This "longform" article examines FPS speedruns—mainly Doom Eternal—and why I don't usually spectate them. It also examines classic Doom and Build-engine games like Blood, and explains why watching FPS speedruns can still be a fun activity. These opinions come from years of independent study and graduate work, including interviews with various speedrunners about Doom.
Doom Eternal is speedrun... relatively often; Blood is hardly speedrun at all. As a Gothic ludologist, though, I find Blood far more interesting to watch and think about. Curiously I actually wrote "Hell-blazers," an interviewing series on Doom Eternal. I also grew up with the Doom franchise, and have enjoyed it since its inception. However, after grad school I did a fair amount of independent research on Blood (motivated by Civvie's first "Pro Blood" video). Despite my initial interest in Doom Eternal, I haven't enjoyed watching the game being speedrun lately.
I love speedrunning. I also understand how FPS helped pioneer speedrunning. This being said, I actually prefer to watch 2D side scrollers like Metroidvania (re: Super Metroid or Hollow Knight) or Mario. RNG-heavy games aren't that interesting because the metaplay revolves around strategies incumbent on game-provided "dice rolls." RPG speedruns are a good example, but also have the added problem of constant menuing. Menuing is not fun to watch; dice rolls can be, but the speedrunner really has to sell the fact that they're rolling a "die." Caleb Hart is especially good at doing this—not just when literally rolling a D20 for his audience, but also when FF7 runs fail to give him good damage rolls during speedruns.
I enjoyed the prospect of Doom Eternal speedruns when the game was new. However, my enjoyment has steadily decreased. This can be explained by several different factors:
- Doom Eternal's gameplay is too fast, with lots of rapid-fire weapon-swapping, scoped attacks and blurry movement.
- The glitches are boring or game-breaking.
Comparatively a speedrunning powerhouse like Mario 64 is easy to watch thanks to the reliable camerawork, and glitches that don't break the entire game. So-called "major glitches" like backwards long jump are situational and category dependent. Doom Eternal has glitchless runs, but the issues above still remain: The gameplay is already so over-the-top (and fast) that it's hard to tell what's going on, let alone appreciate it as extraordinary.
I don't prefer FPS speedruns for several reasons:
- Perspective (camera)
- Weapon Balance
Skipping is the first problem I have with FPS speedruns. This can be a cheat, such as moving through walls with cheat codes (also called "clipping"). Or it can be the player simply walking past enemies. Regardless of the method, games like Doom are not designed to visually support this behavior. Besides shooting enemies, there's little to do in them except open doors or hump walls. When you don't shoot enemies in a "pure FPS" (an FPS focused entirely on shooting enemies), you're not just skipping the intended gameplay experience; you're skipping a large part of what makes the gameplay interesting to watch.
"Interesting" is subjective; the fact that a game lacks a visual framework during metaplay is not.
Metroidvania gameworlds hold up surprisingly well when speedrun. Metroid speedrunners engage in intended gameplay (skipping items) because the gameworld was deliberately made to support these actions. Classic Metroid allows for 100%, any% or low% without employing any serious glitches, if any at all. If the player skips a lot of the items or none at all, they're still platforming (the advertised form of play—platformer). Beyond that, the player could shoot as few enemies as possible; they'd still be navigating a maze, a structure designed to be explored in specific ways.
In other words, the mazes in Metroid are designed to allow for variable routing and sequence breaks. The maze, combat and platforming form the core gameplay experience in "classic" Metroid titles. Conversely classic Doom is functionally 2D (no jumping or Y axis); the "pacifist" player can only sprint forward, running from point A to point B. Not only is the advertised form of play effectively deconstructed for something unintentional; the end result is visually barebones, thanks largely to how doors and keys work in Doom.
In Doom, the player doesn't open doors by shooting them. In Metroid, you do. Shooting doors and bombing tunnels is essential to exploration. There's always fireworks, and these grow more extravagant as the story progresses: Late-game doors require bigger and bigger ordinance to unlock (beams, missiles, super missiles, power bombs, boss keys). As Samus progresses, she backtracks through the same areas; rising action is visually communicated inside a closed space. Backtracking isn't possible in Doom. You simply move over color-coded keys, and use them to progress to the next disconnected level. Repeat. It's repetitive, but it doesn't convey the same visual crescendo that Metroid does.
