The first time I got my hands on an id Software game was playing Quake III Arena in an Apple store. It was around the time PS2 launched in Japan. Back in those days, Apple stores are showcasing the hardware power of the Mac computers by letting people playing so-called resource intense games on those machines. In that same store, there was also a 3D mascot game starring a purple ladybug, which I did not catch the name of. Those games can be seen as the 2 two polar opposites of the 3D action game sphere back then, the Arena shooter for adults and the platformer for a much younger audience.
20 years later, DOOM Eternal blended those 2 types of game into one long, fun and sometimes uneven experience. This sequel to the series’ 2016 reboot is a first-person action adventure game rather than a simple shooter. Its firefights are so intense and demanding that I cannot see myself playing it with anything other than mouse and keyboard. Whether you just do critical path or hunt for every nook and cranny, platforming and exploration are mandated. And, id Software seems hell bound to turn Doomguy into a goofy mascot while they build a grand and weird universe around him. Eternal is to be experienced piecemeal.
Saturday morning cartoon on the after dark time slot.
Some time has past since Dr. Samuel Hayden sent the Doom Slayer somewhere away from Mars, it’s hell on earth again. The Slayer and his AI buddy VEGA found themselves on a space castle called Fortress of Doom overlooking Earth. From there, they were able to track down the hell priests responsible for this demonic invasion. Once again the Slayer got to do what he loves the most, rip and tear every demon he can get his hands on while he dodge attacks from those he can’t.
The opening of DOOM Eternal made me feel as if I had skipped a detailed-to-a-fault Kojima style tutorial intro. The introduction of parts in hub area, the aforementioned Fortress of Doom came after the Slayer’s first field tour through Hell on Earth, as the first mission of the game is called. During this tour and the tours after, codex pages can be picked up. Those illustrate an “epic” across eons and dimensions. This is the story telling of DOOM Eternal, complete with skip-able cut scenes both in and outside the Slayer’s point of view.
2016’s DOOM was a runner-up for Giantbomb’s Best Story category that year and it’s hard to imagine that Eternal having the same honor later this year. Id Software traded in corporate satire for a weird science fantasy vibe. There is also a series of collectible audio logs about how god-like the Slayer is in Eternal, but its gospel vibe is no match for the Spider Mastermind poetically scared shitless in the 2016 reboot. DOOM’s story wants to entertain you by making the cynical adult part of you laugh while Eternal intends to appeal to the audience’ inner 12-year-olds like an action packed Saturday morning cartoon.
Speak of which, Hugo Martin, game director of Eternal, had said to Giantbomb and Gameinformer that DOOM Eternal is like a Saturday morning cartoon. While the closest analogue to this game I can think of did air on Saturday mornings, it aired about three o’clock in morning. Which is to say that it’s an after dark tv program. The 65 episodes long anime series Symphogear had its 27th to 39th episodes aired on various time slots between 2 and 4 am on Saturday mornings during from July to September, 2015 in Japan.
Symphogear was likely the result of someone looked at Neon Genesis Evangelion and went “Fine! We will make our own EVA. With Black Jack and show girls!”. While they did not get to Black Jack until much later (The show started in 2012, while the licensed phone game didn’t debut in Japan until 2017.), this action-orientated magical girl show has show girls as main attraction all the way through. The action always have pretty anime ladies singing lovely songs and performing deadly dances to cut through hordes of monsters with weapons forged from ancient yet advanced technology. It’s bloody and sexy enough to only allowed on air after dark in Japan.
While the Slayer, and everything else for that matter, in DOOM Eternal are not eye candy the same way pretty anime ladies are, the parallels between the game and the show is uncanny. Bloody battles for starter. Then there are the lore dated back to the time before human civilization and heavy metal choir in the soundtrack. The game’s hero has a uneasy alliance with a mad scientist, while every face turn in the show is about someone betraying a mad scientist. Both are self-serious to a fault. It is a matter of how much does one leave it or take it.
Personally, I can put up a fair amount of self-seriousness. And the story DOOM Eternal is not self-serious in ways the works of so-called video game auteurs such as Hideo Kojiam and David Cage are. It aims to entertain and I consider myself entertained, for the most part.
It’s all a deep end.
If you think you had a handle on the 2016 DOOM thus you would have a handle on Eternal, it will throw you off from the beginning. Let’s begin with the most basic fodder enemy. The Zombies in Eternal cannot be staggered by the Slayer’s vanilla melee attack, default E on the keyboard. I had thrown 30 punches at one and still unable to ready it for a Glory Kill. A Possessed in the 2016 game can be disposed of easily by a one-two punch without using ammo.
