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Doom Eternal review - cathartic combat, passable platforming, and stupid swimming

I just leaped at a pole, swung, span 180 degrees and fired a sticky grenade into a cacodemon’s mouth before hitting the floor. When it exploded I dashed forward, jumped, swung again, and stabbed that f**ker in its bulging eyeball. All of this happened fluidly, in one smooth motion, in the space of a few seconds. So why, oh why, do I keep accidentally punching every computer terminal, door, and switch I see?

In most games, interact being on the same button as something else would be a complete no-no. Remember jumping whenever you tried to open a chest in Dragon Age: Inquisition? Bad. No. Stop that immediately, developers. Stop it now. In Doom, it’s good actually.

Hear me out...

Interact is on the same button as punch in Doom Eternal, just as it was in Doom 2016, and it means you’re constantly smacking things by accident. I love it. It’s completely in character for Doom Slayer to punch inanimate objects like an angsty teen. In fact, at one point, the game gave me an achievement for punching a gate. That’s because id Software, for the most part, understands what gives Doom its own identity in a world filled with samey first-person shooters.

Doom Eternal is self-aware - angry with a cheeky wink. Combat is about pushing forward instead of holding back, running at the thing that’s killing you and using it as a resource, taking what you need from its bloodied corpse... if those chunks of meat can be called a corpse. It’s about meticulously designed arenas that you can navigate backwards at breakneck pace, always shooting. Doom Slayer is rage personified - a mute Kratos, an agent of blind vengeance who doesn’t listen to anyone. He can punch a gate if he wants to. The game welcomes it. Hell, so does the gate. It’s an honour.

This sequel is about delivering more of that stuff you loved, faster than before. You don’t even start with a pistol this time - there isn’t one. It starts with a short cutscene and you’re straight into Hell on Earth with a shotgun loaded and ready to go. Within the first hour, your shotgun has a detachable grenade launcher and a rapid fire mod, and you can freely switch between the two with a button tap. You also have an assault rifle, which itself has a scope and rocket silo you can swap out mid-battle. Then there’s your shoulder-mounted grenade launcher. The dial starts at 9 and turns up to 999, I need a doctor.

Most of the weapons you find are floating pickups that you run over, automatically pick up, admire, then unload on a demon within seconds. It drip feeds new enemies, new tools, and new tactics constantly. Everything is faster than before.

As well as your arsenal, there are a variety of runes you can equip to tweak your gameplay style, and you can have three active at a time. My preference is one that speeds Doom Slayer up after executing a Glory Kill - those gory finishers you can trigger after sufficiently damaging an enemy - another that allows me to snap to Glory Kill target from further away, and one more that slows down time if I hold alt fire in mid-air. These three runes let me dictate the flow.

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If I’m under assault, I can zoom-snap to a damaged target to take advantage of the invincibility frames of a Glory Kill more easily - as ever, these kills provide you with health that spills from your enemy’s mutilated body. Once I’ve done that, my movement speed doubles for a few seconds, allowing me to create some distance - fair warning, this game is fast anyway and this makes it feel like you’re controlling a Bugatti. When the speed throws off my aim, I can run into a bounce pad, fly into the air, hold alt fire, and rain down a missile barrage in bullet-time. The ability to control the pace adds a lot, giving you the space to put on the brakes and assess the situation on the fly: which demons to prioritise, where to aim, what weapon to use, and where to head to keep yourself out of the firing line without getting boxed in.

It’s astounding how many different enemies there are, and how various combinations of enemy types change the feel of each encounter. Whenever you see a cacodemon flying nearby, your first instinct is to deal with it quickly. If they get close, they can corner you and tear at you with vicious bites. A single grenade in the mouth - either from your shotgun alt fire or your shoulder-mounted launcher - will prep them for a Glory Kill, but you might forget the other demons all around you as you adjust your aim to the skies. Fortunately, the new tool attached to the super shotgun, the meat hook, lets you take the aerial advantage yourself by grappling and pulling yourself towards an enemy. You can combine that with the aforementioned rune to slow time to a crawl, creating heroic moments where you take to the skies, time slows, you land a meaty headshot, and things instantly go back to seat-of-your pants mayhem as you land.

The core gunplay of Doom has never felt as good as this. The new demon degradation system adds heft to each shot, with every bullet searing the flesh from your foes. Now we’re ripping and tearing, and not just when we’re splitting a demon in half with our hands. I also can not understate how satisfying the new sound effect is for exploding heads, like a kid popping their cheek with their finger. Pop! The sound design marries the gunfeel to extraordinary effect here, and this is backed by Mick Gordon’s ear-pounding soundtrack, now with added heavy metal choir. It all combines to put you in the zone, an all-encompassing experience that’s best enjoyed with headphones.