I'm not attacking the metaplay for Doom, which can be incredibly complex; I am saying its metaplay isn't visually reinforced by the game itself. 3D FPS like Quake, Goldeneye and Perfect Dark work somewhat better by at least allowing the player to jump. Retro FPS like Ion Fury place the runner inside a Build-engine-type world, one similar to Duke Nuke'em 3D, Shadow Warrior and Blood. Build environments resemble actual places more than those in Doom. Not just visually in terms of polygon count, but also 2.5D functionality. The player can climb on things, open doors, and flush toilets. Some of this is window dressing (re: toilets). But some of it really expands what the player can do.
My personal rule of speedrunning: If the avatar can do more, the speedrunner can do more. The controls and gameworld in Super Metroid give the player tremendous leeway. Hence, the game's enduring relevance and speedrunning legacy 27 years later. FPS-wise, Ion Fury showcases the abilities of the player to favor FPS platforming over basic gunplay (see also: Civvie's review). Despite the fact that much of the fireworks are centered around the splatter of a well-placed headshot (or a shotgun fired from the hip), Ion Fury's gameworld and player controls are both flexible enough to allow for visually interesting movement strategies. In classic Doom, the player can only run on an X axis; in Ion Fury the player—thus the runner—can do much, much more.
After Doom 3, Doom 2016 reexamined Doom in 3D. The end result was a world that allowed for visually interesting, semi-open-ended exploration (some levels have branching routes). Doom Eternal moved away from this design, expanding the control scheme (re: double dash, the meat hook). Monster combat is the focus, and is mostly framed inside kill boxes. The game has platforming sections, but these are clearly "filler." Unlike Metroid, these segments don't mesh very well with the core gameplay experience. "The Ancient Gods" has doubled down on the monster combat, providing linear, scripted levels wherein the runner must kill faster and faster in order to progress rapidly.
Perspective, or camera, is the second problem I have with FPS speedruns. The perspective, or camera, is almost always in the 1st person, thus hiding the character behind the camera lens (re: the screen). By comparison, Metroidvania typically show the player character. The hero feels dwarfed by the space around them, and by the monsters. This is fun to watch. I do like Doomguy's floating head, but I can't see him move through the gameworld; I can only hear him take damage.
I should mention how the FPS survival horror is more popular nowadays (re: RE7, Amnesia, Alien: Isolation). I also confess a special sense of joy in playing Midway's 1995 PSOne port for Doom (and watching speedruns of it). To this, it's not always an issue to be in the 1st person. It bothers me when it is a problem, because the player I'm watching is forced to play in the 1st person; thus, I must watch them play in the 1st person and suffer the same issues vicariously. I say "forced" because the format of the game determines the POV. Even if this POV can be altered, it's seldom a good idea because the game designed to be played in whatever POV works best. Usually the optimal POV is the intended POV.
It's worth noting that FPS often have the added problem of unfinished 3rd person avatars. Or, if these avatars are finished, they animate horribly or worse, block the player's vision. For the person watching the speedrun, this would be like having someone stand up in the middle of the isle, blocking the projection with their body. I enjoy 3rd person or side-scrolling speedruns because they let me watch the player's avatar move through the world. Watching someone move is easier to track because the camera is centered on them. Conversely a 1st person POV can quickly become a mess if the camera moves too quickly (watch the live feed for a camera spinning through the air to see what I mean).
Unregulated speed is my third problem with FPS speedruns, though only sometimes. Many classic FPS heroes are incredibly fast. For example, classic Doomguy clocks in at 57 mph, and can outrun his own rockets. Build engine heroes are comparably quick, and the 2016 Slayer can "Gauss jump" till the cows come home. This being said, the classic FPS is usually fairly grounded. It tempers the hero's speed in various, visually interesting ways. Classic Doom maintains tension through finite resources (more on that in a bit). So does Blood, but its levels are more complex and packed with explosives (say nothing of the hyperbolic gore).
