‘Doom’ for Switch hands-on preview

Hell in your hands: ‘Doom’ works astonishingly well on the Nintendo Switch

‘Doom’ for Switch makes minimal compromises to take one of our favorite shooters on the go.
‘Doom’ for Switch makes minimal compromises to take one of our favorite shooters on the go.
‘Doom’ for Switch makes minimal compromises to take one of our favorite shooters on the go.

Highs

  • Nearly feature-complete port
  • First truly handheld AAA shooter
  • Uncompromised, kinetic and intense gameplay

Lows

  • No SnapMap editor
  • Joy-Con controllers uncomfortable to use

Sidestepping the deadlocked console arms race between Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo offered something new with the Switch: It isn’t just a conventional handheld, but a truly mobile console. Glimpses of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim being played in the Switch’s reveal trailer offered the tantalizing promise of carrying one of the most epic and immersive games in recent memory around with you all day. Skyrim is six years old, though, and Bethesda has ported it to every new platform that becomes available in that period, so it isn’t necessarily a technical accomplishment.

Nintendo and Bethesda raised more than a few eyebrows, however, when they recently announced a Switch port of its 2016 Doom reboot . A handheld version of one of the most popular first-person shooters in recent memory seemed like a pipe dream even just a few years ago, but that’s exactly what Bethesda is offering.

Get your ass to Mars

In our demo, we played the first few levels of the campaign, which lined up perfectly with our memory of playing the game last year on PC. Barring the SnapMap level editor (and multiplayer, which will be available as a separate download), this is the entirety of Doom, with both the campaign and arcade modes intact. All of the level designs, the enemy placements, and UI looked familiar, with no intrusive mid-level loading screens or other obvious compromises.

If the idea of portable Doom is otherwise appealing to you, this is exactly what you would want from it.

Most importantly, the Switch version perfectly captures the kinetic and aggressive play style for that defines modern Doom. While it can’t run at 60 frames per second like on Xbox One and PS4 players, it held at a steady 30, with only minor hiccups when the action became especially busy.

There was also one instance of an enemy majorly clipping through the environment as they climbed up a ledge, but the staff on hand assured us that port developer Panic Button (the same team bringing Rocket League to the Switch) is still optimizing the build. The game’s post-process motion blur is still in effect here as well (and adjustable under the graphics settings), which helps to effectively smooth out the action.

We only tried the game in handheld mode, so we cannot say yet how the game will scale up on a television, and whether the graphical compromises will be more apparent. Menu text was quite small on the Switch screen with no apparent option to adjust it, which could be an issue for some players.

We also found that, depending on screen glare, the action could get a little hard to read at times, especially in dark areas, but adjusting the gamma helped. The team over at Digital Foundry did a more in-depth technical breakdown, if you want to get into the nitty-gritty of processor power and resolution.

One area that did not make the transition quite so smoothly, however, is the controls. The game naturally pairs well with the Pro Controller — the controls feel snappy and immediately familiar with a traditional gamepad. Playing with the Switch’s built-in Joy-Con controllers was decidedly less pleasant, though: The ergonomics of a controller matter a lot more for twitchy games, such as first-person shooters, which require a lot of manual dexterity.

While the Switch is an elegant piece of industrial design, it is not especially well-suited for long and intense play sessions in adult hands. The joystick/button placement and lack of anything to grip on the back made playing while holding the device distinctly tiring. The Joy-Con thumbsticks also felt noticeably less responsive than those of the Pro Controller.

Doom while you zoom

Doom for the Switch is a very straight-forward and unassuming port, in a lot of ways, but its existence is nevertheless a huge indication for the Switch’s future. Once the leading console maker, Nintendo has struggled in recent years with a reputation for appealing primarily to casual and younger players, while more “serious” gamers gravitated towards Xbox, PlayStation, or PC.

Bringing a gory, mainstream, first-person shooter to the Switch is a serious change of pace for the house of Mario, and speaks to the console as a more universal gaming platform than Nintendo’s last few. It follows naturally from the console’s first reveal, which featured far more adults than traditional Nintendo advertisements.

Doom is coming to the Nintendo Switch November 10, 2017. You’re absolutely going to need a Pro Controller if you don’t already have one, but if the idea of portable Doom is otherwise appealing to you, this is exactly what you would want from it.Nintendo and Bethesda have also announced that the upcoming Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus will be coming to Switch as well in 2018. That makes the prospect of Switch ownership appealing to a much wider audience than Nintendo’s core fanbase, and we’re excited to see how its library grows in the coming year.

Updated on 10/16/2017 by Mike Epstein — Added official release date for Doom on Nintendo Switch

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