Guess they were making ways for the new feature called Blood Punch, which turned the Slayer into One-punch Man when used on any of the Fodder enemies. Two of those, a Heavy enemy could be ready for a Glory Kill. This feature is also bound to the E key and has a meter filled after Glory Kills. Blood Punch is one of two new melee option in Eternal. There is also a dope ass light saber bound to the V key very late in the game. It can only cut down 3 enemies before needing to be refilled with energy and it is a way to get more health like Glory Kill. It also can one-shot most enemy types.
The ammo refilling Chainsaw can now used on enemies by the simple push of the C key, though the aiming and hit detection is off occasionally. Besides the ways to regain health and ammo, Eternal offers a way to regain armor, the Flame Belch bound to R key, which is interesting given that the shooter without reload give the universal reload key on keyboard a purpose. You set demons on fire so they spit out armor. You shoot and kill those on fire, they burst out armor.
As a shooter sequel, Eternal interestingly offers exact the amount of guns as its predecessor. The pea shooter of a pistol with infinite ammo is gone. Instead the Slayer starts with a Combat Shotgun, like Ranger in the original Quake. The new weapon Ballista is actually replacing the Gaus Canon as it shares ammo with the Plasma rifle. There is an optional heavy machine gun that share ammo with BFG , and it require the player to beat 6 hard battle challenges locked behind the Slayer Gates.
While the 2016 DOOM eases the player into harder and harder battles, Eternal threw the player right into the deep end from the get go. Heavy enemies can kill the Slayer in a couple of seconds, even on the normal difficulty id has been calling Hurt Me Plenty for decades. The only way to prevent that from happening is to destroy their big guns, which can usually be done with the grenade launcher of Combat Shotgun or the scope with 5 rounds per shot of the rifle known as Heavy Canon.
And this is why I’m glad I started the game on PC with mouse and keyboard. Especially with the scope. An Arachnotron’s machine gun is not a big target, precise shooting with a controller is almost impossible.
The combat of Eternal is about speed and momentum. Losing the momentum is fatal in my personal experience. Whether the game paused to tell that I was disconnected from Bethesda.net or I needed to pause the game to attend to more essential and urgent parts of my life, I would be instantly killed after resuming by a blow I could have dodged had I not paused game and simply moved forward. This happened more than once.
Sometimes losing momentum is in the design of the game. Introducing the Marauders, brick walls to the Slayer’s sport car and pain in the ass. This type of enemy has a shield that can block anything, including the Big Fucking Gun! Dealing with them is a dance require patience and good reflex. While they do come with various enemies, only one Marauder would appear at a time, thankfully. If id decides to throw more than one of those at the player at once in the expansions, well, that would be an unbearable nightmare.
The gauntlets of Eternal’s combat can sometimes feel like busy work. I would shoot, blood punch, chainsaw and kill half a dozen enemies in the matter of seconds. It’s sometimes tiring rather than fulfilling. The final level of the game especially feel like so. That makes DOOM Eternal not only a harder game to play than its 2016 predecessor but also a harder game to recommend.
Fly me to the moon. One of Mars’ moon, I mean
It is not hard for me to see why id chose to showcase Phobos and the orbit of Mars on several occasions last year. It’s by far my favorite level of Eternal, for it is the perfect blend of fun platform and manageable combat in the game.
The platforming of DOOM Eternal is enhanced by 2 mechanic, dash and wall climb. Dash that only adds a little to the combat, but it is the core of platforming and exploration. And there is swimming, so I guess everything a kid can want for a mascot platformer is present in DOOM Eternal.
DOOM games are filled with secrets to be found dated back to the days to the Two Johns. Eternal is no exception. There are toys and music records to decorate Doomguy’s man cave in the Fortress with. The toys this time is super deformed enemy types rather than Marineguys in different print. The records are tracks from past id games, with metal as fuck art works as covers. Those art works hung framed in Fortress of Doom certainly adds to the game’s metal vibe.
There are 3 upgrade routes player can keep tracks of in Eternal. The suit, the crystals for health, armor and ammo and runes. Runes are not locked behind combat challenge like they were in the 2016 DOOM. As a demanding action game, the upgrades can sometimes seems needless. No matter how much health and armor you have, if you cannot dodge and fight back well enough, you can die as easily as you with the low default number. New guns certainly help ease some of the fights, upgrades, not so much.
Some final words
Burning through the game on a weekend so I can write this review is likely the wrong way to play this game. Some missions can last as long as 2 hours. The final gauntlets kind left a bad taste in mouth though the level before it is easily my second favorite after Mars. I would recommend do a level a day through a 2 week period.
If you played DOOM 2016 and want more challenge, Eternal is the right game for you. If you are new to the DOOM series, Eternal is far from a welcoming entry. The 2016 reboot is better and more welcoming game than Eternal.