This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Doom Eternal.
Yes, it's the explosive new doom that everybody's talking about, in which humanity faces extinction at the hands of an all-pervading terror, but that's a bit too depressing, so let's talk about a new video game instead: Doom Eternal, the other thing that's been fucking my year up by sitting at the end of Quarter 1 with its mouth open like a fucking trapdoor spider and scaring off every other big release. Doom Eternal this, Doom Eternal that, the children are dying, Doom Eternal! "Hey, I finished cleaning the menswear section of this department store; which section should I do next?" "Oh, could you do maternal?" "Doom Eternal?!"
Doom Eternal is the sequel to Doom 2016, in which we step back into the chunky, elephantine boots of THE DOOM SLAYER, and the plot picks up where Doom 2016 left off, give or take an explanation for how we escaped from Mars, and where we got a fucking spaceship from, or how demons have conquered most of Planet Earth. Okay, so maybe it doesn't start where Doom 2016 left off, although the "demons invading Earth" bit, we could probably have safely assumed. Ooh, what has humanity learned from the previous disaster? The usual amount: somewhere in the region between "bugger" and "all". How timely. But as for how THE DOOM SLAYER got here, maybe that was explained in the DLC or a comic book somewhere; and incidentally, I do appreciate how it's now canon that THE DOOM SLAYER does actually talk like he did in the Doom comic book: like an abattoir worker on enough coke to floor an elephant seal.
Doom Eternal's starting point is the fast and chaotic arena shootouts of Doom 2016, the thing that our Doom retrospective video established isn't actually that much like the original Doom because it's more complex and playing marbles on a kitchen counter covered in several interesting varieties of ketchup. But that seems to have made Doom Eternal a bit self-conscious, as it's very deliberately redesigned a lot of its monsters and pickups to look more like how they did in Classic Doom. You wouldn't be trying to pander now, would you, Doom Eternal? "No, of course not! Would you like us to change it? Let us pander to you not wanting us to pander!"
But lest you think we're regressing, gameplay is leaning even harder on the complexity lever; I always felt I could've done without a lot of that weapon upgrade business in Doom 2016, when I finished getting all the upgrades for all the guns I was capable of remembering that I had while panicking, and now there's so many more things I have to remember that I have: eight guns with two alternate fire modes each, frag grenades, ice grenades, Blood Punch - No, that isn't what they serve at Hell's singles mixers - the one-hit-kill sword, the chainsaw, the flamethrower, the candlestick maker. You still get ammo pickups from your off-the-books chainsaw mastectomy clinic, and now, you get armor from using your flamethrower because... the searing heat is making the demons' pocket change fuse together? No, it still doesn't make the slightest sense in context.
"Oh, who the fuck needs context, Yahtz? It's fast, arcade-y fun combat! Did you miss the instructions? Step 1, rip. Step 2, tear. Step 3, lunch." What you're talking about, viewer, is combat having a sense of abandon and catharsis, but I have trouble getting into that mood when, every time I burst into a room full of low-level mobs, I have to stop and weigh things up. "Hmm, health and armor both need a boost; should I set fire to these lads before I chainsaw their legs off?" The more strategic nature of it might turn some people off if they'd rather just pull out the Super Shotgun, say, "Hey, does this barrel smell like cordite to you?", and change the atmosphere of the room from 70% nitrogen to 90% vaporized sexual organ. Oh, for those happier times when I was a youthful, carefree murderer.
And speaking of killing the mood, when a new monster or boss is introduced and it poses for the camera, its seventeen disfigured tits trembling under the flickering Hell gloom, and my whitening knuckles are equally divided between my shotgun hilt and my oversized ball sack in preparation for the battle, what I don't want to happen next is a tutorial message slamming the brakes on the pace to say, "It's a new monster! Here's precise instructions on how to kill it! Lucky you weren't left to figure it out for yourself; you might've gotten dangerously engaged!" Yeah, I know, "Turn tutorials off, Yahtzee." But as I say, they've only added more complexity to the combat, so I was afraid the game might suddenly toss me the Enchanted Egg-Slicer of Ravi Shankar and wouldn't tell me how to use the fucking thing.
And while I'm playing pocket billiards in my Grumpy Trousers again, the new traversal stuff is fun and all, with the air-dashes and the bouncing off poles like a Nazi jackboot in the late 1930's, but now that we can reach the furthest crannies of the map, exercise some fucking consistency in your level design so I'm not constantly jumping for scenery that looks blatantly ledge-esque and sliding off invisible walls into the abyss. This is a game that constantly encourages you to hunt for secrets, I'll remind you; it's beckoning with one hand and readying vicious nipple-cripples with the other.
The combat we loved is still here. I had two small quibbles with Doom 2016: the monster design being kind of flat and expressionless, and some of the Glory Kills lacking a certain impact; sometimes, we'd rip a demon's horn off, and then just sort of wipe his face with it like we're a behind-schedule makeup artist. Both of those issues are addressed in Doom Eternal, but they're addressed as part of a general scattershot attempt at improvement that mostly entailed adding more of everything, for better and for worse. Some of the new monsters are fun; some are annoying. Thinking of you, Tentacle! You do not deserve a page in the bestiary; all you do is sit there and give us an unavoidable slap if we come too close. You're not a monster; you're a timely and useful reminder of the importance of social distancing. And it's funny how the game is leaning more into the arcade-y retro vibe for the redesigned pickups and simultaneously leaning more into serious storytelling, which is about as welcome in my Doom 2016 as a jittery skunk in an eyewash station.
THE DOOM SLAYER is an unfettered, chaotic id who only wants to kill demons and find collectible Happy Meal toys; in other words, he's the player of a mindless shooter game. But the central gag of the character is that all the other characters in the plot are looking for meaning and cosmic/religious significance in his actions where none truly exists; he just doesn't give a shit. That's the joke; very funny, ha ha ha. But in Doom Eternal, when there are entire levels devoted to traipsing through empty hallways learning the history of THE DOOM SLAYER and the origin story for how he came to not give a shit, and we're beset by cutscenes and dialogue and codex entries filling us in on the Maykrs of Urdak and their history with the Sentinels of Argent D'Nur and their long tradition of shit and the not-giving thereof, then suddenly, the game itself is the one projecting unnecessary meaning onto the dude who doesn't actually give a shit, and the joke is at the expense of the story-writers!
In summary, Doom Eternal's still good, but its attempts to broaden appeal across the board has resulted in a little bloat and lack of discipline. Both story and gameplay would benefit from keeping in mind the rule of K.I.S.S.: "Keep It Simple, and Shitfaced."
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