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Anyone growing up in the 90s will remember the original DOOM. Launched at the peak of organized media hysteria, the now quaint FPS pioneer became a magnet for unwanted attention. DOOM, alongside heavy metal and role-playing games, was blamed for inspiring both mass shootings and devil worship. Thankfully rational voices prevailed, and the media moved on to other things to clutch pearls about. Fast forward some thirty years to the release of DOOM: ETERNAL, and one can kind of see what parents of the early 90s saw in the low-polygon shooter back in the day. ETERNAL is a fast paced, visceral, and gory celebration of bad taste — and it’s absolutely glorious.
Taking place an intermittent time after its predecessor, ETERNAL finds Earth consumed by the forces of hell. Billions lie dead, and billions more are in exile from the infernal forces devouring all life on the planet. To this madness arrives The Doom Slayer, our silent protagonist. Settling into an ancient fortress filled with secrets, the Slayer must traverse the globe in search of the Lords of Hell in order to stop the raging armies once and for all.
The premise is simple, and for most FPS games of this type would be more than enough. But ETERNAL has its sights set on something grander: a vast mythology built on the legend of the franchise, combined with Arthurian lore and the operatic bombast of metal music. It’s an ambitious attempt, one that grooves with the series surprisingly well. There isn’t a single moment that the sharp turns in plot and tone feel out of place. Moments like scouring an ancient knights templar castle feel not just right, but downright natural to the established style.
The Doom Slayer is still a silent brick of muscle and anger, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. The game even mines some humor out of his mute demeanor, allowing for both enemies and friends to express frustration at his grim determination. Ripping and tearing his way through hordes of enemies, his blank slate allows for some fun meta gaming if the player wants it. Why are we doing this, one could ask. For the hell of it could be the answer, and it wouldn’t be untrue. There doesn’t need to be a deeper reason to punch demons in the face with a chainsaw. Apart from Nazi’s, they’re one of the only villains to not suffer from troubling implications when depicted as targets of wanton mayhem.
Gameplay is as satisfying as ever. Battles against the demonic hordes are hectic and ultra-violent, gaining momentum exponentially the further the story progresses. It would spoil the late game surprises to say more, but DOOM: ETERNAL raises the stakes on how action gaming will be judged in the coming years. Nothing else comes close in making you feel like an all-powerful demon killing machine. Depending on which skills you pick, the Slayer can be an up-close-and-personal type of shotgun wielding brawler, or a long distance run-and-gunner too quick to catch by your average hellspawn. Emphasized by a surprisingly deep modding and skill system, the Slayer’s abilities can now suit a host of different play styles. Each weapon has multiple mods, and the Slayer’s armor can now host a series of extensions thanks to Praetorian markers found in the wild.
Which is great, because the action is more difficult and elaborate than ever before. Combat scenarios feature dozens upon dozens of enemies at once leading enemies to swarm upon the Slayer en masse. Though armor and health potions are readily available, tanking blindly in early levels leads mostly to instant death. Returning glory and chainsaw kills — both requiring the player to go up close and personal — make a welcome return, allowing for quick replenishes of items from fallen foes. Upon death, which comes frequently, the player spends an extra life token. These require thorough exploration and are more than necessary to survive later levels. Once all are spent, the game reloads at a checkpoint. Higher difficulty levels introduce a permadeath mode, which just feels like self-flagellation.
Thanks to a revamped movement system the Slayer is as agile as ever. The basics are still there; double jump gives you verticality, a quick dash will get you out of tight places, and a punch solves everything. But this time the series introduces far more platforming than ever before. Exploration has always been a staple of the franchise, yet never to this extent. Puzzles will require not just quick thinking, but reflexes as well. Early levels feature daring leaps into the abyss to reach climbable walls and floating platforms. A typical route will usually progress like this: jump down multiple levels, double-jump in mid-air to reach a climbable floating wall, leap and dash towards another, then double-jump for safety.
Initially the newfound mobility does feel strange. What is this parkour in my DOOM, one might ask. But once the exceptionally well balanced control system becomes second nature, ETERNAL starts to feel just right. The puzzles are much needed breathers between the carnage, allowing the player to bask in the beautiful level and set design. The world is a hideously beautiful rendering of hell, complete with Frank Frazetta-styled landscapes and corpse pillars. Entire castles are made of human tissue, limbs, and dismembered torsos. It’s the stuff of nightmares that would make Megadeth blush.
DOOM: ETERNAL is best played in short bursts simply because it’s a lot to handle. The game is an audiovisual feast that is in your face 110% of the time. The soundtrack, composed by a returning Mick Gordon, is again a tour de force of different styles of metal music. Punches, chainsaws, and guns are amplified to a ridiculous level. A double barreled shotgun pulverizes enemies in a cloud of blood, while energy weapons bloat them into amorphous shapes. If it wasn’t handled with such childlike glee, the game would be too violent to bare. But this is like a player controlled version of Itchy & Scratchy, complete with loud “plop!” sound effects for eyes flying out of sockets.
DOOM: ETERNAL is the kind of game which makes people fall in love with videogames. While it doesn’t particularly do anything new, everything that it does do is polished, refined, and exceptionally well presented. It’s a culmination of design in a genre it helped pioneer, bringing together everything it does best. The expanded lore brings unexpected depth and texture to the aging franchise, along with a surprisingly engaging plot that never lets up during the twenty hours it takes to complete. Not just worth your time for being a great game; DOOM: ETERNAL a seminal moment for the FPS genre, pointing the way for others to follow for years to come.
DOOM: ETERNAL is out on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Google Stadia. A Nintendo Switch release is coming in the future. The review copy was played on PC.