We visited Bethesda ahead of E3 and got our hands on the next Doom.
Doom is back. That's an emphatic and pleasingly succinct statement, but after playing the game ahead of this week's E3 festivities, it's a statement we're pleased to be making. Doom Eternal is looking very much the lean, mean, demon-killing machine that many of us have been yearning for since id Software brought the series back from the brink in 2016 with that most auspicious of reboots.
And now, as we wade through the announcements coming out of this year's E3, it's time to share with you a bit about our hands-on time with the latest entry in this iconic shooter series. And there's a lot to tell after we battled through waves of tough-as-nails demons with our trusty chainsaw in hand, and once again we danced with death and hell beasts alike, this time in the second part of the mission that was first shown during Quakecon last year.
First up, let's cover the basics. Eternal picks up where 2016's Doom left off, although this time the Doom Slayer is dealing with demonic creatures and possessed fallen comrades a little closer to home. That said, we spent most of our time in and around Mars, in a base and then advancing through 'Mars Core', first exploring man-made corridors and later magma-filled caverns. The demo skipped ahead constantly, so it was hard to get a sense of the flow of the story - instead, the disjointed setup was prepared just so, in order to give us a nice blend of action set-pieces.
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Moreso than compared to the last Doom, but certainly building on the fast-paced and visceral approach of the previous game, this Doom is designed around aggressive resource management. The developers described it as a "power fantasy combat puzzle", explaining to us how death is a but a mere part of the challenge - they want you to learn by dying and they plan to school you in the ways of pain by sending in a steady stream of powerful and deadly adversaries to test your mettle.
The puzzle element manifests itself almost in the opposite way as you would expect from a more traditionally tactical shooter. Instead of ducking into hiding places and looking for sneaky ways to exploit a situation to your advantage, in Doom Eternal it pays to get stuck in and not hold back. Hanging back and playing conservatively might work at times, but it's not going to be your go-to solution. The levels themselves won't yield up enough resources to see you through each encounter, and instead, you'll need to grab the extra ammo, health, and armour you need from your enemies. Simply put: you need to take what you want.
Part of the mantra that seems to define this sequel is: move or die. Hanging back isn't really an option, but id has incentivised your aggressive progression by implementing a smart three-pronged approach to the death and dismemberment of the demons of Doom. In plainer English, you'll need to rip the ammo and health that you need from the cold fingers of your enemies. Using the face-buttons on your controller you can use your chainsaw on an opponent and you'll be rewarded for doing so with more ammo. Low on armour? Douse your enemy in flames and they'll drop some for you. On the verge of death? Go for a glory kill when the chance arises to get paid in life-giving health points (and keep on going with the glory kills if you want to build up for a potent 'blood punch' that can disperse even the most packed crowd of hellish minions).
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This refined setup builds on the in-yer-face style of the last game and puts an elegant spin on things, and it wasn't long before we were entangled in deadly battles that required more than just brute force. Doom Eternal seems to be trying to encourage violence and finesse in equal measure, and it's not just enough to pull the trigger plenty of times - we had to use portals to dodge attacks and launch pads to boost between platforms. Failure to intelligently consider your surroundings usually results in a restart.
It doesn't help matters when there are twice as many demons out to get you, and players will be slaying both new and returning hell-spawn this time around. New enemies include the 'Hoarder' and the 'Doom Hunter'. Heavy demons are also becoming more nuanced enemies; this time they have weak points to target, which can change their primary attack. Target and disable the guns of a Mancubus, for example, and you'll have an advantage during the second half of the battle.
To combat the new additions to the bestiary, Doom Slayer is getting some upgrades of his own, including updated armour and new weapons. The most notable changes include a shoulder-mounted cannon and the new meathook, which is attached to your super shotgun and is great for pulling you in close to a demon for a spectacular finisher. We spent the entire demo cycling through the usual repertoire of old favourites, including the plasma rifle and the rocket launcher. Fans will be pleased to hear that the arsenal in Doom looks better stocked than ever before.
There was a lot to take in as the E3 demo accelerated us through several different sections of one level set on Mars. This slender slice of the game saw us hopping between asteroids, exploring different parts of the Mars base, and shooting lots and lots of monsters. Within the tight confines of what you'd expect from a Doom game, there seemed to be a fair amount of gameplay variety on offer. That interesting blend of environmental variation is accentuated by weighty and responsive controls, and the whole thing seems to be held together by a razor-sharp system that provokes audacity and chaotic invention.
Doom surprised everyone back in 2016 when id Software managed to make the series relevant again with a stellar reboot, and this new context means our expectations for this follow-up have risen accordingly. The stakes couldn't be higher for the studio and the series, but Eternal looks to be a worthy successor and a fine continuation of the renaissance that started back in 2016, and after battling through the E3 demo we can't wait to blast our way through more of Hell's demons later in the year.