When Doom (2016) for Nintendo Switch was announced, many thought it would be the “impossible port” and wouldn’t do the original game justice. Many hours into the campaign, I became aware that Panic Button (the company tasked with porting the game to Switch) had “achieved the impossible” and created a faithful representation of Doom on a portable home gaming system. There are some caveats which will be discussed, but for the most part this game represents a technical accomplishment worth applauding, regardless of its issues.
STORY AND SETTING
You wake in a facility on Mars which is owned by the Union Airspace Corporation (UAC), the director of which is Dr Samuel Hayden (who you meet early in the game albeit in audio and hologram forms and later on in his cyborg form).
Earth is suffering an energy crisis which the facility is aiming to solve by attempting to draw energy from a daemon-inhabited alternate dimension – Hell. This is achieved using the Argent Tower which siphons energy from Hell, but also allows travel into Hell. Expeditions into this alternate dimension, using the tower, had been completed by Hayden where he brought back daemons and artifacts to examine for research purposes – including the Doom Slayer and his Preator Suit. Dr Olivia Pierce, a UAC scientist, became deeply interested in the Hell dimension and started opening portals between Hell and Mars, allowed the daemons to overrun the facility and kill the staff present there. She is attempting to create a permanent portal using the Argent Tower, which Hayden is determined to stop, so he releases you from your sarcophagus in order to rid the facility of the daemonic presence and to halt Pierce in her tracks.
It is a fairly straightforward story, which is brought to you through one way conversations with Hayden and through Pierce’s research diaries.
INTO THE THICK OF IT
The game begins with a tutorial of sorts, putting the player behind the eyes of the “Doom Slayer” – an unnamed space marine – when he breaks free of his shackles, rips the jaw off a daemon and finds his suit of armour – the Preator Suit. The first weapon you yield is a pistol with unlimited ammo, allowing you to get a grasp of the controls, which are a standard affair for the era. Motion controls are now an optional feature in the game and they add a nice way to be more accurate with your aiming while not detracting from the fast paced experience. A few rooms later you are introduced to glory kills – an elaborate and gory version of a melee attack – which you can inflict on your enemy once their health is low, indicated by a blue or orange light emanating from them while they become slow and staggered. This does halt your progress for a second or two, and can place you at a disadvantage once the kill is complete, but adds a nice flair to proceedings. This is a fast paced game, you can sprint, grab and climb edges (such as rock outcrops, crates and ledges) and you have a nice floaty jump (with the later addition of a very useful double jump ability), all allowing for great manoeuvrability during battles and while exploring the various levels. The open nature of the battle areas really plays into this gameplay, with good use of vertical terrain in the form of valleys/cliffs, platforms and multiple routes into the areas. This all creates many different tactical attack and escape options.
Throughout the game, you find new weapons such as a Heavy Assault Rifle, Gauss Cannon and a new rendition of the classic BFG. These weapons can be upgraded using mods found in Drones that are location around the various maps. Each weapon has one or two mods, where each can be upgraded using perks obtained by completing challenges and finding secrets. These mods and perks can be used to vary your strategies in firefights and can lead to some fun moments.
Your Preator Suit can also be upgraded, Argent Cells can be used to increase your armour, health and ammunition limits. Tokens found in deceased Elite Guards can be used to improve the dexterity, equipment effectiveness and discovery stats of your suit.
And finally, there are the 12 hidden Rune upgrades. These are discovered by entering a rune portal, which glow green, and once entered present you with a challenge to complete. The challenge can be simple – such as performing 25 “Death from above Glory Kills” – but are often tricky and require a few tries to master.
There are a limited amount of runes that can be used at once, but they can be used to increase the stagger time of an enemy, speed up your glory kills or provide an ammo boost for example. They are certainly useful in the latter parts of the game.
Levels are broken up into multiple rooms which present you with hordes of daemon enemies (that you will undoubtedly recognise from prior Doom games) which you must kill to progress. It sounds simple, but the way the game varies the daemon types that attack you, as well as their varying attack patterns, size and difficulty means you have to plan your tactics well. This variety in enemy type and changing location layout mean the game never feels stale, a nice touch compared to other shooters around today. Staying stationary is a no-no, and will almost guarantee a bad end to proceedings, but with the movement being so fun and fluid this is something easily avoided. You will also notice enemies attacking each other from time to time which is amusing and true to the old Doom fashion. Once you have a large arsenal of weapons at your disposal, you have to make sure you save your powerful guns for the more difficult enemies and reserve the Pistol for the slow lumbering possessed marines. It is easy to waste ammo on foes who don’t necessarily require it. Your weapon upgrades can also come in very handy, for example the Plasma Rifle has a modification that can freeze enemies for a short period which can allow you to unleash a more powerful attack gaining you an advantage.