Though quick, these characters are checked by the world. Doom 2016 relies on similar strategies. The Slayer's movements are slower, thus easier to track; they also have an ebb and a flow that isn't full-throttle 24/7.
Not so for Doom Eternal. The 2020 Slayer is much, much faster than his 2016 counterpart. However, his "playground" is largely "gated" by monsters. In this respect, 2020 Slayer is far too fast (and singular) for his own good—especially during speedruns I'm trying to watch. Casual playthroughs involve players that are already going quite fast (running, jumping, gunning, etc). A speedrunner can go faster, but this can make things hectic. If the monsters are trapped inside the room with the Slayer, then we're trapped inside the Slayer's head. We're forced to follow him no matter what, and he's often all over the place.
A Doom Eternal runner can skip monsters, but only with major glitches. This gives the player little to do but race towards the finish line of a very empty track. It's the worst kind of speedrunning to spectate—the kind that literally skips the game. Sure, the tech under the hood is fascinating (re: Super Mario World "completed" in 42 seconds). There's still nothing to watch when it's used.
Teleporting is my fourth issue with FPS speedruns. Teleporting is fine in moderation, but most FPS don't even need them. Classic Doom uses teleporters to move the player from one part of a level to another. However, these can't bridge the classic FPS model (discrete episodes and maps). Using level-endemic teleporters, the player goes from the start of the level to the end. Repeat. No cross-level teleporting involved (unless the exit switch counts; glitch-wise, I'm not sure if "wrong warps" exist in classic Doom or not).
Doom Eternal is a bit different. If the runner kills all the monsters and needs to backtrack, he can teleport inside the level using the in-game menu. Menuing can be visually dull, because it skips exploration, but backtracking isn't Doom Eternal's strong suit. For better or worse, skipping it is a mercy.
Metroidvania, my area of expertise, do exploration (and teleporters) much better. For starters, Metroid games don't generally feature teleport options—excluding Metroid's restart feature. This would make a return in Axiom Verge, and is basically a form of menuing. I much prefer the teleport network from SotN, which helps Alucard expedite backtracking. He still has to travel to the waypoints. This travel time guarantees movement through the maze (menu teleporting doesn't). I like this; for me, movement through Gothic castles is the whole damn point, and I certainly want to see more of it (even in speedruns).
A more modern example, Hollow Knight features all three. It has menu teleporting. It also has trams, but these are directly linked to adjacent areas. The "dreamnail," once unlocked, allows the player to make their own waypoints. This is technically optional, but speedrunners will use all three if it means going faster. I'll be happy as long as stretches of unbroken motion occur inside the spooky castle. This is seldom boring because the hero's movement evolves throughout the game; the knight moves differently at the start, middle and end of the game, and he moves (and fights) differently depending on the routes he takes. Different routes, different items, and at different points. Visual variety is the key to rewatchability.
Doom Eternal is an FPS; its world isn't a single, interconnected maze, but divides into separate stages. However, these stages aren't "mini mazes" like 2016's; they're more straightforward, linear. Often, areas are gated off, and cannot be accessed unless the player kills everything in front of them. Killing is the focus, not "clever" exploration. I say "clever" because Doom Eternal doesn't encourage alternate routing or sequence breaking like Metroid does, or Doom 2016. The only point is to kill, but killing is sped up to ridiculous levels and viewed inside the Slayer's helmet. The gore is good—when I can actually see it—but some of the audio-visuals leave much to be desired.
The next four issues deal with Doom Eternal in isolation: aesthetics, weapon balance, itemization, and ease-of-action.
The first issue I have with Doom Eternal speedruns is aesthetics. When I say "aesthetics," I'm referring specifically to visuals and music. This area is more subjective, and boils down to personal taste. Nonetheless, I have a lot of experience with metal, videogames and horror. Not only do I enjoy a wide variety of each; it's also my area of study as a Gothic ludologist.
