There's a part of the Doom Eternal demo where Doom Guy is actually fired out of a cannon. It's a handy way to reach a new area but also thinly veiled symbolism for the Slayer character's status as a living weapon. The opening moments, as people around him flinch away and cower as he passes, only reinforces the idea that he's as much a force, as a man.
Hurt me plenty
It's how Doom Eternal realises this idea though, through its gameplay, that that really stands out. It would have been easy to simply make the character massively powerful – tanking through demonic hordes like an indestructible juggernaut with issues. Instead, he actually feels quite fragile until you master a range of skills that can make you unstoppable, just as long as you work for it. The power is there but it has to be earned, making it all the more enjoyable when you hit that sweet spot where you're utterly lost in the moment and there's nothing but win on screen.
The skills you need to become a one man war are built around evasive double dashes and jumps, and a more refined version of the Glory Kills from the previous game. In the last installment this was largely about looking for stunned monsters with a blue glow so you could rip their faces off for the sweet, sweet health inside, or using the chainsaw to make them drop ammo. In Eternal, the same system is still there but it's hugely streamlined – sleaker, faster and adding the ability to gain armor via flamethrower kills, or power up a Blood Punch – a more powerful melee attack with splash damage.
The options have increased and so has the speed, meaning they become an even more important part of the gameplay loop now, with a negligible break to the flow as you slice, pound, crash and burn your way through the unlucky. Health, armor and ammo is scattered sparingly around the maps now, and constantly depleted by your bloody interactions with hellspawn. So to top it all up you're constantly having to assess the enemies and environment: judging distance, threats; who you can reach and what you should use to hurt them to get the thing you need most.
Speed demon (killer)
If you thought the last Doom was a fast loop of killing and evasion then Doom Eternal is that on ice, with rockets on the skates. It's a constantly evolving balance of movement and decision making through environments that actually makes it feel more like a puzzle game at times. Or some kind of really angry chess. Because every movement has a reaction you're slicing the battlefield at a granular level into very precise actions and consequences – if I move here, that gets me health from that kill, but breaks line of site with this monster who's causing all the trouble and needs to be dealt with. Doom Eternal is all about this kind of decision making on a second-by-second basis. Get it right, by prioritising targets and perfecting traversal, and you are that unstoppable killing machine the cutscenes and mythos promises. Get it wrong and suddenly all your best guns are dry and you're chasing scraps of health just to stay in the game. Because you can see yourself earning the success however, through what you do, rather than what power ups or guns you unlock, it's a much more tactile and worthy feeling to win.
There's an unashamedly multiplayer map flavoured design to the arena like areas the game drops you into for these encounters – all about learning the tricks and secrets of the layout. Maybe you'll realise a monkey bar can swing you to a perfect spot, or you'll find a short cut or route that opens up the space you need to pick and choose targets. Combined with the puzzle like elements of combat and resource management it creates a strong element of replayability in mastering any given section. Although that said, the double jumps and dashes that provide such a sense of freedom in combat can feel a little less rewarding in traversal sections – possibly because the very organic level design and verticality can make it hard to read the distances you can reach with a precisely metered jump. The decision to use a right stick click to grab climbable walls isn't a great choice either. Of all the buttons on the pad it's the one least suited to flinchy panic grabs while flying through the air. It's telling that in my demo session all the people I played with struggled to complete the basic tutorial for the jump/dash/climb mechanic.
Fumbly wall grabs aside there's a lot to get excited about here. The immediacy and instinctual smoothness of nailing the combat flow has an almost calming feel to it – it's all about that 'in the moment', not consciously thinking about it, kind of gameplay. How Doom Eternal works that over a more extended playing time will be important, but the foundation is there for a great shooter with some surprising depth under all that gore.