DOOM rises again to take a chainsaw to the hordes of hell in DOOM Eternal. But will it make you want to rip and tear, or is this sequel doomed?
It feels strange to be talking about a sequel to DOOM, the 2016 game that, had you followed it from its announcement, had no right to be anywhere near as good as it was. DOOM’s protracted development time and various business side hiccups gave the impression that the game was one for fans, nostalgia lovers and nobody else. What we got upon its release, however, was a perfect mixture of irreverent self-awareness, razor sharp rhythmic gunplay and a rebuke against what the modern idea of what a shooter was. It was wholly itself, to the point where fiddling too much with the base concepts risked blowing the whole thing apart.
When you have something like DOOM, which feels as much like a moment in gaming as it does a game, and you want to create a sequel, where do you go? You’re already chainsawing demons apart to refill your rocket ammunition so you can blow up bigger demons – surely there’s a ceiling to that?
So, where to begin? Do you slice it down the middle? Bolt new onto old, try to find where the muscles can be trained, where the fat can be trimmed? The triumph of DOOM’s design was its marriage of mechanics and pacing that was beautifully kinetic. Everything was linked, to enjoy DOOM’s gunplay was to enjoy its movement, to enjoy its story was to enjoy its level design. As an interconnected chain of design elements, it was basically unimpeachable – so where does DOOM Eternal fit?
One of the main points of consistency is how disinterested DOOM Eternal seems to be in its own story. There are demons. It’s Earth’s turn to be hellified, there are three priests that you simply must destroy, and that’s about it. From the moment you commence the campaign, you begin to wonder the kind of lessons that the developers pulled from the success of the 2016 reboot. How that game portrayed the Doom Guy as not just an anonymous shooter-dude, but an anonymous shooter-dude of biblical proportions.
Much of the story can be inferred from comments here and there by the stories’ various players – poking at the Doom Guy’s intentions, telling him his crusade to destroy the armies of hell and provide salvation is not just futile, but that it goes against the natural order of the universe.
However, where 2016 DOOM’s story dug into a tale of corporate greed and resource obsession which resulted in a literal deal with the devil, DOOM Eternal’s narrative is less clear – full of detail and lore (the game is littered with collectibles that flesh out locations, characters and events), but, much like the Doom Guy himself, largely uninterested in explaining itself. There are still attempts at small-moment storytelling, like a demented corporate hologram that implores you to welcome your ‘mortally challenged’ conquerors, but nothing as indicative of character as how the Doom Guy would simply ignore the UAC command in the reboot. For the first time, at least according to everyone else, the Doom Guy seems… invested? Like he cares? It’s a strange shift in character. Luckily, DOOM Eternal supplements things with some of the most stunning environment design we’ve seen in a shooter.
You could talk about the Titans – towering, terrible things that carry literal hell cathedrals on their shoulders, allowing the demons and cultists within to travel the blasted Earth in massive strides. One of your first moments with a Titan is staring up at it after destroying its burden, only to see it clomp away, dwarfing the shattered skyscrapers around it.
Or there’s the game’s lovely appreciation of mechs. Enormous robotic suits that lay defeated across the landscape surrounding your visit to an ancient warrior temple, others still frozen in place, having driven their enormous spears through the corpses of enormous demons splayed across the mountainsides. It’s high budget B-movie visual shlock, and it fits perfectly into the world of DOOM.
“It’s high budget B-movie visual shlock, and it fits perfectly into the world of DOOM.”
It’s when you take a moment from the game’s frantic, arena-based combat encounters to appreciate DOOM Eternal’s world that the game shows its artistry. That would be a significant ask though, as to rip yourself away from DOOM Eternal’s refinement of the reboot’s rock-paper-scissors ballet of gore and glory kills is nigh on impossible.
If you were a fan of the crisscrossing run-and-gun nature of DOOM’s combat, you’ll be well serviced here. The main addition is new enemies, like the ridiculous floating Cacodemon, or the game’s various big bad encounters like the cybernetic Doom Hunter, which players will follow through the factory of its creation before finally encountering it.
You’ll have a similarly over-the-top arsenal to back you up, of course, like a shoulder-mounted flamethrower and more weapon upgrades than you could wave a possessed cultist at. The primary approach to DOOM Eternal’s combat mechanics seems to have been ‘DOOM 2016, but more’, which risks muddying the waters too much, but your new toolset isn’t just intended to deal damage. The aforementioned flamethrower causes enemies to drop armour, which makes it a key part of your loop of glory killing for health, chainsawing for ammo, and flame belching for armour.
Ultimately, DOOM Eternal’s proposition is an invitation – do you want ‘DOOM 2016, but more’? Do you feel like another spin on the merry-go-round of carnage and blood? DOOM Eternal won’t convert anyone who wasn’t already convinced by the reboot’s reinvention of DOOM’s core mechanics, but for those who still wish only to rip-and-tear a wider, wilder world awaits.
DOOM Eternal is available March 20 for PS4 and Xbox One.