Theres a Saturday morning cartoon quality to the tone of everything, Hugo Martin, Doom Eternals creative director, said to begin our interview. Because, I mean … its Doom.
And hes right. Thats it. I had just played nearly three hours of the new Doom the sequel to id Softwares 2016 gem, which was both my personal, and Polygons collective, game of the year and had a smile glued to my face the entire time.
After all of the acclaim, its hard to recall that Doom (2016) had been in development hell (lol) for years before finding its footing, and reemerged nearly a decade after being announced as Doom 4. And when it was finally released, it was done so comparably quietly, as if its launch was a sigh of relief rather than a celebratory scream.
So imagine my surprise, almost four years later, to play Doom Eternal, a game that feels like its predecessor now with all the pomp and personality a game like this demands. Doom, in all its incarnations, is absolutely a Saturday morning cartoon. And Doom Eternal gets that, and leans into that, more than any Doom game Ive ever played.
While Doom (2016) may be a nearly perfect game and I wont hear arguments to the contrary a case could be made that its heavy metal, composition book trappings often veered too far into the self-serious and not enough into the self-aware. Sure, the jokes were there, tucked away in codecs and collectibles. But Doom Eternal foregrounds the fun. The team at id has cut away at the grim exterior to reveal the franchises inner slapstick.
A ridiculous premise with a sincere execution. Thats our premise, Martin said.
And AAA execution, series executive producer Marty Stratton added in. Thats one of the best parts of working on Doom these days. We get to make a big-budget, AAA game with an outlandish premise. We dont have to take ourselves too seriously.
Imagine if Sam Raimi made a true sequel to Evil Dead 2, but he had Avengers budget. Thats what Doom is, Martin said, making it clear this concept of big-budget pulp has been a topic inside the studio throughout development.
Like any good B-film, Doom Eternal isnt exactly subtle. Its additions include Blood Punch, a powered-up melee attack that you fill by performing the games trademark Glory Kills, and the Flame Belch, a shoulder-mounted flamethrower that sets enemies on fire, thereby extracting precious armor shards. And while I didnt encounter this specific narrative element in my time playing the game, Martin highlighted perhaps the best example of this in our interview: In the game, the Doom Slayer (i.e., Doomguy) has a headquarters that is like a castle floating in orbit around Earth.
Its name? The Fortress of Doom, Martin exclaims.
Why? Because its fucking awesome, thats what it needs to be called. And so it is. Everything about Doom is done with a wink and a smile, even as youre breaking the femur of a demon and shoving it in his face … or one of the arm bones.
The tibia, Stratton adds, laughing.
Its a blood-soaked tightrope. Making a game fun, self-aware a sincere execution of a ridiculous premise, as they stated without making it actually gross or upsetting.
Throughout the development of Doom (2016), we continually chipped away at what it meant to be Doom and what that tone was. And we got better at it, Stratton said.
With the rate of violence going on, per minute, in Doom its going to be really hard to stomach after awhile, Martin added. Its got to be fun, its got to be a smile. If every [Glory Kill] was something tonally like Saw, youd just be like, I cant handle this right now.
I can confirm theyre definitely not like Saw. For one of the Glory Kill animations for the Cacodemon, you grab its eye which evidently has a squishy quality, like a foam toy and tear its entire floating red face apart, to which the monster responds with a kind of Scooby Doo-esque yipes. It is, in a word, silly.
The evolution of Doom, and how Doom Eternal seeks to surprise players while staying fundamentally true to the spirit of franchise, is felt another way in this latest outing: locomotion. While Doom (2016) correctly identified speed as a core tenet of the franchise, Doom Eternal layers additional mechanics on top of that formula, including some light puzzle elements in between the games combat arenas.
Obviously, Doom (2016) had its fair share of platforming and puzzles Id argue each combat arena is a puzzle in and of itself but id is looking to upgrade these incidental combat areas for Doom Eternal with not only the double jump from 2016, but an air dash, climbing mechanics, and a monkey bar swing.
Its about adding new things to the game to keep Doom Eternal engaging from beginning to end, Martin said about the games new acrobatic elements. A critique of Doom (2016) that is really fair is, its hallways and arenas, hallways and arenas. […] But in between the arenas, we had to do more. We had to do more than give you great skate parks to murder demons in; we needed to make the areas between the skate parks just as engaging with these little combat puzzles to be solved.
The level presents a challenge to you. The demons present a challenge to you. And solving the level design is as engaging as defeating the demons. We dont want it to become at all 50/50 Doom is about murdering demons, you know?
Part of matching these new incidental combat areas to the games core combat arenas is the goal of mastery. Its skill-based platforming, Martin says. We want the game to be replayable. A traversal puzzle that was a little difficult to figure out in the first level becomes second nature by the third level, and then replaying the first level, you can just kind of Tony Hawk your way through it and theres a satisfaction to that.
Tony Hawking my way through demon murder skate parks, then taking a break at the Fortress of Doom as it orbits an Earth covered in continent-sized flaming pentagrams, sounds like the pubescent fever dream of an entire generation raised on the original.
Which is to say, as a father of two who struggled to find time to play the last Doom game though I absolutely did find that time I look forward to waking up early on weekdays, well before I prep the kids for school, to savor a Saturday morning cartoon.
Doom Eternal is scheduled to be released March 20 on Google Stadia, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox One. A Nintendo Switch version is also in development.