Doom on Switch may have changed everything with new motion controls
id Software and partner studio Panic Button rolled out a patch to the Nintendo Switch version of Doom on Monday, and players dug in, hopeful for fixes to a few glaring issues. Indeed, we saw updates to issues like frame-rate snags and audio bugs. But the patch's most interesting effect was a complete surprise: a new "motion control" toggle.
Wait, what? Is this some sort of Wii-like waggle thing?
Far from it, turns out. id Software has surprisingly borrowed a page from Nintendo's playbook—but in doing so has also delivered a first for a first-person shooter.
Still sick from SixAxis
When you think of motion control in shooter games, you might think of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption or Red Steel from the Wii. Both of those shooters required aiming a Wii-mote as a pointer at all times, and this enabled a remarkable level of precision. Trouble was, holding your wrist up to aim for extended periods could hurt, and higher-speed "aiming your head" controls were tough to nail.
Or you might think of PlayStation 3's disastrous Lair, which launched with horrendous wave-your-SixAxis requirements.
Doom's updated version on Nintendo Switch doesn't really resemble either of these. It instead gives players a common FPS control scheme, as seen in series like Halo and Call of Duty, in which all moving and aiming is done with joysticks… only it also lets you simultaneously fine-tune your up, down, left, and right aiming by gently nudging any Switch control scheme around in those directions in your hands.
If this sounds familiar, that's because Nintendo implemented similar controls in its Splatoon series and to some extent in the Wii U's Star Fox Zero. Only, Nintendo being Nintendo, it did it differently. When motion control is turned on in either Splatoon game, players must waggle their hands to control all vertical-axis aiming. (Horizontal-axis aiming, on the other hand, continues to work both in motion and on a joystick.)
Splatoon's biggest fans and pro players will tell you that its motion controls are the way to go. I said otherwise in my review of both games, and I stand by my reason: that Nintendo didn't open up its motion control options so that players could assign motions however they saw fit. It continues to feel so-close-yet-so-far.
I go into such ridiculous game-history detail because I want to emphasize how motion-annoyed I have grown over the years. I was a Wii apologist in its first year; I dreamed of a Kinect-powered future that never came; heck, I was even fooled by Sony's SixAxis motion gimmicks for a few weeks. Nowadays, I need something special to convince me that this stuff actually adds anything worthwhile to my gaming entertainment.
Not a motion overreaction
Doom's update is uniquely impressive, in part, because it's so chill about the whole thing. I like the comfort of holding a two-joystick controller to run and gun through a shooting game, but not every FPS is right for such a couch-lazy position—and certainly not a high-speed, action-all-around shooter like the 2016 Doom reboot. If I'm not utilizing a mouse and keyboard, I feel like I'm missing opportunities to line up a precise shot or wildly react to bloody mayhem.
I'm reluctant to call this superior to mouse and keyboard, but Doom's Switch results do clearly impress. After an hour of testing on Joy-Cons and the Switch Pro Controller, I found that this motion-enabled mode somewhat replicates the wrist-based nudging I'm so familiar with by using a computer mouse. This is mostly limited to up-and-down motion while using the Pro Controller, while the Joy-Cons afford both vertical and horizontal motion. I mostly found myself taking advantage of the up-and-down motion, anyway, as Doom's crawling, high-up beasts are often the peskiest ones to line up shots against.
Yet I also have full joystick control handy when I want to focus on traditional gameplay, along with an easy tap-the-joystick to recenter my perspective in a pinch. Maybe this is the key to what Doom has gotten right on Nintendo Switch. We're many years removed from motion-control hysteria, where waggle-a-gyroscope gimmicks were shoehorned into so many games and apps. Here, id Software has implemented something that feels supplementary—that adds a pinch of mouse-like goodness to a familiar joystick configuration. There's certainly a learning curve, but unlike other "you gotta get used to it" systems I've seen over so many years, this one clicked a lot more quickly. I'll take this over the awkward Steam Controller any day.
The major catch in Doom's case is that this "impossible" port sacrifices visual fidelity, not to mention frame rate, to work on the lower-powered Switch. I do like this Doom port, all in all, and I must say, these motion controls work better than expected while holding the Switch screen in my hands—thanks, in part, to the delightfully just-sensitive-enough Joy-Con gyroscopes. But with heightened sensitivity, now I want a game to match, complete with a full-fat 60fps refresh and less-smeared resolution. I want those extra visual frames to better match my wrists' twitchy movements.I can only hope more game makers see what Doom's Switch developer, Panic Button, pulled off with this motion system. Then I hope they think about doing the same thing with their games on, say, PlayStation 4, whose default controller includes its own mix of gyroscope and accelerometer—and whose hardware can push 60fps action without breaking a sweat.
This updated version of Doom on Switch is proof that adding such a motion-based option—and giving players enough freedom to tweak and personalize it—is nothing but good news for console FPS games.