I still remember the first time I ever played a first-person shooter. I had a “state of the art” Packard Bell PC running Windows 3.1 and my friend was visiting during Christmas break and had a 3.5” disk with him. He insisted I try out this new game, which was shareware – basically a free to play demo that gave a taste of the full experience. That game, of course, was Doom and I had never seen anything like it. It was my first taste of first-person shooters and I immediately knew that this was the direction the gaming industry would be taking. It was so revolutionary with slick movement and crazy gory (for its time) deaths. Flash forward twenty plus years and Doom has been reborn with flashy new graphics, ultra violent death kills, and a laser-focus on intense action. Unlike popular FPS games these days, you don’t have regenerating health bars or loot boxes or even aim down sights or a button to reload your gun. No, this new iteration takes the underlying gameplay mechanics of what made the original so popular all of those years ago and supercharges it with some new sensibilities and over-the-top production values to create a fresh experience in a landscape of me-too shooters. What’s old is new again. And now it’s portable!
Perhaps in a direct nod to distancing itself from current video games, Doom doesn’t waste any time with elaborate cinema scenes or other nonsense at the start. You’re immediately thrown into the action after you wake up on a table and break out of your shackles to defend yourself from impending hordes of enemies. Within seconds you have a gun in hand and are taking down demons before you even leave the first room. Although set in a first-person view, the game is very much an action game at heart, with some slight Metroid Prime adventure elements thrown in for good measure. As you enter new rooms and areas you’ll very often have to fight your way through a slew of enemies – each with their own attacks and movement patterns. These creatures can move very quickly, often jumping up and hanging off walls and scrambling up to platforms above you, so it can be quite hectic to try and eliminate them like you would in a typical FPS.
You won’t find much solace in taking cover or hiding in a specific spot to take them out. Instead, you’re better off taking the run and gun approach – taking each one out as quickly as possible before they deal damage to you. After you deal enough damage, the enemies will stagger and glow, which allows you to go up to them and initiate a melee attack, which will execute a deadly blow, known as a Glory Kill. These are very short animated sequences that show you pulling off the limbs and tearing apart enemies with your bare hands. Not only does this feel incredibly satisfying (although appropriately gory), but it’s also a way to be guaranteed a Med-Pack pick-up to regenerate your health. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll have to search out these health packs, since you won’t be able to just regenerate automatically.
Early in the game you gain access to a chainsaw. This allows you to cut through enemies, which is a guaranteed way to acquire more ammo for your guns. Of course you need gas to run the chainsaw, so you only have a limited number of times it’s able to be used until you find more. I really enjoy the way Doom encourages players to utilize these different mechanics to optimize their game sessions. Oftentimes I would use my shotgun to take out the various monsters and then when I ran low on ammo I’d chainsaw my way through some more to generate more. If I was taking too much damage I’d melee the weaker enemies to save on ammo and to get rewarded with health pick-ups. This cycle kept the game more entertaining and had a layer of strategy not often seen.
It’s not all shooting all of the time. As you explore the corridors and the planet of Mars, the game keeps track of your progress on a 3D map. Each area hides several collectibles to find and there are also power up items to locate that can enhance your armor. You’ll be able to level up specific perks to your liking. I found myself constantly running low on ammunition in the early parts of the game, so the first thing I did was spend the point to increase my maximum amount I could hold. I could have increased defense or given myself more health, so it’s really up to you as to how you want to personalize your own character.
Current fans of shooters may encounter a few initial hiccups when playing Doom for the first time. Most guns don’t have a shoot down sites option. Instead you just aim and pull the trigger. You also don’t have to reload your guns. The number of times I hit the ZL button to aim and the Y button to reload have to be in the hundreds – it’s just second nature at this point! You also won’t find a radar on the screen like so many games these days feature. These aren’t necessarily negatives, but some may have to adjust and rethink the way they play this one. HD Rumble is prevalent, which often does a great job mimicking the sound heard in the game, especially when picking up items like shield fragments.
When Doom launched on platforms last year, it received high marks for its graphics. Obviously the Nintendo Switch can’t compete head-to-head with the more powerful systems, so I was a bit worried that it would have performance problems. Before the game’s launch it was confirmed that the frame rate had been halved to 30 fps instead of 60 on the other systems. To some, this might be a deal breaker and a reason to skip this version. When I heard the news I wasn’t too concerned because the shooter I play the most (Destiny) is also 30 fps, but then again Doom relies on faster gameplay and if there was any slowdown or hitching in the game it could become a huge problem. Luckily, the final result is pretty spectacular when you consider the power of the Switch. It’s kind of unbelievable that this small tablet device can manage to run Doom as well as it does. While the game did sacrifice the frames, it’s still amazingly fast and smooth. In fact, had I not known ahead of time that the frame rate had been cut in half I don’t think I’d have noticed. The game is still silky smooth, but it’s definitely using motion blur to hide some of the imperfections. Only occasionally did I notice any type of frame hiccups, but it was so few and far between that I don’t think most people should be concerned. After some significant time playing in handheld mode, I think the game looks better on the small screen in its native resolution of 720p.
Also of note is that the textures are a bit muddy on some things like text on monitors and whatnot. If you’re playing in handheld mode, the game also has pretty tiny text, making it difficult to read some of the menus. Playing on the TV is a great experience, but the lower fidelity of the graphics are more noticeable on my 4K television. It’s not horrible by any means, and when compared to other Switch games it’s probably some of the best “realistic” graphics we’ve seen so far. I vastly prefer to play the game with the Pro Controller over the Joy-Con controller setup, but that comes down to personal preference.
When it comes to the audio in the game, it’s just as spectacular as the other versions. The soundtrack really does a fantastic job of getting you in the mood to shoot demons. It features some rocking tunes that fit perfectly with the carnage on the screen. Voice acting is peppered throughout the campaign and it all works well. The growls of demons from behind you are just as creepy as ever if you have your Switch hooked up to a proper surround sound system. I mean, if you’re going to be slaughtering hundreds of monsters, you want the best possible audio experience, right?
If you bought the retail version of Doom, then you will have full access to the single player campaign right out of the box. To play online multiplayer you will need to download that portion of the game onto your system. Digital buyers get the whole game at once, which comes in at about 22 GB. The online portion of the game is just like its big brothers, and includes Update 6.66. This features all of the DLC, weapons, armor, maps, and modes. I’m not a huge PvP gamer in any of my shooters, but from what I played there seems to be plenty to do here and I can see many gamers enjoying it. I felt the ability to become a Demon was a bit over-powered at times, but others will no doubt dig it. I thought the ability to easily connect with people on my friend list was cool and has seemingly been a problem for some third parties to implement – but here it just works.
When the news came a few months ago that Doom would be making its way to the Nintendo Switch, my initial reaction was “Why?”. But, then I remembered that the series has made appearances on prior Nintendo hardware and the prospect of being able to play the game anywhere is certainly enticing. This version won’t be for everybody. If you want the best graphical performance, then you’re better of playing it on a gaming PC or one of the other consoles. However, if you’re itching to decimate demons from Hell on the go, there’s really no better way to do so. Likewise, if you don’t already own the game on any other platform, or don’t have access to any other machines, then this port will definitely deliver. Despite a downgrade in graphics, the game still looks fantastic, especially when playing in handheld mode on the Switch. The TV mode is a bit more blurry and the textures aren’t as clear as I’d like them to be, but again, it’s not ugly by any means and it’s still fun to blast through the world with a Pro Controller in hand on the big screen.
Doom was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by Bethesda.