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Yesterday I wrote up my thoughts on Doom Eternal, laying out how it turned the pure adrenaline and thrills of its immediate predecessor into something much more complex, and yet also more rote. One thing I didn’t mention in that larger write-up was the game’s approach to jumping and platforming. It’s the other big hook this time around, beyond the various (excessive) changes to combat, and I figured it deserved further discussion. So here’s the thing about the platforming in Doom Eternal: It’s really, really weird. The previous game, 2016’s Doom, had some light jumping stuff that was mostly about hitting buttons to move platforms around and then carefully climbing up them. Really, it was just something to do when you weren’t killing monsters. However, Eternal seems to be under the impression that platforming has always been a crucial part of the Doom formula, and has expanded its jump-based puzzles thusly, creating a weird mashup where you’re playing Doom one minute, and playing first-person Super Mario Bros. in hell the next.
To be fair, first-person Super Mario Bros. in hell sounds pretty cool, and in Doom Eternal, it kind of is. It’s just that the way the platforming ramps up in complexity is absolutely jarring. You have new traversal abilities that are pretty straightforward, like swinging on horizontal poles like a gymnast and dashing in the air like in a Castlevania—but those are actually used in combat and make sense alongside the rest of the stuff you do in Doom. Things get weird when you’re jumping across floating skull platforms that fall into lava pits if you stand on them too long while dodging floating circular chains of fire. You know, like in Super Mario Bros. Literally, that happens in Mario all the time, and what is hell, but a glorified version of Bowser’s castle?
There isn’t even any half-hearted justification for the fire chains or falling platforms (like maybe a demon holding the chain or whatever); it’s just the way things work in platformers, so it’s the way things work here. The game also doesn’t waste time teaching you about how to handle these situations: It assumes you’ll know that some platforms will fall after a moment, and some fire chains will spin in a circle for no reason.
It all gives off an air of confidence that seems extremely unearned, even if the actual mechanics of jumping around in Doom Eternal are fine. It’s almost as weird as if Doomguy periodically got inside a little car and had to race demons in one of Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road levels, and the game didn’t bother to explain why that was suddenly happening. Actually, that would be awesome, and Doom Eternal would probably be better in general if it did more stupid nonsense like that.
Really, everything about Doom Eternal suggests a sillier game than it ended up being. The story is played more straight than it has any right to, there’s a serious attempt to give the Doomguy a backstory, and he has a wall of guitars in the office of his space castle that he can’t even pick up and shred on. Then again, he does have a space castle, so there is a slight streak of silliness. Maybe it’s less that I think it should be stuffed with bad jokes like a Borderlands game, and more that sequences like the fire chains would seem a little less out of place if Eternal embraced its own weirdness.
In the end, we should be thankful that the platforming in Doom Eternal is acceptable at all. It’s not always welcome, but it does work about as well as it needs to, and failing jumps (which will happen) is met with a surprisingly easy punishment. Mario would lose a whole life if those fire chains hit him, but Doomguy just loses a few chips of his armor. Apparently he’s just better at platforming.