(Kill every demon, ford every stream…) Image from Forbes
DOOM 2016 accomplished something many thought improbable, if not impossible: make the original first person shooter relevant again.
Sure, Wolfenstein precedes DOOM though that series started off as an archaic 1980s Apple II adventure title that became the first first-person-shooter in 1992. DOOM made the genre Wolfenstein 3D pioneered into an unstoppable new staple on the gaming market, no flash in the pan experiment.
Two years before 2016, Wolfenstein itself got a successful revival in Machine Games’ The New Order. If not that series, why not DOOM as the reboot’s release neared in Spring 2016.
It was a revelation of what had been missing from the old era of 90s’ shooters. Bright, colorful bombast, no reloading of weapons, a fast pace where staying still almost always meant death, a rip roaring metal soundtrack with enough of a worthwhile modern sensibility.
DOOM was back and the new blood at Id Software, the worthy successors to the original developers, wanted anything but to sit on their newfound success. It took four years but DOOM Eternal is here to thankfully prove that 2016 wasn’t a happy accident.
DOOM Eternal acts as a spiritual successor to the second DOOM released back in 1994, a mere year after the original, serendipitously released one month after yours truly’s birth. Despite the DOOM slayer’s best efforts last time on Mars, the hosts of hell have made it to Earth. Humanity is on the brink of extinction or worse becoming the very same as their invaders.
From his cool castle-looking space station, the Fortress of DOOM, the DOOM slayer prepares to lay waste to what could easily be at the end of a single playthrough thousands of demons. Is this man human, alien, even demon? His past is shrouded in mystery and Eternal is all too happy unlike last time to tell you exactly who he is and why he is. For long time fans, it is a love letter revelation.
DOOM Eternal is strangely successful at telling a story that has some manner of depth to it in spite of how absolutely determined it is to make your actual gameplay experience the prerogative. I’m reminded of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, the follow-up to The New Order and how it was widely criticized for being a throwback first person shooter that became too wrapped up in the storytelling aspect over the ” killing Nazis” aspect.
The story of Wolfenstein II is good, though with one hell of an abrupt ending, but it is impossible to ignore when the gameplay stops and gives you one lengthy cutscene after another and the moments of actually playing feeling too few and far between. It’s not to the level of a Kojima game like your average Metal Gear Solid or Death Stranding, but it’s blocking of what you likely bought the game to do can feel frustrating.
There are cutscenes here as well but they don’t feel like they’re impeding the player’s sense of momentum with regards to the gameplay loop. It is a balancing act that DOOM Eternal effortlessly performs in having an at worst above average narrative, helped along by clever visual storytelling while also having a moment to moment gameplay experience that will leave most, like myself exhausted yet relieved.
DOOM Eternal raises the bar from its 2016 predecessor in one most meaningful way. It emphasizes a need to commit to what the game requires of you to complete it. It is a harder game, with more demons to face at the same time than before. That is one way it ramps up yours and the Slayer’s challenge. There are also new considerations in having less ammo for every weapon, new sets of cooldown armaments which can very well decide if you win or you lose to careful consideration of where you place your upgrades over time. The whole thing is just faster but no less aggressive.
There were more than a few battles won against the hordes that had me pause the game and just….breathe. DOOM 2016 is not an easy game either but if you played back to back you would think the former was almost made for kids in terms of difficulty.
It got so challenging that I actually had to drop the difficulty from “Ultra-Violence”(Hard) to “Hurt me Plenty”(normal). It was still a grueling experience that in no small way was punishing me for not being as in tune with its updated mechanics as I should. Considering I am supposed to be playing the one thing in existence demon-kind fears, I should learn to play like a legendary warrior if I want to be one.
In spite of me saying it was a spiritual successor to DOOM II, the game’s scope and scale far exceeds being a tour of hell on Earth. You get to explore more of hell, Mars, Phobos( one of Mars’ moons), Sentinel Prime( the homeworld of an inter-dimensional humanoid race in which the Slayer is associated with its mixture of Western European/Scandinavian style) and yes, Heaven, but not the Heaven you are picturing in your head and not by that name.
The main antagonist this time around is the Khan-Makyr, a huge female angelic figure who is allowing and to some extent, directly involved in allowing Hell to take over Earth. She is not supposed to be God or Jesus, in fact neither even show up though the former is mentioned in some not insignificant way.
There is nothing in DOOM Eternal that is necessarily meant to be blasphemous though it could be argued that the angels of Heaven being antagonists could be an inferred “take that!” to the religiously inclined critics of the original DOOM games back in the day.
In spite of the incontrovertible point of the games being to kill as many demons as possible and basically ruin hell’s day big time, just the usage of satanic imagery was enough to rile up feathers back then. That’s to say nothing of DOOM’s then shocking use of violence which is supremely tame by modern standards and hilariously so compared to the black comedy the DOOM slayer makes of his up close and personal executions of the demons, called “Glory Kills.”
Aside from being a gruesome embodiment of modern DOOM’s motto/battle cry “RIP and TEAR!”, itself taken from the infamous one-shot 1996 DOOM comic, there is actually a practical purpose to the glory kills, as it was in 2016. Once your gun-based attacks “stagger” a demon, you can go in for the melee kill to replenish health, which you will most certainly need if you have a chance and to also quickly take down bigger, tougher and more dangerous demons.
For all of DOOM Eternal’s gleeful desire to emulate the violent parodies of games in popular culture(think Bloodstorm in that one Simpsons episode) that satirize gaming’s connection with virtual violence, it is not a mindless affair.
More so than the also thoughtful 2016 reboot, Eternal will punish you for acting like it is mindless. It is a mindful, intelligent yet vulgar display of power, to quote one of the metal bands that inspired DOOM’s sound, Pantera.
You better hope you’re mind is in the game as even the laser focused players who will come to master Eternal’s gameplay cycles will still slip up every now and then. Eternal doesn’t fold for anyone so you better not too.
At the end of the day, DOOM Eternal is not just among the finest examples of all time of gaming’s contribution to improving hand eye coordination. It is also a fine example of being a throwback shooter that has its attention not solely focused on the past and its customs.
Eternal, for having a much less realistic and more gamey level layout, with some platforming segments being honest to god “first person Mario“, has a well thought out modern design that screams gameplay for the future. A push to make players smarter and ever on their feet still be a fun time rather than a frustrating one.
Of all the modern throwback shooters, DOOM Eternal is the least insecure about its mixture of old and new. It is so confident in what it is doing and how it does it, just the effort is applause worthy. It is a love letter to the past, not just in gaming but in popular culture that informed the original DOOMs like the heavy metal,thrash and rock musical genres. There’s a pretty great Motorhead reference thrown in among other things.
It’s a love letter to the rest of ID software’s catalog with the likes of Wolfenstein, Quake, Rage, Commander Keen and other 90s pioneering titles not developed by ID getting honored.
As much as it successfully pushes forward the scope and ambition of the first person shooter experience, it still holds a grand celebration for its entire genre that goes back to a little over my own lifespan.
DOOM isn’t just back, it’s here to stay. And it wants as many of its players, old and new, to be as happy about that prospect as the people at ID are. Long live the Slayer. And long live the people who have kept his series’ fire burning for nearly 30 years.