I'll start with Doom. Classic Doom is a curious mix, and takes its visual cues from actual gargoyles, toy guns, and clay demons; its music is MIDI metal, but also post-punk, '70s prog and '90s grunge. Doom 3 features elegant, nefarious concept art and dark, industrial levels, but minimal music (the opening track is pretty great, but rips off Tool's "Lateralus"; it also features Chris Vrenna, a former NIN drummer). Doom 2016 had a giant corporation being re-colonialized by the demonic oppressed, underpinned by some desaturated visuals (inspired by late dystopian surrealist Zdzisław Beksiński) and excellent level music (re: "Rip and Tear," "BFG Division"). This music was composed by Nu-Industrial auteur (and shitty co-worker) Mick Gordon.
As observed in my original review, Doom Eternal's music isn't bad. Parts of it come alive, though especially when making obscure nods to older games (Diablo) and movies (Predator). Nonetheless, it's fairly journeyman and rote; or, as my partner once said, Doom Eternal's OST feels like "industrial lite"—music written for people who have never listened to industrial before (a statement Under the Mayo* would undoubtedly disagree with). For her, the music builds, but never climaxes. It hints at NIN, Rabbit Junk or Front Line Assembly but doesn't go anywhere with it. You'd be better off listening to those bands instead (see, also: Reznor's soundtrack for The Vietnam War).
*Keep in mind, Mayo is a person who has repeatedly celebrated Doom Eternal as "perfect**," calling it "one of the greatest games he's ever played." I can understand his motives, but am not convinced they have much to do with the visuals or the music. The guy has a very specific playstyle called "Brawler Mode," one the game allows for in spades. Also, while I admittedly like his content quite a bit—Mayo is incredibly inventive and idiosyncratic—he is, by his own admission, not a speedrunner.
**The actual quote is "first person shooter perfection" according to Under the Mayo. This means the game has flaws, just not in the FPS department. Semantics aside, I still don't agree with him; my criticisms center around Doom Eternal as an FPS. Even if the FPS elements were perfect (they're not), they'd still be married to, and bogged down by, imperfect platforming and narration.
For me, Doom Eternal's checkered music production history leaves a bad taste in my mouth: Mick's music for the second game was delivered late, forcing Chad Mossholder, id's lead audio engineer, to have to piece everything together himself. Chad and id really got a lot of hate from fans, and Mick stayed quiet about it. I don't care if the guy is an artist that "everybody" loves; compared to famous FPS OSTs from artists like Bobby Prince, Trent Reznor or Sonic Mayhem—hell, even Mick himself—the OST for Doom Eternal just isn't that great. It doesn't break any new ground, and it feels like a double CD release that could've been trimmed down to just the "combat" tracks. You know, the ones with an actual pulse.
The narrator voiceovers in Doom Eternal frankly suck. Doom 2016 largely used cutscenes to show Dr. Hayden annoying the Slayer. It played off the idea, satirizing it. You can't turn Hayden off in Doom Eternal. The faster the runner goes, the more lines Hayden tries to read, until sometimes you're stuck listening to multiple scripted voice lines at once. It's unfortunate to say the least. The lack of a proper, interesting story doesn't help. It's all comic book schlock, delivered unironically. Strangely enthusiastic gamers like Midnight are easily impressed, or at least act like it when they call Doom Eternal "totally epic!" For me, the He-man-style action figures and Evil Dead 2 pastiche feels a little dated and gauche. Big yawn.
The problem isn't the story. I loved the "plot" to classic Doom (which was basically an Aliens "reskin"). However, classic Doom largely told its story through action (the old paperback novels were also guilty pleasures, I suppose). Doom Eternal spells everything out, and in boring ways (no satire). No matter how fast they are, the speedrunner cannot avoid any of this; every single run will have Hayden droning on and on, listing off the name of whatever ruin you teleport to next.
Not only this, but I must watch everything Doom Eternal visualizes through the runner's "eyes" (the screen): the good, the bad, and the ugly. These visuals are preserved in Doom Eternal speedruns, but they don't appeal to me—either as a speedrun spectator or as a Gothic ludologist. The textual and visual themes in Doom Eternal aren't merely the comic book sort; they've moved away from the uncanny and the awe-inspiring in favor of something tacky and frantic. Gone are the dead eyes of the revenant, the eye-less face of the Hell Knight, or the cyclopean Mancubi. Everything remains muscular, but looks far too human in the face department.
