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When we last talked about the arrival of DOOM for Nintendo’s Switch I mentioned its release coincided with Microsoft’s Xbox One X, a bigger, beefier version of the console that promised a 4K-powered future that would make our eyeballs glaze over from all the gaming goodness that powerful tech could provide.
Interestingly enough, the upgraded Xbox’s influence turned out to be (largely) a bust while the so-called “miracle port” of 2016’s best game running on hardware that shouldn’t have been able to run it heralded a bevvy of riches for the hybrid console, including a glut of ports once thought impossible like The Witcher 3, Wolfenstein and even the almighty meme itself, Crysis.
I only mention this now because its sequel, DOOM Eternal, also coincides with the release of a new generation of bigger, beefier gaming hardware promising the heavens. Originally supposed to launch alongside its PS4/Xbox One/PC brothers, the Switch version of the game was delayed, then thought dead, before being revealed as a pre-Christmas treat. It’s funny to think that, at the time, retailers were concerned that Animal Crossing: New Horizons and DOOM Eternal might cannibalize each others’ sales; at long last, you can now have both on the same console. Merry Christmas!
As miraculous as the original game running on severely underpowered hardware was back in 2017, how could its sequel – which upgrades both the visuals and twitch-tastic gameplay by leaps and bounds – possibly work on the same underpowered hardware? Well, the expert-porters at Panic Button have worked their magic once again, improving pretty much everything that could be improved on, delivering quite possibly the greatest feat of modern porting we’ve ever seen. This is DOOM Eternal, running just fine on the Switch. It’s just a shame the actual game isn’t quite the masterpiece many thought it would be.
There are two ways to approach reviewing a game like DOOM Eternal on Switch; one is talking about the game itself, the gameplay, what it brings to the table (or doesn’t), etc. The other, and most unavoidable, is discussing the tech powering the game and whether the hardware is even up to the task. With more powerful hardware the latter conversation would focus on bleeding edge graphics, textures, FPS, etc. With the Switch, however, that talk is about performing digital miracles.
The first part is easy as our own Cory Galliher already reviewed the game when it was released earlier this year and from a gameplay perspective nearly everything he said back then still applies to the Switch version. DOOM Eternal is an achingly beautiful, yet divisive game that manages to expand on the wonderful template of the 2016 reboot while at the same time adding too many new features, too much story…just much too much of everything.
It sounds a little whiny to say that too much of anything is a bad thing, but too often the game overcomplicates what makes a proper DOOM experience so transcendent; the simple joys of forward momentum, obliterating everything in your path by any means necessary. Eternal tries to expand this introducing layers of complexity to the formula, often in tandem, like changes in gameplay styles (often during the heat of battle, such as Marauders) or platforming jumps and clings, which hit with a thud.
They call this “push-forward” combat, but it’s hard to achieve that perfect DOOM Zen when the game suddenly wants you to become Super Mario or trick you into thinking you’re playing Dark Souls. Like peanut butter and mayonnaise, some things just don’t go well together.
Tl;dr version: if you loved the 2016 DOOM reboot you’re bound to at least like this newer, more complicated version. You might even love it, but that’s a tough kind of love. It’s almost impossible not to admire the ambition on display, however, and even with its many flaws and gameplay quirks DOOM Eternal is still one of the year’s best games. That’s still true for the Switch version too.
Unlike the first Switch game Eternal’s first DLC, The Ancient Gods: Part One, isn’t included with the Switch version although Bethesda says it should be available soon. Also, this review doesn’t cover the multiplayer options extensively, other than to say online play is surprisingly smooth for a Nintendo Switch game and the options mimic the other versions, especially the Battlemode Slayer vs. Demons mode. I’ve never been a fan of this or any of the recent DOOM multiplayer modes and that’s the case here – is anyone buying these games solely to play them online? I can’t believe that.
