Last month, I played about an hour of Doom Eternal: the successor to 2016's anti-capitalism-tinged surprise of the year Doom. Mick Gordon's back as composer; Hugo Martin and Marty Stratton are co-directing once more. And unlike the hell on Earth teaser we've mostly saw at its surprise announcement at E3 2018, we now know that Doom Eternal ventures back to Mars too.
The demo's set about half-way through the game, a group of us in the press are told, with plenty of abilities, guns, and gear already unlocked for us to toy with. A short tutorial exclusively for the demo gets us acclimated, and quite literally, I'm thrown into the action. Admittedly, I struggled with the first encounter, but that's because there's a whole lot more to reckon with than before.
In Doom (2016), the loop is simple: when you're low on health, you rush up to a stunned enemy that is flashing to perform a melee "Glory Kill" and are rewarded health. If you have juice in your chainsaw, you can slice a demon in two to get a healthier dose of ammo than you'd usually find in the environment. The loop is constant, as the demons are vicious and always in your face. If you hear the heightened guitar squeal signifying that you're low on health, you better hope there's a beast nearby that you can tear in half with Doom Slayer's bare hands.
In Doom Eternal, the loop is more complicated, and hard to memorize without the slow buildup that I imagine the campaign is built on. Glory Kills are muscle memory at this point, as we spent the entire 2016 campaign shooting and ripping demons apart. Now, there's more to consider. Glory Kills have a dual purpose: for health, as usual, but now also for powering up your "Blood Punch," a new ability that strengthens your vanilla melee attack and gives a bonus area of effect that damages others close by. Blood Punch also charges slower through the number of kills you chain together.
Ammo is still littered around levels, but it feels considerably minimal. Chainsawing, as a result, is more essential for an ammo boost when you need it. And new to Doom Eternal, you now have a small armor meter too. Armor is gathered through drops around the environments, and also by timing your "Flame Belch"—no, Doom Slayer is not burping fire into monsters' faces—and setting demons on fire. Despite its belch name, it's really just a baby-sized flamethrower that's attached to Doomguy's left shoulder.
It's a lot to remember. In the first combat encounter in my Doom Eternal demo, I died an embarrassing amount. You know what I'm talking about: where you die so much that the game itself starts taunting you on the death screen, baiting you to turn down the difficulty. I persevered, and after finally getting a handle on Glory Kills, Blood Punching, chainsawing, and flame burpin', I made it through the arena and flew through the rest of the demo with relative ease.
There are other changes to the flow of Doom Eternal's combat too. Convenient yellow bars can be found around large combat arenas, and are essentially monkey bars for Doomguy to jump toward, swing on, and get some serious airtime with a double jump and dash. Some environments even have walls for him to cling to and climb, similar to Lara Croft's climbing axes in the Tomb Raider reboots. Guns have mods again, like one rifle's "precision shot" that I found handy in sniping at some smaller demons before I leaped down to an area. (My favorite gun I used the entire demo was the Super Shotgun, which returns from 2016's Doom. It has very limited ammo, but is very satisfying to use when it comes to the smaller combat arenas.)
Which leads me to something else: demons are now "destructible," which means exactly what you think it means. Come across a threateningly big guy with machine guns for arms? No problem, just shoot their arms off. Demons have a specific weak point now, somewhat like this year's Resident Evil 2 remake where you could shoot off the arms and legs of zombies so that they're just torsos waddling around. (I affectionately call this "torso-ing," thank you.)
1-Ups are also now a thing, which net you one extra life if you find yourself in a deadly situation. When a 1-Up is used, the screen desaturates for a moment and you're back in action immediately. It serves as a wake-up call when it happens. When a 1-Up would kick in, it was like being hit in the shin. As if a voice is whispering, "Do better," into Doom Slayer's ear before they tear open a monster's skull.
The demo had plentiful 1-Ups around to collect—by the end of my demo, I had a stockpile of three—though a developer assured me that this won't be the case in the full game. 1-Ups will be a rare goody you find when exploring areas, just like keys and secret items will be rare too. Keys open up Slayer Gates, and while I stumbled on one in my demo, it was locked. Whatever's behind Slayer Gates remains a mystery for the time being, but with Doom Eternal's returning Automap, exploring is going to be just as big of a part of Doom Eternal as it was in its predecessor.
Still, sitting down for the first hands-on with Doom Eternal, I couldn't help but be disappointed at the familiar sight of Mars. Or, at least, Mars sitting in the distance as I ventured through a space station, at one point hopping across reddish rocks in a minor jumping puzzle. A trailer we were shown before our demo kicked off promised more unique environments, and with the pitch for this sequel being hell coming to Earth, it's worrisome to see the battle trek back to familiar territory so quickly just halfway through the game. Considering I fell off the last Doom about two-thirds of the way through after the momentum of its excellent first few hours slowed considerably, I'm hoping that isn't the case with Doom Eternal.
Demos like this, the ones that throw you into the midst of the game with a quick guide of how to do things, are always a struggle. But perhaps it's indicative of Doom's reliance on a digestible loop, a satisfying one at that, that makes it easier to fall into once I stopped mixing up the buttons for chainsaw and Flame Belch.
Doom has always been an aggressive type of shooter, dissuading careful stealth-lovers by embracing loudness. The screeches of its metal soundtrack are as loud as ever; its gore is loud; its weapons are loud. Doom Eternal is just a rowdy game. And with how intense that noise can be, that recognizable combat circle is almost like a comfort; ol' reliable. Even when you're on the brink of death or used a 1-Up when you didn't plan on dying, there is always a demon to destroy at the end of your chainsaw or hands, and a confetti of ammo or health ready to rain upon you. It all helps Doomguy live to fight and intimidate another day. Doom Eternal, maybe unlike the Doom immediately before it, isn't afraid to give you hope.
Doom Eternal is in development for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, including the streaming platform Google Stadia.