Gore-encrusted goofiness great lockdown relief

Image: supplied
Image: supplied

Bethesda Softworks For: PS4
4+ stars


Bethesda’s 2016 team-up with id Software to revive the venerable Doom franchise - now 27 years old - rather surprised gamers everywhere with how well it worked. Now they’re back with a sequel, Doom Eternal, to carry on the good work.

I doubt I have to explain what Doom is all about to anyone reading a game review, but for the young or forgetful, the so-silly-it’skind-of-brilliant concept is a shooter that pits a futuristic space marine (frequently known as the Doom Slayer, or Doomguy) against the demonic forces of Hell. 

Having cleaned up Mars in his first modern outing, Doomguy now follows in the footsteps of the original id sequel and heads back to Earth, which has a demon invasion problem of its own. A global map reveals the planet all but overrun (though readers will be pleased to know New Zealand seems untouched!), and it’s up to Doomguy and the player to sort it out - by stabbing, blasting, burning and literally tearing asunder every demon that stands in his way.

Doom Eternal largely reprises the gameplay loop that was so successful in Doom, with some added wrinkles. The key to the whole system is the “Glory Kill”, an execution of near-dead stunned enemies that launches the player into one of any number of grisly demon-murdering animations. Eyes are popped out, bones are snapped and heads are driven into torsos, and your reward for all the ultraviolence is a health drop. It makes enemies themselves the resource, and it works for everything else too. Need armour? Set some zombies on fire. Need ammo? Chainsaw an imp in half. It means you have to play aggressively to survive, as well as ensuring that the title is still the kind of over-the-top gore spree that concerned parents everywhere were tutting about all the way back in 1993.

The new Doom games have also distinguished themselves in the modern shooter market by being all about movement. Doomguy runs at what seems like about 70kmh - all sprint, all the time - and it’s just as well. Your demon enemies are aggressive and hit hard, even at lower difficulty levels, so the only path to success is being on the move all the time.

Each sprawling level contains multiple arena-style areas, lying in wait to lock you in, turn up the heavy metal soundtrack, and drop demon after demon on you until either you or all of them are dead. These are typically set up with platforms, jumpy springs, environmental hazards and poles for Doomguy to grab and launch himself off like a homicidal gymnast. So much of the game is spent leaping about in the manner of a heavily-armed spooked cat, snatching moments to fire off your various giant guns at the array of horrible monsters. It is, in a word, hectic. Staying on the move is so important that on the rare occasions the game boxes you in for a close-quarters fight, it’s tough - and claustrophobic.

In between battles, there’s an added emphasis on some platforming to progress and explore, using double jumps, a dash forward and a comforting knowledge that plunging into lava below will only bring you back to where you started, with a bit of health lost. But you might end up back at a checkpoint after falls a few times anyway, as the movement that works so well in combat is a little awkward here, and it’s sometimes tricky to get timing or direction right.

It’s worth persisting with, though, as off the beaten track lurks a giant selection of secrets, collectables and upgrade doohickeys. Each weapon has a couple of alternate functions that can be unlocked - some are immediate go-tos - and as well as these you’ll unlock stat boosts, enhanced abilities and an array of collectables. Between missions Doomguy heads back to his geographically-confusing space castle to check out his collections, try out new weapons, and get more upgrades.

You’ll need them to keep pace with the difficulty too, which ramps up perfectly as you power up. As with its predecessor, the game has a way of introducing new enemy types as sort of mini boss fights, only to have you look up a few hours later and find you’re fighting three such beasties at once.

The campaign keeps firing new, tougher monsters at you all the way through. Many are angrier, gooier versions of the classic Doom enemy roster, but there are some new foes too. Each of the meatier opponents usually has a specific “weak point” or is susceptible to some peculiarity of Doomguy’s arsenal, so there’s a lot of switching tactics on the fly as the situation demands; the odd snipe, Rambo-like bullet spraying, and lobbing grenades at the demons that like to eat them.

That latter occurrence is part of what Doom Eternal gets right with tone; it’s all so gleefully stupid. The story throws in bits about ancient aliens and the Doomguy’s status as an avatar of vengeance to try to explain events, but meanwhile human survivors refer to the demons as “the mortally challenged”, and Doomguy sets off on missions with instructions like “shoot a hole in Mars”. “Goreencrusted goofiness” is a difficult line to pull off, but Doom Eternal manages it.

When the last demon has fallen in the campaign, there’s replay value to be had going back over each level’s special arena challenges and collectables, but there’s a multiplayer mode here too. This asymmetric “Battlemode” pits two player demons, each with their own powers and ability to summon smaller enemies, against a single player-controlled Doomguy. It hasn’t really grabbed me yet, with what seems like a strong focus on combinations - not always good when playing with strangers over the internet - but is at least clearly an attempt to develop something interesting with multiplayer, rather than just tacking some on.

And look, what better time to release some of that lockdown frustration on some poor robotspider-brain? Turn up the telly, grab that shotgun and wrestle some outer demons for a change. Just make sure the kids are in bed first.

Ben Allan is an ODT subeditor.


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