This "longform" article examines FPS speedruns and what I, as a Gothic ludologist, find appealing about them. In particular, it explores why I no longer spectate Doom Eternal despite having written an interview series on Doom Eternal speedrunners. It also explores the speedrunning potential of vintage/retro Build-engine games like Blood and Ion Fury, and explains how those FPS speedruns can still be a fun activity to spectate (for me).
Update, 4/13/2021: With the release of "The Ancient Gods, part 2," I originally added several sections. I've since trimmed the length of the longread.
Click here for my review of the base game and the DLC.
I love speedrunning in general. I wrote my master's thesis on speedrunning Metroidvania, and actually prefer to spectate 2D side scrollers like Super Metroid, Hollow Knight, or Mario. RNG-heavy (random-number generation) games aren't that interesting to me because the metaplay revolves around strategies incumbent on game-provided "dice rolls." Blind luck, basically. JRPG speedruns are a good example, but also have the added problem of constant menuing. Though technically impressive, 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.
Despite my preferences, I also grew up with the Doom franchise, and have enjoyed it since its inception. After grad school I even did a fair amount of independent research on Blood (motivated by Civvie's first "Pro Blood" video). Not long after, I saw Karl Jobst's Quake video and learned that '90s-era FPS helped pioneer speedrunning. I enjoyed the prospect of watching Doom Eternal speedruns—so much so that did my "Hell-blazers" series exploring its potential.
However, following the game's one-year anniversary my overall enjoyment of spectating Doom Eternal speedruns 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 Mario 64 is easy to watch thanks to 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. But there's more to it than that.
I don't prefer FPS speedruns for several reasons. Mind you, these don't apply to all FPS or their respective speedruns, but I'll have to explain the exceptions as I go along:
- Perspective (Camera)
- Weapon Balance
- Monster Balance, Bugs, the Doom Fortress
- Itemization and Secrets
- Ease-of-Execution and RNG
Issues Spectating FPS
Issue #1: Skipping
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. Skipping is largely the point. 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. In particular, 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.
Issue #2: Platforming
The classic Doom games aren't platformers because there's no Y axis; jumping is literally impossible. Though not not strictly platformers, Quake, Goldeneye and Perfect Dark have functionally 3D worlds the player can jump inside. Retro FPS like Ion Fury blur the boundary further*—placing the runner inside a 2.5D Build-engine-type environment similar to Duke Nuke'em 3D, Shadow Warrior and Blood.
*For more write-ups on platforming in FPS games, refer to "From Vintage to Retro: An FPS Q&A series"; it explores platforming and vertical game design in games like Doom Eternal, but also Prodeus, Ion Fury and Ultrakill.
Build environments exhibit 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. This includes jumping. Jumping in Ion Fury isn't just possible; its ludic potential is explored through a comprehensive game world—one whose complex design encourages jumping in meaningful ways: It's part of the intended story. Shoot, explore, survive.
FPS-wise, Ion Fury showcases the abilities of the player to favor FPS platforming over basic gunplay (this any% run skips most of the items, but there's still a shitload of clever platforming to watch). Despite much of the fireworks being 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.
Platforming helps move FPS away from their grounded, horizontal roots, and adds longevity to game's legacy through replayability alone. Ion Fury is relatively new, and represents the zenith* of the Build era, replete with solid platforming amid ubiquitous gunplay. Like Blood, Ion Fury is barely speedrun at all, being lesser known (thanks to a dickish lawsuit from Iron Maiden over the game's original title) and poorly advertised (at least, compared to Doom); also like Blood, the few runs that exist on higher difficulties are tremendously interesting to me—much more than Doom Eternal's. There's only one 100% max difficulty run currently on record. Even so, the sheer number of secrets on display (and the platforming required to get them) is absolutely incredible. Not only that, but the player must to kill every enemy in the entire game while trying not to die.
*For an in-depth look at Ion Fury's gameplay and level design, refer to my comprehensive review.
