DOOM Review

Since March, Nintendo's hybrid Switch console has been knocking it out of the park with a stellar lineup of amazing exclusives, indies and third-party games, the latter of which seem to be coming down the pike faster than for any other Nintendo system in recent memory. And as the system continues to fly off store shelves - it was just deemed the most in-demand item during the consumer orgy known as Black Friday - third parties long shy about Nintendo are working double time to bring multiplatform titles new and old to the system. When developer Bethesda announced that they were bringing DOOM, and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus next year, over to the Switch, it was both a shock and a flashpoint for discussion; could the less powerful handheld system handle the visually demanding, high speed game that last year's DOOM ended up being? Now that it's out, the doubters are silenced; DOOM is a beautiful game that runs great, plays great and sets a new high bar for first-person shooters across all systems.

The story in DOOM is by in large the same as it was for the games original outing years ago, albeit with far more detail and world building than ever before. You wake up on Mars, the site of a new project designed to harvest energy from the planet to send back to Earth. A massive industrial complex has been erected on the red planet, and thousands live and work there. Well, the wrinkle is that to get this energy, the folks in charge open a portal to Hell to make it available... or something. Like any theme park ride you've ever been on, something goes wrong and Hell's forces are unleashed, killing or possessing the entire colony's population. Your character comes to a little while after this has happened, and you become the lone warrior in battling the hellacious horde and shutting down the portal for good.

DOOM screenshot 1

Even though it's roughly the same as every DOOM game (or movie), the plot does provide a fantastic setting for the game; expanses of the Red Planet's surface, sprawling industrial centers and even Hell itself are visually amazing and huge, giving the player plenty to explore in each of the 13 levels. How that exploration and the larger plot are handled is a stroke of genius, as you can get as little or as much of the story as you choose. If you just want to go point A to point B, squashing every demon along the way, fine. But if you want a little more information, there is plenty of lore to be found and unlocked for your reading pleasure. In a game this brutal and fast-paced, it is a major shift from shooting to reading, but checking out all the information made, for me anyway, playing through the game a much more enjoyable experience.

The only part of writing this up I've been dreading is the graphics spotlight. In the weeks and months up to release, DOOM was scrutinized down to the last detail for two variables that have zero to do with actually playing the game - resolution and framerate. The resolution/framerate debate comes up with every new game released these days, and it is quickly becoming this generation's "SEGA vs Nintendo" schoolyard battle, though somehow much less substantial and far more obnoxious. I flatly refuse to get pulled into that nonsense, so I'll just say that the game looks fantastic and runs smoothly in both handheld and console mode on the Switch. Does it have less detail than the PC or Xbox/PS4 version? Sure, but it really doesn't matter at all; holding the two side by side is the only way to see the difference, and if you've never played the game with higher settings, you'll just see DOOM as a game that looks, plays and runs like a dream come true. And even if you have played it elsewhere with higher settings, you can't exactly bring your PC or console on the bus. For me portability more than makes up for the slight graphical downgrade.

I want to make special mention of the game's character models before we move on. These are some crazy looking and extremely detailed monsters. Even lowly enemies like imps or the possessed positively scream with detail, and seeing them in groups is as visually amazing as anything on Switch so far. These models are also a special treat for old-timers who played the original DOOM to death. Most, if not all, of the old enemies make an appearance here, and seeing their terrifyingly detailed redesigns is always a good time. What once were pixelated, 2D sprites with a handful of animations between them are now hulking, truly scary demons that actually look like the kind of thing Hell could produce. A certain kind of collectable item allows you to view the character (and weapon) models up close, and I'm not ashamed to admit I've spent more than a few minutes gawking at them from every angle.

DOOM screenshot 2

With that out of the way, let's talk about how DOOM plays. This is as visceral, fast and intense as first-person shooters get. Blasting enemies with assault rifles, shotguns, rocket launchers and more exotic weaponry is fun from the game's opening moments until the final battles, with new enemies being introduced all the time to keep things fresh. You can't really appreciate how intense things get until you have a controller in your hands, but blasting, chainsaw-ing and otherwise dismembering and killing Hell's army gets the heart racing faster than most other games, shows or movies out there.

What really sets things apart are the glory kills. When an enemy takes enough damage, they begin to flash blue, indicating the time is right for a glory kill. A click of the right analog stick sets this in motion, and provides a brutal animation of you finishing off the wounded enemy. Snapped necks and exploded heads are all you'll see with lesser enemies as you start the game, but later enemies have more complex and brutal ways to die. Depending on your position relative to the flashing enemy, different styles of glory kills play out, and you'll soon be aiming to kill enemies in your favorite ways. These finishing moves aren't just cosmetic, either; pulling them off rewards you with extra ammo and health that you almost always need desperately. Other games like this have had similar finishing systems, but has never been so fun and rewarding as it in DOOM.

