You know what you’re getting with a Doom game. Or, at least, you ought to by now – the game franchise that began in 1993 has remained relatively unwavering in its core principles: quickfire first-person action, a heavy metal aesthetic and bloody, bloody violence. Doom Eternal won’t quite revolutionise the medium the way the original Doom did, but you can’t say it doesn’t deliver on expectations.
Doom Eternal begins with your playable character, the “Doom Slayer”, arriving on planet Earth to find it has been overrun by demons from Hell. The Slayer is dispatched to defeat them, through any blood-curdling means necessary.
Right off the bat, the game seems torn between two impulses. The first is to build the game’s story and characters, delving into the muck of the whos, whats, whys and wheres, in a way that the original game never bothered to. 2016’s reboot Doom was the first in the franchise to really flesh out the universe’s backstory; Eternal takes this one step further, with elaborate backstories and interplanetary lore stuffed into the game’s crevices.
On the other hand, however, there is the baser impulse. To cut to the quick, dispense with (what can loosely be called) the pleasantries, and crash headlong into the action. In other words, to give the players what they surely want. Hedging their bets, Doom Eternal’s creators Bethesda Softworks try and do both of these things at once. The action is fast and furious from the get-go – you start at a sprint and never slow down – but peppered with cutscenes that try and communicate, quickly but loudly, the game’s stakes.
Fights are relentless: enemies are most effectively killed when you blast them with a firearm (of which there are many to choose from and intricately modify), before moving in close for a gory finishing move. These “glory kills” constitute just about every heinous undoing you could possibly think of, from impalements, to head-crushings, to eyeball de-socketings. Many of the animations are viscerally shocking the first time you see them; by the 400th time, you don’t bat an eyelid.
Ammunition and health is replenished when finishing off enemies like this, or by slicing them in half with an electric chainsaw. There is no standing around, taking stock of the situation and planning out your tactics. Essentially, you must move, shark-like, through the environments, using each enemy’s demise to give you the resources to rapidly take out the next.
The enemies themselves are gruesome-looking, and nicely varied; horrible tentacles leap through floors, giant eyeballs float through the air. Boss fights add another layer of interest, and some extra difficulty – an adjustable in-game difficulty setting is ideal for those (like me) who blithely overestimate their own abilities.
There’s also an online multiplayer mode, which looks to significantly re-vamp the meagre offerings of Doom (2016). With two-versus-one scenarios that rely on demon-summoning tactics, there’s the potential for some quite tactical interpersonal battles here – although time will tell whether fans take to the mode with more enthusiasm than in the previous game.
At times, the movement can feel a little clunky (a recurring feature of Bethesda games, from Fallout, to Skyrim); on the whole, though, the experience is slick and immersive. Whether you would want to be immersed in such an oppressively hellish reality as this is another matter.
The original Doom caused a huge uproar in the US when it was released, because of its bloody violence and pagan imagery. Nearly three decades later, audiences have grown thicker skins; Doom Eternal’s de-politicised, supernaturally grotesque acts of violence are unlikely to cause a stir among any but the most stridently puritanical watchdogs. But this doesn’t mean that the violence isn’t effective – that it doesn’t do something sinister to your disposition to sit and chainsaw your way through the spasming offal of a demon horde.
The truth is, it does: Doom Eternal is not for the weak-stomached. Its ludicrously excessive gore and frantic gameplay make it the most extreme Doom game to date. If that sounds to you like a recommendation – well, you’re probably right.
Doom: Eternal is released on PS4, Xbox One and PC on Friday 20 March 2020.
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