Ion Fury demonstrates my personal rule of speedrunning: If the avatar can do more, the speedrunner can do more. Similarly Super Metroid shows, 27 years later, that games built on elaborate platforming and straight-ahead combat can last far beyond their projected value. Alas, id have yet to incorporate platforming so seamlessly into their own franchise. Quake certainly allows for it, but is fairly dated by the novelty of what id could only introduce, not expand upon; Doom 3 (2004) was largely stairs, cutscenes and ladders.
To have platforming interest me in a Doom game, you either need platforms mid-combat, challenging jumps, or both. Whereas the 2016 Slayer was much more grounded, the 2020 Slayer doesn't rely on platforms because jump pads, the meat hook, and his double-dash ability more or less let him fly. The effect is not dissimilar to a fully-upgraded Alucard from SotN. Technically Doom Eternal has platforming sections, but these are clearly "filler"; unlike in Metroid or Ion Fury, these segments don't mesh with the core gameplay experience. They're always devoid of monsters.
Furthermore, they're never dangerous in the classic sense. Remember the Yoku blocks from Mega Man? There's nothing like that to challenge the Slayer in Doom Eternal. One, he's too mobile; movement abilities aside, he can change direction mid-air, and doesn't suffer knockback, fall through stairs or sink like a stone (re: NES Castlevania). There's also no bottomless pits during fights, lava is a joke, and fall damage and 1-hit kill spikes are non-existant. Platforming-wise, the game's a cakewalk.
Issue #3: Perspective (Camera)
The perspective, or camera, in FPS 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. Conversely I can watch Mega Man fall to his doom, or Samus explode into dust, and frankly it's a delight.
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).
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. The 2020 Slayer can bunny hop to go incredibly fast; more than this, he's the most vertically mobile by far. He's simply all over the place, making me feel trapped inside his head. It's like a wild rollercoaster ride; eventually I want to get off—but the "ride" is nearly two hours long!
Issue #4: Teleporting
Teleporting is fine in moderation, but most FPS don't even need them. Classic Doom uses teleporters to move the player from across a single level. However, these teleports can't bridge the classic FPS model (re: discrete episodes and maps); they can't warp a player to different "worlds" or episodes like those in Mario can.
This all applies to Doom Eternal, with one twist. If the runner kills all the monsters and needs to backtrack, he can teleport inside the level using the in-game menu. Normally I'd complain, as menuing can be visually dull (re: it skips exploration); but backtracking in Doom Eternal is far too empty once the fighting's done. Skipping it is a mercy.
Metroidvania 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 Hollow Knight, and is basically a form of menu teleportation). 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).
Hollow Knight also has trams and the dreamnail. Trams 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.
Issues Spectating Doom Eternal
Issue #1: 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.
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. For my partner, 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).
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.
The problem isn't the story on paper. I at least enjoyed the "plot" to classic Doom (which was basically an Aliens "reskin"). However, classic Doom largely communicated its story through visuals and action; Doom Eternal spells everything out, and in boring ways. There's no satire nor Gothic themes, just Marvel-style pandering where two armies squaring off in open battle. The speedrunner cannot avoid any of this; they see and hear everything the slayer does. They'll hear everything Hayden says. Every. Single. Time.
The inescapable visuals lack Gothic power. For one, they humanize the monsters. The dead eyes of the revenant, eye-less face of the Hell Knight, and cyclopean Mancubi are all gone. Also missing is any attempt at atmosphere. The delivery is straight, but feels lifeless and rote, like a bad comic book. This feels like Hugo emulating the trajectory of the Evil Dead franchise, whose similar tone shift moves away from the serious Gothic themes present in Evil Dead 1 while embracing sexist, unironic stupidity in Army of Darkness.
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; it merely opts to expand a pre-existing world largely devoid of Gothic feelings. It vacates this pathos to lifelessly revive the classic Doom icons. Rather than vitalize what we see in front of us outside of the menu, the games crams all of the lore into codex entries. The codex is never something a speedrunner will access during a run. Even if they did, the "story" in Doom Eternal is largely kaiju pastiche; the levels are disjointed, with no connecting visual themes. It feels fragmented, and emotionally empty. A gorgeous but vapid tableaux of floating signifiers.
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.
