Now, with the Bethesda published 2016 iteration coming to the Nintendo Switch later this year, DOOM can be small and dumb, while still having its trademark 'BFG'. We got our chance to try out id Software’s upcoming port of its DOOM franchise reboot at a Bethesda event earlier this month; look, we know what questions you probably have regarding how it runs on the Switch, but first let’s start with the basics.
DOOM is the first person shooter that begat all first person shooters. That is, along with the similarly rebooted Wolfenstein series, also published by Bethesda, the landscape of video games is what it is today thanks in tremendous part to that original, MS-DOS killer app. Regarding the 2016 version, what makes this game so special is that it rights the wrongs of the plodding, suspenseful-horror trappings of 2004’s DOOM 3, instead choosing to return to the original titles’ bread and butter: demons and adrenaline. So, so much adrenaline.
Apologies if calling the game “dumb” offends; it’s DOOM’s return to minimal plot and amplification of style that merits that description. And it’s a total complement; the idea to make DOOM kinetic versus introspective just works. If you haven’t played DOOM on another platform yet, here’s the plot: You’re on Mars. You awaken on some sort of altar, chained down and surrounded by zombie-demons. Upon escaping your shackles by sheer force, you pick up a gun, quickly find a bodysuit, and start shooting devil-spawn throughout the nooks and crannies of industrial Mars.
Pulitzer Prizes aside, the game is all the better for its simplicity, and this point is driven home by the game’s killer soundtrack, composed by Mick Gordon. Typical first person shooter elevator rides and door unlockings bookend your encounters with enemy demons, which are often punctuated by screaming guitar and pulsing drum and bass. The effect this has on gameplay is that each area you encounter quickly transforms into - almost - a sort-of rhythm game, where instead of cowering from your enemies the thrill of the soundtrack propels you to slam, shoot, dismember and explode your way past anything that gets in your way. Yeah, it’s pretty fun.
DOOM Performance and Framerate on Switch
We played the Switch version in tabletop mode, wearing headphones and predominantly holding a Switch Pro Controller. “With a Pro Controller” was, as we were told, “the preferred way” to play the game. Unfortunately, Bethesda is correct. We also played the game using only the attached Joy-Cons on the screen, and though the game absolutely functions as intended, the heavy reliance to push down on the joysticks to perform killing blows while also frantically running around feels a bit touchy with the Joy-Cons. You get used to it, but the Pro Controller is better.
Still, playing DOOM on the go is a neat feat, no doubt about it. The game runs smoothly without a single noticed drop in framerate during the first two levels. Yet a key cut seems to have been made - in this build we're looking at 30fps when playing on the portable, not the 60fps that was so celebrated on other consoles and the target for pretty much all PC owners. That's something we'll have to get used to for such a fast-paced shooter, and is the price we may pay for portability.
Nevertheless to the naked eye it’s apparent that this is, as they say, “a next-gen” title. Bloom lighting, detailed character models and expertly placed motion blur - it’s all there, and it all looks, somewhat surprisingly, pretty great. It would be a stretch to say that the game looks noticeably worse on the Switch portable screen than any other version of the game - it didn’t to us. In the future, when we get to play the game blown up onto a TV, perhaps compromises may be more visible, though it’s hard to imagine the average player would find too much fault in this build. A good looking game is a good looking game, and that earnestly describes DOOM on Switch, even if it doesn't necessarily completely match up with other console iterations.
There are more pressing limitations apparent in this version, however. Between-level loading times are noticeably longer than, at least, the PC version. Also, this build of the game, which was described to us as “pretty much the entire game”, crashed on at least two different occasions among the attendees playing. Whether that’s early build jitters or actual hardware limitations is still to be determined.
Also in the mix is the multiplayer - not playable that day - as well as all the DLC. Bethesda says they all will all be included with the Switch version, in full. As a footnote, physical copies of the game will require a download in order to first play multiplayer mode.
DOOM on the Go
After a solid hour with the game, something about DOOM’s arcade style of gameplay lends itself extremely well to a literal pick-up-and-play game session. Both those who have never played the game and returning fans looking to have another romp are definitely in for a treat. And despite the absence of the game’s “SnapMode”, a missing feature from the Switch version where you could modify your own multiplayer maps, this is still a great way to experience DOOM.
But as this is arguably the first Switch port of a recent enough, next-gen, blockbuster title, a lot of critical eyes will fall on DOOM, treating it as a sort of a measuring stick for what the console can do, for better or for worse.
What’s great about this is that even divorced from its own merits, DOOM seems up to the task. A modern, award winning gameplay experience that wasn’t made by Nintendo was right there in our hands, and for the most part it looked and played smoothly. (And the game seems to be a more than competent port for the big screen, as well.)
So to hell with it. It looks like with DOOM, the Nintendo Switch has just passed its very first test.