Older readers may remember the notoriety of the original Doom, one of the forerunners of the first-person shooter that sent players to hell and back, turning demons into kibble at the end of a floating shotgun. Its diabolical setting and relentless blasting was something of a spark for moral panic around video games that has never truly dissipated.
The difference now, perhaps, is that many video game developers have simply stopped giving a stuff. Doom Eternal, like the series successful 2016 reboot, is an orgiastic cacophony of violence. A relentless parade of mulching demons with enormous guns soundtracked by Mick Gordon’s thunderous, escalating heavy metal.
As the Doom Slayer, your giant fists swing across the screen like cannonballs, yanking the legs off skittering brain-spiders and jamming it back through their eyeball, feeding a mancubus its own heart or dissecting fodder with a roaring chainsaw. It is relentlessly noisy, gleefully gory and, yes, splendid fun.
There is barely a whiff of exposition before the game puts a shotgun in your hands and asks you to squish demons in an ornate cathedral that wouldn’t look out of place on a Slayer album cover (an aesthetic running right through the entire game). The set-up is simple. Demons have invaded Earth and decimated humanity, it is up to you to fight back; finding the demon high priests and separating their heads from their bodies.
The ferocious gratification that the combat brings comes from its own bristling eco-system, relentless crowds of ghouls smooshed with quick fingers and quick thinking. Resources can be extracted from your prey as quickly as it is depleted, as long as you follow its simple rules. Move in for a brutal ‘Glory Kill’ and -after thumping their head through their chest- they will explode in a shower of blood and blue health; rip through them with a chainsaw and ammo falls out; set them aflame and they drop armour.
It is a blissfully simple rhythm, but one that opens up the gunplay by encouraging experimentation and variety, allayed to a frantic back and forth as you switch between offense to wipe out the heavier demons and falling back, mulching fodder in order to stock up.
That variety is bolstered by a drip-feed of new enemies that often require a change of tactics, some susceptible to different weapons -a long range sniper-bullet shearing off weak spots, for instance, or a plasma gun overheating demon shields. Ammo is ripped through between restocks, making switching between its heavy-duty and exotic arsenal a must.
While you may have a favourite gun, you will find yourself rotating weapons through both bullet scarcity and a quick change in tactic to deal with a new beast. Further wrinkles come in Runes to activate new skills -slowing time while aiming in mid-air, or increasing the reach of your glory kills- and weapon mods unlocked through good performance. While it has that now laborious sense of video game feature creep, throwing endless options at you in packed menus, that most of it is in service to its gunplay obsession is to its credit.
That said, when Doom Eternal steps away from the fight, it can’t help but stumble. There are some laborious platforming sections, no doubt intended as a palate cleanser between limb-snappings, that are simply not good enough to be anything other than an irritation. The Doom Slayer’s newfound athleticism -which sees you able to swing off bars and scamper up pockmarked walls- is a boon in combat but his Super Mario impression leaves much to be desired.
You can understand the intention, with perhaps a concern that some will find the relentless ripping and tearing a bit too much. But, honestly, that’s what you are signing up for with Doom. And id’s talent at pouring so much pleasure and variety into gunplay is more than enough, keeping its surroundings mixed up too; from gooey living corridors to demon-infested office blocks and snow-capped celestial hangouts. Nothing wrong with excelling at one thing. And when it comes to cathartic, gore-fuelled gunplay, there is none better.
Doom Eternal is out now for PS4, Xbox One, PC and Google Stadia