"Nothing's impossible, Mario. Improbable, Unlikely, but never impossible." - Luigi on Doom ports
After an extended delay that led many to question its existence, Doom Eternal has arrived on Switch. For the gaming community as a whole, Doom Eternal was up against tough competition as the sequel to one of the best shooters of all time in Doom 2016. For Switch owners in particular though, Doom Eternal carries with it extra significance. It is not just a follow up to Doom 2016 but to the original impossible Switch port. Panic Button’s Doom 2016 port catapulted the studio to instant recognition among Nintendo fans, and opened the way for more seemingly impossible ports. However, Doom Eternal is an entirely new beast, featuring a new engine built with next generation hardware in mind, the Switch is up against stiffer competition than ever before. And of course beyond all of that, how does Doom Eternal stand against the pantheon of legendary games that is the Doom franchise?
Doom Eternal picks up where the last game left off. Demons let loose by the occult UAC organization on Mars have spread to Earth and made very short work of taking it over. You, the Doom Slayer, arrive in your flying space church to save your people from Hell’s onslaught and impart some double-barreled justice on an assortment of mortally challenged individuals. That’s about as much of the story as you need to know, but there’s a lot more dense lore in Doom Eternal than in the previous entry. In fact, the story as a whole is a much stronger focus and an area in which it struggles. I, and many others, praised Doom 2016’s very intentional disregard for long cutscenes and deep storytelling. Plenty of lore was there if you wanted to dig, but it was entirely optional to understand the plot. Doom Eternal places a greater focus on cutscenes, particularly in an effort to flesh out the Doom Slayer himself. However, just watching those cutscenes left me very confused as to what exactly was going on. I found that I needed to dig into codex entries and read up on characters to understand their relevance as the cutscenes never really tell you. It is as if Doom Eternal is caught in a struggle between wanting to tell a more compelling story while also understanding that the simplicity of its story is part of what made the previous game so endearing. All that being said, if you take the time to delve deep, there is a very cool story being told. However, if all you do is watch the cutscenes as they’re presented, you’ll find yourself more than a little lost at multiple points. Then again if you’re just here for the ripping and tearing, there is a handy skip button for those cutscenes.
The bread and butter of Doom Eternal’s gameplay is largely the same as Doom 2016. You move fast, you never reload, and you need to get in close to regain health. No hiding behind cover waiting for health to recharge. It is just as brilliant now as it was back in 2016. It forces an aggressive gameplay style out of the most timid player and forcibly aligns your actions with the mentality of the Doom Slayer. Rarely has a game’s design manipulated the psyche of the player with this degree of success, and it is what makes the modern Doom titles stand out from other shooters. New to Doom Eternal is a grapple system that allows the Slayer to swing, dash, and climb around the environment. It is a more freeform style of gameplay that works excellently in combat. It heightens the verticality of combat encounters providing both a means of escape when things go south, and a fresh avenue of attack on unsuspecting demons. These mechanics also come into play in general world exploration. Because of this, Doom Eternal features a heavier focus on platforming challenges than the previous entry or most first-person shooters in general. Overall, this works quite well, though I did find that movement when climbing is very stiff, and spotting the various grappling points when playing in handheld can be a little difficult due to the resolution.
Between each level, you return to the USS Spooky Church in orbit around earth. Here you can spend power cells hidden throughout levels to unlock more and more of the ship. The rooms unlocked generally lead to weapon or armor upgrades or even cosmetic changes for your armor. For myself, I set aside all other cosmetics once I saw the room containing the armor from the very first Doom. You can also unlock the first two Doom games from here which run hilariously poorly compared to the ports already available on Switch. Somebody tell the Doom Slayer to get an Nintendo 64. Overall, it is an implementation similar to what we saw in Wolfenstein 2. However its presence in Doom Eternal largely serves to slow down pacing with little of significance taking place. It often just felt like an extra loading screen to get through and I wished I could simply opt to skip it in favor of moving on with the game.
While I disagree with certain changes made to the single-player experience, the end result remains a fantastic game. For every change that flies in the face of the original game design, there is another that heightens it. While the net shift in quality is minor, it is already working from a place of excellence, meaning Doom Eternal’s game design is different but still incredible.
Multiplayer doesn’t fare quite as well. Gone are the multiple game modes of the original which brought a Quake-like experience to the franchise. Instead, a single game mode is present, in which two players take control of demons that can spawn additional demons to try and take down another player who controls the Doom Slayer. It is asymmetric for the sake of being asymmetric and ultimately serves as a sad replacement for the original’s excellent multiplayer. The mode itself makes for a fine distraction, but I can’t see myself putting the same amount of time into it that I did into Doom 2016’s multiplayer.
But of course the moment of truth for all of this comes down to the port itself. Doom Eternal is a much more expansive, visually impressive, and technically demanding game than the prior entry. Environments are more varied, more open, and traveled faster than anything in the original. Remarkably, to my eyes the Doom Eternal port on Switch actually runs better than the original despite this, and certainly well beyond Wolfenstein 2. Our old friend variable resolution is here of course, but performance is remarkably steady. I never noticed the more significant slow down that was visible in the original. I also never felt like the handheld resolution dropped as low as Wolfenstein 2, which was at times debilitating. Yes, the resolution is lower, and yes the framerate is capped at 30 frames per second, but what results might just be Panic Button’s finest work to date. It also includes gyro controls at launch unlike the original which did not receive them until later. This is without a doubt the way to play and works great in both handheld and portable modes. It is unfortunate that this release is relegated to being digital only as I believe it is truly the most impressive port I’ve ever played from Panic Button.
As a solo experience, Doom Eternal is simultaneously better and worse than its predecessor. It makes a lot of small changes that generally work, but also speak to a misunderstanding of the original. While changes to movement via the grapple system are largely excellent and improve the already fantastic combat system, changes to progression and story presentation just slow down what had previously been an incredibly fast-paced thrill ride. When Doom Eternal gets past its secondary elements and just allows itself to be Doom, it outdoes Doom 2016 without question. Multiplayer is, however, a significant disappointment for anyone like me who greatly enjoyed the original’s implementation. All that being said, from a port perspective, Doom Eternal is a downright miracle. It somehow presents a much more complex game even better than it presented the original.