[UPDATE 27/07/2019 — Bethesda has said in a tweet that the online login requirement mentioned in this article was originally intended to be an optional feature for their “Slayer’s Club” members to obtain rewards for playing the classic Doom games. They are presently working on a fix to remove the mandatory online login. The original article follows while the situation remains.]
The sudden, surprise news that id Software’s venerable first-person shooter Doom was coming to Nintendo Switch (and PS4, and Xbox One) was initially very exciting indeed.
In celebration of Doom’s 25th anniversary, it seemed, we were to be treated to modern ports of Doom, Doom II and the underappreciated Doom III — and they were going to be cheap. Moreover, the fact that they were coming to Switch meant that you’d finally be able to take a competent version of Doom on the go with you without having to battle mobile versions’ awful touchscreen controls.
And indeed, you can now take a competent version of Doom on the go with you… but there are some important things to note. Let’s take a look.
At this point, I’m not sure anyone reading this is unfamiliar with Doom, but on the offchance you are, here’s the gist. You, a brave space marine, have been sent to Phobos, moon of Mars, to investigate some strange happenings — including the apparent disappearance of Phobos’ sister satellite Deimos. Upon your arrival, you discover that the former staff of the base have become mindless, violent zombies — and there are strange creatures roaming the halls too. Naturally there’s only one thing to do: blast everything in sight and attempt to get to the bottom of all this.
Literally; your quest will ultimately take you into Hell to battle the demon lords responsible for the invasion.
Doom was a revolutionary game on its original release in 1993 for the fact it provided a convincing illusion of first-person perspective 3D action. Note that I say illusion; Doom’s levels are still 2D in composition — you’ll notice that there are never rooms above other rooms, suspended walkways or any sort of overlapping environmental elements — but clever use of variable floor and ceiling heights alongside some beautifully evocative texture work really helps the suspension of disbelief.
From a modern perspective, Doom is noteworthy for being from a time prior to a lot of modern FPS conventions becoming established. There’s no reloading, for example — the closest you get is the shotgun automatically being cocked between blasts — and definitely no regenerating health. This gives the game an interesting balance between fast action and a need to be somewhat cautious or at least aware of your surroundings — very distinct to today’s shooters, and a joy to revisit from a modern perspective.
There is generous auto-aim on all your weapons and a strong emphasis on dodging projectile-based attacks rather than hiding from hitscan weapons; this creates a highly kinetic experience where you can’t just run in firing and hope for the best. Instead, success in Doom is dependent on being always on the move but constantly vigilant for threats. This is not a game where you hang back from cover and take iron-sights shots from afar, and the lineup of weapons available to you reflects that.
When rereleasing an old game like this, developers always have to ask themselves some important questions over whether or not they want to create an experience that is authentic to the original, or if they want to give it something of a “remaster” approach, incorporating more modern design aspects while maintaining the overall “feel” of the original.
In the case of Doom, what we have is a version that is mostly authentic. The overall resolution is higher than the PC original’s 320×200, meaning the textures appear much sharper and clearer, and the modern gamepad controls are well-implemented, but everything else is kept pretty much as it was back in the day — right down to the capped (but rock solid) frame rate and the automap that doesn’t update dynamically while you’re looking at it. This new version, in other words, feels very much like classic Doom.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it’s good to remember how things really were, especially with classics like Doom — but given how many other companies have handled retro rereleases with optional screen, aspect ratio and performance settings, it’s hard not to see this port as a bit bare-bones. It would have been nice to see an optional 60fps mode, for example, and perhaps some settings that would allow you to do things like look up and down or have a better, more useful map function. Some remastered music rather than the questionable MIDIs we have here wouldn’t have gone amiss either — although regardless of actual sound quality it’s interesting to note that while Robert Prince’s original compositions remain atmospheric and iconic, the man doesn’t half love his twelve-bar blues chord progressions, to a borderline tiresome degree. Game music has come a long way in 25 years.
None of these things are particular deal-breakers, however.
What might be a deal-breaker for some is Bethesda’s inexplicable and extremely poorly integrated online functionality. Upon starting Doom for the first time, you’re prompted to create a Bethesda account and forced to click through multiple screens of codes of conduct, privacy policies and terms of service. Nothing unusual for a modern game with online features, of course — except Doom doesn’t appear to have any online features. There’s no online multiplayer, there don’t seem to be any leaderboards and there’s no online stat tracking.
What’s worse, if you subsequently try to start up Doom without an active Internet connection — whether you’re in Flight Mode or simply in an area where your Switch doesn’t have Wi-Fi — the game will refuse to start at all, saying that you need to log in to play. Thus, this Switch port appears to be one that actively denies you the opportunity to make use of the Switch’s core selling point: the fact you can take it on the go with you and enjoy games anywhere. Such as places that don’t have Wi-Fi, for example.
Thankfully, the situation isn’t quite as bad as it initially appears; confirm your Bethesda account by clicking the link in the email you’re sent upon account creation, complete the setup of your profile on your computer or phone, then sign in to Doom one more time, and from thereon you’ll be able to play offline — albeit with an error message every time you start about online features being unavailable without an active connection to Nintendo Switch Online.
Trouble is, the game doesn’t explain this at all aside from a throwaway recommendation that you verify your email address during initial account creation. The error message you get when attempting to sign in to Doom without a connection prior to doing this doesn’t indicate that the issue can be resolved by confirming your account; it simply seems to indicate that the game cannot be played without an active Internet connection.
It’s good that the situation isn’t quite as bad as that, but the obtuseness of the whole process leaves a sour taste in the mouth — particularly as previous versions of Doom on a variety of other platforms most certainly do not require any sort of “sign in” to work… and many of those can be played online!
This (admittedly fairly major) issue aside, Doom for Switch is pretty much what you’d hope for: it’s a competent port of classic Doom. For four quid, that’s not a bad deal at all; without the online account nonsense, this would be an easy recommendation. Sadly, at the time of writing, we’re seemingly stuck with it, which will make this a hard sell for many people, even at this price; here’s hoping Bethesda pay attention to the feedback they’re already getting and patch this unnecessary, inexplicable “feature” out as soon as possible.
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