During the Nintendo Direct presentation back in September, the announcement of DOOM and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus most certainly turned a few heads. Not only did the news seemingly fall out of the sky, it also questioned the possibilities of future third-party support and how capable the Nintendo Switch really is. After all, how could this comparably underpowered yet versatile console run such a beefy game? Furthermore, can it actually port over well enough to stay fun?
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two decades since we last saw a DOOM game grace a Nintendo home console. Yet, when one does drop, it always seems to surprise with the unexpected. Back in the day, very few realistically saw a SNES version of the first game to actually ever materialise, and, whilst not perfect, it did manage to find a way thanks to a custom developed engine that made use of the Super FX2 chip. Fans also didn’t expect a sequel that would land exclusively on the Nintendo 64, along with an improved and unique visual flair that steered the art style and atmosphere towards a new direction. Even the Game Boy Advance in the early 2000s saw ports of the first two classics, allowing you to experience them both on portable for the first time.
Alas, here we are, a mere two months wait after its initial announcement we finally get our hands on DOOM thanks to Bethesda’s trust in allowing Panic Button (the developer also behind the upcoming Nintendo Switch version of Rocket League) the chance to use their voodoo magic to port the ultra-violent first-person shooter. Before we delve into the gameplay itself, let’s aim towards the elephant in the room with a B.F.G and find out what the Nintendo Switch version is really made of.
Any previews that Bethesda has presented to the press have all been playable in handheld mode only. This makes perfect sense because after all, it’s quite an achievement to have something like DOOM finally playable on a portable device. It may only run at 30fps, 720p (60fps, 1080p on other platforms) but it does manage to flow rather well and consistently even during the more hectic moments with only a few minor frame dips every now and again. Whilst it was never going to achieve the same visual fidelity that the more powerful home consoles are capable of, it does play very well on the 6.2″ display, especially with a pair of headphones jammed in. The visuals do get a little muddy at times though and the text may be a bit too small for some, but it’s hard not to be impressed that a first-person shooter of this scope is running on such a small device so smoothly. However, dock this thing on the TV and it becomes a completely different story.
Despite the Switch having the ability to draw out more power when docked in TV mode, anything that this port could get away with in Handheld mode gets completely tarnished on the big screen. The visuals look undeniably bland and oily with textures taking a considerable hit. There doesn’t seem to be any upscaling from Handheld mode in any way shape or form which quite honestly makes the whole thing look ugly and massively outdated. One thing is certain, it’s clear now on why Bethesda chose not to show off docked mode at all, as the portable experience is far more impressive.
The story itself sees the angry DOOM guy waking up with a grumpy mood in a UAC facility on Mars. You find out that boffins have been using a portal to hell as a human energy source and creepy looking scientist Olivia Pierce decides to make a deal with the devil to merge the worlds together. Angry DOOM guy gets even angrier and starts punching and kicking stuff in a bit of a tantrum, then begins to shoot pretty much everything he locks eyes with. Of Course, there’s more to the plot layout including collectable data logs hidden throughout the stages, but it just isn’t pushed down your throat as the game clearly wants to keep the momentum going.
The atmosphere in DOOM feels at its best as the mood transitions from the more quieter and unsettling moments into the do or die blood-soaked carnage that suddenly erupts as you lock horns with Hell’s most notorious demons. The one rule of thumb that you quickly learn is that you never stop moving. There’s no hiding, no camping and certainly no regenerative health. Instead, you must glory kill your enemies if you want to keep your vitality afloat. Once you have weakened a demon they will begin to glow, it’s at this moment that you head for an up-close melee attack causing one of many brief but graphic and inventive ways to disembowel your enemies. Their shattered corpses will leave behind traces of health for you to absorb, always keeping you at a chin hair away from death as you carry on out your onslaught.
The iconic shotgun makes a mighty return along with that satisfying “click-boom!” sound that it’s so famously known for. Your plasma rifle, assault rifle, rocket launcher among many others can be upgraded and customised by finding adorable flying little robots of which you barbarically punch in the face once you have taken from it all its worth. The arsenal of guns you obtain is set out in a weapon wheel that slows down time while the player decides which is the right tool for the job.
