Doomguy gets nerdy
DOOM’s big return to video games was wild. It came right at the forefront of Bethesda’s brief and weird review policy, and everyone was afraid that was a red flag. That flag went up in flames as 2016’s DOOM reboot brought developer id Software back to the major leagues. I’m not really a legacy DOOM fan, although I liked the first two games well enough, but DOOM 2016 blew me away. It was one of the rare games I rarely put down until the credits ran. So I’ve been hyped as hell for DOOM Eternal, ever since the first look showed us all the new movement options. DOOM 2016 was fast, and DOOM Eternal looked furious. Now it’s out, and I dove right in expecting more of the same rad environmental design, sharp humor, and intense FPS mayhem.
One out of three ain’t bad, at least in this case.
DOOM Eternal is every bit the game it looked like when id Software first showed it off. The “first” DOOM was a mad dash through a corporate outpost on Mars not long after the denizens of Hell took it over. DOOM Eternal is, like DOOM II before it, what happens when the fight comes to Earth. On paper, that means DOOM Eternal is fueled by wide open spaces. Doomguy’s arsenal has been upgraded in turn, so now Hell’s least favorite beefy boy can zip around in the air like the hero in an indie platformer. Doomguy starts with the double-jump, then eventually gets to air-dash, cling to specific surfaces, use a grappling hook, and even swing on monkey bars!
When you run into a scrap, and that’s basically half the game, you can immediately feel the difference between the two games. DOOM Eternal is obviously interested in verticality, with plenty of opportunities to navigate up and down layers of a monster closet. Nearly every enemy encounter contains several ledges to grab, booster pads that give you airborne options in addition to your tools, nooks and crannies to dive into, and other resources to keep you moving without touching the ground. This is truly exhilarating, and whenever I found that lovely DOOM flow state, I forgot anything else I was worried about. Which is good, because outside of the picture-perfect ripping and tearing, I’ve found myself surprisingly disappointed with DOOM Eternal. While I love every second of combat in this game, any time I’ve spent outside of combat has been testing the very boundaries of my attention span.
In 2016, I bought everything DOOM was selling. Doomguy was an awesome character, displaying no patience for the usual AAA tropes, muscling his way past familiar sequences with a wink from the creators, but stone-faced aggression from Doomguy. The corridors on the Mars base were full of satirical PA announcements, taking the evil corporate double-speak of real life and turning it into more of an overt nightmare. And the mythologization of Doomguy himself was really interesting. It was just understated enough to make you wonder what it could be about, appreciate the imagery, and not get bogged down in the details. DOOM Eternal, however, deliberately gets bogged down in the details.
For whatever reason, in DOOM Eternal we’re doubling down on lore. And I’m not just talking about codex entries, although you’ll need them to really understand what the heck is going on. DOOM told a straightforward story, of corporate arrogance leading to demon violence. DOOM Eternal turns the whole deal into mythology in the most dull possible way. Doomguy, who is now a character with a face and body that we see sort of emote in front of the camera sometimes, is wrapped up in a takeover of Earth. But instead of “demons are bad, so smash demons,” the plot is a muddled mess of fantasy tropes including ancient civilizations, a multidimensional political conflict, characters you will never remember, and a lot of mundane nouns designated with importance via capital letters. It’s like all the worst parts of the Diablo series vomited all over DOOM and didn’t even bother wiping up afterwards.
When DOOM Eternal isn’t getting bogged down by boring, rote fantasy storytelling, it’s getting bogged down in platforming. DOOM Eternal’s interest in layers and verticality is great in combat, but not so great outside of combat. DOOM’s movement-based combat requires somewhat enclosed spaces, hence the monster closets. But id Software wanted the war on Earth to be grand in scale, so how do we incorporate large, wide-open spaces? Apparently, it is with floaty, dull platforming challenges. So many action sequences in this game are connected via floating platforms, wall-climbing sequences, switch puzzles, or a combination thereof. None of them are challenging, and the hidden secrets are often a matter of starting the critical path, then checking your immediate surroundings a little. The previous game was a lot more reserved with its pathfinding and combat roadblocks, using them to break up the wild pacing. DOOM Eternal loses control of its pace almost immediately.
Aside from the campaign, DOOM Eternal also has a battle mode, which is an asymmetrical bout that lets players take control of demons. This can happen during the campaign too by the way, and is definitely a highlight. Despite how simple the demons are on paper, playing as them feels almost as good as Doomguy. This is a definite improvement from what the first game offered, and with plenty of play incentives such as profile customization options and skins for weapons and characters, it seems like this one will have some legs. My play with this mode was limited since it was before launch, but it’s something I’ll definitely be interested in sinking more time into.
There are rare moments of humor and of course all the bloody, high-octane carnage when DOOM Eternal reminds me of DOOM 2016. In combat, DOOM Eternal goes bigger and better, with more gruesome detail, more movement options, more weapons, and more demons. Even the multiplayer has been updated from the boring deathmatches to a cool co-op/competitive hybrid with tons of fun unlockables. Unfortunately, I’m just not down with the direction the campaign went in. It’s too self-serious, too laden with tropes, too interested in patting itself on the back over its bizarre dedication to filling in lore details wherever possible. It’s the worst kind of lore, the kind that front with grandeur but is really just a collection of capitalized nouns and reappropriated (and slightly-differently spelled) nods to biblical mythology. And it’s all punctuated with vast spaces of padding, stretching combat far too thin between boilerplate platforming challenges.
It’s weird to feel so disappointed by something so awesome. DOOM Eternal is a constant state of whiplash between being in absolute awe at the game’s mechanical brilliance, only to be snatched in the extreme opposite direction by stale storytelling and environmental padding. I miss the gore nests, the simple but well-presented story, and sardonic overtones that made 2016’s DOOM such a big hit for me. The air-dashing, grappling, and tons of unlockable stuff is cool, and Doomguy’s personal quarters in his weird spaceship/castle gimmick is pretty funny. But while there’s nothing outright bad or poorly crafted in DOOM Eternal, the direction id Software chose to head here just reeks of AAA homogeny. The last game had teeth; DOOM Eternal feels like it sold out a little.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Exactly what you’d expect from a sequel to DOOM; demons are gross, kills are more gross than before, and the weapons look awesome. Environments blend together pretty quickly 4.0 Control
Typical FPS controls, but sometimes things like switching grenades or weapon mods can feel fumbly, especially for a game demanding speed. Aerial acrobatics are so, so good 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Soundtrack isn’t as powerful as before; it’s a little less punchy and a little less in your face. You can find records to play classic DOOM tunes in your fortress, though 3.0 Play Value
Battle mode seems cool and will be great if the base sticks around; campaign is great during combat but super boring otherwise 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best