After ushering in the genre we’ve come to know of as the first-person shooter, id Software sat both comfortably -- and stylishly (thanks to the studio’s fleet of luxury Italian sports cars) -- and watched as an entire industry began creating a string of so-called “Doom-clones”. A not-so-flattering phrase in hindsight, but in 1993 Doom’s impact was such that its unrelenting and intense first-person action singlehandedly defined a genre.
Doom-clones began popping up everywhere, and before the FPS evolved and began walking down various paths – from multiplayer to realistic role-playing -- Doom was the go-to reference point. In much the same way Tetris was akin to the puzzle genre and Super Mario the traditional platformer. It laid the groundwork and created the architectural rules for an important slice of the videogame household. Where solid blocks of varying L and T shapes serve as the foundation, green pipes big enough to fit inside keep the water and resources flowing, and a wall adorned with shotguns and plasma cannons keep the threat of demonic home invasion to a minimum.
It’s been a long time since 1993. That goes without saying. And the games of 2020 look very different to the ones from the era of the VHS-Tape and baggy jeans. On that front DOOM Eternal can be viewed almost entirely within the context of its status as a sequel to the modern-day 2016 franchise re-imagining. The game everyone calls DOOM 2016. Where always-moving, confrontational, intense, fast-paced and reactionary combat brought the series into the 21st century. Care of many demons ceremoniously ripped and torn in two. Thanks to the Glory Kill system.
“In 1993 Doom’s impact was such that its unrelenting and intense first-person action singlehandedly defined a genre."
At the time of DOOM 2016’s release you wouldn’t be amiss having heard someone utter the phrase “it captures the spirit and intensity of the original” or “that Batman v Superman movie looks like it’s worth a watch”. DOOM 2016 made a name for itself as an action game that innovated and pushed the series forward on its own merits. BvS did the opposite for Batman and Superman movies. Even so, the connection to the 1993 original is still worth exploring. And something that goes beyond the return of familiar weapons, demons that hurl orb-y fireballs, and the red-hewn landscapes of Mars and Hell.
If DOOM 2016 was the proof of concept, DOOM Eternal is the masterwork. A single chord or musical phrase expanded into an all-encompassing symphony of cartoon hyperviolence. An experience that feels quite unlike anything else in the first-person space. It’s this sentiment that makes the whole 1993 connection more profound than a simple point of reference. To put it another way, DOOM Eternal is the vision of a genre that went in a different direction after we traded in 2D sprites for vast 3D polygonal worlds.
Instead of linear battlefields, scripted action sequences, cinematics worthy of a Hollywood feature, and the drive towards the realistic – the single-player side of the genre became something else. DOOM Eternal is that something else, a release that feels as relevant and iconic today as the original did back in the day.
There’s complexity to DOOM Eternal’s combat, that much is true. Complexity that goes hand-in-hand with raw FPS skill. That being one’s ability to jump, strafe, dash, snipe in mid-air, swap out weapons and pick up resources in a matter of seconds. Where DOOM Eternal moves beyond the arena of the, well, ‘arena shooter’ comes with how these mechanics and FPS-skill challenges elevate and bring to the fore an almost unprecedented symbiotic relationship between AI, level design and the tools at your disposal -- the twitch shooter redefined, again. It’s this relationship that seemingly drives or makes even the most ‘illogical-when-said-out-loud’ designs feel like pure genius in execution.
Using your shoulder-mounted flamethrower, the Flame Belch, you’ll not only set demons on fire, they’ll drop armour pieces when shot. Moving in close for the Glory Kill -- the melee finisher first seen in DOOM 2016 -- and it’s a way in which to recover precious (and glowing blue) health. Stylish, kinetic, frantic and violent -- a strategic necessity to boot. Using your chainsaw, a spinning blade that refills with magic petroleum over time, is the primary means in which to restock ammunition -- by splitting demons in two. And before you can scream Viva Pinata, you’ll realise all these elements bring to the fore a videogame concept we’ve all known for quite some time. That, at their core, enemies are walking resource containers. Ready to be looted.
“If DOOM 2016 was the proof of concept, DOOM Eternal is the masterwork. A single chord or musical phrase expanded into an all-encompassing symphony of cartoon hyperviolence."
It’s the sort of intricate first-person shooter design that only makes sense in the context of a first-person shooter. Or, a videogame. The fact that it works so well, especially when paired with the frenetic pace and responsive movement and flow of the Slayer’s arena traversal, results in countless moments and encounters that engage on all levels. The satisfaction that comes from viewing an outlandish Glory Kill, the cacophony of art, animation, sound, music and cartoonish grotesquery on display as demons fall apart as they take damage. Having several split-second decisions go as planned, so you spend the next fraction of a second surveying the battlefield planning two or three moves ahead.
Like pieces of a puzzle that come together just so, the intricacies of DOOM Eternal’s combat flow are something to behold. What elevates it far beyond the foundation laid out in DOOM 2016 is how, over the course of its lengthy campaign, it all continuously and relentlessly increases in intensity and by that token -- the pressure -- it puts on the player. This might sound hyperbolic but some of the combat encounters later on, alongside most, if-not-all of the trial-like Slayer Gates, present white-knuckle heart-pounding sweat-filled tests of endurance the likes of which can and will leave many shaky and in need of recuperation afterwards.
