The Ultra-Nightmare of DOOM Eternal Collectables
Doom Eternal has some of the most frantic, fast-paced, and intense combat I’ve ever encountered in a video game. It’s ridiculously over the top and it’s (bad pun alert) a hell of a lot of fun. Everything around that kind of isn’t though. To me it’s almost an archetypal demonstration of all the bad excesses of modern game design, which are rendered that much more obvious because they are layered over one of the oldest and best recognised video game IPs.
On the face of it Doom Eternal attempts to tread the same line between tradition and innovation as its predecessor. But whereas Doom 2016 largely succeeded in capturing both the minimalist excess of its 1993 ancestor and the noise, colour, and tropes of modern shooters, Doom Eternal seems to lose sight of this balance in favour of just a growing cacophony of noise and colour.
There are more weapons; there is even a sword and an alternative to the BFG. Most sport two forms of modifications, which can each be upgraded and mastered. There are also health, ammo, and armour upgrades, which have various side effects. Runes, which affect gameplay by enabling powers like time slowdown while in mid-air. Special equipment, including a frag grenade launcher, an ice grenade launcher, and a shoulder-mounted flamethrower that generates armour. Rad suits, so you can swim in toxic water. And suit upgrades, which affect all of the above.
Each of the things above has its own upgrade currency. For example, you need to find special drones to unlock weapon mods, but to upgrade the mods you need to collect weapon tokens, which are earned by completing certain battles within the game. Buy all the mod upgrades and you will unlock the ability to master the weapon, which can be done either by carrying out a specific task (e.g. head-shot 50 enemies with a certain gun) or by spending another type of token to bypass the mastery.
On top of this are all the ‘pointless’ collectables that come as standard in modern video games and which already started to creep into Doom 2016: toys, soundtracks, outfits, etc. Except instead of being just scattered around the game world, a lot of them are now behind locked doors that have to be unlocked by finding special batteries.
All of these unlockables and pick-ups are accompanied by the steady climb of progress bars, notices flashing across your HUD, and end-of-mission recaps, scored with a distinctive punchy industrial bass sound. You’ve done well, Doom Guy: have some stats, some flashing lights, and some pleasant noises!
Then there is the platforming. To Doom Eternal’s credit, it largely works very smoothly, but it wasn’t enough to stop me wondering why Doom should have platforming at all. Not to mention that it’s all sign-posted with a sickly green glow to make sure players know that they can climb this wall or ledge, but not that one – the increasingly prevalent crutch to rescue otherwise confusing level design in modern games.
And finally there is the story. Whereas Doom 2016 quite literally pushed the story out of the way from the get-go (Doom Guy smashed an information point in the first five minutes and was content to relegate exposition to a few surprisingly well-written codex entries), Doom Eternal is intent on shoving it in your face. The story is a terrible Scientology-meets-He-Man re-imagining of Doom II: something about an advanced ancient alien race from another dimension invading Earth to harvest the energy released by human souls in Hell to save their people, with lots of very moody scenes and djenty heavy metal to show just how cool and bad-ass Doom Guy is. (Seriously, why does everything have to be about aliens from alternative dimensions lately? Hell was hell, hell demons were hell demons – let’s leave it at that.)
Put it all together and it’s exhausting. It’s to the credit of the excellent combat that I was willing to grind through all of that collectables, platforming, and story nonsense to get to the next battle. But it also underscores the problem with Doom Eternal. Doom 2016 had some of this guff already but by and large it smartly combined old school excess of gore and minimalism of gameplay with modern technology. In contrast, Doom Eternal is simply an excess of everything, including many of the questionable trends in modern game design.