It's 2017, and this is a review for DOOM on the Nintendo Switch. Even after having completed the 8-to-10 hour campaign, spending a few more hours in multiplayer and having tried out arcade mode, it still feels unreal. After 20 years, id's magnum opus is back on a Nintendo console.
"They are rage, brutal, without mercy. But you. You will be worse. Rip and tear, until it is done." These are the words Doomguy hears before waking to utter chaos, and they set the tone for the rest of the experience. From the moment you free yourself from your shackles, you're in for frenetic, over-the-top action from start to finish. There's no explanation or impetus for your actions. There are demons, you have a gun, and it's them or you. With nothing but those words to guide you on your way, you set to dismantling demons one-by-one by any means necessary, be it a pistol, a chainsaw, or your bare hands. Combat is a very personal experience. Guns don't have iron sights, meaning every shot you take is from the hip using the on-screen reticle.
DOOM makes it clear from the outset that you aren't the prey, you're the predator. Encounters with foes never come in ones and twos, but in tens of enemies. If you aren't careful, they'll make short work of you. Unlike most modern-day shooters, in DOOM, your health doesn't regenerate. Instead, you'll have to earn it, just like the good old days. The quickest way to get your health back is to execute a glory kill. As you fight off enemies you can stun them, leaving them reeling for a short time, allowing you to move in for a finisher that can only be described as gruesome.
Glory kills always drop health and range from something as benign as kicking and punching the enemy out of your way to some truly insane displays of violence such as ripping a demon's arm off and beating it to death with its own bloody appendage. The first few times you see these, you'll wince, but they're gratifying to pull off. The need to perform glory kills changes combat for the better, as there's no safe option. Standing in one place will get you nowhere, fast. Instead you have to run, jump and strafe just to stay alive while you stun enemies enough to brutalise them and regain some health.
From the moment you don the Praetor suit, things only continue to escalate. Doomguy's iconic green outfit is much more important this time around than it ever has been before. Throughout your journey across hell's invasion of Mars, you'll find a few different ways to upgrade the Praetor suit, though the most common of these methods is through the use of Praetor Tokens. The tokens can be found by searching dead bodies as well as in caches.
Your suit isn't the only thing you can enhance, either. Every weapon you obtain has both upgrades you can purchase for it as well as mods. Upgrades are earned through your combat performance in each level, where you can earn up to five upgrade points. The more of these you unlock, the more expensive they become. Mods are a different story. To earn mods you have to find a bot selling them. These bots are usually easy to spot, but some are better hidden. When you find a bot you can choose a single mod for any of your weapons. Mods add a secondary ability, such as explosive rounds or a grenade launcher. These take the place of how you would normally use iron sights or a scope, the ZL button.
As the game begins, you find yourself in facilities on Mars that were built for the express purpose of finding a way into hell. Doomguy's bent on getting back to hell and finishing the fight he started, meaning you'll be doing exactly that. The game is split into 13 levels, many of them varied and unique. The environments are beautifully rendered and at times utterly breathtaking. It's hard to believe what id has managed to pull off on the Switch. It's clear sacrifices were made to get DOOM running on a portable device, but those sacrifices don't hurt nearly as bad when you hold the game in your hands and actually play it.
DOOM was definitely made with portable mode as the primary focus. Whether docked or not, it runs at 720p, the native resolution of the Switch's display. That means it looks really great in handheld mode, but when docked things start to look a bit muddy and blurry. We didn't find that this caused issues for us with the game, but it was noticeable. What did cause some problems were the frame rate and the audio. DOOM is a beautiful game, but that beauty comes with a price tag. When enemies got a bit too dense on screen or when large numbers of particle effects were going on at once, the frame rate took a major hit, becoming noticeably choppy. If we had to guess, we'd say the frame rate can occasionally drop into the teens.
These drops didn't happen often, but they're there all the same. It seems a few areas are problem spots in the game, but we found it was easiest to reproduce these issues in arcade mode, where more of everything seems to be happening. Audio issues were far more consistent in our experience. During glory kills we would sometimes experience audio not playing at all, and in some levels we noticed problems so severe the game would need to be restarted. Audio would at times be very low and sound effects would instead trigger a popping sound. We're hopeful that these faults will be addressed in a patch.
Going back to the game, DOOM may well be the first outing on the Switch that features proper, console-style multiplayer. The porting team Panic Button had the good sense to build an invitation system into the game that is both functional and easy to use, and we love it. Once you're in a lobby, just press Y to bring up a list of your friends, then select them and choose "Send invite". Hopefully Nintendo steals this idea when it finally launches its full online service next year. Right now Team Play, Free-For-All and both team and solo variants of Deathmatch are available. Multiplayer employs a levelling system like those seen in the Call of Duty or Halo series. As you level up you unlock the custom armour, weapons and playable demons; the demons are an especially interesting touch as they allow you to play as some of DOOM's most iconic enemies. Games takes place on small maps designed to keep you in contact with your foes as much as possible. Because of the small arenas, matches feel reminiscent of the halcyon days of first-person shooters, when Unreal Tournament reigned supreme.
If multiplayer isn't your bag, then arcade mode just might be the right fit. In arcade mode, enemies spawn in greater numbers, and you're slave to a score multiplier. Killing enemies of course keeps your multiplier up, which drains when you aren't in combat. You can also find little Doomguy dolls hanging around for extra lives, as you start out with just one. The best part? You can choose any level of the campaign from the start in arcade mode, meaning if you're familiar with the game on another platform, you can hop right in.
DOOM is an incredible game, flaws and all. Audio issues and frame rate drops were annoying at times, but weren't dramatic enough to deter us from a beautiful, pulse-raising good time - and we imagine that future updates will at least partly solve these problems. DOOM is one of the best first-person shooters we've ever played, and is certainly the best in its class on Switch. There's a certain magical quality about having a game this good on the go. Its brilliant campaign is reason enough to pick it up, but DOOM's multiplayer will keep you coming back for more for months to come. While it's perhaps not as polished as it is on other formats, having DOOM in portable form is a revelation, and developer Panic Button deserves high praise for porting over id Software's classic title so brilliantly.