6th of July 2022
Doom Eternal & Far Cry 4
This seems like an odd couple to review; both are shooters, but that's about the only thing they share. Doom Eternal is hyper linear with scripted battles and a fantasy setting while Far Cry 4 is open world with emergent gameplay and a realistic setting. But I began playing both at the same time in April 2022 with the intention of alternating between them based on how I was feeling.
The story in Far Cry 4 is strongly grounded in the real world. You return to your mother's place of birth, Kyrat (a fictional Himalayan country), to scatter her ashes. Only problem is the region is ruled by Pagan Min, a flamboyant psychopath. The Far Cry franchise likes its charismatic psychopaths, and Pagan is the most entertaining of them all. What sets him apart is that he seems to genuinely like you (he knew your mother, it turns out). Now, that doesn't justify what he has done, but it does give the whole thing an interesting spin. After escaping Pagan's fortness (spoiler: if you instead do what Pagan asked you to do and wait some minutes, he'll return, you get to scatter your mother's ashes and the game ends), you start collaborating with members of the Golden Path resistance to take down Pagan's regime. You get to balance between two prospective leaders, Sabal and Amita. Initially both come off as somewhat likable and reasonable, but the more you learn about them the more you begin to question the whole rebellion. They may have noble intentions, but as rulers they'd be no better than Pagan, maybe even much worse. (Spoiler: I grew to despise them to the point that by the end of the game I spared Pagan's life and went back to kill Sabal. Amita I had spared earlier, assuming she'd just go away.) Still, despite having a good story underneath, Far Cry 4 is an open-world shooter, which means the pacing will suffer. You can go five hours between story segments completing menial tasks and picking up plants, which takes away from the importance and urgency of the overall plot.
You'd think the story in Doom Eternal is simpler than that, but it's so crammed full of elaborate lore that I have to say I honestly had no idea what was going on. Far Cry 4 is very realistic; Eternal is just plain stupid - I was never quite sure if I should've taken all the lore seriously or just laughed (which I did when the Slayer mounted a dragon in the expansion). Interestingly, these are both character-driven games. Eternal is all about the Doomguy (now the Doom Slayer), who's about as one-sided as one can be. You're not meant to think, just be the force of nature everyone sees you as. Far Cry 4, on the other hand, wants you to think and feel the characters and their motivations.
I started Eternal first, right away on Nightmare. The first few maps, most notably the Cultist Base, are tough because at this point you have only a few guns, your base health/armor stats and other attributes are low and your ammo is constantly running out. But if I had wanted to complain about the difficulty I probably shouldn't have picked Nightmare. I wanted a challenge and sure as hell got one, as Eternal is one of the hardest shooters out there (and largely in a good way). All the old enemies are there, as well as quite a few excellent new ones. Marauders are fast and fun to fight against but relatively easy to take down because they tend to appear early or late in a battle, giving you space to deal with them without having to worry about a billion other things chasing you. Mancubi are among the most lethal enemies in the game with their high health and fast projectiles that rapidly deplete your health; moreover, the game has a nasty tendency to put them in narrow corridors. Arch-Viles are tanky and when they appear there's an urgency to kill them before they call in more strong monsters. Luckily by the time they start appearing you have some super weapons at your disposal, so take my advice and save those precious shots for these bastards. One thing you'll learn rather quickly is that Eternal doesn't leave a lot of room for creativity; to do well you have to make full use of your inventory (the meat hook, the chainsaw, the cryo grenades, etc.), stay on the move constantly and learn how to quick switch between weapons.
Complaints about a major lack of ammo in Eternal are abundant, but this is mostly due to a confusion caused by the game's chainsaw mechanics. You can, with enough charges, use the chainsaw against stronger enemies like in Doom 2016, but you shouldn't. One third of the fuel always recharges every 30 seconds or so, which is enough to kill a "fodder" enemy for a considerable amount of ammunition. You need to inject this into your combat "loop" as a matter of habit; it'll solve all of your ammo problems. Another common complaint concerns the platforming sections that are scattered between major combat arenas. I thought these were a fine change of pace and didn't find them even remotely challenging; I fell every now and then (and never more than once per segment), almost always due to my own sloppiness. The penalty for falling is rather negligible, only a slight loss of health/armor and getting teleported back to where you started (or sometimes even to where you were going!). Moreover, these segments serve an important role in teaching you skills that you'll later need during hectic battles.