As the original DOOM Eternal was such a visual powerhouse, talking about why its Switch iteration is also impressive means having to reorientate your definition of what is “graphically impressive”, at least objectively. Here is a game running on hardware that shouldn’t be running this game in the first place, and yet… it’s running, and running fairly well. Yes, the graphics have been significantly reduced, but pretty much everything that was onscreen in the bigger versions of the game is onscreen here, just blurrier and moving around 30 frames-per-second.
Our reviews typically don’t harp that much over a game’s technical performance, but just in case you’re curious our friends over at VGTech have done the pixel-crunching and discovered the numbers behind all that ripping and tearing – the demons, I mean, not the performance. DOOM Eternal on Switch uses dynamic resolution to fluctuate its framerate to maximize the carnage its visceral visuals in docked and handheld modes, running between 1280×720 and 896×504 playing in docked and between 1088×612 and 640×360 when portable.
So how does this translate to actually playing the game? Just looking at screenshots of DOOM Eternal on Switch doesn’t tell the whole story; this is a game meant to be experienced in motion, and when everything is running smoothly the overall experience is a very capable, very playable version of the original experience that never hinders the gameplay all that much. In fact, it runs better than the first DOOM port did, especially when played in docked mode.
It’s not all great, though. Playing an incredibly fluid twitch-shooter at 30 FPS isn’t as nice as a silkier 60 FPS, and the reduction in clarity reduces the visual spectacle in some of the game’s larger arenas. Stutters and slowdown occasionally mar the carnage, as do missing sound effects and sound glitches – oddly enough all issues present in the original DOOM port that manage to return here. I guess some things never change.
The biggest gripe with playing DOOM Eternal on Switch has less to do with the game and more with the controllers you’ll need to actually play it properly. I’m sorry, but Joy-Cons simply aren’t up to the task; the analog nubs are too small, too inaccurate, too mushy to handle the gameplay needed to play and enjoy the game fully. You’ll need a proper gaming controller, like the Switch Pro Controller, or anything with bigger and more accurate analog sticks. I realize this slightly reduces the portable nature of playing the game, but that’s what kickstands are for.
I’ve also realize some of you love, love, love your gyro controls, and those are present here as well, with the ability to micro-customize them to your heart’s content.
Those of us who grew up in the parallel gaming days of the home / arcade model understand what’s happening here; you’d play a visually awesome game in the arcade, only to settle for a vastly degraded experience on your home console. You were grateful if the home version even partly resembled the game you’d suck countless quarters into. The outlook was even grimmer on mobile gamers as early portables would often get “why bother?” ports that looked, sounded, and played almost nothing like their arcade counterparts. Just look at something like Mortal Kombat on Gameboy, for example. We’ve come a long way, baby.
One big issue that can’t be avoided, and that’s the asking price. Originally promised to launch day one alongside other versions, the Switch version of Eternal comes not only months later, but with its original full-price (and as a digital-only download). By now the other versions have all reached low price points (both Xbox One and PC versions are even available on Game Pass), making the full admission sticker shock here a little more shocking.
There’s no way around saying this, but DOOM Eternal on Switch is easily the “worst” way to experience the game, but that’s by default. There are better – and cheaper – ways to play it. But Eternal on Switch is still Eternal, and it’s portable. I also need to reiterate this is a huge game, filled with tons of content that will take even seasoned players a long time to fully uncover. Generally, you won’t be missing out on anything here, minus the obvious.
All this aside, ports like DOOM Eternal on Switch help reclaim a major reason why we play videogames in the first place – for the gameplay. Some might say “graphics don’t matter”, but they really do, at least when it comes to offering a smooth (enough) gameplay experience you’ll actually want to play and enjoy. If all Eternal had to offer were pretty graphics and bad gameplay then it would be just another pretty game we’d quickly forget about. Reducing those visuals to work on the Switch means putting the gameplay front and center, warts and all. By no means a perfect sequel, Eternal is still a mighty fun game that’s well represented on the hardware.