Health and ammo are placed in most areas allowing you to always have enough supplies to take on the threat in each situation. You can find yourself running out of ammo if you aren’t careful and it can lead to some areas being quite tricky if you try to just gun your way through without a strategy. One nice addition to this is the way in which you kill an enemy can give you bonus ammo or health. Kill an enemy with a specific gun and when they die they release a small amount of ammo for that gun, kill an enemy using a glory kill and they release a small amount of health. The chainsaw is very useful for replenishing your ammo too and they all play a small strategic factor to consider when you face many enemies when running low on reserves.
When firefights die out, you can explore the areas to your content. This is when you can locate some of the collectible and upgrade items found within the game. This is a nice homage to the Doom games of old and certainly add some replay-ability to the title. Exploration is aided with a decent 3D map, and it can show you what a rabbit-warren some of the levels are and really help you locate some of the games secrets.
As an extra, there is an Arcade Mode within the game which allows you to drop into any level, each containing increased enemy counts and you can rack up a score based on your killing performance. This is a great mode to take turns in with friends and try to create a supreme run of score multipliers.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
There is no denying that this game is blurry, and it does not run at 60 frames per second (fps) like the other console iterations. Sub HD resolutions along with anti-aliasing and motion blur lead to the look of out of focus visuals at times. (NOTE: Based on the February 2018 patch which increased average performance and added motion controls.)
It appears that the target resolution is 1280 x 720 in both docked and portable play and it seems that vertical and horizontal dynamic resolutions are implemented to keep the game ticking along at the target 30 fps. My estimates (using pixel edge counting) in docked play put it between the target 720p and 600p for the most part. On the portable screen it’s harder to estimate, but you can assume it is similar to the lower docked resolutions as it never looks to match the native resolution of the Switch screen. The game uses strong temporal anti-aliasing to smooth out the edges of these low resolutions along with motion blur and chromatic aberration (both of which can be turned off) in the post-process pipeline.
One thing required of a fast paced First Person Shooter is a steady framerate, this is where Doom can falter in moments of heightened action. It isn’t terrible by all means, but the target 30 fps isn’t met in these scenes, more often hovering in the mid to high 20’s. This is also coupled with imperfect frame pacing, which causes some jitter to the play and can be mildly frustrating.
The engine being used is “id Tech 6”, developed by id Software. It clearly shows a tremendous level of scalability while preserving the visual makeup of the Doom game. The levels and character models are geometrically dense and intricate, and resemble the levels seen in the more powerful consoles in almost every way. In this regard, the game is a serious technical marvel when you consider the hardware that it is running on. On the whole, the game performs well enough and looks good enough to be played in its entirety, both in docked and in handheld forms. And you cannot beat killing masses of daemons while on a plane or out at the park.
In terms of audio, compressing the game to fit into a smaller size has had a negative impact. The audio is definitely less punchy and in your face when compared to PC, PS4 and Xbox One versions, but without direct comparison it is hard to notice and won’t deter from the overall experience much. The soundtrack is a mixture of hair-raising ambient sounds and fast paced music when the action kicks in, the guns sound meaty, enemies vicious and the overall soundscape definitely adds to the Doom experience. It makes you feel the right things at the right times and that is the way a game like this should be. The first moment the main soundtrack kicks in at the end of the tutorial section is brilliant too.
THE MORE, THE GORIER
As an optional download, Doom comes with a decent arena based multiplayer mode. You can play Team and Solo Deathmatches, Free for All and Team Play modes.
There is a levelling system in place, similar to the Splatoon series and you can unlock new weapons and armour along with daemons as playable characters. The lobby system allows you to invite friends from your Switch system or allows you to join random people. One feature which is missing is voice chat, which would come in handy when playing with a team. Communication is impossible with random people and that can lead to some frustration moments when playing online.
This game is a technical marvel, having a contemporary, high fidelity shooter on a portable home gaming system is no mean feat. It plays well and looks good enough to warrant buying, especially if you like to game on the go. Yes it has its technical downsides, and the gamer who wants the best graphical feature-set and highest framerates probably won’t enjoy this version. But for people looking to play the full, dark, blood-soaked, fast-paced and exhilarating Doom experience on their portable Nintendo gaming system, you can’t argue with what is being presented here. It’s a great homage to the games of the past (even if it tries a tad too hard in some instances), and it is fitting that it spans such a range of gaming hardware, just like the original Doom series. There is plenty here to keep you occupied too, the campaign is around 10-15 hours long if you get your head down, and with the option of finding collectibles and upgrades you can play through multiple times to 100% the game. The added Arcade Mode and Multiplayer Modes also add to the longevity of the game, each compelling enough to warrant being included in the package.