It'd be pointless to discuss the individual levels in Eternal, as they're all basically the same, consisting of linear corridors, platforming segments and battle arenas where the player is locked in and fights waves of monsters until he's allowed to continue. So, it's like Doom 2016, only even more linear. This type of gameplay owes more to the '90s beat 'em up games and Serious Sam than to oldskool shooters like Doom and Duke3D. Sure, the maps take place in wildly different locations, but often you could imagine a simple asset swap without losing anything. Very few (such as the first TAG map) take any advantage of their "physical setting". It's the combat arenas that define the game. (Compare this to, say, Half-Life 2, where every chapter feels unique.)
I developed battle fatigue after just a few Eternal maps and then spent quite a while with Far Cry 4, a far more
relaxing game that you can play at your own pace. Doom Eternal is about always being super focused; like with some shark species, to stop moving
is to stop living. Therefore I could play the game only one map at a time. Meanwhile, Far Cry 4 is always causing distractions. On your way to wherever you were going a billion things
will happen that fight for your attention. In Far Cry 4's combat patience is rewarded; taking
an outpost without making a sound often saves a lot of trouble, feels satisfying and yields extra points. You can also lure animals to attack
the enemy, and call in allies for help (although these were mostly a useless gimmick and often not even available when I would've needed them).
You can use vehicles and set up traps for enemy reinforcements. In Eternal there isn't a lot of room for different strategies; the combat "loop"
is always more or less the same.
I played Far Cry 4 on the hardest difficulty as well, but it always "felt" easy. To be sure, I died multiple times, but Far Cry 4 never really felt challenging; I could always blame my own sloppiness for any combat deaths. Eternal is difficult by design, like it wants you dead. Eternal has a few super powerful weapons, but due to their extremely limited ammo you have to think twice before using them; the temptation to use them is always there, especially when you seem stuck, but there's always the fear that something more dangerous awaits in the next arena. Far Cry 4 has signature weapons, which are powerful variants of regular weapons. They're ridiculously powerful and unlike the super weapons in Eternal, these use regular ammo and thus make combat rather trivial as soon as you have unlocked them.
Both games look stunning in their own way. The natural environment of Kyrat with its dense vegetation, sunlight piercing through trees, and majestic mountains in the background looks gorgeous, and the game's human and animal models are still cutting edge - in fact, they look quite clearly better than those in Eternal. The landscape turns colder once you reach the northern area, so there's some variation there too, although the game's looks never really get boring. My only gripe is that the game doesn't have the kind of atmospheric sunsets as Far Cry 2 did. Eternal's looks are more epic thanks to its pure fantasy setting; the Slayer travels between planets and dimensions, all littered with epic sights of ancient battles and celestial events. Far Cry 4 yielded a lower framerate, but the game is six years older than Eternal and thus not optimized to take advantage of current hardware. Eternal, meanwhile, always ran butter smooth at full 144 frames per second on high/ultra settings.
Both games have plenty of collectibles. In Far Cry 4 they (journals, letters, propaganda posters, "Mani Wheels", masks, etc.) are everywhere so that you don't really have to look for them; it's more of a question of whether to bother getting out of your car to pick them up. Some take more effort to get to, often involving pretty well-made mountain climbing sequences, especially in the Valley of the Yetis DLC. In Eternal all the collectibles (including plenty of Easter Eggs) are hidden, often surprisingly well for such linear maps. Unlike in Far Cry 4 where finding collectibles is effortless (and there's just too much of everything), in Eternal getting all the collectibles is kinda satisfying (plus you can view them in your "Fortress of Doom" hub where you return between missions).
Similarly, both games have plenty of various upgrades. With Far Cry 4 it's the usual pouches & such you get from hunting and skinning animals that enable you to carry more money, ammo, explosives, etc. along with plenty of milestone and xp-related upgrades that make your character tougher. The pouches that enable you to carry more stuff are very useful while plenty of the permanent character upgrades and the syringes (aside from one) that temporarily boost your stats felt useless. Eternal felt like it has even more stuff; suit upgrades that yield everything from better grenades to more accurate automap information, alternative firing modes and upgrades to those modes, various runes, stat improvements, etc. Too much of everything it felt at first, but the game does ultimately have enough content to justify the system, and almost all of the weapon modes (aside from the rocket launcher manual detonate mode) felt useful as well, not universally but for specific combat encounters.
