DOOM Eternal (Xbox One Review)

The DOOM franchise has been through a metamorphosis during its lifespan. Starting off as a dopamine fuelled ride of blood and guts and transforming into a methodical survival horror. In the end, DOOM never found as much success as it did upon its first inception, always struggling to find its way home. DOOM Eternal is that homecoming, that return to form we’ve all been truly waiting for, taking what DOOM (2016) had laid the foundations for and amping it up to eleven.

Taking place two years after the events of DOOM (2016) we once again take the role of the perpetually tormented Doom Slayer as he rips and tears his way through the forces of Hell. Earth has been overrun by Hell’s forces during the Slayer’s unforeseen absence and the only way for him to stop them is by going on a crusade against his former allies. Delving deeper into the Slayer’s past and his connections to other worlds, cultures and universes, it’s obvious the story is very much at the forefront of DOOM Eternal but doesn’t take centre stage; that’s still reserved for the DOOM’s glorious gunplay.

This new shift in partial focus to a seemingly tangible narrative may seem like heresy to some, but it is an expansion of a universe that I have loved since I was a child. Creating new lore and events around past titles without retconning or forgoing their existence shows the developers love and respect the originals. A lot of what DOOM Eternal touches on may seem like fan service. Nonetheless, it feels fitting in a series that’s stitched together by themes of both comedy and seriousness cascading in a sea of blistering action that ironically doesn’t care that the aforementioned exists at all. Hearing the Doom Slayer “Talk” for the first time, as heinously bad as he is portrayed, pays tribute to past works and is designed to be both funny and austere whilst developing the character for the betterment of the series. However, players aren’t beholden to the story and its elements as cutscenes are, at most, thirty seconds long ensuring players are straight back into the action, slaying demons to and fro.

DOOM Eternal turns the usually repetitive, but fun, combat loop DOOM is known for and turns it into a puzzling ballet of bullets, chainsaws and belching flame. Every encounter is a conundrum you have to solve by utilizing enemy weaknesses against them. Using your bullets to blow holes in flesh whilst explosives tear off metal and weaponry. Plasma disrupts shields to stuns foes whilst ballista shots deal greater damage to airborne enemies. There’s so much to think about with little time to react. Enemies are much quicker than they ever were and deal a ton more damage too. Glory killing an enemy will net you health, setting them on fire will grab you some armour, and chainsawing an enemy in two will return some ammo. Understanding this dynamic flow of killing and maiming foes is key, without it you’re dead in the water. Initially it can be a bit daunting as reserves for these are all very low before attaining much needed upgrades — especially ammo — leading to a lot of what felt like unavoidable deaths. Perseverance will see you come out on top but encounters can be a little heavy handed before you’ve gotten into the meat of the campaign.

And this difficulty curve largely stems from my preferential play style; controller. DOOM Eternal is a fast game, searingly fast, and despite my best efforts at maximising my control scheme for practicality and comfort, it’s incomparable to mouse aiming. Twitch reflexes for mouse control is what DOOM Eternal is most suited for as aiming on a gamepad can feel cumbersome and slow, much slower than it should be. Couple this with the awkward weapon wheel needed to switch between weapons on the fly just double’s down on this problem. Both these problems do subside slightly as you upgrade your Slayer, as mentioned before, making exploration for items and extras a large focal point.

Much like DOOM (2016) every level in DOOM Eternal has a plethora of collectables and upgrades to find. Toys, Vinyls and all manner of paraphernalia that’d take all day to cover the amount of stuff DOOM Eternal has on offer but the more important ones come from general in-game challenges, most specifically Slayer Gates. These foreboding arenas are some of the most challenging in the game, though optional, unlock DOOM Eternals new super weapon upon completion of all six of them. There’s plenty to keep you busy while you traipse, swing and claw your way through hell and back. That is, if you’re not distracted by DOOM Eternal’s stunning set pieces.

From Heaven to Hell, every level in DOOM Eternal is stunning to behold. Earth’s ruined city’s intermingled with Hell’s own demonic presence is a farscape from your typical apocalyptic ruin. The Sentinel Home world is filled with gothic architecture mimicking its own dark roots. Funnily enough though for a DOOM game we spend very little time on Mars, it’s almost fleeting. Nonetheless this barren wasteland feels more lively and less depressing than its counterparts, with larger open areas and minimal claustrophobic corridors. Every asset used in the environment is fantastical in nature but not too unrealistic. Hell has gargantuan citadels nestled around pits of lava and hanging iron maidens. It’s silly, but convincing in context.

This aesthetic is amplified by Mick Gordon’s metal soundtrack. He’s done it once again. Mick is instrumental in bringing DOOM Eternals firefight’s to life and providing an unsettling ambience to its stages. Guitar riffs play as you pull the spine from an Imp and the heavy metal choir chants between bouts of bad guys. Even though Mick’s the obvious mastermind behind DOOM Eternals rhythm, my love steers me more towards the collectable Vinyls. There’s nothing quite like rocking out to music from DOOM 2 or even the age old Commander Keen at your home base. Those Midi tunes by Robert Prince still hold up till this very day.

What isn’t holding up well is DOOM Eternal’s Battlemode and it’s only a couple days old. While I have spent a significantly less amount of time in Battlemode as I have in the Campaign, one thing is for sure, it’s incredibly unbalanced. Battlemode is a 2vs1 multiplayer gamemode where one person plays as the Slayer and the opponents play as demons. The problem lies with Battlemode’s inherent weakness, being outnumbered. The Slayer is supposed to be tougher than most demons you come across but all it takes is one good hit to have him fleeing in terror. I’m probably oversimplifying this but all it takes is for the two demons to bum rush the Slayer and its game over. It may be different if the Slayer didn’t have to contend with A.I. combatants alongside both players but as it stands, winning with the Slayer seems like an insurmountable challenge. Latency can also play a huge part here too. If resource management and the essential gameplay loop still applies here as it does in the campaign then the slightest miscalculation can mean the end. If there is latency involved then missing your shot or stuttering on interactive elements not prompting then it’s hard to defend a mode that requires pinpoint precision and calculations all to be thrown out the window because of lag.

Sadly some of these problems aren’t isolated within Battlemode itself. From time to time in the Campaign I’d often see potential glory kills not prompting. The demon wouldn’t highlight in orange to indicate he was ready for a finisher but still did the staggered animation, while it is still possible to perform the glory kill the information is not relayed to me when I’m needing it to. This also goes for gaining health from glory kills too. Your character will simply collect the health globules but won’t heal from it, forcing me to constantly re-evaluate my situation when I shouldn’t have to. The worst offender however is the Extra Lives. DOOM Eternal has additional lives that can keep you from restarting a checkpoint upon death, it’ll simply fade to black and restart you in your current position at full health expending a single life. At least it should. More than once I’ve rocked into a fight with plenty of lives on hand only to die a single time and have them all expend at once. And there is no way for you to get them back unless you want to replay the whole level from scratch. It’s not entirely game breaking as it just forces me to play more conservatively but is somewhat of nuisance.

DOOM Eternal is the return to form the franchise needed. Combat is much more frantic and adrenaline fuelled than before; albeit messy sometimes. Environments are miraculous in design and are a treat to get lost in. The main story holds significant weight and brevity if you’re an individual that looks for it but allows you to steer clear otherwise. With Battlemode being DOOM Eternal’s only real weak link, Id Software have crafted another fine addition to the DOOM roster and I simply cannot wait for the next one.

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