Doom Eternal Review: Push forward into darkness

Doom Eternal

Doom Eternal is a lot of fun. It’s a game that looks directly to the wildly popular Doom 2016 for its cues on just about everything. It introduces a suite of new mechanics that give combat greater depth. It asks you to face your enemies head-on and to never shy away from the challenge. Rip. Tear. Keep moving. Survive.

Hell on Earth

Doom Eternal‘s plot is tangled, and little of it is explained. The Doomslayer now dwells aboard a castle-cum-spaceship. It is a shrine to an order of knights that kept the forces of Hell at bay. They failed. The Earth has fallen and Hell has contorted the landscape as its forces hunt human beings to extinction. The only thing that stands in their way is our angry, armour-clad shooty boy.

As the campaign moves forward, the Doomslayer begins to have visions of fallen knights. These knights all beg him to give up on his one-man crusade. They tell him he will fail, that he can’t take this weapon or that he can’t reach the level boss. They are, to a person, ignored. It’s not that the Doomslayer doesn’t have space for such negativity in his life. It’s that he’s not listening at all. I know because I wasn’t listening either.

This is, I think, the key to understanding modern Doom. It’s less that the story doesn’t matter, and more that it’s there if you want it. You can listen to these conversations, and dig into the text logs if you want more. But I don’t want more. When I’m playing Doom Eternal, my forebrain is off and my reptile brain is engaged. There is only the next glory kill, only blood and momentum. Your experience may differ — the game is happy for you to engage with its story on whatever level you like.

By far the best part of the game’s presentation is the Doomslayer suit’s onboard computer Vega. Vega provides hellish updates in a chirpy, corporate-approved voice. Hearing it advise that “I’m detecting Pain Elementals” or “the Hell Barons on the move” never stopped being funny.

This is my boomstick

Doom 2016 set a new bar for how the series approached its combat design. It was fast and fluid, its mobs of enemies presenting a series of problems to be solved in rapid succession. Doom Eternal expands on the combat ballet of the original with new movement options, weapon functions and offensive capabilities. You are given the double jump early, as well as a new air dodge that lets you zip forward a short distance. This is great for getting out of a tight spot and opening some distance between you and a mob of enemies. You have access to a shoulder-mounted flamethrower that deals damage-over-time and causes enemies to drop armour shards. Your gauntlets have been upgraded so that every glory kill fills a Blood Punch meter. Once filled, you can unleash a single, devastating AOE burst that will vaporise low-level foes.

One of the complaints about Doom 2016’s combat was that, were you to pick the right weapon mods, it was possible to get by on one extremely powerful weapon. I can vouch for this — the shotgun’s grenade attachment was one of the most over-powered in the game and I’ve managed to complete that campaign using little else. Doom Eternal hopes to avoid a similar situation by making a few alterations to combat, some of which I like and others I found less fun overall. The first thing it does is works hard to make every weapon in your arsenal useful. Every enemy will eventually drop if you sink enough ammo into it, but there are specific weapons that each one is weaker against than others.

Take the Mancubus for example. He’s a big old damage sponge and will soak up just about everything you throw at him. But whip out the double-barrelled Super Shotgun, get into close quarters and you can delete him with a single blast. Apply this thinking to the game’s large enemy roster and you’ll find yourself constantly weapon swapping during a fight, making perks that speed that process up much more valuable. I love this and I’m glad to see id find a way to make constant weapon swapping not only necessary but part of the fun. It also makes the chainsaw a relevant and lifesaving part of your arsenal — sawn enemies drop ammo shards — but it’s also part of what I think is Doom Eternal‘s biggest combat problem.

Chainsaw diplomacy

In case you’re still trying to get away with using a single weapon, id have made ammo the rarest resource in the known universe. At no time throughout the entire Doom Eternal campaign did the Low Ammo HUD alert go away for long. I never had enough. I was constantly running on fumes, scrapping hard to get glory kills so enemies would drop enough ammo to carry on with. It started to feel quite punitive after a while, and I think it’s an extra step that id didn’t really need to take. It puts a dent in the power fantasy the game is trying to sell. Without a robust supply of ammunition, I cannot truly be an unstoppable murder tide as advertised.

Elsewhere, Doom Eternal brings back series staples like colour coded door keys and unlockable cheat codes discovered through disciplined search of the map’s farthest corners.

Level design remains one of Doom Eternal‘s strongest suits, and works hard to make the most of all the new movement changes. There is a lot of climbing, leaping and platforming, and much of it will lead you into secret areas with big rewards. The early levels have you hunting down demonic overseers on your way to finding the great Kahn Maykr that leads Hell’s invasion. Their dwellings are twisted factory sites that blend natural rock formations and industrial buildings into twisting labyrinths. Before long, you’re heading into the bowels of the invasion itself, parts of the planet that have become gore-soaked, living things. These areas pulse and writhe as though you’re traipsing through the digestive tract of some huge, unseen being.

The vibe is: Damnation

Visually, Doom Eternal is a real treat. It puts a focus on spectacle in the same way D2016 did — glory kills are savage, and often deliberately gross, while explosives blow enemies into tiny, meaty chunks. One notable change is that damage dealt to enemies now registers visually with parts of their armour or flesh being blown off. This lets the player know that they’re getting closer to that crucial stagger stage, and gives each weapon some much needed weight. The shotgun might be the default weapon now, but this visual trick makes it feel much more powerful than it really is.

Almost everything feels like it’s been dialed up from the previous game. Animations are even more characterful, but clear in telegraphing enemy attacks. On-screen prompts and HUD elements are equally clear and easy to read. The path forward is still lit with green lights that stand out among all the blood, though they’ve certainly been wound back in their frequency and intensity.

What also took me by surprise was how well optimised the game is. I planned to review Doom Eternal on PC and, after seeing the game’s hefty recommended specs, I wondered if I’d be able to run it on anything other than low. I needn’t have worried — the game defaulted to High settings across the board and ran at a solid 60fps.

It’s also quite the sonic experience. Melbourne composer Mick Gordon’s metal score thrums and heaves, elevating the heartrate and creating a sense of intertia compounded by the game’s blazing speed. Demons screech and roar in bizarre voices designed to intimidate as much as be unique and identifiable. The spiderlike Arachnotron in particular issues a death scream at a pitch that prickles the ear. It’s remarkable stuff and I’ll look for the id team to be sweeping sound awards at the end of the year.

Final thoughts

Doom Eternal is a strong and deeply enjoyable leap forward for the series. The feel of the 2016 relaunch remains, the urgency and thrill of it. It’s well-served by numerous gameplay tweaks that elevate an already strong foundation. If this is what the future of Doom looks like, I can’t wait for more of it.

FOUR-AND-A-HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Fast and fluid gameplay; Brutal gunplay; Smart new mechanics
Lowlights: Campaign may drag in the first half for some; Ammo wildly scarce
Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (Q4 2020)
Available: Now

Review conducted on Windows PC with a pre-release review code provided by the publisher.

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.

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