Issue #2: 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—let alone the Sentinel Hammer doing it all at once inside large groups of enemies. It's a goddamn visual mess, but a cacophonous one too (re: the total din of the Slayer absorbing all that ammo and armor).
Not even Aliens or Saving Private Ryan had this much carnage, and their interludes were lengthy and dramatic. The pauses in Doom Eternal are either pointless cutscenes, lore dumps, or empty platforming sections—say nothing of the mandatory Ripatorium segment (why id made that unskippable, I'll never know). There's just not that much else... unless you want to crack open that lore manual! At least at the entries could have been grotesque, like Sam Raimi's book of the dead (or, the Evil Dead-style cutscenes seen in the excellent Blood mod, "Death Wish"). Alas, a majority of the lore entries are as visually expressive and compelling as an instruction booklet.
Returning to the idea of weapon balance, the hardest portions in Doom Eternal are the early levels, when the Slayer is largely naked. Once he becomes armed, the player gains access to numerous weapons and abilities, none balanced especially well. There's quite a few, but most don't get used. Those that do get overused because 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!
Maybe 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. After a certain point, I feel like Fredrick Zoller running from the theater during the extended theater sniper scene from Inglorious Basterds. 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.
Issue #3: Monster Balance, Bugs, the Doom Fortress
To compensate for an overpowered player character, Doom Eternal provides certain monsters with unfair attacks. Not only are these sometimes hard to predict; they often administer one-hit kills that stop runs dead. These include the Cyber-Mancubus slam, the Carcass shield, and nigh-unavoidable cone attacks from the Carcass and the Whiplash. Attacks like these are cheap* and difficult to predict, forcing runs to fight from a distance to avoid getting killed unexpectedly.
*My interview with Your Mate Devo discusses these bugs in greater detail.
The issue is, these lethal attacks are difficult to avoid because the Slayer is designed to fight up close. That's literally how the game was meant to be played. The problem is, the Blood Punch mechanic has never worked properly. Patches have certainly tried to make it serviceable, but there's always a time and a place where it reliably fails. All it takes is once under the right conditions and the Slayer is dead. This amounts to RNG—the cheap, unfun kind the player can't predict, tied to bugs id haven't addressed historically.
Then there's the in-game achievements.
Picture a killer run, stopped dead over an hour in because the 100% category requires an achievement you can only perform once; Ultra Nightmare only allows one attempt—i.e., you can't restart the level if it doesn't work. And it seldom does because the achievements in question have to do with finnicky glory kills being performed on a single mob that only spawns once in Nekravol! To this day I've seen runs fail—not because the player is bad, or the enemies are too powerful, but because the Glory Kill mechanic refuses to behave predictably. I hate it.
I also hate the sentinel batteries and Doom Fortress. There's eighteen batteries, and activating one takes approximately eight seconds. That's over two minutes of slow, identical open animations I have to watch. To be fair, there's hundreds of items in Super Metroid for 100% runs, each with a six-second pick up time. But the pacing is completely different. Zebes places its items throughout the actual gameworld; the Doom Fortress has fuck all for the player to do—it's just a hub where nothing visually interesting happens.
Worse, id forces the player to explore the Doom Fortress throughout the campaign. You have to slowly unlock doors, platform without enemies or death traps to consider, and chain-punch slow-moving switches while you wait for the Stargate-style portal to turn on. It's like being trapped inside an elevator. It sucks.
Issue #4: Itemization and Secrets
All FPS require resource management. Older Doom games feature larger ammo capacities, but limited ammo from enemies. Enemies drop items when killed, but in smaller amounts. The biggest and most useful caches were in-world secrets like the Mega Sphere and Super Charge. Finding them felt rewarding but also important, because the player can't survive without them. This incentivizes exploration. Secrets matter in classic Doom.
The same cannot be said for Doom Eternal. When first introduced to the player, weapons are simply lying on the ground. However, weapons and ammo aren't dropped from enemies in the classic sense; the runner constantly refills their ammo by killing demons with specific weapons: chainsaw for ammo, glory health for health. Instead of worrying about finding items, the Slayer focuses on enemies, which are basically "loot piñatas." In this manner, resources are granted through a never-ending cycle of repetitive kill animations.
