We've just blasted and beaten our way into a remote cultist facility deep in the Artic Tundra, hot on the heels of the hell priest Deag Ranak. As we enter this towering death complex its tannoy speakers squeal to life – "The slayer has arrived. All mortally-challenged personnel please be advised." Ahead of us lies a bloody labyrinth of twisted, trap-laden corridors filled with Imps, Hell Knights, Arachnotrons and Blaster Soldiers – a ghoulish, angry army now on high alert and stood defiantly between us and our prey. It's time, ladies and gentlemen, to rip and tear once more.
DOOM Eternal takes the gloriously brutal, breakneck bullet ballet of 2016's excellent series reboot and layers in more of everything. It adds more systems, more upgrades, more guns, more enemies and bigger, more varied arenas and then it cranks the speed and carnage to the max. Within the first ten minutes of this game we've already got our hands on a combat shotgun, a heavy cannon and a chainsaw, there's no time to waste during an interdimensional invasion of earth. To an innocent bystander, the battles which take place here may look like chaotic carnage; a nonsensical mess of blood and bulging eyeballs but, to the slayer player, this is an intricately choreographed and impressively strategic death dance where every movement, every weapon swap, gunshot, explosion and melee attack is a carefully considered choice made in a blood-soaked instant.
There's a basic rhythm here on top of which everything else is gloriously piled – attack relentlessly, retreat to take stock, and never, ever stand still. You'll ferociously unload everything you've got into the endless tide of hellspawn, then quickly switch to damage limitation mode – getting in a gory glory kill to refill your health, torching some fools with your shoulder-mounted flamethrower to grab much-needed armour and whipping out your trusty chainsaw to restock your ammo in the most graphic way possible.
It's the same fast and fluid gameplay that'll be instantly familiar to anyone who played 2016's effort, but it's been successfully expanded upon here – faster, more ferocious and demanding as all hell. Where once the extent of your ability to outmanoeuvre your enemies in the air lay in a simple jump or double jump, here you can dash in multiple directions, swing on scenery or use jet-streams to launch yourself high above the action, perhaps firing off one of your brand new ice bombs before landing with an Earth-shaking thud and shattering your frozen foes into a million satisfying pieces.
All of the expected weapon choices, upgrades and modifications are here – the sticky bombs for your combat shotgun, micro missiles for your heavy cannon and destroyer blades for your ballista to name but a few – but there's also now a need to think extra carefully about which deathstick you use at any given time, with certain enemies requiring special attention if you're to overcome them successfully. This new level of strategy feeds directly into how you choose to outfit and upgrade your gun selection.
Arachnotrons have mounted turrets that need to be taken out to put a stop to their long-range attacks, so maybe you'll add a precision bolt mod to your heavy cannon for that. Cacodemons need a mouthful of explosives at just the right time to give them something to chew on, an ideal job for a shotgun kitted out with sticky bombs. Carcasses have shields which can only be depleted – and made to explode violently – with the pulse rifle, a gun which is also required to down the shields of Doom Hunters, enabling you to blast the sled they ride around on to bits in order to slow them down, disabling their rocket attacks and leaving them open to defeat. All of this is, of course, taking place while you're being relentlessly attacked from every angle by a multitude of other horrors.
Beyond the multitude of ways in which you can kit out each of your weapons, Praetor points also make a welcome return, enabling you to upgrade your suit across five different skill sections. You can super charge your grenades so that they splinter into smaller secondary explosions, make exploding barrels spit out ammo or regenerate, enhance your world map to more easily locate power-ups or make your dash ability recharge faster.
Equippable runes are back too, allowing you add up to three perks at a time to your Doomguy. We chose to enable the skill to launch into glory kills from further away, the ability to slow down time with a press of the left trigger as we flew through the air and an increase in how long enemies were staggered by our attacks. There are a ton of ways in which to play to your own personal strengths and preferences here and they all layer perfectly on top of one another, fusing seamlessly together in that beautiful death dance – a dance which now takes place in bigger, more vertical arenas that allow you much more freedom than ever before to swing and jump and fly high over the heads of your enemies – always moving, always thinking, always killing.
There's a story here too, on the surface a pretty basic narrative that loosely follows on from the events of 2016's game; it doesn't make a whole lot of sense for sure, but it's one that's surprisingly well fleshed-out in the many codec collectables you'll find dotted around the world if you have a desire to dig deeper into the lore presented here. However, much like its predecessor, DOOM Eternal never really tries to hide the fact that its story is more of a means to an end in the grand scheme of things; a way to funnel you furiously along to the next big fight and even Doomguy spends the majority of cutscenes impatiently stomping around during conversations, itching to get back to action.
There's also plenty of platforming – a big departure for a DOOM game and something we initially groaned at the prospect of – but it actually works well here, changing up the pace, giving you some downtime and letting you hunt around levels to get your hands on some of the many secrets and goodies that are planted in all manner of hard to reach little nooks and crannies. These huge levels have been purpose-built to be replayed and explored endlessly and there's a fast travel system that allows you to return to certain points on return trips to hoover up items you may have missed with the help of the game's detailed world map.
Planted across levels you'll also find Sentinel Batteries which can be used to unlock further upgrades, secrets and new areas aboard the slayer's huge Fortress of Doom ship. This floating cathedral is a metal maze of corridors that hides various new skins to outfit your hero in, Mod Bots, Cheat Codes and much more – there's even a little workshop tucked away at the back where you can have a look at all the weapons you've collected and play around on a very 1990s looking PC (Doomguy also has a sweet-looking gaming rig hidden back here, so never doubt his 'Gamer' credentials). There's a ton of collectables and little surprises to work your way through all told, and certainly much more than you could possibly manage to cram into one playthrough.
Indeed, our first blast through DOOM Eternal's campaign really feels like something of a warm-up. Playing on normal mode it's a properly challenging game at points but by the time we're done we've still got so many more secrets to discover, upgrades to unlock and extra challenges to complete – alongside the tantalising prospect of getting good enough to take this thing on at nightmare difficulty. There's also an online Battle Mode to sink your teeth into which was, unfortunately, unavailable to try out until launch day but, even without that, in terms of single player content, this is a satisfyingly meaty package that polishes to perfection everything we loved about the last entry in this franchise.
In terms of performance, on Xbox One DOOM Eternal is a glorious thing to behold; we didn't notice a single stutter, glitch or bug, with the whole relentless onslaught running at a super solid 60fps – and looking and sounding absolutely stunning whilst doing so. Levels here are positively alive with little details, dripping in blood, draped in glistening, otherworldly entrails and you're routinely treated to some spectacular hellscapes as you make your way from one breathless scrap to another.
Glory kills have been expanded upon with lots neat new animations and a couple of genuinely hilarious ways to kill your enemies depending on where and how you choose to grab them as they flash and stagger. Weapons have beautifully detailed models backed up by some properly meaty sound effects and satisfying reloads and Doomguy himself interacts with the world with lots of excellent little animations, giving him a real sense of weight as he bounds around arenas, tearing out eyeballs, stabbing demons with their own horns, ripping and tearing more ferociously than ever before.
DOOM Eternal takes the hugely solid foundations laid down in 2016's excellent franchise reboot and adds more of absolutely everything. This is a bigger, faster, funnier, more relentless and endlessly replayable game than its predecessor and it's one that gives you a ton more variety in how you go about dishing out death to the hordes of hell that await you across its meaty single player campaign. It looks stunning, plays beautifully and is quite simply one of the most strategic, intense and hugely satisfying first-person shooters we've ever played.