to jump into the fire in order to use my chainsaw and– Oh, I lost an extra life while doing that. Guess I need to get my bearings and– Oh, that’s another extra life gone because the monster stopped in-fighting and swarmed on me while I was still. Suppose I should try and get a glory kill and– Oh, that’s another…
Eternal‘s biggest issue is an over-reliance on mechanics that remove the free-flowing nature of the combat and instead turn it into a rough clockwork tango with no rhythm. Your ammo limit for every weapon, even when upgraded to its maximum capacity, is quite small, which can lead to varied firefights, although that variation does lead into frustration. Your game plan suddenly becomes unraveled as you attempt to find whomever can be felled by your gas-guzzling chainsaw.
This is that seventh generation of gaming kicking in, the generation that saw fear of potentially close-minded players despising freedom. Eternal doesn’t really entrust its players with a lot of its events, always wrestling control from you, just in case your eyes suddenly stop working, or the word “navigation” is removed from your vocabulary. The BFG-10k mission was an absolute farce for not allowing direct player input in what is arguably Eternal’s most humorous and ultimately badass moment.
They also give the Doom Slayer a voice which, after careful consideration, is just an awful decision. It’s not like the VA for this monolith of muscle and pissed off bone is bad, it’s that realistically, the Doom Slayer is presented as more of a vestigial icon than a voice, or a prophet. It’s that fan service issue kicking in again, and the execution is more than poor, no matter which way you cut it.
Going back to the combat, and it’s not like the mechanical reliance is inherently bad, it’s just that when paired with the arenas, it adds interims into fights that make this fury-infested battle against Hell quite boring. There’s the Chainsaw for refilling your ammo pools, sure, but then there’s the Ice Bomb, which the game explains is best for Lost Souls for all the three times that they appear in-game. There’re also Frag Grenades, still as limp as ever, Flame Belch that provides you with pretty fucking useless armor drops, the weapon upgrades that come in lots of two for each weapon, the melee options– Oh God, the melee options.
Okay, so you have two options for melee, one of which is already the instigator for Glory Kills, which are still as exciting as ever to execute, especially the new ones. The way you practically push a spine through the asses of entry-level shambling Zombies, the blade dance you engage in while slicing a Whiplash into tiny little pieces before any of the body parts hit the ground. They’re gorgeously animated and a way to show you how well-deserved some of these victories are.
There’s also Blood Punch, something you don’t get until half-way through the game. It can only be charged with Glory Kills, and its ultimate capability is only worth it on one monster (the Cyber-Mancubus) that has an immediate counter to it. Beyond that, you can get a tiny health boost from killing a fair few Ads, and that’s about it. There’s no base melee option you can use for trivial enemies that you don’t want to waste ammo on, and while you could use a Chainsaw on them, it’s adding spectacle constantly when at some points, it’s admittedly unnecessary.
Oh come on, surely you know that a barrage of predetermined animations eventually get stale, and you know that some Zombies aren’t worth the bullets you admittedly can’t spare at points. It’s just a faff, and a lot of the battles in Eternal are a faff, even if this roster of monsters is admittedly impressive. Not only do you have old favorites from DOOM 2 returning, like the Arachnotron, Archvile, and Pain Elemental (Alright, maybe not “favorite”, in that case), but you also have brand new additions that switch things up a bit.
Gargoyles are an impressive, low-level entry that manage to still be an annoyance, despite their low health. The Whiplash is a new favorite, mid-tier monster to attempt to thwart, with both its agility and raw power making it a worthy foe to fight and fell. On the other end, there are the monsters that don’t provide the same challenge or well-intended design, like the Carcasses and Cueballs. They’re both confusing additions, especially the Cueball’s weird environmental gimmickry, but the Carcass provides an annoying advantage to enemies that isn’t smart: stupid Plasma shields.
Again, not a bad idea on paper, but destroying Plasma shields also provides a devastating advantage to the player, should you choose to destroy it with the Plasma Rifle. If you don’t have that ammo then and there, you’re half past dead since no other weapon can easily destroy it the way a Plasma Rifle can. Beyond that, there’s the Prowler, which is what you get if you mixed the Whiplash with the teleporting aliens from Duke Nukem 3D, and for that, they can EAT SHIT.
Finally, there’s the Marauder, a towering foe of pale meat which has already inspired a new wave of “git gud” mouth-breathers to guffaw at anyone who would dare have an issue with its tactics in combat. Honestly, it can keep the truthfully bullshit hitscan shield if he wants, he can have his silly little shotgun, but one thing that needs to be removed is that fucking ghost dog.