Doom's palimpsest, Evil Dead, faced a similar tone shift, moving away from the serious Gothic themes present in Evil Dead 1 and embracing sexist, unironic stupidity in Army of Darkness. This change might seem unsurprising in Doom Eternal, especially considering Hugo Martin cites Evil Dead 2 as his inspiration for the game. Nonetheless, the studio's 2016 lampooning of the infamously bad Doom comic gave me hope; Doom 2016 didn't pander like Doom Eternal did. This pandering is on full display in Doom Eternal speedruns, which force the runner (and me) to pass through the carnival house.
Conversely an FPS like Blood is a Gothicist's love letter. It has legitimate moments of dread, terror and panic, the developers referencing a plethora of classic horror texts with skill and grace. There's the occasional wink-and-a-nod from the protagonist Caleb, but he isn't obnoxious or long-winded. The levels he navigates are American horror pastiche, but successfully revive Gothic feelings*: hauntology, or past language trapped in the present (a sense of otherness); the uncanny (the blank eyes, moving objects, and spooky locations); abjection (alienation, or gore); Numinous atmosphere, or the presence of supernatural power; and terror and horror (showing and hiding the "dreaded evil").
*For more information on these topics, watch me and my partner's Gothic podcast, Dreadful Discourse.
Doom Eternal doesn't do any of this. Instead of recreating old horror stories (and their affects) in videogame form, Doom Eternal opts to expand a pre-existing world largely devoid of Gothic feelings. Doom (1993) was a tremendous game; its software was featured on more computers than Windows, and its icons became a staple of '90s American culture. Doom Eternal uses its lore to give these icons, well, lore! The problem isn't the lore itself (though frankly it's rather conventional and basic), so much as how it's conveyed. The stories aren't told through the game; they're accessed through its menus. Sorry, Under the Mayo, but there's a difference.
Remember what I said about menus? They're boring. More to the point, the codex is never something a speedrunner will access during a run. A game like Hollow Knight has ghosts that explain their own deaths. Even so, much of the plot is told through action (not cutscenes)—a feat it does remarkably well. The "story" in Doom Eternal is largely kaiju pastiche (Hugo Martin worked on Pacific Rim) and standard videogame fare. The levels are disjointed, with no connecting visual themes. Some would call this "variety" (see: Metroid, Mega Man). For me, it feels fragmented, and a little emotionally empty. A gorgeous but vapid tableaux of floating signifiers.
I'm not the intended/ideal audience here, but I am the actual audience. I also love Doom. The classic games aren't exactly intellectual, but they don't wear "dumb" on their sleeves either. Doom Eternal is so stupid it hurts. It's quite possibly the dumbest Doom entry ever, and this feels very intentional. Sorry to rain on anyone's parade, but metal, videogames and horror can be intelligent. John Carmack certainly was. Hugo and company aren't stupid, but I can't help but question their motives just a smidge when Doom Eternal is so profoundly moronic, so staunchly "apolitical." Then again, maybe curious tweets like these are just a silly joke.
Even when not being speedrun, Doom Eternal tells its story through visual action. Alas, this battle-forged tale doesn't elicit the Gothic sensations I've grown to love. I don't feel awe, disgust, or fear-stricken imagination; I don't feel a sense of the Other, of the past; or any of these things combined with legitimate, tyrannical power. There's no sense of self-destruction, sanity damage, or dubious transformation—only the myth of male imperium. Unfortunately impervious supermen make for terrible Gothic heroes. Even a sexist bigot like Lovecraft understood that much.
The sixth issue I have with Doom Eternal speedruns is weapon balance. At least in terms of speed, Doom 2016 was nicely balanced. The hero isn't too mobile; he feels like "Bruce Lee with a shotgun on a skateboard." Cool. In other words, the speed of the character is human—fast, but filmed in just the right way to capture all the gung fu action. The gameplay might not technically be the hardest, but I can see what's happening. Furthermore, it encourages some legitimately tense moments spurred by limited resources.
