Horror game aspires to be Evil Dead 2-type of sequel

By Gieson Cacho // The Mercury News (TNS)

Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, Stadia
Genre: First-person shooter
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: id Software
Rating: M, for mature

After reinventing a legendary franchise, what do you do for an encore? That was a question facing director Hugo Martin when creating Doom Eternal.

The answer wasn’t to make the same game all over again. That would have been repetitive; instead, he and his team looked at the flaws in their first game and expanded the abilities of the protagonist Doom Slayer. The result is a game that appears vastly improved from the original.

Martin compares the difference between Eternal and Doom (2016) as the divide between The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. The original film introduced players to Ash and the concept of the Necronomicon while the sequel refined those ideas and pioneered the horror-slapstick genre.

When played correctly, Doom Eternal is a ballet of bullets and violence. Players must constantly move. They shoot an enemy in the face, jump over to the next victim, perform a glory kill, switch weapons, disembowel another and finish by collecting the dropped supplies. Players can deviate somewhat from this formula, but Martin said the game would nudge players toward the intended style.

After three hours of playing a build of the game, Doom Eternal hits the familiar notes of the original. Players will encounter arenas, where they’ll have to run and gun. To survive, they’ll have to manage their ammo, health and armor. Players will perform glory kills to restore health and run around to find ammo for their weapons.

The game’s depth comes in how players handle enemies. They could concentrate fire on big foes such as Arachnotron and hit its weak spot — a gun on its rear — so they can wear it down. Afterward, they can cut down the fodder by popping them open like pinatas with the chainsaw and collect ammo power-ups afterward. That’s how players keep their stocks healthy. How they manage enemies adds a strategy element.

One of the bigger changes in Doom Eternal is the focus on traversal. The developers give the Doom Slayer more moves and tools to whip around a level. Players have a double jump, dash and a wall climb. When these moves are layered with objects such as monkey bars, players can reach seemingly out-of-the-way locales.

Although players will spend plenty of time slaughtering demons, Doom Eternal also uses traversal for puzzles and exploration. The new moves let id Software expand the level design. Stages are more open and have different paths and shortcuts. Players will be tasked with jumping on platforms that drop in lava and leaping between electric circuits that block their passage. Other areas encourage players to wander off the beaten path to find a secret collectible or power-up.

Judging by how Doom Eternal manages to sink its teeth into players with its challenging but fair game systems, the campaign won’t have trouble holding fans’ attention. The game rewards skillful players with power-ups and better gear. Completing encounters is how you can earn gun mod points.

If the original pointed to a new direction for the franchise, the sequel takes the series headlong down that road. It fleshes out and refines the systems that Doom (2016) hinted at and establishes a firm identity for the future of the franchise.

Doom Eternal is scheduled for release March 20 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch and Stadia.