Kill everyone now
It’s funny how, sometimes, a piece of art can miss the point so spectacularly that you begin to wonder whether it was in fact intentional.
Doom 2016 (I’m not typing it as DOOM or DooM or whatever, and anyone who does is an idiot) was surprisingly great. After a bit of a faltering start—that pre-release multiplayer demo, some unconvincing preview footage recorded by someone apparently unfamiliar with how controllers work—it turned out to be a glorious game, a fast and fluid FPS which handed you a big bag of toys and let you play around with them in whatever way you chose.
It had a plot, I think. It had intended solutions to fights, maybe. It had a hilarious soundtrack, and an unconvincingly-voiced antagonist, and a disappointing final boss. It was flawed, and it was technically impressive, and it was a breath of fresh air in a genre dominated by the CoDs and the Battlefields.
I loved it. I loved the pacing, I loved the little hand animation it played when pulling a door open. I loved leaping about with a shotgun, getting in close to an imp and tearing it to pieces with a single blast. I had just bought a 65” tv and a stupid sound system when it dropped, and I spent a week solid absorbing everything Doom 2016 wanted to give to me*.
So, obviously, I got hyped for Doom Eternal. 2016 was something of an accident, a game which was great despite marketing and publishing trying to push it as something that it wasn’t. Surely the sequel would be a confluence of ideas, an extension of the things that made 2016 great, supported by the sinister corporate overlords who were rolling in the silly amounts of cash that the OG game brought in.
Ha. No. No, no no no. Nooooo.
Doom Eternal takes everything good about its predecessor and gets it exactly wrong. Genuinely, I’m impressed that they managed to ruin the game so thoroughly, with such surgical precision. If Doom 2016 was created and designed by a team of quietly competent, enthusiastic designers with an inherent knowledge about what makes a game compelling, interesting and fun, Doom Eternal was created by the same team—except this time every decision was overruled by some Dragon’s Den reject who had recently heard about DLC and the word ‘engagement.’
Where 2016 allowed you, the player, agency over how you fought battles and conquered enemies, Eternal shrieks and quivers unless you shoot exactly the right gun at exactly the right monster at exactly the right time. Not only this, but it’ll pull you out of the game to provide ‘helpful’ VR training, assuming patronisingly that you don’t understand how firing a gun at an enemy will make it die.
This is antithetical to the way 2016 was designed. That game had an intro of about 15 seconds before it handed you a) control b) a gun and c) an enemy, and just let you get on with it. The visual aesthetic and design grammar** of that opening scene were unambiguous.”We have presented you with a threat, and the means by which to dispose of it. We trust that you understand what to do.”
Absolutely, later levels of 2016 introduced a certain rigidity. The locking/tracking/multishot attachments for the rocket launcher were ideal for disposing of Summoners, for instance. But where Eternal introduces weakness systems that mean using a certain weapon at a certain time is almost a necessity, 2016 didn’t really punish you for chasing a Summoner down and smacking it in the face until it died. Doing so was harder, yes, but the illusion of choice was far more solid.
And that illusion of choice meant that a key component of the gameplay loop—resource scarcity and the chainsaw as a means of replenishing those resources—was satisfying. It was satisfying because, again, there was choice. If a player ran low on machine gun ammo, or rockets, or whatever, that was okay. You could switch to a different weapon, adjust your position, and let rip. The chainsaw could come later, because you didn’t need a certain type of ammo to succeed in a certain arena against certain enemies.
In Eternal, resource management becomes an unwelcome distraction from the joy of leaping around*** firing guns into the faces of sods. It wants you to look at every single weapon and accessory, because modelling them cost money, don’t you know. As a result, fights feel so much more scripted, with any moments of joy being forced rather than player-created.
Doom 2016 felt like a game based on aggression. Resources didn’t matter too much, because as long as you pushed forward and kept the killchain going, you were probably going to be okay. Doom Eternal, on the other hand, often punishes you for that same aggression, demanding instead that you slow down, select your weapons carefully, and think about what you’re going to do next. Instead of being too angry to die, you’re too mired in management to live.
This is without even going into the way levels themselves are built.
One of 2016’s flaws—and a pretty major one—was level layout. Occasionally, it was possible to get lost, occasionally, it felt cramped, and occasionally the game felt more like a series of arena fights loosely connected by corridors. I for one could overlook this, as more often than not the fights themselves were tightly packed into interesting spaces that rewarded fast movement and verticality.
Eternal took this and ran with it. Sadly, it ran in the opposite direction, into a big field full of landmines. Jumping puzzles abound—something I loathe in first-person games—and more often than not fights end with you searching the horizon for whatever imp you’ve neglected to toast with your stupid ‘belcher,’ or whatever. That tight feel is gone. The feeling of power has been replaced with the feeling that you’re just playing a computer game. It lacks, for want of a better term, ‘the zone.’
I get that a lot of this is personal preference, and I’m a bit cross that something I thought exceptional has been made generic. I get that a lot of people prefer the visuals, which I find plasticky and distracting. I get that a lot of people prefer the soundtrack, which I find lazy and hypercompressed (though I’m definitely right about that). I get that a lot of people love the awfully-written lore which stops Doombloke being a one-off invincible superhero and reduces him to a soldier in some sort of stupid unit, or something (I skipped a LOT of the story, because it was rubbish).
I just think they’re wrong. Doom Eternal missed the point.
Doom 2016 4eva in are harts.
*except the multiplayer and the ‘snapmap’, neither of which anyone really talks about any more
**sorry, I promise I won’t use phrases like this very often
***well, unless you’re in one of the arenas that STOPS YOU FROM LEAPING