There’s a large number of videogames that can be boiled down to three core actions: moving, jumping and killing. Mario moves, jumps and stomps turtles back into their shells, which he then kicks into the faces of other turtles. Ryu paces back and forth in wide-open yet weirdly confined spaces while slowly punching and kicking the consciousness out of friend and foe alike—sometimes while jumping. Doomguy, or the Doom Slayer, or just The Slayer, has to stay in constant motion, both on the ground and in the air, lest he be killed while in the process of slaughtering wholesale populations of demons.
I’m going to talk about that last one. I’m going to talk about the Doomguy. Ol’ Doomerino.
Doom Eternal loves the moving and the jumping. I am not generally a Doom man—younger me felt the original sent games as a concept spinning off into the conjoined shitty paths of thinking violence equals maturity and that heavy metal made with computers is actually listenable—but Doom Eternal is one of the least Doom-like Dooms I’ve ever Doomed. It’s also 100% certified Doom, just like a pure unfiltered toot of the totality of Doom. No, these thoughts don’t contradict each other.
What could be more Doom than chewing through a Monster Manual full of different demons, almost all of which combine human corpses and guns in fun and innovative ways, while hunting down Hell Priests through an Earth that’s been scarred and twisted into a frightening mockery of itself? What could be more Doom than spontaneously generating more bullets by running a chainsaw through a shambling hell beast’s engorged guts? What could be more Doom than feeling like I’m at a rave at a shooting range inside a Dio album cover? What could be more Doom than Doom Eternal?
And yet here I am, not killing things for minutes at a time. Here I am, jumping from ledge to ledge, swinging off bars like a gymnast, dashing through the air, and trying to angle it just right so I can grab onto the side of a mountain that’s conveniently jagged enough for me to get a good grip on. Here I am exploring, looking for permanent power-ups and other secrets, like I’m a roid rage version of Samus Aran. And I’m doing it a lot. This Doom has more on its mind than just wanton destruction—there’s also some wanton rambling around going down.
I’m not just seeking out extra bullets or health or armor. I’m looking to fill up like four different tech trees—one for my armor, one each for every gun in my arsenal, and even one for my Flame Belch, a beautifully named burst of fire that inexplicably produces armor from the embers of my demon prey. I have to track down runes, which give me minor but useful skills, like increasing the distance from which I can tear a staggered enemy in half, or momentarily reviving me after I die. I’m actually working hard on personal improvement here, finding time to work on me inbetween working over the blood-soaked legions of hell. Doom Eternal is all about personal growth.
If Doom will always and forever represent a certain single-minded ideal—a clean, pure, disgustingly elegant epitome of the first-person shooter—Doom Eternal earns its suffix by trying to elaborate it into something deeper and more complex. I don’t know how well it works, though. Again, I am no Doom fan. I traditionally prefer games that balance the killing with wandering around and looking for stuff. To that end I enjoy Doom Eternal more than I’ve enjoyed any other Doom.
The two halves aren’t all that neatly fused together, though. Long periods of searching will be followed up by impromptu arenas with waves of beasts, and there’s often a jarring sense of “oh, now we’re doing this again.” The sheer amount of stuff to upgrade—and the different kinds of points that need to be found, earned or unlocked to do so—can feel like an anchor to the action that should be the heart of Doom. In trying to meet a player like me halfway, Doom Eternal maybe loses sight of what Doom is.
Still. Despite carrying around a few extra layers of business, Doom Eternal feels good. It is physically, mentally and emotionally a much-needed jolt out of all the ruts I’ve been stuck in—a shot of manufactured, harmless stress to take my mind off all the real stresses of today. Visiting a fictional hell world will always be preferable to dealing with the hell world we’re actually living in. Doom’s ripping and tearing is more vital today than ever—and not just that which I visit upon my enemies, but, importantly, the torturous ways in which they rip and tear through me. Doom Eternal is a two-way street—the doom I perpetrate and the doom I have to welcome with open arms. It’s a kind of penance, and I am ready to accept my punishment.
I ran, I jumped, I killed. And I died. A lot. And these days, that’s enough.
Doom Eternal was developed by id Software and published by Bethesda Softworks. Our review is based on the PlayStation 4 version. It’s also available for Xbox One, Stadia and PC.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.