One of the internet’s many running jokes is seeing how many devices people can get to run the original Doom. We’ve seen intrepid coders port the world’s first blockbuster first-person shooter to iPods, printers, and even ATMs. While most any modern device can be jerry-rigged to run that 1993 classic, the fantastic 2016 reboot takes considerably more horsepower. That didn’t stop developers id Software and Panic Button from creating a surprisingly competent port for Nintendo’s console/handheld hybrid, though the Switch’s limited technical capabilities make this version of Doom the least impressive of the bunch.
To get this game up and running, the teams had to make some clear performance concessions. The framerate is 30 frames per second (compared to 60 in other versions), and the resolution supposedly tops out at 720p, though I have a hard time believing the game even reaches that modest crest. Textures are noticeably muddy nearly everywhere you go, and though motion blur while traversing attempts to mask these shoddy graphics, they stand out like demon blood splattered against the sterile science lab walls. The drop in graphical fidelity becomes even more pronounced when playing on your TV while the Switch is docked, but this is the understandable price you pay for getting a cutting-edge game on a portable console.
If you can look past the technical inferiorities, Doom offers the same great single-player campaign that came to the PS4, Xbox One, and PC last year. Keeping to the form of the original, this action-focused romp is light on narrative beats and heavy on bloodshed. All you need to know is demons have overrun a Mars research facility, and it’s your job to paint the walls red with their guts. The combat eschews many of the recent FPS conventions, with no cover mechanic, ammo reloads, or speed burst button. Instead, Doomguy must move at breakneck speeds, vaulting and dodging to avoid incoming fire. The best way to survive when your health or ammo is low isn’t to hide behind pillars, but instead charge head-first into the ballet of death, ripping through enemies with your chainsaw to create an explosion of firepower and health packs.
The frantic combat demands deft controls, and the Switch isn’t always up to the task. In handheld mode, I find the placement of the right analog stick to be an ergonomic problem. The strange angle I have to bend my thumb to control the stick takes a toll on responsiveness to the point that I wouldn’t dare venture into multiplayer matches with this configuration. If you have a Pro Controller, it is the unquestioned way to go. The developers wisely avoided integrating a comprehensive motion control scheme for a game that demands precision; you can shake the right Joy-con to perform a Glory Kill, but that’s it.
If you’ve already played the single-player campaign on another platform, the arcade mode lets you test your skills to see where you rank among the best Doom players. Selecting any level to play, you can choose from the full assortment of weapon mods and ability-enhancing runes before taking to the killing field. Each kill adds to your score tally, with multiplier bonuses and feats of skill earning you extra points. Having run through the campaign twice already, this was my preferred method of play.
Doom includes a fully featured multiplayer mode, including all of the downloadable updates Bethesda added version post-release. The speed of play and variety of modes bring to mind classic arena shooters, but none of the expanded content helps the game rise above my original complaint of it feeling generic and dated. The SnapMap user creation tools that shipped with the other versions of the game didn’t make the jump to Switch. The mode never became the mod haven id envisioned (most likely due to the design constraints placed on creators), so this isn’t a big loss.
Technical limitations make the Switch version the worst way to experience id’s fantastic Doom reboot, but the stellar campaign is still there underneath the layers of muddy textures and resolution dips. Despite its less attractive veneer, being able to play such a demanding game on the go is still a strong selling point.