Developed by: id Software
Published by: Bethesda Softworks
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Most of the time when playing “Doom Eternal” I hover between life and death. During those moments I am both predator and prey.
Dashing around the map I do my best to avoid the mancubus, an obese demon with cannons for arms that is particularly deadly when encountered in pairs or trios. If I’m low on health I search frantically for a scrubby zombie, soldier or gargoyle that I can drop with a few shots for health, or broil with an over the shoulder flame cannon for armor, or chain-saw in half for some ammo. Because it demands concentration this lurid routine has provided some measure of escape for me over the past few days.
“Doom” (2016) ranks among my top three shooters of this generation. (For me, its competition for the top slot is either another game published by Bethesda, MachineGames’ “Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus” or “Superhot,” for which I’ll cheat and say both the regular and VR versions.) Nearly everything about the 2016 game felt inspired, from its archly told story to its frantic gunplay which encourages on-the-fly strategizing. On the higher difficulty levels, if you couldn’t quickly read the combat field and prioritize targets, you likely wouldn’t make it very far. I remember the game being more cerebral than I had any right to expect from the poster child for a AAA shooter. If anything, “Doom Eternal” is even more mentally taxing.
“Eternal” opens more with a whisper than a bang in comparison to the last entry and, structurally speaking, the priorities appear to be different. Whereas the last game seemed to be in a hurry to show off how vigorous it could be (who can forget the moment where the Doom Slayer rips a computer terminal off a wall to shut up the dude offering a bit of story exposition?) the new game is slower to show its hand and the narrative jolts take a little longer to arrive. “Eternal’s opening stages seem much harder than those I remember from the last game. But it’s as though they serve to bring the player quickly up to speed on the strategic thinking required to tackle the game’s greater challenges. Looking back on them, it was almost as if they exist as a training ground.
After a short intro sets the stage for a demonic invasion of earth, players find themselves in a nondescript dungeon that evokes the muddy-colored past of old video games. (The environments become more colorful later.) From there, “Eternal” slowly rolls out its many systems — introducing such things as weapon mods that can be swiped in the heat of battle so that, for example, a shotgun can be turned into a fully automatic weapon or turned into a secondary grenade launcher. Pointers are also given on the weak spots of the game’s tougher cast of characters — the ones who don’t look as if they can be easy health sources.
The pacing of the encounters in “Eternal” reminded me of its predecessor. Both love to do things such as introduce a new, difficult enemy-types and then present you with an escalating number of them to face. It didn’t take long for my muscle memory to get used to shooting grenades into the toothy maws of cacodemons or popping the shoulder canons off revenants. But the battles feel more grueling. There were times where I found it useful to pause the game after an intense moment, before another intense moment, to settle my composure before diving back in.
“Eternal” has, so far, struck me more as a hyper-efficient game than an inspired one (apart from its music, composed by Mick Gordon, which is as dark and propulsive as the last game’s soundtrack). Whereas “Doom” shook up the series and resuscitated my fondness for over-the-top, rip-a demon’s-head-off-with-your-hands FPS violence, this feels like more of the same but with larger levels and more difficulty.
The new frills are nice — such as the Slayer Dungeon where you can go hog wild and sharpen your skills by shooting demons without the threat of dying, or Slayer Gates where you can face off against harder enemies. But they have not yet convinced me that they make for a qualitative improvement.
One aspect of “Eternal” I’ve found baffling are its platforming sections which are annoying, generic and, frankly, unbefitting of the Doom Slayer, who should be able to move between areas in greater style. Why it was thought that I might enjoy interludes of climbing, double jumping, and air dashing to get from place to place when these things have been done much better in other games, I’ll never know. But “Doom Eternal” feels like a game that was constructed around pillars rather guided by vision. If the last game seemed shockingly good, this feels like a careful study of what worked before.
This isn’t to say that “Eternal’s” combat isn’t satisfying. Far from it. If you want to appreciate just how well animated the game is, turn down the music and throw on an album by someone you like. With all respect to “Eternal’s” wonderful electronic/industrial/metal soundtrack, I find its fantastical violence a wonderful backdrop to the music of say, Billie Eilish.
“Doom Eternal” is a challenging, engaging shooter that caters to one’s predatorial impulses. It will keep you on your toes.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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