When you aren't killing demons, the game provides plenty of opportunities to explore the vast levels, and rewards you handsomely for doing so. While all this is optional, much like the story and lore, going out your way is always worth it. Levels contain plenty of secrets, data codex units, combat suit upgrades, weapons, weapon upgrades and collectable items for you to dig up, and careful exploration is the only way to get them all. Beyond that, levels also contain secret stages from the original DOOM games (ahh nostalgia) and optional objectives to fulfil. Just to paint the picture, your average level has two secret collectables, a handful of secret areas, a classic DOOM level, weapon upgrades gained through fulfilling optional objectives (kill x enemy with certain glory kill, find two secrets, et. al), armor upgrades, a kill counter to be filled up, rune stone trials (do x challenge and be provided with a rune that does stuff like vacuuming power-ups toward you or allowing for more movement on double-jumps) and probably one or two more things I'm forgetting. Each stage has plenty to find, and going back to previously finished stages to dig up all the extra stuff is super satisfying with upgraded gear.

Collecting everything in each level never feels like a chore, even when backtracking through levels you've already beaten, but it does bring to mind my solitary complaint with the single player game. The in-game map, for lack of a better term, totally sucks. It's a 3D, multilevel mess that only allows you to scroll over it at a snail's pace, which is annoying beyond words. And by default, the camera looking at the map is far too close, making it a chore to see anything in a different part of the level. Most infuriating, though, is the map's legend. It shows you what some of the little icons mean, but not all of them. When even bother adding icons if no explanation is given as to what some of them even indicate? Each stage has a station that uncovers the whole level's map for you, rather than having to walk around and let the map fill in on its own, but finding it can seem pointless since the map is so cumbersome and tough to use. As I was replaying old levels to find collectibles, I completely gave up on using the map to do so; instead, I checked out walkthroughs online, something I wish I didn't have to do. But since I wanted to find everything, it became a necessary evil. Not since Batman - Arkham Origins: Blackgate on 3DS has a map been quite this useless and impossible to read, and sadly it affects the exploration and larger game far more negatively than any resolution or framerate non-issue ever could.

DOOM screenshot 3

Beyond the stellar campaign, DOOM also features multiplayer and an arcade mode, the latter of which is far more interesting. Arcade mode allows you to customize your character anyway you choose with all the game's upgrades and weapon mods at your fingertips. With your soldier built, you drop into one of the game's campaign levels and try to kill as many demons as possible in as little time as you can manage. On paper, this sounds kind of boring and pointless, but getting your score higher becomes like an addiction, with a global leaderboard to egg you on to higher and higher values. And for a quick session on the go, something totally possible on the Switch, arcade mode allows you to plow through enemies in bite-sized, story-less and exploration-less chunks. Even after 100% finishing the campaign, I still find myself coming back to arcade mode to try different loadouts and boost my score.

Multiplayer is... pretty much exactly what you'd expect, and the formula is a tired one. Customize a soldier and drop into an arena to kill them before they kill you. Yawn. For as far as gaming has come of the past 15 years, I'm still bewildered as to why this kind of multiplayer hasn't gone the way of Guitar Hero and disappeared. Is there anyone out there who STILL finds this fun? I guess there must be, but when it comes to DOOM, multiplayer is easily the weakest link in the chain. And to make matters even worse, it requires a separate download of almost 13GB to the Switch to be played. As game file sizes balloon, I can't see any point to even download this and waste the precious memory card space on it in the first place. For as amazing as the single player campaign is, the multiplayer is a sad misstep that probably never should have been included in the final product.

With my crazy schedule, a game has to really leave an impression - good or bad - for me to take the time to pull a review together. DOOM left an amazingly good impression, and became my favorite shooter since... hmmm... Black or the Killzone trilogy? That sounds right; first-person shooters or games that are violent simply for violence's sake fell out of my favor in my 20s, so it is rare than one gets anything more than a passing "meh" from me. But DOOM is really something special. It's faster than 95% of the shooters I've played, and more intense than nearly all of them. The exploration, huge stages and mountains of collectibles and upgrades set it aside from the average "kill everything, move on" shooters, and the glory kills make dispatching bad guys as satisfying a treat as it's ever been in any other game before it. The in-game map is a huge pain and the multiplayer is a GB-hogging snoozefest, but those are literally the only downsides I see. Every adult Switch owner except for the most squeamish, should have DOOM in their cartridge slot or installed on their SD card. In a whirlwind year for the Switch and AAA releases, DOOM stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the big boys, and missing out on it would be a crime.

Final Rating: 94% - Every Switch owner should have DOOM on their system.


Also reviewed on:
  •  · Xbox One 

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