DOOM (2017) for Nintendo Switch "Small Screen, Huge Guts"

 


The 2016 reboot of Doom was a bit of a surprise hit when it launched on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. Publisher Bethesda Softworks did not seem to have any confidence in id Software's latest shooter, and basically did the bare minimum to market the game. Not only that, but their meager efforts were mainly focused on the lackluster multiplayer mode id had nothing to do with, and the single player campaign was treated almost as an afterthought. However, it turned out that the campaign was actually proper old-school Doom with fast-paced gameplay and hordes of demons to blast your way through, with all the modern conventions of the first person shooter genre (cover system, regenerating health, etc.) thrown right out of the window. Word of mouth spread quickly. DOOM turned out to be one of the best games of 2016, and was also a real showcase for id's latest game engine. This is the first id game developed without the programming wizardry of John Carmack, who left the company in 2013, but his absence clearly hasn't hurt the final product at all.

Fast forward to March of 2017 and the release of Nintendo's new hybrid console, the Switch. Nintendo decided to combine their handheld and home console lines into one neat package that allows users to... well, switch between handheld and TV mode on the fly. While the NVIDIA Tegra-based hardware inside the Switch is more potent than anything we've seen in a portable system, the Switch is not nearly as powerful as a home console as the PS4 and Xbox One. This doesn't mean Switch games can't still look and play great, but ports of current-generation releases are not exactly the system's forte. For example, there was no way we'd ever see DOOM on the Switch... and then, Bethesda announced DOOM would be released on the Switch in November 2017, developed by Panic Button who are also responsible for the Switch port of Rocket League.

Erm, hello there, gentlemen. Nice day we're having here on Mars today, isn't it?

DOOM on the Switch is, quite simply, DOOM. This is the exact same game you get on the other consoles and PC. The only thing missing is the SnapMap feature that allowed users to create their own levels and scenarios, but SnapMap was hardly a selling point in the first place, and absolutely everything else is there. All the single player and multiplayer content, with multiplayer being offered as a free update due to cartridge size limitations (the DOOM cart holds 21 gigs of data, which is pretty good but the other versions of the game clock in at 50-75 GB). All the levels, without any changes. All the enemies. All the face-melting industrial metal music tracks by composer Mick Gordon. Even most of the advanced graphical effects have made the transition, albeit with a few compromises here and there. Seeing a game like this running on what is basically a tablet is nothing short of amazing, and this is by far the best-looking (and overall best) portable first person shooter on the market. The PlayStation Vita versions of Killzone and Borderlands 2 are quite well done, but not nearly on the level of DOOM.

Oh, by the way - I've already written about DOOM at length on Three Voices Gaming back when it was still Outer World Laboratories (almost exactly a year ago, in fact, although I did add a couple of paragraphs about the Switch version recently despite not having played it yet), so head thataway if you want a full review of the original game. This article is about the Switch version specifically, with a focus on the technical changes.

The levels are complex and often mazelike, with many hidden secrets to discover.

The most serious compromise becomes evident immediately, as DOOM's frame rate target is cut down from 60 frames per second to 30 fps. There was never any chance an engine as advanced as the idTech 6 would run at 60 fps on the Switch without a serious visual downgrade, so this is completely understandable. What surprises me, though, is how playable the game still is and how intense the action remains despite the halved frame rate. For the most part, DOOM also manages to hit the 30 fps target, and while drops below that line are apparently more common in Arcade Mode and/or higher difficulties, I haven't noticed any issues playing the campaign on the default difficulty. It's not 60 fps, but remains very playable and smooth.

Here are your basic zombiemen, also known as Possessed in this reboot.

The graphics themselves have definitely taken a hit as well, as DOOM on the Switch runs at a sub-720p resolution (somewhere in the ballpark of 600p most of the time, apparently) and features downgraded textures and effects. Still, as you can see from the screenshots (I really should've turned off the motion blur while capturing these screens), it looks very much like DOOM despite running at settings that are partially below the PC's low preset. Even the advanced temporal anti-aliasing solution is kept from the other versions, although personally I'd have liked to seen an option to disable it since TSSAA at such a low resolution makes the visuals look rather blurry. This is not so much of a problem in handheld mode since you're viewing the image on a small screen, but it can look extremely soft on a large 4K TV. I got used to the softness quite quickly, but your mileage may vary. For me, the low-resolution UI is a much bigger issue than the overall softness of the game, although it does at least remain readable in both handheld and docked mode.

Speaking of playing DOOM in handheld mode versus docked mode, this is a game that definitely plays better with the Switch Pro Controller, so if you're planning to bump up the difficulty you may want to opt for docked mode (and, of course, buy a Pro Controller). The Joy-Con thumbsticks and triggers don't have much travel, so they can be a little bit awkward to use on a game like this. Technically, there's nothing stopping you from playing on the Pro Controller in portable mode if you use the Switch's kickstand and prop it on a table or something, but that's not exactly optimal because you generally want the small screen closer to your face. A patch released in February 2018 also added the option for gyroscope aiming.

These little Doomguy figurines are one of the main collectibles in the game, hidden in various nooks and crannies.

DOOM on the Switch is not the best way to play DOOM by any means. However, it does provide a way to play a solid version of DOOM on the go, and even if you only use the Switch in docked mode it's still no slouch. This is one of those "impossible" ports in the vein of Lobotomy Software's version of Quake on the Sega Saturn and the Super FX2-powered Super NES port of the original Doom, but runs and plays far better than either of those two and also has all of the important content. The Switch may not be huge or have huge guts, but it's still more than capable of giving you the opportunity to rip and/or tear through the shores of Hell.

Marko's picture
Marko

I have plenty of common sense. I just choose to ignore it.