By Evan Lewis
March 17, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
Doom Eternal
Credit: Id Software

There’s something to be said for purity in entertainment, and Doom Eternal is about as pure a distillation of the concept of “action game” as any major studio has produced since, well, Doom 2016. There is a story, sure, and it’s not without its charm, especially for people who will get a kick out of references to the classic Doom games of yore, but it’s certainly not the main attraction. Eternal’s main draws are, without a doubt, its mechanical excellence, metal soundtrack, and stylish flair for comically over-the-top gore, and on those fronts the game delivers brilliantly.

Generally, the setup of the game is that demons have invaded Earth, and it’s up to the Slayer to squash the infestation by taking out the Hell Priests conducting the ritual that sends monsters to the planet. Things get a little more complicated than that by the end of the game, with groups of cosmic beings other than demons getting involved in the fray, but the lore mainly serves to introduce new environments to charge through and new types of enemies to brutalize. And brutalize the Slayer does.

The main gameplay systems are very similar to those in Doom 2016, but Eternal feels slightly more strategic, and resource management is even more aggressive. Dealing enough damage to an enemy with weapons will cause it to enter into a stagger state during which the Slayer can perform a close-range Glory Kill. These Glory Kills reward the player with a shower of health drops and contribute to charging the Blood Punch meter, which allows the Slayer to occasionally perform a heavy melee attack that damages all nearby enemies. But man cannot live on HP and Blood Punch alone. Using a charge of fuel to kill a demon with the chainsaw results in an explosion of standard ammo drops, and tagging enemies with the Slayer’s flamethrower will cause them to drop armor. On higher difficulty settings especially, quickly choosing which baddies need to die in which ways to maximize resource profit is key.

Combat strategy doesn’t end with deciding which sort of resource piñata every demon should become. Each type of enemy has a specific set of weaknesses that can be exploited to the point that battle arenas almost become complex, high-impact rock-paper-scissors situations. Cacodemons, which are flying orbs with giant mouths, can be made to swallow grenades for an instant stagger, the gun turrets on top of cybernetic brain spider Arachnotrons can be taken out with well-placed sniper shots from the Slayer’s heavy cannon, and so on. (My go-to for especially tough enemies eventually was to cut them down with a fully upgraded triple chaingun turret.) Hot-swapping weapons and weapon mods to find the right tool for each of the dozens of enemies in a given arena keeps battles moving briskly, and despite the wild speed of fighting and constant movement across multi-tiered environments, the controls never feel anything less than buttery smooth.

The game’s difficulty curve is also handled exceptionally well, with four challenge ratings — I’m Too Young to Die, Hurt Me Plenty, Ultra-Violence, and Nightmare — available to swap between at will, even mid-level. Allowing players to change difficultly at any time keeps the all-important pace going and maintains the power fantasy of the Slayer. Some parts of the game that would have been frustrating if they had been locked on Ultra-Violence felt just right on Hurt Me Plenty, and some areas that may have felt somewhat trivial on lower settings were still pulse-pounding with the difficulty cranked up. In terms of character progression, a near-constant stream of new weapons, mods, runes, arsenal upgrades, and suit upgrades keeps things compelling throughout the game.

Eternal’s multiplayer servers for its new Battlemode aren’t online pre-launch, but the bulk of what the game has to offer is in its single-player content. Based solely on the campaign, id Software has successfully defended its title as the maker of the best-controlling solo-focused FPSes out there. A-

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