By EVAN MILLAR
When id Software returned to their most arguably beloved franchise with 2016’s DOOM, few expected such a perfect reimagining was even possible. It was essentially the best of both worlds; all of the havoc and fury of classics DOOM and DOOM II paired with some of the best-feeling mechanics to be found in any modern shooter. Four years later, id returns to the series with DOOM ETERNAL, a sequel that improves upon its predecessor in just about every conceivable way. With its expanded scope, nightmarish stage design and more demons than you can swing a chainsaw at, ETERNAL elevates the first-person shooter to dizzying new heights despite its rather weak multiplayer offering.
Players once again suit up as the formidable Doom Slayer (A.K.A. Doomguy, Doom Marine, Flynn Taggert) as he rips and tears his way through a lengthy campaign that’ll last anywhere from 15 to 20 mayhem-filled hours. Starting with a bloody bang and only relenting in the brief downtime between levels, you’ll traverse ruined cities, alien landscapes and the inner circle of the Hell dimension itself as you seek to eliminate the architects of Earth’s imminent destruction. After obliterating Union Aerospace Corporation (UAC) scientist Olivia Pierce at the conclusion of the previous game, the Slayer sets his shotgun sights on three Hell priests and the Khan Makyr, leader of a technologically supreme alien race inhabiting the realm of Urdak.
If you’re thinking this sounds like a lot more lore than 2016’s DOOM ever alluded to, you’re absolutely correct. With ETERNAL, the series returns to its DUNGEONS & DRAGONS inspiration, weaving a story that comes off at times almost like a satire of high-fantasy. To illustrate this, there’s even a floating castle in space, the Fortress of Doom, that the Slayer calls home this time around. Detailed collectible codex entries fleshing out this fantastical backstory litter each stage, though players with itchy trigger fingers can opt to skip over these if they wish.
As far as visuals are concerned, ETERNAL takes what worked from 2016’s creature design and imbues it with even more of the classic games’ charm, drawing heavily from DOOM II and even DOOM 64’s monsters and weaponry. Certain demons get radical redesigns, though typically in order to make them look more like their classic counterparts. Changes made to the Possessed soldiers are particularly well done, as is the return of the iconic Cyberdemon. Newcomers such as the Marauder and Whiplash are smartly designed and provide ample challenge, keeping battles feeling fresh and varied.
Composer Mick Gordon once again contributes an absolutely brutal metal soundtrack that leans more heavily on the industrial side this time around, and the sounds of wrenching flesh from bone are as delightfully grotesque as ever. A choir of metal vocalists is also utilized nicely as an eerie yet beautiful Gregorian-styled (or is that Satanic?) chant, further adding to the ambiance of evil.
From a gameplay perspective, DOOM ETERNAL is significantly more robust than its precursor. Additions here include a shoulder-mounted “flame belch” attachment that ignites foes so they drop shards of much needed armour, a double dash technique for faster traversal, sword melee combat, and highlighted enemy weak points. And that’s not even including the extensive rune, suit and weapon upgrade systems that also feature this time around.
With such an unrelentingly kinetic pace, it’s sometimes all too easy to forget about these new elements entirely, though the game’s loading screens always offer helpful tips relevant to whatever section of Hell you currently find yourself occupying. Despite seeming potentially overwhelming at moments, ETERNAL’s sense of momentum always benefits from this violent dance of strategy and skill, and returning to 2016’s more stripped-down approach after adjusting to this new combat flow can feel surprisingly lacking.
The only real downside here is the addition of finicky platforming sequences that sometimes go on much longer than they need to. One segment closer to the end of the game can be particularly frustrating, and it’s a bit puzzling that so much of ETERNAL’s meaty campaign is dedicated to zipping around the environments without firing a single shot. This is relatively minor, however, and it’s not surprising that the team wanted to mix things up in between the staged combat arenas.
So is this the quintessential package of DOOM? Well, nearly. ETERNAL’s multiplayer is oddly sterile, currently offering only “battlemode,” an asymmetric match of two demons versus one slayer. It’s an oversight that renders the overall experience just shy of perfection, and why id chose to once more skip out on including a basic deathmatch scenario seems beyond logic.
Though time constraints and developer crunch that resulted in the game’s release being pushed back is the likely culprit here, at least the possibility exists of adding multiplayer content in the coming months. Still, the extra work put in consistently shines through in ETERNAL’s absolutely rollicking campaign, and hopefully most players shouldn’t feel too letdown by this lack of meaningful online play.
Just how much enjoyment you’ll get out of DOOM ETERNAL depends on your penchant for sweating profusely and affinity for severely cramped hands, but as it stands, you’d be hard pressed to find any sweeter suffering than what id Software have delivered here: an absolute spectacle of the genre.
DOOM ETERNAL is out now for PS4, Xbox One and PC. Review code provided by the publisher.