DOOM wouldn’t be DOOM of course without that iconic chainsaw that now has its own dedicated button that, when equipped, tears open the innards of monsters, littering you with ammo like confetti. Your chainsaw uses up fuel tanks and depending on the size of the enemy will determine how much you use. Despite being potentially overpowered, fuel tanks are quite a rare find so you must choose wisely for the best time to use it.
In conjuring all these advantages together, along with your lightning fast movement and lack of a reload button, you will tear into an arena worth of Hell’s soldiers with a seamless, crimson elegance. Honestly, there’s little more satisfying than feeding a Cacodemon with plasma rounds before punching its eye into the back of its head. Then suddenly turning around only to see a Hell Knight stampede towards you as you draw your chainsaw, cutting it in half, topping up your ammo. You then switch to the shotgun, blast a few Imps in the face, to then beat the heads off a couple of Revenants using a berserker power up. To top it off, having the benefit to do this in bed whilst the missus watches the Great British Bake Off makes these moments all the more sweeter.
The loud, fast-paced music and haunting sound of this game is fantastic, with shreds of heavy metal landing perfectly on cue when the chaos hits the fan. Unfortunately, I did come across some slight audio issues during the glory kills as certain sound effects are quite low pitched or absent, taking some of the oomph out of the impact. Strangely, I never had this issue during Arcade Mode so it could very well be a small bug that can be easily patched.
The Switch version contains everything that the other versions have, except for the level crafting Snap-Maps. This includes all the multiplayer downloadable content and the excellent Arcade Mode, in which you rack up a score in selected areas of the campaign based on your combo multipliers as well as successfully meeting certain score boosting objectives. The way numbers fly out at you as you break heads adds to the excitement and gives a real incentive to top any high scores your mates may have on the online leaderboard.
If you do plan on buying a physical copy of DOOM, then expect to download a 9 GB update if you want to run the local and online multiplayer components. For digital consumers, expect to be downloading about 21.3 GB for the whole kit and kaboodle, which is a damn sight smaller than some of the patches on other consoles let alone the full game.
In regards to playing online, it’s one of the best technically crafted net play experiences I’ve had on the Switch. I found that the wait in the lobbies, for the most part, to be very short and sweet that I hardly ever had time to customise my avatar between matches. I experienced very little lag to the point that it feels like a miracle that a game like this can run on a small device with such grandeur, showing, even more, evidence on how a DOOM game can surprise when put on a Nintendo platform. What’s most impressive is how easy it is to search and invite friends into your lobby, something that games like Splatoon 2 could certainly take notes from. The visuals do suffer a bit more online though, especially on the more detailed stages but the compromise for how well it plays is a valid one. It’s just the small glitches like the one where your avatar constantly flickers out in the lobby and the loss of sound during matches that can feel a bit disappointing.
It’s the little things like this that does make you wonder how much time Panic Button actually had before pushing DOOM out of the door. It could also be the case that Bethesda wanted to keep the download size as small as possible to not deter consumers who may be put off in having to buy a large SD card to run the game. If that’s the case, then it would be appreciated if an optional texture pack becomes available to download to help carry some of the weight like the later games did on last-gen consoles. Of course, it could just be the case that DOOM is a much harder game to port than they initially thought. Although I seriously question that after playing it, as there are games already out on the Switch that do look considerably more polished.
On the whole, I found DOOM quite difficult game to score. It’s a port that looks completely and utterly underwhelming on the TV and yet probably stands as the best first-person shooter out there that can be played natively and conveniently so well on the go. Some will either love or hate the Metroid Prime-style platforming and losing track on where to go next, but one thing’s for sure is that the game itself stays very faithful to the series and makes old-school first-person shooter feel predominantly new and fresh again. Even cranking up the difficulty feels extremely rewarding when you finally learn to successfully ride the angry waves of its kinetic flow. Bag all that up with a great online mode, tons of upgrades, stacks full of secrets, easter eggs, toys, and the tricky yet hopelessly addictive rune trial challenges and you have an immersive shooter that you can rock out to whilst sat on a rooftop.