Now you can rip and tear anywhere!
Back in 1995, the original Doom was ported to the Super Nintendo Entertainment system. The Super Nintendo was at the very end of its life cycle, its successor only a year away. The wildly popular Doom had already been ported with varying degrees of success to a few much more powerful systems. No one would have ever assumed that there was any way for the Super Nintendo to run Doom, but Sculptured Software made it happen. It ran at a lower frame rate than the original, and the resolution was dropped significantly, but it was still Doom. Today, while it may not be the best way to play Doom, it still stands as an exemplary display of programing prowess and ingenuity. Fast forward 22 years, and here we are in 2017. Doom on PC, PS4, and Xbox One once again stands as a technical powerhouse, and once again someone is crazy enough to get it running on a Nintendo. The frame rate and resolution have been lowered just like last time, but when it comes right down to it, it is Doom. Oh yeah, and that Nintendo I’m talking about is also a handheld.
As I’m sure plenty of Nintendo fans never played Doom when it released on other platforms last year, it is worth taking a moment and starting with the basics. Doom sees you take control of the nameless Doom marine. You awaken in a science facility on the planet Mars. As is bound to happen when you leave a bunch of scientists alone on Mars, they open gateways to Hell itself and demons invade the facility. Luckily, you’re quite good at punching, shooting, and otherwise dismembering a variety of hellspawn. Life just has a way of working out.
Doom takes great pride in throwing out much of the modern first-person shooter formula. This fresh take on the genre can be boiled down to the concept of aggression. Games like Call of Duty or Halo encourage the player to take cover when injured. After a set time, the player’s health or shields will start to recover. This encourages the player to be cautious and to attack only from an advantageous position. Doom does not automatically replenish the player’s health. Health is gained primarily by killing enemies, with extra health dealt out for over-the-top glory kills achieved by killing a stunned enemy with a melee attack. Doom demands that you dive head first into conflict. Of course, this offers a fun change of pace to the game but also serves to forcefully aline the player’s play style with the hero. You’re a guy who wakes up on Mars and, with no obvious catalyst, starts ripping and tearing through demons. Aggression is obviously the right play style.
Story is stripped down to bare necessities. Doom often feels like a commentary on modern story-driven titles like Uncharted or Bioshock by prioritizing fun gameplay above everything else. The emphasis on gameplay is extremely satisfying, especially for short bursts in handheld mode; I loved playing over twenty-minute breaks at work. There is something reassuring about knowing that my coveted break will be filled with actual gameplay and not just cutscenes. However, for those who do need deeper lore to fully enjoy a game world, a plethora of background information and logs can be uncovered through exploration of Doom’s huge levels. Lore isn’t the only thing to be found in lost corridors, either, as plenty of upgrade points for both your weapons and character are dotted across the landscapes. Even were you to set out with the intention of avoiding these detours, levels will rarely provide you with a straight shot to the goal. Environments are huge and largely open, and much like the original Doom, progression is built on completing multifaceted objectives across the map. You’ll have to find keys, activate and/or destroy various machines and quell the influx of demons in order to clear your path to the next level. Doom stays fresh throughout the campaign as each mission seems to add some new activity.
The multiplayer mode is a major component of Doom’s release on Switch. Doom represents the first traditional, online first-person shooter on the platform, and I could see it garnering a fairly large community for that reason. All your favorite team and free-for-all game modes are present and accounted for. While the servers were understandably devoid of players during the review period, I was able to play plenty of practice games against bots. The Switch version features all the DLC content from last year’s versions resulting in a huge amount of online content. So long as the servers hold up after the game’s release, I have no doubt Doom’s online mode will be reasonably popular among Switch players. Of course, if problems do crop up post-launch, I’ll return and update this portion of the review.
On the technical side, Doom offers a fascinating look at the Switch’s inherent dichotomy of docked versus handheld gaming. As I played, I found my brain constantly flipping points of view. When playing on the TV, I would occasionally notice something that had been downgraded from the PS4 version. Inversely, when playing handheld, I felt as if I was playing the most impressive version of Doom in existence. Thus the oddity of the Switch: it is both an underpowered home console and an overpowered handheld. That being said, the average of these two is a generally solid version of Doom. As in its prior releases, Doom is a beautiful game. There were plenty of moments when preparing comparison videos that I lost track of which footage was from the Switch version and which was the PS4. On inspection, of course, there are differences, but as you quickly tear through demons, you’ll have a hard time telling the door on the other side of the room is sporting a lower resolution texture than other versions. A few performance issues did crop up during demanding moments. In docked mode, it seemed that frame-rate drops were more common than in handheld mode. Resolution, on the other hand, seemed much better when docked. It appears to me that the handheld version aggressively adapts its resolution during stressful moments to keep the frame-rate up. The docked version seems to stick much closer to what I believe is 1280x720 resolution but, as a result, can take real hits to frame-rate during intense combat. At no point did I feel these issues prevented me from enjoying the game. I found 30 frames-per-second to be perfectly adequate, and when I did encounter frame-rate drops, they were usually quickly resolved. I did also encounter a glitch at two points in which audio would become very quiet. I was only able to correct this issue by dying or manually re-loading the last checkpoint. This issue does not strike me as a limitation of the platform, and I have no doubt it will be patched soon.
The teams at Id Software and Panic Button deserve immense praise and recognition for what would have seemed an impossible port. Doom was already a fantastic game when it released last year, but being able to take it anywhere with relatively few technical concessions is truly a testament to not only its developers but also the Switch itself. This may not be the definitive version of Doom, but it is without a doubt the most versatile. It’s also much better than the Super Nintendo version.