Shaun Munro reviews Doom Eternal…
2016’s Doom remains one of the most pleasant surprises of the last decade in gaming; while most fans of the series expected little more than a cynical, passable re-purposing of the classic FPS brand, id Software found a way to make Doom relevant again.
But it wasn’t by giving the franchise a God of War-style retooling or in any way shifting away from its roots; quite the opposite, in fact. Given how disappointingly barren the single-player FPS landscape has become in recent years, Doom‘s singular commitment to old-school shooter thrills felt almost paradoxically refreshing.
And naturally any sequel to a game as polished and absurdly entertaining as the 2016 reboot invites a wealth of expectation, that it be a super-charged action extravaganza that blows the first out of the water, a challenge to which Doom Eternal confidently and impressively rises.
First and foremost, this is not a sequel that rests on its laurels or simply rehashes the formula of the first game to easy, modest success. It’s abundantly clear that id wanted to elevate the physicality of the series’ violence and the ambition of its scope, both of which are absolutely mesmerising throughout the almost fatigue-inducingly lengthy campaign (ranging anywhere from 10-20 hours depending on difficulty setting and commitment to secret-hunting).
Like the previous game, the narrative itself takes a far backseat to the grand guignol gameplay, so here’s the brief rub; two years after the events of Doom, demonic entities have travelled to Earth, prompting the Doom Slayer to crash their party. The adventure sees the player transported between a litany of diverse locales by way of the game’s new hub-world, a spaceship called the Fortress of Doom which can provide a welcome breather between most of the game’s 13 levels, and mercifully skirts clear of feeling like an overly game-y, trend-following affectation.
Despite the potential for such a substantial campaign to feel bloated and unwieldy, it mostly maintains the face-melting urgency of the original and piles on a heap of enticing extras, even if the trade-off is that Doom Slayer’s badassery feels slightly curtailed. No longer does it quite feel like the majority of the enemy roster is pissing their collective pants at the thought of facing you, and to boot much of the 2016 game’s unexpected dark humour feels broadened out.
Yet there’s a pulsing dynamism cutting through this game, adding a ton of new gameplay features to differentiate it from its predecessor; beyond the gorgeous ice planets and other unique locations you’ll visit, traversal has been overhauled significantly.
By far the best addition to Doom Eternal is the dash mechanic, which allows players to dart around the wide-open maps to make the most of the arena’s crowd control and resource management possibilities (which, with what this game throws at you, you’ll need to). Staggering an enemy, dashing into them, and promptly performing a glory kill in one fluid connection of movements kept me giddly entertained from start to finish.
The inclusion of acrobatic bars also encourages players to jump-dash around the maps as creatively as their noggin might allow. Less assured, unfortunately, is the more pronounced platforming element, where players must leap between demarcated walls to progress. Some of the especially elaborate platforming sections are more annoyingly fiddly than a fun attempt to infuse a little of Uncharted‘s DNA into Doom, and I imagine few would be upset if these sections were thrown out for the next game.
More successfully, there’s also a far greater emphasis on puzzles this time around, with id putting the heightened verticality to good use with the variety of button-punching and scaling exercises you need to work through. None of them take more than a moment or two to work out – pro-tip: contextual objects are usually coloured green – and mostly serve to break up the action nicely, save for some ennui-inducing swimming sequences in the second half of the game which, honestly, could’ve been cut entirely.
One word that undeniably comes to mind when playing Doom Eternal‘s campaign is “exhausting,” both because it’s such a pulse-quickeningly frenzied orgy of violence, and because of the sheer number of systems and variables to keep track of. Beyond simply keeping steps ahead of the lightning-fast enemies, there are numerous delineated upgrade systems, not to mention weapon and equipment mods which can be hot-switched on the fly with a single button press. It’s a nice touch, though it’s also incredibly easy to trip over yourself in the heat of combat.
There are certainly the occasional arena-based shootouts which drag on a few minutes too long, too, especially given the sometimes frustrating scarcity of ammunition and sheer difficulty of the engagements, which can result in being thrown back way too far to try again.
Also, a few of the new enemies are periodically prone to irritate; mid-way through the game the new Marauder enemy shows up, an extremely fast and powerful foe which can only be attacked intermittently and is more of an irritation than a joy to fight, as well as another enemy which will imbue an entire wave of foes with a hellish buff which lasts until you kill it.
But to look back on the campaign holistically, it gets so much overwhelmingly right, and finds so many inspired ways to creative re-jig a seemingly over-familiar shooter formula, that it’s easily one of the most evocatively and viscerally entertaining single-player FPS campaigns since Titanfall 2‘s brilliant-but-brief romp in 2016.
Its first-rate gameplay is unsurprisingly matched by a barnstorming technical package which, quite simply, makes for one of the most visually impressive shooters, regardless of perspective, ever made. From the immersive insanity of its gorgeous volumetric lighting effects to the hilariously nauseating degradation effects applied to the hordes of battered enemies, it’s an aesthetic masterwork – bar some occasional clipping.
But Doom Eternal‘s visuals are defined by so much more than that; the overall art direction is an incredible evolution from the first game, with a greater sense of scale to the at-times hideously ornate, sprawling environments. Presentationally, sparse and sensibly brief cutscenes do add some mild cinematic flavour, even if it’s slightly disappointing that control is wrestled away entirely from the player every time, even when it comes to simply turning the Doom Slayer’s head.
The game truly comes to life on PC, where players are afforded an impressively over-the-odds wealth of visual customisation options, with a dynamic resolution scaling setting ensuring I could run the game smoothly at 4K(ish) on High with a relatively modest rig running a 1070 Ti.
The aural suite certainly does a fantastic job of matching the visual splendour; Bethesda mainstay Mick Gordon returns to deliver another axe-grindingly metal musical score, which so perfectly accompanies the stunningly diverse sound effects. If you’ve got a snazzy set of headphones, playing this game on them is an absolute must.
If you’re inexplicably worried about a 15-ish-hour campaign not being worth your money, Doom Eternal also offers up plenty of added value by way of the various challenge side-quests and discoverable cheat codes peppered throughout the story, as well as the uber-challenging Extra Life mode (where one death results in a Game Over).
Doom Eternal also ships with a “Battlemode” multiplayer component which wasn’t up and running at the time of review, so it’ll be interesting to see how the community receives this sans-deathmatch offering given the rather unfussed response to 2016’s multiplayer suite (which, confession time, I thought was rather good).
While I’m certainly going to appreciate playing a lighter and more relaxing game after plowing through Doom Eternal‘s nerve-shredding campaign, it is an admirably bar-raising follow-up whose only mistakes lie in perhaps trying to do a little too much for its own good. Few will argue that the game feels like a half-baked sequel churned out for an easy buck, because as all the best ones do, this is a fierce elevation of all that the original set out to achieve.
Doom Eternal is just about everything fans could want a Doom sequel to be; muscular, intense, and compulsively addictive, complete with one of the best single-player FPS campaigns in years.
+ The campaign is a beefy, challenging delight.
+ Incredible visuals and overall presentation.
+ Fantastic sound effects and musical score.
+ Hours of replay value and extras.
– Prolonged fights are occasionally exhausting.
– Platforming is frustratingly awkward.
– Story is as forgettable as ever.
Reviewed on PC (also available for PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, and Nintendo Switch at a later date).
A review copy was provided by the publisher.