DOOM Eternal Hands-On - The id Software Shooter Perfected
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 12:00pm 10/06/19 | Comments
As part of E3 2019 we had the chance to go hands on with DOOM Eternal and witness the evolution of the id Software's classic re-imagining of the iconic series.
Prior to the release of DOOM (2016) the renowned and revered shooter series from id Software was in a veritable state of flux. Having defined both the action and first-person genre in the first half of the 1990s, it had been over a decade since the release of DOOM 3. Which itself was an experimental shift into the realm of survival-horror - where an impressive id Tech graphics engine shone a bright flashlight on the demonic horrors lurking in the shadows of a high-tech Mars UAC installation. Without a numerical affix at the end of its title, the re-imagined DOOM in 2016 had the tall order of proving that it was still relevant decades later.
For fans, the initial QuakeCon 2014 reveal was enough to bring the series into the 21st century – with classic enemies, weapons, and settings brought to life with a renewed sense of action-driven purpose. A purpose that although meant the Doom Slayer would now be able to brutally dispatch wounded demons in a gory display of neck twisting, flesh tearing, and spine ripping – it also stripped the series back to its core. Its roots. And the classic 1993 original that people still play to this day. Where other shooters might opt for cinematic presentation, scripted events driving player interaction, or even gadget and vehicle-driven multiplayer – DOOM (2016) proved that a singular and clear vision can stand the test of time.
Momentum, intense action, memorable enemies and weapons, and an almost god-like protagonist facing insurmountable odds.
Having arrived on Phobos amid a demonic invasion, the UAC scientists and engineers and soldiers are all taken aback by the mere presence of the Doom Slayer. Stunned looks, mouths agape, and a mix of reverence, fear, and hope. As a warrior and one-man weapon against all that is evil, stepping into his armoured boots one can’t help but get the sense that it’s a reception well deserved.
"Without a numerical affix at the end of its title, the re-imagined DOOM in 2016 had the tall order of proving that it was still relevant decades later."
Moving through the UAC installation and what looks like a futuristic command centre overlooking something called the BFG 10000, the Doom Slayer behaves in a way that feels true to his character. Without saying a word, he uses an ID Card still attached to a UAC engineer’s neck to swipe an Access Point opening a large Blast Door. Walking through the doorway he then finds two decidedly cocky and subsequently nervous looking soldiers holding what look like Plasma Guns. Walking past them and without saying a word, he takes one for himself.
The above sequence in DOOM Eternal is one of the game’s real-time cinematic sequences, presented from the first-person perspective of the Doom Slayer. Strangely, it’s only when “played” that this sequence feels completely immersive. And by ‘true to his character’, this is in direct reference to the superhuman player-driven action found in DOOM (2016) and earlier titles. For experienced players, being the Doom Slayer and opening a door this way and then taking a weapon away from a soldier is perfectly in step with how they see the character. And themselves.
Even without direct control, this fun cinematic serves as both a warm-up and a reminder of where you are. And who you are. It’s time to get reacquainted with an old friend.
The subtle genius of DOOM Eternal’s design, and it’s tough to use that word to describe anything about the game, comes with just how brilliant and oddly inessential the grappling hook - or meat hook - is. The secondary fire mode for the series’ iconic Super Shotgun presents a wonderfully focused implementation of the videogame grapple hook. Instead of being able to hook onto any rough surface for traversal, its usage is limited to the meat and fleshy bits of the wide range of demons you come across. Brilliantly, this both amplifies the effectiveness of an already powerful weapon whilst adding a new dimension to the push-forward always-moving combat that is the hallmark of an id Software shooter.
At this point it’s common knowledge, at least in the digital realm of Doom, that the closer you are the more damage a shotgun does. And when it comes to ‘Super’ shotguns, that’s a lot more damage. So then why not prime the weapon, hook onto the fleshy bits of a demon, and fly-in in close enough so that as soon as you see whatever hue of glowing red makes up their eyes you can quickly send dozens of pieces of them on a one-way vacation to the nearby walls and floors.
After that, why not use the meat-hook as a platforming tool to avoid jumping when there’s a fleshy grapple point waiting on the other side of a gap. Or, use a floating Cacodemon as a makeshift grapple point to become a demonic arena-slaying Nathan Drake, swinging around as you create your very own action sequence worthy of that evening's Mars Nightly News at 666 broadcast. None of this sounds or feels inessential in the slightest by the way, but by limiting the meat-hook to the Super Shotgun it serves as an appetiser or one-of-many delectable choices in a combat menu full of brilliant mechanics, design choices, abilities, and cool weapon modifications.
"The subtle genius of DOOM Eternal’s design, and it’s tough to use that word to describe anything about the game, comes with just how brilliant and oddly inessential the grappling hook - or meat hook - is."