Both games have the ability to annoy you as well. Eternal when it takes away your space (which is more of an issue early on; with more experience and better tools you can create your own space), Far Cry 4 when a simple thing snowballs into something unintended. Both have things that are obnoxious and should not be in the game. In Eternal it's the Strogg-like monsters that project shields and the spirits in the DLCs that can be a pain to deal with particularly on Nightmare where standing still for the few seconds that capturing them requires often means a death sentence (especially during the TAG1 final boss). There were also a few segments (the most notorious being in the first level of TAG2) where the player is stuck in a tar-like substance that inhibits the player's ability to jump and dash, which is antithetical to the game's movement system. Also, getting stuck on minor objects felt like it happened way too often in the middle of a battle (getting corned without a cryo grenade at hand means death). In Far Cry 4 it's the freaking homing mortars (you'd think their target is fixed the second they launch) and the wingsuit that's activated with the FUCKING SPRINT KEY!
As a sidenote, Far Cry 4 doesn't really have much music aside from some Kyrat folk songs on the car radio. Eternal's soundtrack is distracting and generic heavy metal garbage that I just had to turn off; I later turned it back on at a greatly reduced volume though because I wanted to spot possible homages to old Doom tracks. (The menu music, a remix of the Icon of Sin track, is pretty much the only good track in the game.)
Whatabout the expansions? Eternal has The Ancient Gods ("TAG") parts 1 & 2; Far Cry 4 has The Valley of the Yetis.
The first TAG is notoriously difficult. Yes, a few battles were nerfed in a patch, but then some of the nerfs were reverted after an
outcry. The first map is visually stunning; at first you think all the oceanic platforms are just a skybox until you actually
make your way up there. The second map, Blood Swamps, took me almost four hours; it's one of the best maps in the game, but
also very difficult. Holt is both gorgeous and tough, including the hardest boss in the entire game. TAG2 is easier, but still
no cakewalk on Nightmare. The first two maps look nice, but they just weren't that memorable, and the last full-size map
is a disappointment; the first part is filled with some silly lore stuff more reminiscent of a Marvel movie than Doom while the design of the second part felt like it's
from another game. The final boss of TAG2 is rather annoying but not very difficult (I died only twice, once per stage).
The Far Cry 4 DLC, Valley of the Yetis, features a brand new map, roughly the size of the one in the legendary Blood Dragon. The map has some of the best visuals in Far Cry 4, featuring glaciers, frozen rivers and high peaks. The Yetis themselves are a good addition, although some of the signature weapons turn dealing with them into a triviality, but at least you have to put some effort into getting these weapons (a few involved some head-scratching). There's only one base/outpost to capture. You can acquire upgrades for it to withstand the enemy's recurring nightly attacks, but these battles were rather easy; I wish they had developed this concept a bit further. Finishing the DLC with everything but a few non-signature weapons acquired took around six hours, a fair length considering "mission packs" back in the day took just 2-3 hours.
Conclusion: Ultimately Doom Eternal wins this battle of games. Both games are repetitive and formulaic, offering
no surprises, but Far Cry 4 overstays its welcome. While Far Cry 4 is more enjoyable at first, Eternal gets better toward the end
as more moves, abilities and monsters are introduced into the ballet and the combat gets more enjoyable as you get better at it.
In Far Cry 4 the whole northern map felt pointless; all story-related content there was over in about two hours while liberating more
outposts and bell towers could no longer keep my interest up. With Eternal I started to feel more engaged and addicted while with
Far Cry 4 I developed feelings of restlessness. Still, Far Cry 4 does win in terms of story: Doom Eternal is silly fantasy while Far
Cry 4 resonates strongly with the real world.
Doom Eternal is a very competently made game, being polished and everything it wants to be. In terms of level design it may be a slight step backward from Doom 2016, but a step forward in terms of combat. One could speculate that the changes to combat called for more linear level design, but at least I found the best levels (such as the Super Gore Nest) also the most sprawling.
As for replayability, I don't see myself replaying either game any time soon. There will always be another basically identical Far Cry game; there are no fundamental differences between Far Cries 3, 4 and 5 (haven't played the sixth one yet, but I assume it's pretty much the same), and which of these is your favorite will be due to subjective factors such as which villain and environment you happen to like the best. Eternal is also supremely repetitive and its silly story completely lacks the kind of great moments that you look back on years from now.
Far Cry 4: