Review: DOOM (Switch)

Very few people expected 2016’s DOOM to turn out as impressive and entertaining as it did. A surprise in more ways than one; what id Software brought to the table wasn’t so much a follow-up to arguably their most iconic IP, but last year’s reboot-of-sorts felt more like a perfectly-blended surmise of what makes first-person shooters so satisfying in the first place, both on a technical level as well as a gameplay one. Wrapping all that up into a flurried, bloodied and hyper-violent romp both console and indeed PC players could take immense satisfaction from. If all that felt surprising, then what of the out-of-nowhere announcement this September during the latest general Nintendo Direct that, just over a year from its original release, DOOM would be coming to the Switch?

Such has been the merry trip these past twelve months, on hearing of games — old and new — being announced for Nintendo’s latest console and no doubt id Software’s DOOM has been top of the unexpected pile of third-party offerings when it comes to anticipation but warranted curiosity more so. Curiosity, pressingly, in how the game runs. A game that while infamously has made its way onto the most unconventional of devices — from pocket calculators, to even the newest model of Macbook’s Touch Bar — is lauded for its prioritizing of both presentation and performance. Regardless of which camp you belong to — the curious double-dippers who already own the game on PS4/Xbox One/PC, the eager Switch-only owners keen to know how DOOM fairs or just a humble neutral eyeing details on the console’s capabilities — the biggest question, one that is answered in a fair number of ways here, is of course: how does it fair?

It’s for that very reason why this review will go straight into the heart of the matter as opposed to skirting the edges with unnecessary premise and narrative exposition. DOOM on Nintendo Switch has unquestionably taken a knock back, even compared to the delivery of its console equivalents. It’s clear from the opening cutscene of the Doom Marine/Slayer breaking from out his shackles that the face value limitation to 720p resolution and 30 frames-per-second is but the start of the many aspects the game has, understandably, taken liberties to cut back on in order to work on Nintendo’s device. While the central focal point of any action on-screen barely registers any sign of a supposed downgrade, the significant amount of aliasing, blurred textures and cut-backs to post-processing in regards to environments and finer detail, do unfortunately let themselves be known.

DOOM Switch Review Screenshot
Make no mistake about it; both id and fellow studio Panic Button — brought in to assist with the Switch port — have maintained the similarly engrossing aesthetic of a year previous no matter the visual limitations. While lighting, shading and even the more gorier set-pieces are of course lesser in scale and stature, from the Martian surface to the interior of the UAC base, all the way to Hell itself, each one of DOOM‘s environments still capture that same flung-together but foreboding mix of industrial sci-fi and physical horror that has so often been aesthetically stapled to the series. Even so it’s hard not to note how the once sharp lighting or smooth edging to surfaces is in much shorter supply for obvious reasons. That said, it’s a welcome note that the game does give the option to reduce the amount of motion blur in-game, though extending this further to such things like film grain and chromatic abberation would have been preferred.

For the most part there’s a respectable level of polish and clarity to your weapons too, as well as the main UI, though even this can throw up some inconsistencies at point — some weapons looking fine when in use or on the move, others (such as your starting shotgun or even the plasma rifle) sporting a smudged quality to their shading. And this is before you even come to tackle the frame-rate which for the first hour or so — especially if you’re one of the many who relished in playing DOOM at 60FPS or higher — will feel both daunting and a bit like slogging through treacle at points. Struggling to capture that same extravagant, whimsical flow of previous that meant you could whizz through arenas and closed-off regions alike blasting demons left and right without a care in the world.