From a balancing standpoint, my biggest complaint is the Doom Eternal combat loop. You can't stockpile ammo, so the game turns the enemies into loot containers. The player can resupply whenever they want, and those guns destroy everything. I'm sure this is fun to do as the player, and hard to do as a speedrunner. For me, the spectator, it forces the player into a core gameplay loop that involves repetitive kill animations and bright explosions of color. It's like having your face jammed against an exploding firework—uncomfortable. I know the colors were "an improvement" over 2016, added to differentiate the ammo types. This feels largely unnecessary given how fast speedrunners move. Eventually id provided render modes that make the game less garish. These look cool, but speedrunners don't use them!
Doom Eternal speedruns are unquestionably difficult. That isn't the issue. The issue is that healing/reloading options aren't optional, but remain visually noisy. The runner must do them no matter what (excepting "any%" runs) because their giant-killer guns are ripping and tearing nonstop. It's like trying to reload a MG42 that never stops shooting. The more enemies the gun shoots, the more its targets spew rainbow phosphorous. Not even Aliens or Saving Private Ryan had this much carnage. There were lulls in between. Pretty long ones, actually.
The hardest portions are the early levels, when few items are acquired. But once these are, the run becomes "easier" (at least in the intended, non-speedrunner sense). In this switch—from total lack to plenty of guns—the player gains access to numerous weapons and abilities that aren't very well balanced. They deal stupid amounts of damage in a manner almost too fast to watch. Think of A Fistful of Dollars, when Clint Eastwood kills four bad guys in a single blaze of gunfire. Imagine this happening for the entire movie—while Clint is flying through the air!
That sounds kinda awesome. Unfortunately Doom Eternal is less like A Fistful of Dollars and more like John Woo's Hardboiled, mainly the extended hospital shootout, played on repeat, ad nauseam. The effect this has on me as a spectator is not unlike the extended sniper scene from Inglorious Basterds sending Fredrick Zoller running from the theater. It's tiring. Don't mistake me: I loved the hall shootout from The Matrix, and the extended shootouts from The Wild Bunch. Sooner or later, though, you cross the threshold from exhilarating to exhausting.
Let's assume for the sake of argument that the visibility issues in Doom Eternal aren't a problem. During my "Hell-blazer" series, runners still remarked how exhausting Doom Eternal can be. It's fast, sure; it's also long, grueling and constant. Lulls, when they do occur, stop the action dead. These G-forces cannot be overstated. The Doom Fortress has little to do but unlock doors. The animations for this are slow and unskippable, and make for dull viewing.
Another issue with balancing is how Doom Eternal compensates for such a powerful hero. It provides certain monsters with unfair attacks. Not only are these sometimes hard to predict; they often administer one-hit kills that stop runs dead (re: the Cyber-Mancubus slam). That's how Ultra Nightmare works. But even if the runner was playing on Nightmare, a dead Slayer will still probably amount to a dead run.
For a time, Doom Eternal was speedrun a lot. Eventually speedrunners started to optimize their runs. They soon encountered these "one-hit kill" issues; the game's streaming presence shrunk. Some runners like Byte Me disappeared, while others returned to older, more reliable games. Inconsistent and buggy patches only hurt the game's speedrunning scene further (see: my interview with Your Mate Devo about this very issue).
The seventh issue I have with Doom Eternal speedruns is itemization. Older Doom games featured limited ammo, and their difficulty revolves partly around resource management. Doom Eternal is more... theatrical. Instead of worrying about finding items, the Slayer focuses on the enemies, which are basically "loot piñatas." When first introduced to the player, weapons are simply lying on the ground. However, weapons and ammo aren't dropped from enemies; the runner constantly refills their ammo by killing demons. They become locked in a never-ending cycle of repetitive kill animations. There's little time for them to rest, let alone the viewer.
There are limits to ammo, but not many. "Fodder" monsters respawn almost everywhere, granting the player near unlimited ammo (a similar concept can be see in Super Metroid, except the monsters only respawn when you exit the room). Some games make ammo far scarcer. Ammo in Blood is limited, finite; picked up, it doesn't respawn, and healing items have limited uses (the Med Kit, Jump Boots, etc). This makes secrets insanely useful. Not only are there plenty of them; there are also "Super Secrets" that aren't marked on the "secrets found" counter shown at the end of every level (watch this Blood speedrun, and the use of the Super Secret at 2:20). I like seeing these being used in speedruns, if only in certain categories; it makes the gameplay feel inclusive to every nook and cranny the developers provided.
