Ah DOOM. It feels so long ago that I played this game and honestly, starting it up again had a lot of surprised emotions as I remembered just how good the game was. Add to the fact that here I was, playing DOOM on the Switch. It seemed like black magic. Turns out it was parlour tricks.
I love DOOM, (you can read more about the game and thoughts on it there) and I wanted to love it on the Switch. DOOM on the go? A little bit of ripping and tearing while waiting for a meeting? Even the idea of proving it can be done, with a few tricks to make it work, sounded fascinating. Then the magic slowly starts to fade as you get deeper into the game. For the first few levels, where monster density and speed are still low, you battle with the controls but manage to kill off enemies and the frame rate stays steady at 30 fps. The game makes use of depth of field focus tricks as well as an adaptive resolution when undocked to try to handle the level of detail in stages. Sometimes this results in very muddy textures until you are up close to things, which makes the game look rather soft. Considering DOOM is full of sharp angles of industrial machinery and demon spikes and macabre decorations, it loses some of DOOM’s visceral impact of the presentation. Press on for a while and the cracks start to show and by the time you go to hell, well the port seems to follow.
When it all goes to hell
Up until this point, around the time you start climbing the Argent Tower, things have been going well, if not great. The sensitivity of the joy-cons and a lack of any aim assist means that you will often try to adjust your aim and overshoot, leading to you wasting precious ammo from your bigger weapons. Do this enough times and you end up overrun by enemies. The issue is that DOOM plays out a lot like a ballet. There is a fine line that you dance, switching weapons to the most efficient tool for the task at hand, landing headshots where possible and getting glory kills for some much-needed health drops. Start missing hits and you don’t stagger that charging Hellknight. Miss that shotgun shot and the explosive kamikaze demon skull flies into you, shredding all your armour off. Suddenly that fair but intense arena fight at the end of the level becomes a right slog as you try again and again, your missed gauss cannon and rocket launcher rounds eventually add up, leaving you dead and loading from the checkpoint.
Suddenly that fair but intense arena fight at the end of the level becomes a right slog as you try again and again, your missed gauss cannon and rocket launcher rounds eventually add up.
The issue isn’t just related to your controls though: as the enemy density increases, the limitations of the Switch come into stark focus. While the level of detail of the stage can lower, it seems the detail of the monsters is fixed so when you have a scene with too many enemies in the same area, that steady 30 fps drops down to a crawl. 30 fps with motion blur is easy enough to get used to, but when you lose that 30 fps and things slow down to a crawl, you really notice. That action paced section where your timing is pretty crucial? Sorry, you are going to have to do some of this in slow motion. When this happens as a Pinky is charging at you and then you miss your attack, watching your character ragdoll before you hit that reload button and trying again, it gets cumbersome.
I haven’t worked out what the magic number of enemies at the same time is, but on easier difficulty settings, where you make quick work of foes, the problem isn’t as noticeable. So if you really want to play the game on the Switch, this is the current workaround until any potential patch changes things.
30 fps with motion blur is easy enough to get used to, but when you lose that 30 fps and things slow down to a crawl, you really notice.
The end result though is rather tepid, sadly. Playing the game with Joy-cons is like bumping the difficulty up a notch or two, as the fiddly sensitivity will make you miss targets time and time again. To compensate I use the shotgun a lot, a hell of a lot. In the end, playing DOOM on the Switch was a journey of emotions. I was reminded just how good the game was, with its amazing soundtrack and its dedication to its roots. The joy of finding a Doomguy figurine to see what Doomguy would do with it, breaking all the things that the NPCs try to tell you to disable or repair. Finding old friends on the way (guns) and meeting old enemies revamped from 2D sprites into glorious 3D demons.
Then the frustration with the controls, the deaths during the graphical slowdown and the muddy looking textures reminded me that I had all of this and more on my PC and that by midway through the game the charm had worn off of playing the game on a portable system, making me reach for my PC version instead. Yes, it is impressive that we have DOOM on a portable machine, but having it be so far away from the definitive version hurts a lot.