‘Doom: Eternal’ Review: Admirably Batshit, Old School Fun
'Doom: Eternal' sets its sights low, and wins big.
Early on in Doom: Eternal, shortly after the player has beaten off a wave of walking brains on stilts and hideous zombies, they encounter a grinning hologram that campily informs them the convergence of Earth and Hell itself is almost complete.
That’s something of a videogame trope, of course — the leering videogame antagonist, taunting the hero and spelling out the hideous nature of their plan. But there’s something giddily silly about the way that the exposition is delivered in Eternal. It’s a way of setting the stakes, but it’s also an acknowledgement that everything going on is deeply, wonderfully absurd. Hell and Earth converging? Fuck yeah it is.
Indeed, the secret weapon of Eternal is its subversive, blood-and-guts sense of fun. The Doom series has always been the videogame equivalent of a Metallica decal painted on the side of a beat-up van — ridiculous and transcendent in equal measure. But Doom 3 sometimes fell into grim, self-serious portent.
That game started the player in darkness, hideous creatures bursting out from either side, and got them to fight towards the light. It was an enjoyable, blood-soaked experience, but a grim one too; guilty of occasionally making too much of its own mythology.
Doom: Eternal does not make the same mistake. The game starts the player — the Slayer of old — in a hideous dungeon, but soon the player will be blasting around cramped, lava-soaked desolate wastelands. It’s bright and it’s colourful, first and foremost, with the clear and well-lit levels neatly guiding you around a grid of screaming, jagged horrors. Imagine stumbling around a state-of-the-art haunted house while melting your face off with LSD and you’re almost there; a linear experience, but a deeply chaotic and imaginative one too.
Which is not to say that Eternal is small in scale. The game’s mythology is bigger than any other Doom title, a mess of various demonic beasties and skull-faced corpse kings. The cosmic, world-bending horror of Lovecraft is the first port of reference, but there’s a lot of Dungeons & Dragons in there too.
All that said, I couldn’t tell you much of the actual plot of Eternal. There’s a lot of it, but the game’s attitude towards its own storytelling is deeply hurried: valuable information is sometimes dropped via loading screens, and mostly what you’ll get from the speedy cutscenes is a sense of portent, rather than much actual information. You’re constantly being rushed forward, towards the next goal, and the question of ‘why?’ is often answered with a vague, ‘who cares?’
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That’s because the game’s primary focus is escalation, and in that way, it’s more like a Saint’s Row spin on the franchise than anything else. Eternal is constantly throwing new things at you: double jumps, and dashes, and mean-looking weapons, and upgrade systems on top of upgrade systems.
As a result, you have good reason to change up your playing style — ammunition goes fast, and you reload by performing a special execution move on your enemies. By the time you master the game, you become this whirlwind of chainsaw thrusts and shotgun blasts, using low-level enemies to give you the resources and the health to take on the bigger antagonists.
Of which there are many. The game is a plethora of bosses, a procession of increasingly pissed-off and unpleasant beasties. The challenge they pose rises neatly to meet the player, and the difficulty curve is a satisfying one — though you’ll probably die a lot, with increasing frequency, you never feel like you’re beating your head against a brick wall.
The biggest drawback, however, is the platforming. First person platforming is such a hard skill to perfect at the best of times, and Doom: Eternal doesn’t seem particularly interested in perfecting it. It’s just a thing that the game wants you to do, another addition to eat up your time and make you feel as though you’re achieving something, even when all you’re actually doing is jumping from wall to wall, a kind of kinetic interlude in-between blowing up hulking nemeses.
But luckily, such diversions are only that — diversions — and Eternal‘s real focus is enjoyably old school. In tone and execution, it’s closer to Halo and early console shooters than anything else: admirably simple, despite all of its bells and whistles. At the end of the day, it’s a game about picking up a gun, and blowing some weirdo horned nightmares into quivering balls of pulp. And sometimes, there’s not much more you want than that.
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee and video game critic. He tweets @Joseph_O_Earp.