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Game Review: Doom Eternal (PC)

27 Mar 2020

Doom Eternal is the direct sequel to 2016’s Doom reboot, pitting players against a demonic horde set to a sci-fi backdrop.  

Doom has a heritage that goes back all the way to the very beginning of the first-person shooter genre. In 2016 id software took it on themselves to reboot the franchise in a similar way that they did with their Wolfenstein series two years prior. Slick and polished with very little story to get in the way of the action, players set out to slaughter a lot of demons in amusing ways and it was a lot of fun.

Doom Eternal is a lot like the 2016 reboot, in that the Slayer (i.e. Doomguy, the player) is still tasked with dispatching hordes of demons in imaginative ways with an exotic arsenal of weapons.  And, of course, it’s good fun. Gratuitous, but still good fun.

For Doom Eternal, the developers have paced the game a little better, allowing for some much-needed breathing space between the intense battles. Rather than the “kill some guys, move to next area, kill some guys, rinse and repeat” gameplay that plagues shooting games, Doom Eternal features some puzzle and, rather surprisingly, platforming elements. 

The story is kept to a minimum and succinctly avoids breaking the game’s momentum. It really serves only to propel the Slayer from one location to another. This time, for the most part, the action has moved from Mars to Earth. An Earth that has been devastated and turned, well, into Hell on Earth, quite literally. There’s fire, huge creatures roaming in the distance and demons, loads of demons. The Slayer must also visit demonic realms in order to save what’s left of the world.

A game which, at its core, is all about shooting and killing, needs lots of enemies. For this, the developers have unleashed a horde of horrible-looking creatures for players to shoot, blow-up and physically dismember. Some old favourites return as well as some new opponents.

Levels are littered with the weak, zombie-like Former Humans, who’ll only give you a bit of a slap. The armed Hellified Soldiers are a bit more aggressive but easily dispatched.  The bulbous, floating Cacodemons gave me a bit of workout to begin with, but like most enemies, as you upgrade, they start to be easily dispatched. 

Of course, as you progress, the game offers up harder opponents, to keep you on your toes. Creatures that presented a desperate struggle to beat start become insignificant when confronted with the next-level behemoths, like the Dread Knight and Cyberdemon.

The diversity of the enemies is only matched by that of the Slayer’s arsenal. With a shoulder-mounted flamethrower, missiles and a collection of upgradable rifles and pistols, our hero can cause carnage from a distance. 

When it comes to getting up close and personal, a chainsaw can be used to literally rip the bad guys apart. Enemies that have been suitably stunned (and start glowing) can be finished off with a glory kill, showering the scene with blood, gibs and amour shards. A good melee hit will push enemies back, but the new blood punch feature takes it next level, bursting all the bad guys, nearby, in a haze of red demon blood.

Doom Eternal does not hold back, bathing the screen in blood at every opportunity. The glory kills are gratuitous with popping eyes and crushed heads. The chainsaw rips demons in half. This really is not a game for kids. 

The splatterfest is punctuated by puzzles that require a modicum of thought in assessing the environment to unlock the paths ahead. Nothing too taxing. The same careful observation of your surrounding also reveals secrets to help the player on their journey. There are also a number of areas that require a bit of careful leaping and grabbing (yes, Doomguy can now climb).

Fire spikes and other obstacles often obstruct the direct route. Whilst I, personally, enjoyed the puzzles and platforming, I can see these elements being divisive, especially amongst players that just want to shoot stuff up.

The campaign mode is, quite frankly, awesome. Mindless, perhaps, but exactly the escapism that we need at the moment. If you want a challenge the harder levels will supply it in droves.

The game runs on the Vulcan graphics API, far better optimised than Microsoft’s Direct X. This gives the game a performance boost that allows smooth graphical performance, even on modes machines. With an Nvidia RTX 2080TI I was able to max out the settings at 1440p and still get a blisteringly fast framerate. 

The quality of the game is not just reserved for the gameplay and visuals. The soundtrack is a fantastic blend of Nordic-sounding demonic wailing and heavy metal. The music is a perfect accompaniment for the intense battles and the carnage that unfolds.

Battlemode takes the action online, delivering the same frenzied gameplay in a competitive 2v1 environment. The developers have deliberately omitted a traditional deathmatch/team deathmatch mode in favour of having a player-controlled Slayer versus two demons with a horde of AI lesser demons.

Like the campaign, the multiplayer levels are well designed, offering fast and kinetic battles across an interesting environment with plenty of vertical gameplay. The maps are not huge, which is a shame as the style would make for some great capture the flag matches.  

When you play Battlemode as the Slayer it feels like the campaign, albeit with a couple of powerful bad-guys hunting you down. Having player-controlled bad guys alongside computer-controlled enemies did betray the game’s reasonable, but not perfect, AI.

Playing as a demon offers up variety in that each one has their own powers and attacks, but I felt, very much, that I was there for the Slayer-player’s amusement, like a movie extra. That being said the demons are powerful and require time to master. But the focus on just killing the Slayer-player bored me very quickly.

At the moment, I think that the multiplayer element of the game needs work. I’m sure, however, that ID and Bethesda will refine over the coming months.

Doom Eternal, as a package, is a highly polished, first-person shooter that draws on the successes of the 2016 game, further refining the gameplay to create one of the few games so far this year that I’ve really been unable to put down. Whilst the multiplayer isn’t my cup of tea, the campaign is superb and worth the price of admission, alone.