Forget Relaxation - Catharsis is Helping Me Shake Things Up in Lockdown

By Alistair Jones on at

When Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched a couple of months ago, Nintendo’s fortunate timing did not go unnoticed. For many, the relaxed pace and adorable aesthetic of their individual island paradises seemed the perfect thing to deal with the ongoing stress of a global pandemic. That was perfectly understandable, but as March, April, and then May all blurred into one, I found myself looking for something a little different.

Despite enjoying iD Software’s 2016 offering, it was a few weeks until I bought Doom Eternal. Since my student days running a tight budget and a laptop that was perpetually on life-support, buying AAA titles on release isn’t something I’m in the habit of. My usual sense of videogame-related financial caution has been heightened by the current economic situation, and as a result I steered clear out of a sense of pecuniary duty to myself. A surprisingly early (and surprisingly generous) sale, however, was all the push I needed to cave and begin ripping and tearing.

The Doom reboots have never shied away from what made the original games such enduring successes. Both Doom Eternal and its 2016 predecessor take a spectacle first, experience later approach; impossibly fast, deafeningly loud, so full of the old ultraviolence that you’re swept from encounter to encounter so quickly that there’s barely any time to think, until the viscera settles and you can work out where to go next. My heartrate spiked at the first loading screen and didn’t seem to fall again until I turned the game off a couple of hours later. I hadn't left my seat, but I felt physically worn out, trying to catch what felt like the first full, deep breath I’d had in hours.

In many ways, Doom Eternal is exhausting. Even in a game that’s just about shooting demons at its core, there are so many things to keep track of that it feels nearly impossible to focus on anything. If I spot a Cacodemon floating menacingly towards me, a well-timed grenade is all I need to stop it in its tracks, but to do that I have to swap to my shotgun, letting that nearby Hell Knight close the gap that I’ve been desperately trying to maintain. If I’m low on ammo, I need to make sure that I have enough chainsaw fuel to cut through whatever it is that’s in front of me, and if I want more armour I’ll need to remember my shoulder-mounted flamethrower. It’s a system where the complexity hovers tantalisingly close to the point at which I might be tempted to give up and move on, but just about manages to stay within my comfort zone.

All of those aforementioned mental processes have to be made so fast that you don’t really get time to consider what they are, let alone why you’re making them. And when there’s barely any time to think about the game, there’s absolutely no time to consider the ongoing tedium of quarantine. In my experience, there aren’t many games that manage to maintain that level of concentration - a tough boss fight or the final precarious rounds of a tactical shooter might require all your faculties, but there’s a reasonable amount of downtime before and after. With Doom Eternal, those periods of calm provide a chance to catch your breath, offering much-needed respite so you don’t completely burn out on the real meat of the game. It’s a mentally-taxing reversal of what is perhaps a more traditional model, one where you might reach a momentary crescendo before returning to exploration or dialogue to help bring a world to life, but I’m finding that the intensity of the distraction to be far more helpful than games that operate with a more relaxed pace.

The relief offered by Doom Eternal has me wondering where I can find my next fix. The games that can revel in this level of bombast while still offering a meaningful gameplay experience are few and far between; there are plenty of games that rely on chaos and destruction, from the Just Cause series to Goat Simulator, but I might suggest that at least one of those examples isn’t exactly the peak of AAA game design. If nothing else, however, Doom has reminded me that sometimes, getting out of your head can be just as helpful as finding a space to chill out in. All of us will have our own strategies for helping break up the days, but you can keep your Nook loans - I'll be chaining together glory kills for a little while longer.