Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In today's article, editor - and long-time Call Of Duty advocate - Dom goes beyond the rumours and investigates the reality of whether the shooter franchise can work on Nintendo Switch (and why Activision needs to change its mindset to make it happen).
In the summer of last year a rumour began circulating that a port of Call Of Duty: WW2 - the franchise’s 2017 instalment - would heading to Nintendo Switch. It was an exciting idea to say the least - an actual COD running on a handheld that wasn’t a total pile of burning garbage? - but with Switch less than six months into its tenure, it was a fun idea that simply made no sense.
Roll forwards to 2018 and that rumour has resurfaced again. Tacked onto what appears to be substantiated report that the next COD is Black Ops 4 and developed by Treyarch, we’re suddenly talking about whether the long-running shooter behemoth can really work on a device designed to support portability. Whether the rumour turns out to be true - its source is unreliable at best, we might add - it’s a topic that deserves more attention, and the reality is more hopeful than you might imagine.
Let’s start simple - does Nintendo Switch have the technical capacity to support a Call Of Duty game? Yes, it does, but not a straight port of a game designed and optimised for PS4, PC and Xbox One. Yes, such a game can be scaled down and back to fit Nintendo Switch, we have 2017’s DOOM as proof of that, but the success of Panic Button’s port is a cautionary tale. It seems like some form of dark magic was employed to get the game to fit the hardware, but in actual fact the developer used the game card solely for single-player and resigned the multiplayer to a substantial download package.
The result was a deoptimised single-player experience that, bar some muddy textures and absent dynamic lighting/particle effects was disturbingly close to the version running on other consoles. But it left the multiplayer as a stripped back affair. Textures take too long to load, and sometimes are simply completely absent. Most maps look like your playing Unreal Tournament on PC in 1999. It gets away such brutal technical sacrifices because its an arena shooter designed to move at such speed you never stop to look at the map you’re slaying within. It’s meant to invoke those heady days of early online shooters, right down to the soiled map skins.
But Call Of Duty and DOOM are very different creatures. They may share the same progenitor, but differ in almost every way. DOOM is jousting with shotguns while sprinting at full speed. COD, for all its naysayers, is far more precise and would demand more of the hardware its operating on. That’s why such a game can’t be a port, but a version built from the ground up to work and exhaust the performance capacity of Nintendo’s modern console. It’s this necessity that makes such a version on Switch an intimidating and risky investment for Activision. An entire team - if not a new studio, although Acti has a Rolodex of those on tap - would likely need to take a version of the COD engine optimised for the final days of PS3 and Xbox 360 (that would be Black Ops III) and use that as framework rather than gutting one for the current line of consoles designed to fluff the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro.
The version of Black Ops III running on PS3 and Xbox 360 actually looked worse than the previous entry, but it’s a good starting place. And Activision has the experience with scaling down COD to fit less powerful machines - some great, others appalling. The bad, of course, is 2012’s Black Ops: Declassified, and remains a painful warning. A set of tutorials masquerading as a single-player. A poor application of Vita’s touchscreen controls. A sluggish, broken multiplayer truncated into an app-channeled format that cut the throat of the series’ long-term feature.
The thing is, COD has run on Nintendo hardware before - in fact, two entries in the series graced Wii U and both ran smoothly considering the concessions needed to get it running on the hardware. People often forget that Wii U was more powerful than Xbox 360 and PS3 - its generational equals at the time - with twice as much memory and a more robust GPU. The issue developers had was the CPU, which offered low clock speeds than its rivals, creating a bizarre paradox of technical superiority and inferiority in the same box.
So it was both a dream and a frustrating piece of tech to develop for, but that didn’t stop Treyarch and Infinity Ward respectively from producing incredibly faithful ports of Black Ops II and Ghosts on Wii U. Bar the inability to stream content to the likes of Twitch or YouTube (a scene that was just starting to take shape at the time) and the occasional amount of slowdown, it was proper COD right there on your GamePad. It wasn’t true portability - you couldn’t rack up some scorestreaks on the commute to work or anything - but it was a watershed moment that went largely unchampioned. Yes, we know Wii U was just streaming content to the GamePad, but it was a step in the right direction and a vitally important foundation for Switch’s future.
And we know Wii U is an inferior piece of hardware in comparison to Switch. It has a custom Nvidia Tegra X chip and GPU, making it substantially more powerful than Wii U in raw performance terms. The Switch’s processing is done within the handheld unit itself, so there’s no drop in quality due to streaming. The larger 6.2-inch screen is 720p (up from 420p) and is capacitive, as well as supporting vastly superior motion controls and HD Rumble.
It’s not comparable to PS4 and Xbox One by the same metric, but then again, it was never meant to be. And it’s this mindset Activision needs to look beyond if it’s going to commit to bringing COD properly to Nintendo Switch. It needs to recognise all those sale records mean a rapidly growing user base, combined with the global brand recognition of COD, is an ideal mix. Nintendo Switch can run a COD game - the right COD game - and Wii U is proof of that, it’s just a case of when Acti finally pulls the trigger.
So that's Dom's deep-diving take on whether Call Of Duty could ever - or should ever - work on Nintendo Switch. Now we want to hear your thoughts on the subject. Share your take below...