, I just don’t see how the sequel to the stunningly good 2016 DOOM reboot is going to be anything less than one of my favorite games of 2020. I’ve played several hours of DOOM Eternal at this point, and from what I have seen it is such a smart and well-executed follow-up that it has ruined DOOM (2016) for me.As revered as the original DOOM II was in 1994, in hindsight, it didn’t offer all that much, really, over the legendary 1993 original. Thirty-two new maps, a few new monsters, and a double-barrelled shotgun. This DOOM 2, however, ups the ante quite a bit more compared to its predecessor. The flame belch, for instance, adds a new layer to combat by spitting armor boosts out of immolated foes. The ice bomb, meanwhile – a grenade alternate – spews health from enemies damaged or destroyed after being frozen by the frosty blast. That means you can now mix and match fire, ice, chainsaws, glory kills, blood punches, and more in order to more effectively and more specifically manage resources during battle. Meanwhile, a midair double dash lets you close on enemies with godlike speed. On the other side of the gun barrel, enemies now have weak points – such as the gaping maws of the Cacodemons or the gun turrets atop the Arachnotrons – that will make them much less dangerous during a hectic combat encounter if you take them out.
It’s this newfound versatility within combat – plus the sheer chaos and challenge of the fights themselves – that levels DOOM Eternal up and makes 2016 feel slow and simple to me now. But DOOM Eternal continues my favorite aspect of its forebear: pulling you to the brink of death in a frantic battle, only to have you feel like a badass by getting that clutch glory kill, restoring your health and instantly turning the tide back in your favor. And there’s an extra layer of masochism in there if you want it, too, thanks to the Slayer Gates and Master Levels. The latter is something akin to a New Game +, in which you’ll roll through stages with remixed enemy placement, but also your full weapon and skill arsenal. The Slayer Gates, on the other hand, are mini demon-slaying pitstops you can make mid-level, provided you find the key. Jump in, fight off a wave of demons, then get rewarded, and move on.
And then there’s Battlemode. It is DOOM Eternal’s biggest creative risk in that it’s tough for any multiplayer game to stick these days, and for better or for worse it’s not an immediately familiar thing. Then again, familiar didn’t work for DOOM (2016)’s multiplayer…But it’s 2v1 – two demons against a single slayer – and as I first played as the demons I found it was easy to crush the Slayer. But soon strategies emerged and the tables turned. It’s an intriguing mode, and while I’m honestly not sure yet if I’ll stick with it, simply because I’m here for the campaign, it’s bold and different and it is, at the very least, fun to watch.
But all of these evolutions and new features work in part because of DOOM Eternal’s highly self-aware, playful tone. It knows it’s the first-person shooter equivalent of Tony Montana doing a mountain of coke off of his desk. It knows it’s the video game version of the mosh pit at a Metallica concert. It embraces that, from its metal Mick Gordon soundtrack to its secret toy dolls. And it’s got both funny and nostalgic touches all over the place, too, from the Daisy bunny on every level (a nod to the rabbit-reaming ending of the original DOOM) to the DOOM comics in the Slayer’s mancave aboard the Fortress of Doom (a hat tip to the DOOM novels), among others.
Whereas DOOM (2016) felt like a game that thought it was maaaaaaybe onto something, DOOM Eternal struts like a game made with full, Michael Jordan-esque confidence right from Day One. It’s obvious as you play it, and all I’ve wanted to do since I last played it is play it some more. Bring on March 20!