For what my money’s worth, the new Doom games are some of the best of this generation. Doom (2016) and its sequel, Doom Eternal, don’t try to be something they’re not. They know exactly why you’re playing: to rip and tear.
I think that’s what makes them fantastic games. They’re pure and focused experiences, self-aware enough to get away with their should-be-gross-but-so-ridiculous-it’s-actually-funny levels of gore. But also technically solid enough to be some of the best-playing games in recent memory. There’s never any mystery or surprises when loading up a new Doom game. Once I hit start, I’m going to go fast, I’m going to kill everything in front of me, and it’s going to feel amazing. That’s all I need right there. I’m skipping all that story. I’m not considering whether Doom has a grand message it’s trying to convey. I’m just running and gunning through the hordes of demons in front of me.
Developer id Software knows this is what you want to do. There’s plenty of story and lore there, but it’s unobtrusive and easily skipped. If you want that story, go wild. But I couldn’t care less about why Doom Guy is doing Doom Guy stuff. For me, paying attention to Doom’s story feels like reading the phonebook before calling your crush. It’s a lot of unnecessary work before doing what you actually want to do. The fact that Doom caters to this, I think, is what makes the game excel. At almost every point, it never wants to get in the way of your fun. At almost every point.
The new Doom Eternal DLC, The Ancient Gods, is more Doom. And that’s fantastic. That’s the best thing it could be. I’m having a blast in the new levels, and the emphasis on difficulty has been a great test of my skill. I’m constantly switching through my weapon wheel, running, jumping, and evading the literally dozens upon dozens (honestly, it could be hundreds, I’m not sure) of enemies it’s throwing at me in any given encounter. It’s so fast and so vicious, and I have no clue why I’m doing what I’m doing in the game. I love it.
But then The Ancient Gods throws one of these damn platforming sections my way and I consider tearing my hair out.
The last thing I want from Doom is to have my momentum slowed down. The whole point should be to become a blazing fast blur of blood and guts. Anything but speed is antithetical to the experience it’s pitching its players. And to be fair, this is a problem in Doom Eternal, too. On console, both that game and this new DLC bookend combat arenas with platforming sections that stall the pacing to a crawl and ask for a level of precision they just don’t give their players. Because of this, the platforming becomes a tedious exercise in trial and error as you try to meet the exact requirements the game asks of you. It slows the experience down to a crawl. That’s not what I signed up for. The Ancient Gods introduces a platforming puzzle that is a particularly egregious example of this.
Here’s the set-up: Doom guy punches a switch that activates a moving platform that moves into place near a swinging-bar. The objective is simple: you jump, swing, and then land on the platform before it moves back to its original position, which then allows you to proceed. The issue is that this platform moves at about the same pace as a glacier completing a cross-country triathlon. If you miss the moving platform, you’re reset back to the beginning of the section, and then you have to wait for the platform to complete its cycle before you can restart. This can take upwards of 30 seconds, completely stalling the pace of the game while you sit and wait.
Here’s direct footage from my game:
In the context of the rest of the game, this is a serious blow to pacing, and moves the Doom series in a direction away from what I think makes it special. And for what it’s worth, this platforming puzzle isn’t the worst one I’ve encountered – it’s just the one I could get to the quickest to capture footage. An earlier puzzle took me numerous tries to get right. Worse, it took a lot of patience and waiting for the slow animation to complete itself.
Doom is about speed. At its best, it feels like you’re a tornado of carnage, ripping through the world with no care of who or what you destroy in the process. It’s a power fantasy, selling the idea that nothing can stop you or your momentum. The speed and the way it affects the pacing of Doom do a lot of the lifting to amplify that fantasy, giving players a tangible sense that they are unstoppable. Until they hit a platforming section, where they feel like an ant, stopped by the insurmountable challenge of jumping onto a moving platform, and punished with that speed being taken from them for missing jumps the game didn’t give them the ability to perform as precisely as it wanted.
I certainly do not think this ruins The Ancient Gods. It’s still fun and I still want to play it rather than do things like, you know, work. But I can’t stop thinking about these platforming sections, and how after Doom Eternal’s similar issues, this seems indicative of where id wants to take the series. It’s a direction I’m not sure I agree with. When I play Doom, I don’t want to ever stop. I’m buying the power fantasy in bulk, stocking up on it for a rainy day. When that fantasy is in supply, you best believe I’m a happy customer. But when Doom removes that fantasy, even for only 30 seconds, I’m immediately rocked back to Earth, pulled from the experience it was selling me so well. So please, for the love of God, stop slowing Doom down.
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