The steep carry limits in Doom Eternal force the player to manage resources inside arenas where secrets can't exist. Outside of arenas, there's simply no need to search for supplies in Doom Eternal. They can't stockpile health and armor, and arenas give the player everything they need. This makes finding a hidden Super Charge is literally pointless because the player probably won't even be able to pick it up.
Unfortunately I like secrets that feel more valuable across an entire campaign or episode, even if it's just armor, health, and ammo. Alas, Doom Eternal rewards players who manage resources in the thick of combat: kill enemies in the right order, don't waste gas, etc. Outside of combat, survival is less about collecting and exploring and more about navigating harmless Mario-style platforms, traps and lava pits. Exploration is timid and fruitless.
Some games make ammo far scarcer than Doom Eternal. 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.
For more information on Blood's levels and their elaborate construction, watch RagnarRox's lengthy and excellent interview with Blood director Nick Newhard.
The same concept is even better explored in Ion Fury. The game has a secret counter per zone, including one Mega-secret. In this particular example, the player goes off the beaten path to find one secret, followed up by another, and finally the Mega-Secret. Each smaller secret greets the player with a celebratory jingle, but also some text in the upper-left readout confirming their discovery. Then, they're rewarded—not only with the items inside the Mega-Secret room; they're treated to an even bigger musical jingle, but also an Easter egg (the hero's car from Carmageddon, an amazing game in its own right). To this, the heroine herself responds to: "Wasted!"
So many smaller systems support the base idea of exploration, demonstrating how Ion Fury was crafted around that concept from the ground up. Comparatively Doom Eternal is built around arenas and "fodder" demons. There's no reward to exploration because the base gameworld largely doesn't support it. Despite its small resource counters, Doom Eternal actually provides the player with copious resources. Some games don't oversupply the player, but especially survival horror. Chief among them is Resident Evil, a game without power-ups, and where ordinary resources are found in limited quantities.
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. Conversely 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.
Issue #5: Ease-of-Execution and RNG
To speedrun is to play a game as fast as possible. The game is chosen by the runner for many reasons—the music, controls, and 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 during speedruns.
"Fun" is subjective; the fact that Doom Eternal caters to multiple groups is not. The game features hardcore elements, but feels distinctly tailored for a more casual audience. 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!
Doom Eternal is entirely combat-based; every aspect is tied to monsters and combat, including what little platforming there is, and resource management. Thus, for runs to be compelling there needs to be high stakes without cheap RNG (that will only piss runners off and disappoint viewers). Sadly RNG on Ultra Nightmare has nothing to do with skill (re: bugs, cheap monster attacks); the game doesn't prepare you for this, forever pitting runners and hardcore players against early "tutorial" levels aimed at casuals who will never encounter the issues commonplace on Ultra Nightmare.
Even at its easiest, the Doom Eternal runner's biggest challenge 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, but also bunny hop to victory (no tutorial for that, I see). 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?
Horde Mode; Conclusion
There's also the fan-made "Horde Mode," which emphasizes combat over Eternal's fluffier platforming bits. This version of Doom Eternal is actually cool, showcasing tons 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). But who actually would? These melees literally goes on for hours.
For me, though, the length isn't the issue so much as the repetition; Horde Mode is 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. The fact remains that extended, "marathon" arena exercises are at odds with what speedrunning is all about—speed. You can only go so fast while killing huge numbers of demons over a prolonged period. There's no way to time it because you can't route the level (it's a kill box, not a maze) nor predict where you or the enemy will be.
Back in March 2020, I wrote "Doom Eternal: Made for Speed... but Speedrunning?" In that piece, I predicted that the killing of demons for its own sake, as a gladiator in an arena, would conflict with the speedrunner approach to games. I think this video more than proves my point: a notorious classic Doom speedrunner like Zero Master being reduced to a killer of demons in Doom Eternal for people's entertainment online. He's not speedrunning these master levels at all.
That's not why people are watching him, though. They're there for the combat:
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.
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