This week, Morgan willingly plays Doom Eternal, as his fragile ego has been threatened and he needs to feel better about himself
Anyone remember March 2020? Yeah, that was wild, wasn’t it? It marked an earth-shattering event that has shaped society for the entire twelve months since: Animal Crossing and Doom Eternal, two of the most highly-anticipated games of the year, were released in the exact same week and watched on as Twitter wallowed in the laugh-out-loud-lol-funny randomness of this situation like a pig would do so in mud. I guess the moral of the story is that Bethesda and Nintendo both own the exclusive rights to our f*cking lives.
What’s fascinating about Doom Eternal as a case study is how it remains the same biblical genocide-hike as before, yet improves the smaller details to create a much more rounded experience. If you’ve read my review of 2016’s Doom and endured the last three months’ worth of pessimistic prose long enough to also read this one, you may remember me pointing to the plot as being rather weak, even for an update of an arcade shooter. Being set on Mars brought about as much urgency to proceedings as being set in Greenland: no one cares about the place and even if they did, there are a million better alternatives that are relatively demon-free.
But that problem’s been solved right off the bat: recurring protagonist “the Doom Slayer” recurs once again, this time with customisable paintjobs on his armour, rocking up at Earth just as the demons have shown up and already killed billions. Omnipotent villainess the Khan Makyr is using the demon invasion to harvest souls and power her own home planet, where I suppose reaping the living essence of the innocent is just to cut electricity costs and avoid adding to the ozone layer. Bear in mind that we never see any of this killing panning out in real time – you’d think the knowledge that these things have played at least one game of pin-the-grenade-on-the-grandma or visited a baby-fondue party at some point would increase the catharsis a bit – but you’ll be too busy laughing at an underling’s stupid face as you shoot it in the mouth with its own gun to care.
Playing Doom Eternal is very much akin to riding a rollercoaster whilst a low-hanging branch occasionally smacks you in the face: it’s fun, but you’d think they could have done with scaling the scenery back a bit. Once it gets going, it’s a perfectly fun shoot-em-up, but what it isn’t (and let’s just make this totally clear) is an effective platforming game. Partly because I have the hand-eye coordination of a kangaroo with Parkinson’s, so trying to leap from pole to pole was like pulling out wisdom teeth with the back end of a hammer, but mostly because it’s an attempt to sprinkle catharsis in an area that clearly doesn’t need any. I already felt like an unflappable bad*ss walking down a hall post-massacre, equipped with ten different guns and the armour plating between my legs straining from the weight of my massive testicles. Forcing me to traverse a pit of radioactive sludge using barely-noticeable climbing walls afterwards is the equivalent of a vicious backhand for daring to feel happy for once. And when I have to waste two extra lives just to pass through a section that inherently reeks of “this-is-meant-to-be-easy-no-really-how-are-you-so-bad-at-this”, we cross the line where it begins to seriously test my patience. And speaking of testing my patience:
Enemy participants in this Satanic afterlife company retreat include the usual suspects. There are a few new faces you’d like to introduce the bottom of your size tens to, but the strengths and weaknesses are pretty much the same: there’s those whose job it is to attack at close range, those whose job it is to attack at long range and finally there’s the Marauder, whose job is to get f*cked. You think you’re so great, with your stupid dog and impenetrable shield and split-second blind spots. Just when I start to believe that the gaming industry has finally accepted the fact that human won’t be evolving chameleon eyes that swivel independently of each other any time soon, they bring out the one guy who gives you can only hurt when a two-pixel wide green flash appears above his head. This soon devolved into me deliberately saving him for last, lest the thirty other gadgies come up from behind to make sauerkraut out of my lower intestine. It makes him a lot harder to get rid of, or at least a lot harder than the I think the developers intended him to be: later on, it introduces other demons that are clearly supposed to pose more of a threat, but even the boss sections were a leisurely stroll by comparison.
Deciding whether the combat has improved or worsened is in the eye of the beholder: there’s a more strategic nature to the fights than in Doom the First, which may turn some people away, but I appreciated it as a method of making me break out of my comfort zone. Use the flamethrower to gain armour, the chainsaw to gain ammunition and the ice bomb to freeze fast-moving targets. The differing tactics you need to use to take them down means I couldn’t just revert to the tried and tested “spraying and praying” strategy as often as in the last game, meaning it adds a more dynamic edge to the combat which the 2016 version lacked.
But let it not be said that Doom Eternal’s motives are completely pure. The allusion to the multiplayer isn’t jackhammered into the point where the game sees every breath you take as a chance to alert you to its presence (looking at you, Star Wars Battlefront – for the first time in a month), but there are one or two small segments where they’re clearly trying to push something. One of my favourite moments in the campaign involved playing as a Remnant, a demon with a jetpack and missiles, but there was always that little nagging awareness that this is how they suck you into the tedious grind. You enter the multiplayer mode for a quick little five-minute time-killer before dinner and the next thing you know, a week has passed and the missing person’s bureau has written you off for dead.
To put it shortly, Doom Eternal is a good game, with just those few patches of mould around the edges that stops it from being great. If you were tired of the way the last Doom played or just never cared for it much, to begin with, this probably won’t change your mind, but my problem personally never was with how it played: just the fact that it was as boring as behind-the-scenes footage for a documentary about crippled sloths.
And for the record, let’s never have to hear Doom Slayer speak again. Having him magically turn into a donkey that craps birthday cake halfway through would have been less of an immersion killer.