All copies of DOOM Eternal should ship with fully stocked state-of-the-art decontamination and decompression chambers as to allow the mortal being to properly reacclimate to the real-world after stepping into the shoes of the mythical Slayer.
It’s also good videogame practise, to introduce elements over-time; ramp up the challenge, put specific skills and tools to the test, mix-and-match. All in an effort to create new enemy encounters without feeling like there was an exponential jump in difficulty. Elements that describe God of War, Metroid Prime, and any number of high-watermark examples. DOOM Eternal fits into this mould, except that it starts at 10 and the hypothetical dial slowly turns from there – going beyond 666 levels of intensity and challenge.
It’s a testament to id Software’s skills as designers and their understanding of DOOM, that a boss encounter or otherwise giant demon bout, can feel monumental the first time around but then somehow get thrown into a Rave Session Combat Megamix later on. And work. It’s also ballsy to design an experience where the action gets increasingly more and more intense the deeper you go. Now you’re up against two of *that* boss from earlier on, plus a floating one-eyed skull spewer, a Cyber Mancubus, and a giant Revenant.
“Like pieces of a puzzle that come together just so, the intricacies of DOOM Eternal’s combat flow are something to behold."
More moves, more powerful weapons, the ability to upgrade your arsenal, equip Rune modifiers, increase health and armour via special Crystals, the Slayer certainly ‘Level Up!’-s. And it helps, but the extra power almost always feels inconsequential compared to the sheer skill challenge and pace, and a persistent feeling of being more than a little overwhelmed. But, the more you play the better you get. And this acts as a means, or catalyst, for the team to design more challenging and surprising combat scenarios to put your skills to the test.
It’s not perfect and certain encounters, paired with the need for Endless Adds or walking bits of armour and health and ammo, feel a tad too involved or not as well thought out. DOOM Eternal wisely explains demon and boss mechanics with an on-screen card as to not create situations where ‘trying to figure out how this works’ is the norm, but even so, fighting the Marauder can go from a tense Duel of the Fates battle one second to a ‘screw it, I’m going to smash this mechanical keyboard into tiny pieces’ the next.
A rare moment where the fun, challenge, and ‘I know what I did to die there’ defeat gets blanketed by a napalm blast of all-encompassing frustration. Marauder balance is something that can be easily addressed in an update or hotfix, of which DOOM Eternal doesn’t really need. On the account of it being the most polished and technically impressive launch build of a AAA release in years. Possibly ever.
id Tech 7, which powers the on-screen carnage and spectacle, is a rendering beast capable of incredible detail across environments, characters, animation, lighting, and special effects that never falters for even a second. DOOM Eternal not only looks stunning but individual levels load in seconds and overall performance is tuned for 60 frames-per-second at a minimum. On an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti the framerate sat in the 100-range at 4K with all details turned to max (Ultra Nightmare), which is how we played. But even on a non-insane person GPU DOOM Eternal runs like a well-oiled cybernetic DOOM Hunter on the prowl.
“id Tech 7, which powers the on-screen carnage and spectacle, is a rendering beast capable of incredible detail across environments, characters, animation, lighting, and special effects that never falters for even a second."
id Software’s underlying engine tech, going back to the days of Quake, has always been at the forefront of videogame graphics goodness - and a hallmark that put the studio into a small category of masters. What makes DOOM Eternal different is that the scope of the world and action depicted is raised to the level of the technical codebase required to make the game look and move as smooth as the Slayer dashing through the air.
In between the intense bouts of close-quarters demon hunting id Software has ramped up all other elements of DOOM Eternal, including the moments of downtime. This is the most story, lore, and environmental set-piece-filled release in the series to date. Like the dynamic and wonderful heavy metal meets industrial and electronic soundtrack from composer Mick Gordon, it’s presented in a comic and over-the-top style that feels perfect for the series whilst allowing the videogame logic of 1-Ups and double-jumps and secret collectible toys to feel natural and earned. So why not have the Slayer also talk to Ghost Kings and Robo Angels in giant castles and what looks like a robot vision of heaven.
DOOM Eternal’s world is one that blends elements of traditional sci-fi with the sort of fantasy that resides, well, in the world of fantasy. Or, a cool-as-hell heavy metal album cover to suit the game’s heavy metal opera of fast drumming and chunky riffs, replete with choiristic guttural gregorian chants backing it all. There’s a vision and completeness on display that presents id Software as much more than tech pioneers. Eternal is as much a statement of renewed intent as it is a brilliant slice of first-person action from id. A studio that has taken the simplicity and peerless feel of DOOM 2016, Quake III Arena, and other past glories and expanded that into an experience that also captures the wonder of exploring new alien worlds and locations. To ‘Rip and Tear’ through.
Note: This review only covers the campaign. The multiplayer Battlemode goes live once the full game launches.
What we liked
Elevates the fundamental design of DOOM 2016 and perfects it
Looks, plays, and feels unlike anything else in the genre
The best level design in an id shooter to date
The Phobos level is an all timer, one of the best FPS missions ever made
Stellar art direction, animation, and technical graphics wizardry courtesy of id Tech 7
Brilliant soundtrack and sound design
Chock full of story, lore, hidden secrets, and replay-ability
What we didn't like
There's a lull in terms after the first few levels where the excitement drops for a bit as you board a fast-moving train
The Marauder demon design and encounter needs a nerf, and is an excercise in pure frustration