Watching runners manage items is a lot of fun, but only if it makes visual sense. Normally I don't like menuing. However, the Resident Evil item menu instantly communicates the player's paucity of arms and medicine. This ramps up the tension. So does Blood or classic Doom with their dwindling ammo, armor and health counters. Doom Eternal communicates its resource data too quickly. The player is repeatedly hurt and healed; their health and armor counters oscillate like seismographs. These numbers remain on-screen during kill animations; the disemboweled Cacodemon still hogs the spotlight. The screen feels busy and crowded, but not in good ways.
The eight issue I have with Doom Eternal speedruns is ease-of-execution. To speedrun is to play a game as fast as possible. The game is chosen by the runner for many reasons—the music, the controls, but also the speed of its action. I choose to watch speedruns depending on how "fast" the game is, and whether or not the original ludic narrative can visually corroborate the runner's meta-play in ways that are fun to watch. Doom Eternal's gameplay is certainly fast; it isn't always fun to spectate, especially speedruns.
"Fun" is subjective; the fact that Doom Eternal was built to cater to multiple groups is not. The game design has hardcore elements, but under the hood feels tailored for a more casual audience. Under the Mayo has repeatedly praised the game for this reason. From a speedrunning standpoint, though, too many cooks spoil the broth. It can be a little boring to watch players use developer-provided tools to slice through powerful demons. The Crucible grants "one-hit kills" with the press of a button. No speedrunner is going to pass that up. Unfortunately it's boring to watch—not because of the visuals, but because I know the action is easy to perform. Push the button; the Tyrant dies in one hit. It just feels lame. Something like Evo Moment #37 is way more impressive. Why? Because it's fucking hard to do!
The biggest challenge for the runner in Doom Eternal is racing against their own lightning-fast, stupidly powerful avatar. Here, the demons' destructible bodies are a neat effect, and helps combat the visual monotony. Only just. Eventually tedium sets in as the runner tries to kill faster and faster. The faster they go, the more kill animations I have to watch. More camera angles. More bursts of color-coded pickups. More teleports. More scoped attacks that cause the screen to awkwardly zoom in and out. It's a bit much. Did it have to be?
By comparison, the expansion "The Ancient Gods" is even more difficult. Luckily it's also balanced. Some of the visual hang-ups remain, but the music is more forceful and heavy ("It's got punch," Lindsay says). There's also the player-made "Horde Mode." This version of Doom Eternal showcases a lot of player invention and interesting weapon usage choices. Its not a true survival mode, so it doesn't go on forever. This means that players can speedrun it (see: Doom legend Zeromaster giving it a shot). It's novel enough, I suppose, but literally goes on for hours. The length isn't the issue so much as the content; it's literally a movie-length video of demons being repeatedly abused by a very angry man-God. Watched back-to-back, the recordings (and their battlefields) start to bleed together.
Cynic the Original highlights the many differences between Doom 2016 and Doom Eternal, including their stories, in his video "Doom Eternal Helped Me Appreciate Doom 2016." For him, the game is perfect for what it's supposed to be, and proof that id Studios can't make a "bad" game. This feels slightly apologist, but I can't disagree that fans, especially players, largely see the gameplay as a straight upgrade. As someone who watches speedruns, I think 2016 worked a lot better. For me, Doom Eternal feels like a case of sequel-itis: bigger and better, but to the detriment of the story. This includes speedruns and the stories they tell when viewed.
***My name is Nick van der Waard and I'm a Gothic ludologist. I have my MA in English Studies: The Gothic from Manchester Metropolitan University. My blog is about horror, but also sex, metal and videogames.
Check out my interview series: Hell-blazers: Speedrunning Doom Eternal, "Giving My Two Cents: A Metal Compendium," and the Alien: Ore" Interview Project.
My favorite posts: Dragon Ball Super: Broly - Is It Gothic?, Mandy (2018): Review, Gothic Themes in Perfect Blue. Also check out my guest work on Video Hook-Ups.
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