Look, we know how this is going to go. We’ve been around the blocks more than a few times, and we’re old enough to have been using the internet when people still gave their emoticons noses (and still called them emoticons), so at this point, we don’t have to be soothsayers to know what’s going to happen here: some of you are going to look at the screenshots on this page, look at the number at the bottom of the review and go straight to the comments to ask how we could possibly be doing our job properly.
Here’s the thing, though. Much like a can of Coke, DOOM Eternal is not supposed to be enjoyed when it’s still. Hit the screenshot button on your Switch while you’re playing it (especially in handheld mode) then jump to your gallery and you’ll probably think: “Really? I mean, I could tell it was blurry but it didn’t look that bad.” That’s because the warlocks at Panic Button Games have employed all manner of tricks and sorcery to make sure the thing still looks decent in motion. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. We’ll get to the game’s performance in a bit.
Firstly, for those not yet familiar with it, DOOM Eternal is the sequel to the 2016 DOOM reboot, and once again puts you in the surprisingly durable armour of the Doom Slayer as he comes back to Earth and discovers that it’s been taken over by demons while he’s been away. To be fair, he was off fighting more demons, so it’s not like he was on holiday or anything. While there’s a plot in there that DOOM aficionados will no doubt take great interest in, let’s face it: it’s just elaborate window-dressing for the actual plot, which is ‘kill everything that has a pulse, and some things that probably don’t have pulses but look dangerous anyway’.
Like its predecessor, DOOM Eternal revolves around a principle its creators at id Software refer to as ‘push forward combat’. While most other first-person shooters are best played by keeping your distance, attacking only when the enemy is exposed and (in some cases) taking cover to replenish your health, DOOM Eternal actively encourages the player to run straight towards the enemy, all guns blazing.
Your health doesn’t recharge automatically in this game, and health pickups are few and far between. The best way to restore your health, then, is by shooting your enemy enough until they’re nearly dead – at which point it’ll stagger around while flashing – then run right up to them and push in the right stick to perform a ‘glory kill’, a grimy execution move that also results in some health pick-ups. Similarly, if you’re running low on ammo and there isn’t a lot around, your best bet is to chainsaw enemies, which makes them drop a rainbow of ammo. In this way, the game is constantly pushing you forwards, forcing you to tackle enemies head-on because that’s the best way to stay alive. The result, naturally, is non-stop action (accompanied by a sensational heavy metal soundtrack, we should add).
To make sure the combat stays varied, the game introduces all manner of upgrades and new abilities as you make your way through the campaign. Your new shoulder cannon is eventually able to shoot grenades or flames at your enemies, while regular upgrade points let you add new attachments to your ever-growing arsenal of weaponry, turning your shotgun into a grenade launcher, or converting your machine gun into a sniper rifle. Add to this the fact that some of the more powerful enemies have weak points that can be exploited (the irritatingly dangerous Cacodemon can be killed quickly by aiming a grenade into its mouth, for example) and there’s a lot more to this one than just ‘shooty-shooty-bang-bang’ stuff.
The sequel has a greater emphasis on movement, too. While much of your time is spent engaging in epic battles with hordes of demons, when a section is cleared you still need to make your way to the next one, and DOOM Eternal tries to make it interesting by opening up its environments and forcing you to get properly active. You’ve got a double-jump, which is later accompanied by a chargeable dash: combine these two and you can leap over entire chasms, with the likes of horizontal bars and wall climbing making you feel like the game should be called DOOM Raider at times (though never in a bad way).
It’s a great game in its own right, then, but anyone who’s played the previous DOOM game on Switch (or, indeed, looked at the screenshots on this page) will know that some serious concessions have been made to get the thing running on Nintendo’s console. The big question, then, is how severe the downgrade is compared to other systems, and how much does it affect your enjoyment of the game?
Let’s not beat around the bush: put this next to the Xbox One or PS4 versions and it’s obvious that the reduction in quality is severe. While anyone playing the game on those systems will end up with something close to 4K resolution (on the X/Pro versions) at 60 frames per second, we’d be surprised if the Switch version ever comes close to 1080p. Like the last game, it uses an adaptive resolution, which means it’s constantly increasing and decreasing the detail to keep everything running smoothly (usually decreasing, to be fair).
Adaptive resolution isn’t an uncommon trick; loads of games use it (even Super Mario Odyssey drops down to 720p at times when things are getting chaotic). This is by far one of the most severe examples of it, though, and what this means in practice is that you can literally see the picture getting blurrier in certain scenes, almost as if the Doom Slayer has suddenly taken his glasses off. What’s more, all the enemies you encounter have also been severely filtered, which is why they look so rubbish in the static screens you see on this very page.
Play the game in handheld mode and these issues are increased significantly. People’s faces on Google Street View are less blurrier than DOOM Eternal can sometimes get in handheld, and it can be a little disappointing when you reach one of the game’s numerous vast, open areas – which were clearly originally designed to be jaw-dropping when you first encounter them – and everything looks softer than a plush Kirby.
“Why the score, then?” we (pretend to) hear you ask. “After all, the screens speak for themselves, don’t they?” Well, they actually don’t. Panic Button has used every trick in the book (and invented some new ones) to make sure that DOOM Eternal still looks decent when the thing’s actually in motion. Crucially, while the frame rate has dropped from 60 frames per second to 30, that 30 is rock solid and a game like this lives or dies by how satisfyingly constant its ‘rip and tear’ action is.
The fact the game’s frame rate is so solid helps ensure that some of the filters and blur tricks that have been applied to the enemies are almost indistinguishable in motion. This is such a fast-paced game that you don’t really have time to sit back and study the detail (or lack thereof) on a demon’s face because, before you know it, you’ve already punched that face into such a mess that you could probably make a lucrative second job selling it to young kids as slime.
The reality is that most of this game is spent running around large areas filled with demons as you dash, double-jump, shoot, detonate, stomp, punch and singe swarms of scum, all while the most glorious heavy rock score belts out in the background. You genuinely don’t have time to stop and count the pixels; everything’s going so quickly and the action is so relentless that your brain fills in all the details along the way. So yes, some of these screens look awful. But when you’re actually playing it, it looks so much better, and the fact they’ve got it running on the Switch at all, with such a stable frame rate, is impressive beyond belief.
This reviewer has played through DOOM Eternal three times now: a review of the PS4 Pro version at launch, a casual playthrough of the Xbox One X version when it came to Xbox Game Pass, and now this Switch version. While we’d be lying if we said the Switch came even remotely close to the other two in terms of visual quality, we’d also be lying if we said it wasn’t still just as much fun. If you don’t have access to the game on other formats – or you just want to be able to take DOOM Eternal out of the house so you can gib on the go – you’re still going to have an absolute blast.