Much like every other aspect of 2020, the video game industry just wasn’t the same.
Release schedules were impacted, development came to a halt on many titles and many once promising titles (looking at you, “Cyberpunk 2077”) became victims to a consortium of events that threw a wrench into everything that we knew as 2020. But there were still some bright lights in the darkness that was this pandemic-defined orbit of the sun — and one in particular that brought relief and happiness to the early days of quarantine. I’m talking about the 2020 game of the year, “Doom Eternal.”
Released in March, it’s almost easy to forget that the game came out this year. In many ways, 2020 feels like a decade unto its own. And while it may have fallen off the radar for some who remained disappointed at various aspects of the game, including its emphasis on storytelling and world building, and its chaotic chess match of combat encounters, those two things — among others — make me love the game so much more.
Let’s be honest, everyone had given up on the “Doom” franchise in the dark days between the 2004 release of “Doom 3,” and the eventual relaunch with 2016’s “Doom.” id Software was a shell of its former self. Every founding member had since left the studio. The only real claim to fame the “Doom” franchise had in those days was its inevitable ports to copy machines, calculators and medical equipment. The franchise was seen as a relic of the past — nothing more than a running meme of ports.
But 2016’s “Doom” changed all of that — reinventing the franchise in a way that combined the classic gameplay formula and design philosophies with modern quality-of-life improvements. “Doom” was back, and despite initial sluggish sales, became popular again. A sequel was inevitable.
“Doom Eternal” was perhaps not the game that many initially expected. Its early gameplay demos showcased massive open combat arenas with multiple levels and chaotic gameplay that hadn’t been seen in the franchise since the original two games in the 90s. It was brash, colorful and mesmerizing — all curated and guided by obviously skilled players.
When the game arrived in March, the skill of those players showcasing gameplay in the months leading up to release became very apparent. “Doom Eternal” — somewhat to its detriment at times — is barely organized chaos. It features the most visceral combat in modern first-person shooters with an in-your-face, almost abrasive pacing that constantly keeps the player on their heels and moving. Remaining stationary means you’re dead. There hasn’t been a mainstream AAA shooter with such emphasis on movement and skilled aiming in years. It really is a throwback to classic PC shooters.
That constant emphasis on movement and aiming is only exacerbated by what ultimately becomes a chess match in later levels, as different weapons and attachments are much more effective against different enemies. Then you must master abilities that constantly replenish your health and ammunition to continue to fight. It’s a surprisingly deep combat system that just isn’t found anywhere else the days in the age of modern combat shooters.
The most surprising, and effective, inclusion into “Doom Eternal” was its story emphasis. “Doom” has never been about the story beyond a very angry space marine cutting through hoards of demons. “Doom” in 2016 added hints of a larger story and mythos surrounding the “Doomslayer,” who stayed in Hell in order to continue culling demons. Its sequel ramps that story up to 11 and immediately throws the player straight into the middle of it as Hell is unleashed on Earth, and the Doomslayer pursues a mission of his own.
“Doom Eternal” is unflinching in its vision, which is different than almost anything else in the major AAA gaming space at the moment. There are times when its campaign can be overwhelming, but that’s a good thing. There’s nothing more satisfying than barely escaping an encounter with just a modicum of health and barely any ammunition remaining in your weapons. The game pushes you to your limits, just as the original did back in the 90s. Purists might be put off by its story focus, but there’s nothing wrong with a great camp-filled experience to help accent the gameplay. In an age where so many games are trying to copy each other, it’s great to see id going its own way and building upon what made “Doom” 2016 work, while adding new flourishes. Just always remember, rip and tear — until it is done.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.