Like those cacodemon gobs, each enemy has a weak point and you can reduce their effectiveness by taking advantage of these achilles tendons. Hop over a charging pinky, spin around and shoot its tail. Blast the guns straight off a cyber mancubus, or wade in with a Blood Punch, smack one, and strip its armour in one move. Snipe the turret from an arachnotron. Fire the plasma rifle to explode energy shields, damaging any dumb demon stood nearby. There’s a tool and tactic for each enemy type, as there was in Doom 2016, but now there’s more nuance to it - you have to switch your brain so you’re calculating kills like a murderous supercomputer.

Even other new tweaks like the flame belch - a short burst of fire from a shoulder-mounted weapon - adds a layer to encounters. Set a group of enemies aflame and every bit of damage you do will make them bleed armour shards, topping you up. Glory Kills for health, flame belch for armour, and your chainsaw is right there to cut demons open for ammo. A new melee weapon called the Crucible Blade unlocks later on, giving you the chance to insta-kill most enemies, though it has limited uses and needs constantly topping up. The BFG also makes a return, though it’s now on the radial weapon menu rather than being this devastating smart bomb with its own dedicated panic button. This works fine for the most part, though the fact you auto switch to your last used weapon when you run out of ammo does occasionally lead to you accidentally firing it and wasting this rare resource.

As well as expanding your arsenal, id Software has opened up the levels in Doom Eternal. Doom 2016 was criticised at launch for its predictable structure, where players moved from corridor to arena, corridor to arena. Here the arenas feel more organic, like part of an environment. They’re more open, more layered, and there are more routes through them and more environmental hazards to take into account. They are large enough and with enough routes through to feel boundless, yet still flowing. These spaces have edges, of course, but they fit into the environment in more natural ways. Portals, swing bars, and bounce pads make for interesting routes through them. And sometimes the game offsets those large arenas by spawning in a demon in close quarters, forcing you to adapt and think fast before the situation gets away from you.

There’s much more visual variety here as well. You’ll walk across the weapons of long-dead titans, and into the chest cavity of a murdered giant. You’ll traverse lakes of molten lava, ascend to the heavens, look out into space, and see Hell on Earth both from ruined cities and the Arctic - literally Hell frozen over. Interiors are extravagant and interconnected, packed with fine details: statues with gold inlays, reflective materials shimmering in the light, elaborate door mechanisms, and mechanical contraptions snapping and whirring into place. It’s a visual step up, a Doom with a view. The story that plays out across this journey is also stronger. It lays it on thick with optional lore, there are many more cutscenes, and it gets across more of Doom Slayer’s character, tying modern Doom to its past and creating an expanded Doomiverse.

You’ll travel to places with names like “Terrordome”, “Super Gore Nest”, and “Slimy Gut Land” - one of those is made up and I’ll let you decide which. You’ll solve puzzles, you’ll fight, you’ll jump, and - in the most misguided development decision I’ve seen in a while - you’ll swim. Let me get this out of the way: Doom Eternal does not need swimming sections. They are easily the low point of the entire game. They’re mercifully short and sparingly used, but swimming is clunky and annoying. There’s also points where you have to swim inside radiation where you can only survive for about ten seconds while wearing a rad suit. It’s not rad at all. It’s a word that rhymes with rad (it’s bad, to be clear). I also want to put the new tentacle enemies that pop out of holes in the ground on blast - they aren’t challenging, they’re just irritating.

The platforming doesn’t get quite as much in the way as I feared, though there’s a fair bit of it. It helps to break up the action, but sometimes the richness of the environments makes it difficult to gauge where you’re meant to jump to, and the ability to double dash in the air means you often judge distances through trial and error. You don’t die when you fall, thank Satan, but there are some platforming sections towards the end of the game that might test your patience. It all goes a bit “it’s-a me, Doomio”.

Other than that, I ran into a few minor bugs, like in one arena where the enemies would infinitely spawn until I reloaded a checkpoint (and this wasn’t because of a Buff Totem, which is a new addition that spawns enemies until destroyed, or an Archvile, which is functionally the same). I also got stuck inside some geometry once, and the final boss got locked into an animation so I couldn’t finish him off without reloading. That’s all I had over my 15 hours of playtime, however - Doom Eternal is buttery smooth, slick, and polished for the most part. Even loading screens are nippy.

When you’re right in the thick of it, zipping around like a toddler after a pack of Smarties, efficiently and methodically laying waste to the hordes of hell at 900 gibs per minute, this is the strongest Doom has ever been. It’s the combat of Doom 2016 expanded in clever ways, built upon in layers, like the skin and muscles of a demon that you remove in chunks with each trigger pull. Playing it is like catharsis, a virtual wall punch for the modern age.

Version tested: PS4 Pro - a review copy was provided by Bethesda. New multiplayer offering Battle Mode was not live at the time of writing, but we'll bring you some impressions once it is.

Here are the Doom Eternal unlock times to get you ready for launch.

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