Doom Eternal review – Hell has all the best games
The follow-up to id Software’s reboot of Doom is finally here but will it be the proper sequel that the series has always been denied?
Back when the Doom reboot came out a few years ago, we felt a little ostracised for not seeming to like it quite as much as other people. It was a good game, with some fantastic combat, but for us it fizzled out long before the end. So we were relieved to find that when we spoke to co-director Marty Stratton he agreed and insisted that sequel Doom Eternal would specifically address that and other complaints. And while we do still have a few qualms he wasn’t lying.
Although it was not the first ever first person shooter, the original 1993 Doom was the milestone release that popularised the genre and established many of its standards. It’s still perfectly playable today (there’s some very good ports available on all current formats) but updating it for modern times presents an obvious problem given how old the game is; an issue that the 2016 reboot addressed by focusing on arcade style action supported by Metroid Prime style exploration.
Oddly, Doom Eternal is really the first proper sequel the series has ever had, since Doom 2 was little more than an expansion pack and Doom 3 was really just another reboot. Doom Eternal follows on directly from the end of the 2016 game and… we’ve got very little idea of what is supposed to be going on. That’s not really important, because this is Doom we’re talking about, but Doom Eternal has a level of opaque storytelling and impenetrable lore that makes the average Final Fantasy look straightforward.
Despite the stripped-down nature of the reboot’s story the sequel manages to be very confusing from the first instant, especially if you don’t read the codex descriptions littering most levels. But basically, Hell has invaded Earth and the Doom Slayer (i.e. you) has a… magic spaceship castle that you got from aliens/interdimensional not-angels that have a vested interest in seeing the Earth overrun because they mine Hell for ‘argent energy’. Or at least we think that’s what’s going on. Either way, the end result is that the demons might as well be space aliens for all the difference it makes.
Far more interesting than the plot is the action, which really is fantastic. On one hand it’s extremely old school, since there’s no aiming down sights, no reloading, no recharging health, and no dying from a fall. But the silky smooth gunplay still feels very weighty and engaging, as crowd control and situational awareness become your priority over precision shooting. All that is essentially the same as the 2016 game, but onto that Doom Eternal adds several layers of intriguing complication.
Expanding on the glory kills of the last game, where you got extra health for performing a finishing move, you now get additional item drops depending on which special weapon you use. Glory kills provide health but also fill up a blood punch meter if you perform enough of them, while chainsaw attacks drop ammo and your flamethrower causes demons to drop armour. This is the core of your tactical considerations, which result in you viewing the monsters of Hell as mobile supply drops.
Many criticised the reboot for being mindless, but it was anything but. Complex forward planning might be impossible, but the action forces you to constantly refine your short term goals, based on what resources you need and what demons you’re faced with. And in the sequel there’s not just the aforementioned item drops but also demons with different weak spots that are best exploited by specific weapons – many of which have their own ammo as well as two different, unlockable weapon mods that offer alternative fire modes and which can themselves be upgraded.
Your suit can be upgraded too, with separate collectibles, and there are special runes you can find to give you additional abilities or crystals that increase your health, armour, or ammo capacity. Classic Doom power-ups are often available and there are two different kinds of frag grenade (also upgradable), and even hidden cheat codes. It sounds like it should be a confusing mess of overcomplicated options, but it absolutely isn’t. Everything is introduced at a sensible pace and very quickly clicks, as you learn to use your entire range of options in battle.
Most of Doom Eternal’s enemy encounters take place in small, closed off sections of a level, which are then filled to the brim with demons for you to deal with. Whatever problems we have with the rest of the game, these moments are always fantastically exciting, as you react both on instinct and a constantly changing tactical plan. Doom Eternal forces quick thinking as much as it does quick aiming and when it all comes together, with the blaring soundtrack that’s half electronica and half heavy metal, it is glorious.
The multiplayer options weren’t online prior to launch but the competitive modes seem to be similar to the more Quake-inspired play of the last game, which was novel for a short time but never had much longevity. The Dark Souls style elements in the story campaign do sound interesting though, where a demon can become extra powerful if it’s beaten a number of other players already or where other people can invade your game controlling a demon of their own.
Combat is not all there is to Doom Enteral and in order to break up the battles you still have the Metroid Prime style exploration of the last game. The level design is often still confusing but there are always plenty of interesting secrets to discover, so it can be very satisfying. But what seems unwise is the way the sequel expands on the platforming, to create some of the most difficult and frustrating first person sequences we’ve seen in a long time.
We kept being reminded of the Super Mario Sunshine void levels, where your backpack is taken away from you, which would have been a compliment if this was a 3D platformer. But it’s not, it’s Doom. And in any case, working out where you have to go is often the most difficult part, with the game relying on weird angles and unlikely starting points that constantly have you questioning whether what you’re attempting is even possible.
There’s one set piece, involving infinitely-spawning demons, powered up by a nearby ‘buff totem’, that had us stuck for a good 30 minutes or more – not because it was too hard but because we had no idea where to go. Even now, we’re still not sure we did it right as the fallen traffic light we were jumping off seemed more like a glitch than a platform. But if there was an alternative solution we never found it.
Thankfully, having to jump and fight at the same time is relatively rare but when it happens it’s infuriating, as Doom Eternal is not an easy game even on the lowest difficulty level. There are a couple of nasty difficulty spikes too, that then flatten back down for no obvious reason straight after. Levels always seem to go on for that bit too long, and end suddenly, and while there’s much more variety in backdrops than the last game it’s only the Earth levels that have any real visual panache.
The original Doom may have been one of the most important graphical milestones in gaming, but Doom Eternal is competent and nothing more. A lot of that is due to the 60fps frame rate, which is certainly a sensible priority, but between the unexciting art design and some underwhelming sound effects the presentation is not all that it could be.
We don’t want to dwell on the negatives though, as when the game is good it’s very, very good. But just as the reboot showed obvious room for improvement this still needs to be ratcheted up a little more to reach its full potential. Hopefully id Software are planning a trilogy and if it shows the same improvement as from the first to the second game, then the third could end up being one of the best first shooters ever. Just as its legacy demands.
Doom Eternal review summary
In Short: A significant improvement on the reboot and while there are still a few flaws the core combat is some of the best in any first person shooter this generation.
Pros: Excellent combat, with multiple layers of weaponry that should be confusing and overcomplicated but work together perfectly. Tons of content and collectibles.
Cons: Some general pacing and difficulty issues, with the platforming in particular being very poorly judged. Terrible storytelling.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Stadia
Developer: id Software
Release Date: 20th March 2020 (Switch TBA)
Age Rating: 18
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