BOSTON — To the surprise of absolutely no one who has ever watched Marcus Smart play basketball, he doesn’t take the easy way out when it comes to video games. That means a lot of grinding, even if it isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing approach in the video game world.
The crowd at Bethesda Game Days learned this the hard way on Friday, as they watched Smart and Celtics rookie Romeo Langford play Doom Eternal, which will come out on March 20. The Bethesda event took over a restaurant and comedy club in a hotel adjacent to the convention center hosting PAX East this weekend and offers fans a first chance to play the Fallout 76 expansion Wastelanders, as well as the gore-filled shooter they’re watching two professional basketball players slog through on stage.
Watching other people play video games for entertainment is commonplace in 2020, but watching two NBA players explore a game that doesn’t actually exist yet is fascinating. The two were gaming at a slight disadvantage as the stage setup meant a minor delay on their monitors. Though early Fallout 76 players were plenty familiar with that kind of lag, it’s quickly blamed when Langford almost immediately dies before leaving the first room.
“Good job, rookie,” Smart said as the other folks on the stage quickly add in the missing tutorial mode and switch to the easiest difficulty, fittingly called I’m Too Young To Die. Langford does better on the next run, with Smart offering him some quiet tips. The two have a fun chemistry — Smart pranked the rookie in another corporate-sponsored moment earlier in the season — but their relationship dynamic is very much a mentor and mentee when playing video games. Through the first 15 minutes of the event, Langford doesn’t say a word, completely focused on the game. And he’s getting better, though the low difficulty certainly helped.
“I just had to get warmed up,” Langford finally offers as he gets further through the level. After a few more tries, Smart takes the controller and gives it a go. He got to play a bit backstage before the event started, and apparently that was enough to immediately put the difficulty on Nightmare, the game’s hardest, and dive headfirst into things.
He immediately died, but that didn’t deter one of the toughest defenders in the Association.
“I like the challenge,” Smart said when asked if he might drop the difficulty down a bit. “I’ll stay with it.”
It’s clear that Smart is initially better at this, constantly strafing and swapping weapons to maximize his ammo supply and reviving his health bar while the wheels turning in Langford’s brain often caused him to stop and get swarmed.
Still, the run quickly came down to whether Smart can get through the combat puzzle on Nightmare difficulty, which amounted to getting past timed cannon fire and a robotic spider called an Arachnotron, which attacks and kills him. This happens again and again, with Smart attempting to disable the weapon atop its head before it does too much damage and set up a glory kill. He fails, over and over again while the crowd and commentators on stage tried to offer support.
Langford would drop the difficulty level back down to I’m Too Young To Die each time he played, but Smart refused to relent. Even when gently told it was the “last time” he should try it at Nightmare, he asked for “one last one last time,” getting a few strides away from the health pack he needed before he was gunned down by a robot spider. It was kind of perfect, in a way, that Smart refused to back down. That’s basically what you get with Smart on the court, so asking differently of him in the digital realm seems unrealistic.
Still, this is part of Doom Eternal that players will deal with when the game actually drops, and it takes just as much brains as it does brawn to get through combat puzzles like that. When I got my hands on the game on Saturday, I went through the same level that the two Celtics did, and the demo seamlessly integrated the technology mods and general movement like double jumping, climbing and finding opponent weaknesses. It all played very smoothly, and if the rest of the game runs like the demo there’s a whole lot of fun to be had saving what’s left of Earth from an invading horde of horrors.
I’d definitely recommend ramping up the difficulty level slowly, though, and went through it on Hurt Me Plenty. Perhaps it was a bit too easy, but after watching a lot of deaths in that same subway corridor I really just wanted to see what was on the other side of the hall.