Doom Eternal sucks in the whole of you. Fights plunge you into flow states. They send you wading through demonic maelstroms of gristle and gore. You twist and jump and dash, punching, shooting and chainsawing every Cacodemon that should know better than to cross you. I’ve danced the bloody ballets of hell and beyond, and I’ve returned to tell you: they are dazzling.
It’s a lot like the last game, except now the Super Shotgun has a grappling hook.
Doom knows what Doom’s about. That’s clear from the intro, a cold open onto Earth on fire. The demons are back, humanity is on its knees, and building-sized devils stalk through the crumbling ruins of civilisation. Cutting across the remaining humans’ cries, as we slow-pan around the Slayer’s armour, comes the clanging of heavy metal churning into gear. As is written in the ancient texts: “there is only one dominant life-form in the universe, and it carries a steel-barrelled sword of vengeance“. That’s you, that is.
This time, Doomguy gets to escape the dusty colour palettes of Mars and hell. He also gets to teleport between arctic fortresses, the ruins of post-apocalyptic Earth and, memorably, space. That romp through the BFG 10000, a vast orbital artillery piece whose firing periodically basks everything in a glorious green glow, will stay with me. So will cutting my way across Earth, where fallen titans, both infernal and man-made, frequently block your path. At one point you need to jump up to a defunct mech’s gun, plug in a power source to make it fire, then stand back as a giant demon’s guts gloop out, so you can proceed through his chest cavity. This is one of the least gruesome things you will do in Doom Eternal.
You’re an emblem of destruction. An unstoppable force, set free to rip and tear through a cyber-infused menagerie. Movement and murder become one, and it all begins with glory kills.
As with Doom 2016, glory kills are the cornerstone of combat, and they never stop forcing you forwards. Drop a demon’s health low enough, and they’ll stagger. That’s your cue to move in and press the button that rips their arms off, or makes them eat their own pulsating heart, or slides a dagger through their jawbone, or, God, so much else. You’ll think you’ve seen every gruesome disassembly, and then you’ll find yourself stabbing a jagged femur into a snake-demon’s brain. It’s very hard not to revel in this.
Every glory kill gives you health, letting you bounce back from the edge of disaster. Opportunities are abundant, so danger can be too: your health is designed to be in flux. This system works, and it works well. It resonates. This is how Doomguy fights. Forget about whittling away at health bars from a safe distance, for there is no such thing as a safe distance. Your best bet is to always be right beside the creatures intent on your destruction, where salvation manifests as a fist through an abdomen.
You wind up looking at every enemy as both a threat and a resource, and Doom Eternal doubles down on this by handing you a flamethrower. It’s a rechargeable gadget that briefly coats every enemy in fire, and its importance cannot be overstated. Damaging or killing burning enemies makes them drop armour shards, giving you the same dynamic as glory kills, but writ larger. The right tactics let you turn an ocean of enemies into a sea of green, and a springboard into your next group of victims.
The Plasma Rifle deserves a special shout out, because it excels at transforming crowds of demons into rejuvenating mist. Nearly every weapon has two additional mods that you can swap between mid-combat by right-clicking, and my preferred option for the plasma gun lets you build up charge by landing shots, before releasing a high-damage blast that vaporises everything in front of you. If you’ve managed to coat a big bunch of bads in flames, releasing that blast makes for one of the most satisfying right-clicks in video games.
There’s more, though: every mod can be upgraded, using tokens handed out as rewards for fighting through levels, completing especially hard bonus encounters, or completing hidden challenges where you need to murder everything within a time limit. Once you’ve bought all the upgrades for a particular mod, you unlock another challenge that changes each weapon’s behaviour yet again. The final upgrade for the heat-blasting version of the Plasma Rifle lets you do extra damage after you fire a fully-charged blast, transforming blue projectiles into deadly red. It is my favourite gun baby, apart from the Super Shotgun.
You don’t need the Super Shotgun to get around. You run fast and you can dash faster, twice in succession, perhaps chaining them into double-jumps. A completely separate upgrade system can speed you up some more, by letting you equip runes that double the distance from which you can trigger glory kills, or which give you a burst of speed when you perform one. But, as mentioned, the Super Shotgun comes with a grappling hook. It reels you in towards enemies, but it doesn’t mess with your momentum, and you can pair it with a rune that slows down time. Slow-motion grappling hook drive-bys are a thing in Doom Eternal, and I implore you to indulge in them.
Even more so than last time round, Doom excels at making failure feel like your fault. You should have switched to a different weapon, you should have dodged, you should have gone in for that glory kill, or not gone in for that glory kill, or not forgotten about your grenades. If only you’d plotted your murder route differently, if only you’d made a dash for that jump pad rather than getting trapped in that corner. Please, do not get trapped in corners. You’ll be dead within seconds.
I do have a few reservations. I often found myself spotting secret collectables (or more importantly, bonus lives and upgrades) behind bars, and not knowing if I was overlooking a way to get to them that was right in front of me, or if I needed to press on to the next area and double back. That’s not a huge deal, but it did make me feel itchy. There are also some frustrating jumping puzzles, some jokes that don’t land, and the last level kind of flubs it, by throwing huge hordes at you in cramped areas with nothing to duck behind.
But these are minor transgressions. They don’t come close to souring a delightfully bloody pudding, a tour de force of grizzly decapitation. The highs in Doom Eternal come thick and fast and towering, in the midst of battles that demand total attention. New-new Doom nails that marriage of twitching and planning, the calculated deployment of rampant aggression. It makes you feel godly. I haven’t been able to try the multiplayer mode, but it promises asymmetric, player-orchestrated arenas that sound much more intriguing than the underwhelming marine-on-marine action of the last game. And if winds up as another disappointing side-show, so what?
Doom Eternal is a lot like the last game, but better. Even if the Super Shotgun didn’t have a grappling hook, I’d probably call that heaven.