Doom Eternal: A Hell of a Good Game
I don’t remember exactly what time it was when I emerged from my long slumber last Friday morning. I reached painfully for the nearest available weapon, wiped the sweat from my brow and as I took a deep breath I plunged headlong once more into that demon-ravaged hellscape of pure evil.
Adrenaline surged through me as I battled against the satanic spawn running rampant in that chaotic realm to claim what was rightfully mine. And once I returned from the supermarket with my toilet rolls and hand sanitizer, I noticed my launch day copy of Doom Eternal had arrived!
My long term love affair with Doom goes all the way back to the original game when it launched as a “shareware” title for PCs back in the early 90s.
However it would be the 1996 port of Doom and Doom 2 for the original Playstation where I would become truly familiar with the world of Doom.
Final Doom, which launched a year later was just a bit too difficult for 13 year old me at the time. Someday I really must go back and finish it. Later I played Doom 3, which took the franchise in a different, more story-oriented direction, and of course I re-bought the original two games when they were re-released on the PS3 and then again on the PS4.
2016 saw a reboot of sorts for the franchise with the new title simply called Doom. This was a different kind of Doom, though. Our nameless hero, known informally as the “Doomslayer”, once again blasted his way through Mars and then literally to hell and back in his quest to stop the dark realm from invading our dimension.
Doom 2016 was a pulse-pounding thrill ride. It had a story, and quite a compelling one if you could be bothered reading through all the supplementary files you collected as you moved through the campaign missions.
However, at its core, this was still an action game first and foremost. Indeed, it stayed true to the attitude of original series creator John Carmack in the execution of its story.
Carmack famously said back in the 90s: “Story in games is like story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.”
Now, 4 years later, we have in Doom Eternal, a continuation of the story from Doom 2016.
Our hero has established an orbital base from which he sets out to try to stop Hell’s invasion of Earth. It quickly becomes clear however that to win this time, he’ll have to take on far more than just your run of the mill demons. This is a battle that will push the Doomslayer to his absolute limits, from the lowest points of reality to the highest, and all with that signature ultra-violent swagger and “no f*cks given” attitude.
Something you’ll immediately notice about doom eternal is just how much more fluid it feels to control. The Slayer moves a lot faster and more nimbly than he did four years ago, to the point where I actually find playing 2016’s Doom to be kind of restrictive now. A new dashing mechanic augments the double-jump and also serves as an excellent defensive option if you find yourself being backed into a corner and need a quick getaway.
Our Hero’s weapon options have been given an overhaul too.
In addition to the two secondary fire modes for each base weapon, the Slayer can now set his victims on fire, launch a grenade (either incendiary or frozen depending on your mood) hack the opponent down with a chainsaw, or just give them a good, old-fashioned punch in the face.
That all these options can be deployed with the touch of a single button, yet the controls never feel cluttered or counter-intuitive really is something of an engineering marvel.
And you’ll need every weapon you can get, because Hell’s forces have had an upgrade too.
In much the same way as last year’s superb Resident Evil 2 remake made zombies a truly intimidating prospect once again, Doom Eternal has made even routine demons like the cyclopic Cacodemon, and the hard-headed Hell Knight into genuinely fearsome killing machines.
As you get to grips with this game, you will die, a lot.
However, this aspect of the game never becomes frustrating. As you play more, you become more adept at crowd control, and you learn to anticipate and counter each enemy’s unique system of moves. By the time you acquire my personal favourite weapon, the super shotgun, about halfway through the third level, you’ll hopefully have become quite the confident killing machine.
It is fair to say though that Doom Eternal is a challenging game, even on the lower difficulty settings. Much like the Doomslayer himself, this is a game that doesn’t f*ck around. It throws you straight into the action. Within the first ten minutes you’ll be blasting Arachnotrons, Mancubi and an all new, and initially quite irritating slinky, snake-like demon called the Whiplash.
You’ll also get your first look at the new primary antagonist the Khan Maykr, a creature whose angelic appearance belies a sinister agenda.
From here the action just ramps up higher and higher, as does the body count.
Throughout the campaign, you will visit multiple different worlds, each drawn in an equally gorgeous way with their own aesthetic. My personal favourites are the levels that showcase the realm of the Night Sentinels, a noble race of warriors that the Doomslayer served alongside before their world tragically fell to Hell’s corruption. Your journey to the Sentinel homeworld of Sentinel Prime, towards the end of the campaign, reveals some stunning revelations as to who this “Doomslayer” is and why he is on his single-minded quest.
However, at no point does it feel like the story is interfering with the game.
Indeed, much like Doom 2016, most of Doom Eternal’s lore comes not from the brief cut-scenes that follow the completion of a level or the death of a boss, but from the dozens of files you will find scattered around each level.
However it is in the sheer run and gun fun of blasting demons away that this game feels at its most entertaining. This too has been tweaked quite a bit since the slayer’s last outing. Veteran Doom players will notice that ammo limits are far stingier than they were last time around. This makes it impossible to just push through the whole game with only your one, favourite gun.
Like it or not, if you are to liberate Earth from Hell’s armies, you will need to use every weapon in your arsenal. This brings a whole new level of strategy to proceedings. You need to balance your bullets, but thankfully the enhanced glory kill system is also here to help.
When an enemy is near death, there are now three different ways you can take them down.
A quick melee kill will yield some extra health, setting them on fire with your flame burst before dispatching them with your weapon yields some extra armour shards, and cutting them down to size with your chainsaw replenishes ammo.
Again, much like the weapons and other aspects of the control system, this is all implemented in such a smooth way, it never feels uncomfortable.
Doom Eternal is not without its flaws, though. Perhaps the single biggest issue I had with the game on my first playthrough was the platforming elements.
In addition to jumping and dashing, wall climbing has also been added to the mix this time.
While it does offer new and intriguing ways to discover secrets and bonuses throughout the levels, it can, at times be very, very frustrating.
Often, you don’t feel completely in control, and when you do manage to pull off a complex series of dashes and jumps it feels like you did so more by luck than design.
There was one section in the heavenly Urdak level, quite late on in the game, which had me throwing my controller and swearing at the TV in frustration. Anyone who has got that far into the game will probably know the exact section I am talking about.
Another occasional source of frustration was the new “Marauder” enemy type. Basically an evil mirror image of our hero, the Marauder is initially introduced as a level boss, but later comes back as a recurring regular villain throughout the final levels of the game.
With his lightning fast reactions, a shield which can block anything, and a complete immunity to special weapon attacks, each encounter with one of these behemoths feels like a one on one duel of attrition. That’s all well and good if it’s a boss battle, but it can be quite infuriating if he is one of a dozen or so enemies you are trying to work your way through simultaneously.
The fact it can take as many as ten blasts with the super-shotgun to stagger him doesn’t help either. Oh, and he also likes to set his dog on you from time to time too.
These really are minor annoyances though, and when all is said and done, Doom Eternal is one of the best single player experiences I’ve had on PS4 in quite some time.
It’s a tough game right from the opening level, but stick with it, and once you’ve acquired a few upgrades and got used to the new combat system, you’ll be slaying demons left, right and center in no time at all.
It may not even be April yet, but in Doom Eternal, I confidently predict we have a game of the year contender. Further expansions to both the single player and online multiplayer elements are also promised in the near future.
Slaughtering the forces of hell has never been so much fun!