While I’m fine with having what is essentially an alt-universe Doom Slayer ready to fight me with less gizmos, but with reactions that force the player to widen their playstyles, the dog gnawing my goddamn ankles doesn’t help. While it does have low health, making it more than trivial in theory, it breaks your line of sight from the Marauder long enough for him to get a free hit in most of the time.
The monster roster of DOOM Eternal is great for the most part. It’s a truly versatile cast of Hell’s finest, but the way a lot of them are seemingly plopped into mission with no rhyme or reason betrays a lot of the original’s flair and precision. Christ, even The Plutonia Experiment put more thought into how brutal it can be without first deciding “how can I be an asshole to people”.
Taras Nabad is a good showcase of this. Your first fight will be with a Marauder, your second encounter with him in the story thus far, but with slightly less health than before. You do the Reddit-Approved SSG/Ballista Boogaloo with him, he’s dead, fair enough, but the next arena fight sees the arrival of an Archvile, and a rather unceremonious arrival, at that. His presence is a game changer, considering he can also buff a lot of the monsters he revives, but id treats him as a footnote rather than acknowledging his status as the Marauder of the ’90s FPS.
The same arena also hosts a “secret” encounter, which rewards you with a sole Weapon Point, consisting of one Cacodemon, one Pain Elemental, and the Doom Hunter, another boss turned infrequent enemy, who hosts the same Plasma Rifle issue as the Carcasses. There’s no synergy to this fight, and there’s no synergy with a lot of these fights. It feels like the designers were treating the roster as Pick ‘n’ Mix, throwing them into whatever levels at the cost of thoughtful encounters.
Even then, a lot of these fights aren’t necessarily hard, even on Ultra-Violence, “The Gentleman’s Way to Play”. While the Marauder is a shot of Espresso after 29 hours of no sleep, this lack of forward thinking put into how the hordes of Hell can both bless the Doom Slayer and burden him also, is wack. The only button id can be bothered to press is making the monster instigate in-fighting immediately– in-fighting that immediately ceases as soon as you sneeze towards their direction. Good plan.
The same goes for secrets, which are about as secret as Geoff Keighley’s lust for Hideo Kojima. You won’t even get halfway through the game before you unlock an upgrade which straight up shows the location of every single secret collectible in the game. This is a double-edged-sword type of inclusion, since it alienates people looking for an appropriate reward for delving into hidden areas, but it also allows lesser players to not try too terribly hard for an item they might consider useless.
It’s a great inclusion to have in the long run, but for 90 percent of these secrets, there is next to no challenge in attempting to figure out where exactly there are in the world, how to get there, what mix of skills is required, etc. You’ll check your mini-map half of the time, see a secret next to your icon, you’ll look left, and oh goodie, it was behind a desk, what next?
Eternal‘s issues can be best described as “inaccurate”. It’s a buckshot blast of attempting to appeal to all of these different demographics of DOOM fans, when in reality, all it needed was to be DOOM (2016) on Earth, which it almost is at times. The runes no longer contain any overpowered traits that break the game, some of the fights towards the end of the story are some of the best firefights you’ll have this generation, but good God, the road is paved with poor intentions.
All of it culminates in a tribute to DOOM 2 that manages to be less intense than its ’94 counterpart. It then ends with a kiss on the forehead and a shrug of its shoulders, recommending you play the Master Levels, which are just revisits of previous levels with more monsters, and Battle Mode, which isn’t interesting to me in the slightest (hence the “Campaign Review” title). DOOM has never really had particularly great multiplayer modes, and even with the Quake implementations, that’s still the case. Another world, maybe.
It’s hard to judge DOOM Eternal on all of its merits. For one, it’s clear that this is filled with unbridled and unfiltered talent, joy, violence, and challenge, but a lot of it is mismanaged in the most damaging of ways. The difficulty implementations, the monsters not being fully realized in how they can defeat the Slayer, the grating nature of the over-written lore. A lot of comes off as goofy, but it’s also difficult trying to accept it as fully damaging to the overall quality of Eternal.
In the end, DOOM Eternal misses the mark due to a war with its differing attitudes regarding how it wants to be marketed. One-half of a patronizing campaign awkwardly fused with one-half of a brutalizing exercise in quintessential FPS action. Within one hell of a messy core lies one of the greatest games ever made, and while it’s still a good game, it sure as shit isn’t the best DOOM game.
No, that title belongs to DOOM 64.
This review of DOOM Eternal was based on the Xbox One version of the game.
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