DOOM Switch Review Screenshot 2
You can, technically, still do that here, but the added (and similarly surprising) difficulty that comes in aiming while trying to keep to that same antic pace, does bring about a challenge that feels all too unwarranted. Playing both the Switch version next to its PC equivalent, aiming-and-moving on the former provides plentiful frustrating moments at the beginning, simply grasping with the blatant restrictions on show no matter your controller configuration. What makes it more annoying (disappointing as it is to throw negative connotations to DOOM‘s combat) is that enemies still act and move as if this is still a 60FPS game. As a result, you’ll find more than your fair share of weapon-fire skirting past a demon, all the while making sure to be constantly on the move (because that’s what enemies also do) so as to avoid the hell-fire that’s hurtling your way from all directions.

Fair it might be for the Switch version to keep DOOM‘s philosophy center-stage, the problem here (least in the early sections) is that the tentative yet pleasurable challenge of previous — on working when best to go in for the glory kill so as to acquire more ammo and/or health — has now been added to because of the decreased frame-rate. Meaning you’ll likely come to the next battle, if still jacked up and eager to tear demons to pieces, with a bit more of a conserved mind-set on how to push past the limitations in order to replicate that same mechanical enjoyment. A frame-rate which can get knocked back further when explosion of canisters, for example, send the performance even further to around the 20FPS mark for a brief second.

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But after a few chapters and getting used to the Joy-Con mapping of controls (which you can alter, albeit from one built-in template to another), the cut-back presentation settles rather than fades from one’s focus completely and you find yourself reliving the joy of DOOM all over again. The game is still quick in the sense you can freely move about the environments on a whim and the automatic grabbing of ledges and crouching into vents is just as seamless and easy to apply as it was before. And just like the first time back in 2016, even with the limitations on show, DOOM still delights in those signature “F*** YES!” moments that have you in a closed-off section pitted against another wave of demons as Mick Gordon’s soundtrack blasts out. There’s an immense satisfaction, again, at seeing and hearing the Super Shotgun in all its carefully-crafted, timbral mannerisms and while the frame-rate and resolution does scuff some of the visual edge, playing this on the Switch remains just as engaging and immensely entertaining to watch unfold as it is to play.

Whether it is down to the accomplishment of getting through a game like DOOM at 30FPS or not — especially with these aforementioned moments of madness against wave-after-wave of demons — there’s rarely a dull moment still in the main story which as I stated in my original review, remains one of the best single-player campaigns for some time. And it’s down to how well the game balances its combat segments alongside the more explorative sections in-between. It’s likely in the latter sections where the game’s limitations finally drift off and the many facets of the game’s construction — the level design, the soundtrack, the atmosphere, the wonderfully-choreographed actions and body language of the main character himself, DOOM is still one of the few games that can delight in being both unapologetically brash yet quaint when it needs to be.

Thus playing in Handheld mode, while obviously remarks as the Switch iteration’s biggest-selling point, it’s surprising just how well the game feels to play even with the attached-controller set-up. Despite the positioning of the two analog sticks and the shoulder buttons, little if anything is lost when compared to an Xbox gamepad or Dualshock controller. Sadly, if you were hoping that the multiplayer mode would be improved upon for the Switch version, you should think again as the often chaotic and identity-stricken experience is even more confound here than it was in the original release. That is if you’re lucky to even get a match full of players to begin with — long waiting times, despite the ample number of modes and options at a player’s disposal, ultimately making the multiplayer come off more as a pointless addition. An addition which perhaps the SnapMap mode would have been better suited for.

DOOM Switch Review Screenshot
Closing Comments:

It’s clear, beyond the obvious limitation with resolution and frame-rate, that DOOM for Switch has had to make some restrictions. Even so, for those who haven’t yet experienced one of last year’s finest, most surprising releases, DOOM even now represents one of the genre’s finest moments for some time. Clearly those who already own the game on another platform will have to think long and hard over the novel value of having a game of this caliber on the go. And while the visual blemishes and rough edges do detract on occasion and are clear to spot, playing DOOM on the Nintendo Switch still conjures that same jubilant energy that id Software’s behemoth has long been praised for. Tainted in its visuals it might be, the heart, soul and demon-crushing ferocity of its gameplay, in the end, shines through regardless.