The Plasma Gun, the one first taken from that soldier on guard duty, has a secondary feature and upgrade that can turn the Doom Slayer into the personification of Peter Venkman’s id – Bill Murray’s overly sure of himself character from Ghostbusters. As an Ecto-like blue beam of energy locks onto enemies, zapping them of demonic essence until they explode you can almost begin to hear Ray Parker Jr’s iconic theme-song play in the distance.
The bigger they are the longer the beam takes to wear them down too, so why not zap a large demon down to half health, switch to the Super Shotgun, fly-in close and finish them off. It’s a setup that id Software calls a “power fantasy combat puzzle” and takes the fast and intense arena combat of DOOM (2016) to the next level. Much in the same way that Doom II improved on the 1993 original, Eternal is bigger and, yeah, better. Where one might criticise this style of pure action game as a sequence of linear corridors that opens into larger arenas and sandbox-like destruction playpens, DOOM Eternal and id Software use this as a framework to keep adding new layers and dimensions and to build on everything that has come before.
Unlike in DOOM there’s enough here for the game to introduce a brand-new mechanic every new environment across, say, a dozen or so level, and still have room for more.
Outside of combat, traversal and the sheer size and scope of DOOM Eternal’s worlds are also – bigger and better. With the ability to jump, double-jump, dash, and even grab onto surfaces and climb - thanks to fancy new gloves - this leads to large open areas overlooking large planetary bodies. Where jump pads, tiny bits of debris and floating rocks peppered with enemies bring a new feel to the series. A series born from small rooms and corridors that upgraded to arenas and complex installations now has the grand sense of awe found, weirdly, in games like Super Mario Odyssey and Metroid Prime.
Arenas to do battle against waves of demons are here too, but when coupled with a large arsenal of weapons and the refined combat that comes with stuff like meat-hooks and Rocket Launchers that let you remotely detonate projectiles once they fly past uppity demons holding plasma shields – the combat in DOOM Eternal becomes as entertaining and diverse as it is thrilling and raw.
Underneath the layers of demonic flesh, and we mean that literally as a new destruction system let’s you blow apart demons who will even go so far as to adapt their attack strategy depending on how many limbs they might have left, rests an experience that is supremely confident in what it is. DOOM Eternal is a first-person shooter, but how far id Software has seemingly gone to re-iterate both this fact and understand where the series fits within the genre is remarkable. Some of the resulting choices may not make much logical sense, but there’s a confidence that’s admirable. Health and armour and ammo pick-ups scattered intermittently through a battlefield has no real-world equivalent, so why not put these pick-ups inside enemies.
In DOOM Eternal glory killing demons has them drop health orbs. Setting them on fire with a shoulder mounted flamethrower, which is now part of the Doom Slayer’s arsenal, will have green armour bits drop. Sawing them in half horizontally or vertically with a fuel-powered chainsaw will have them drop ammunition. This extension and expansion of the Glory Kill reward system first seen in DOOM (2016) may sound a little complicated at first, perhaps a case of id Software going a little crazy. In execution it’s, well, brilliant and amplifies the combat and the choices and the “power fantasy” puzzle solving. It encourages and even demands versatility on behalf of the player and when played on the harder difficulty levels can make a lengthy battle in DOOM Eternal feel like a professional StarCraft II match, where you’re making quick decisions, taking mental snapshots of an entire battlefield, planning routes, defensive fall-back options, and assessing incoming threats all within the space of a single second.
"DOOM Eternal is a first-person shooter, but how far id Software has seemingly gone to re-iterate both this fact and understand where the series fits within the genre is remarkable."
Intense can often be used to describe a first-person title, and it’s a word that rings true when talking about DOOM Eternal. Maybe a better choice would be to simply state that a single hour of DOOM Eternal is the equivalent of several spent in an open-world RPG. A hundred metre dash versus a long jog broken up by sitting on a bench and admiring a few trees. That said, DOOM Eternal has a fun and almost arcade-quality that adds some levity. Blue health potions serve as a nod to the series’ history and an understanding that this is a game first and foremost. Collectable 1-Up lives that restore the Slayer to partial health after dying can also be found in hard to reach spots. Secret Rooms with giant floating question marks offering upgrades and benefits are here too. For as dark, violent, brutal, and intense DOOM Eternal can be – it’s an experience that is equally fun.
DOOM Eternal’s ambition is clearest when you take a step back and look at the various locations and environments that id Software plans to explore in this sequel. From revisiting Phobos and the concept of Hell on Earth there are also hints that an ancient presence will show up, mysterious craft will be boarded, and an almost intergalactic struggle between good and evil will be made apparent. Story has never really played a major role in the series, and Eternal won’t feature extensive dialogue scenes between the Slayer and various NPCs. But, in expanding the locations you visit and scope of the Doom Slayer’s struggle this naturally has a flow on effect to the combat.
The great thing about DOOM Eternal is that there simply isn’t one or even two things you can point to that define even the relatively short section of the game we had the chance to experience. Like any sort of complex machine – DOOM Eternal’s purpose and vision is made apparent once all the pieces come together. And paint the picture of what is set to be one of the defining shooters of not only 2019 - but this generation.