Whatever I expected I’d be playing on the Switch when Nintendo announced its latest console a year ago, I didn’t expect it to be Doom. With its cutting-edge visuals and ultraviolence, id Software’s well-received reboot is exactly the sort of thing that doesn’t tend to make it onto Nintendo’s modest hardware.
That makes it all the more unexpected that Bethesda, Doom’s publisher, has been one of Nintendo’s strongest third-party supporters this year with versions of Skyrim and Wolfenstein II also coming soon. And now that Doom is here on my Switch, I can say that the most surprising thing about it isn’t that it exists — it’s that it’s actually pretty great.
The Switch completely upends the traditional notion of what handheld video games can be, and Doom is one of the strongest examples yet. This really is Doom in full, and it’s lost none of its lean, brutal luster in the time since I first reviewed it. Doom is one of the most aggressively focused first-person shooters made in recent years. There’s almost nothing to it beyond its tight, rhythmical action and throwback level design. It’s one of those games that won’t be for everyone, but achieves almost everything it sets out to.
That said, there’s no getting around the fact that this version of Doom is technically compromised. While the game itself is intact, with all of the same levels and most of the same visual effects, the fidelity has been reduced significantly. Every console version of Doom uses dynamic resolution, meaning that the number of pixels rendered decreases as the strain on the hardware increases, but the Switch port seems to top out somewhere below the screen’s 720p resolution — and things only get blurrier from there.
The visual trade-off is understandable, but the more serious compromise comes with the hit to frame rate. Doom is a fast-paced game that runs at 60 frames per second on the PS4 and Xbox One, and the Switch version’s 30 fps performance makes a material difference to how fluid, responsive, and ultimately fun it is. The frame rate is relatively stable, and mitigated to a limited extent by effects like motion blur, but there’s no question that it’s a downgrade over the PC or console versions.
But of course it is: you’re holding Doom in your hands, on a portable console with the same processor as a two-year-old Android tablet, and it basically still feels like Doom. That’s something. Handheld first-person shooters tend to be pretty rare, and this is a far more viable product than, say, the PS Vita version of Borderlands 2. Context is important; it’s hard not to be impressed by this version of Doom.
The importance of context, however, means that you will only be impressed by this version of Doom when you play it in the Switch’s handheld mode. It looks awful on a big TV, even if the resolution drops are a little less dramatic, and there’s just not really any reason to spend sofa time with this version when you could get far better results for a far lower price on other platforms. The Switch is still difficult enough to buy that I can’t imagine there are many owners out there who don’t have other options. The merit of Doom for the Switch is that it’s the most advanced, most playable first-person shooter ever released for a portable device. No more, no less.
Doom is an important release for the Switch. On a technical level, it should expand the general perception of what’s possible to produce on the system. The original version’s 60 fps first design no doubt made it easier to create the Switch port, since halving the frame rate to free up system resources could still produce acceptable results, but it still serves as a useful example of how high-end AAA games could work on Nintendo’s low-power console.
On a commercial level, too, Doom could help prove the potential for third-party games to sell well on the Switch. It’s not exactly a new game, and Skyrim and Rockstar’s LA Noire are even older. Wolfenstein 2 is coming to the Switch just a few months after its debut on other platforms, however, and if it or any of Bethesda’s other Switch releases prove successful, it’d be an encouraging sign for other Western publishers’ prospects — something that’s consistently been a problem for Nintendo.
In the here and now, though, what we have is an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. Doom on the Switch is, well, Doom. On the Switch. And I couldn’t really have expected it to turn out any better than this.
Doom is coming to the Nintendo Switch on November 10th.