Is WWE 2K18 really the worst game on Nintendo Switch?

Digital Foundry assesses the latest, patched version.

We've had a lot of requests for this over the last few months, and having finally sampled WWE 2K18, we can see why. The Switch port has built up quite a reputation since its release in early December last year - in fact, many believe it's the worst game available for the system. There've been reports of terrible performance and game-breaking slowdown, but the game was patched recently, so we thought we'd dip in to see whether there's been any improvement. First impressions suggest not, and out of all the multi-platform Switch titles we've experienced, this is easily the worst port we've tested.

And it is indeed a pretty basic port by nature, as opposed to a bespoke project tailored to Nintendo's hardware. WWE 2K18 is a multi-platform release so in assessing the Switch version we felt it was important to put it into context. The standard Xbox One is the next machine up the console power ladder, and in comparing the two, it's fairly clear how the Switch game was nipped and tucked. There are the basics: a 60fps target frame-rate drops down to half that on Nintendo's hybrid. And of course, there's resolution too. Both versions tested use dynamic resolution scaling, so a 720p-900p range on the Microsoft machine drops down to 540p-720p in docked mode on Switch (we've have like to have tested the portable config, but mysteriously, the developer disables the system level screenshot function).

So essentially we're looking at around 50-60 per cent of the resolution and a maximum 50 per cent of the frame-rate in transitioning down from Xbox to Switch, but the developers still aren't done. Switch is shy a couple of gigs in terms of available memory so texture quality is downgraded, and some of the most compute and bandwidth-intensive passes in the renderer are strategically shaved: general shading quality is lower, with ambient occlusion and shadow quality in particular pared back tremendously. To give the game its due though, geometry is pretty close between both versions.

Fundamentally, Switch is a very different proposition to the Sony and Microsoft consoles. In terms of feature set, its GPU is just as robust, but it is a mobile chipset with a significantly reduced power level and some severe bandwidth constraints. Current-gen ports aren't easy and need a certain degree of care and attention - an approach we've seen pay off tremendously on a range of excellent ports from Yooka-Laylee to Doom 2016 to Snake Pass to Lego City Undercover (and many others). For all its cutbacks, WWE 2K18 on Switch fundamentally fails because despite its patches, the performance simply isn't there - with disastrous impact on gameplay.

Some might say you have to see it to believe it.

In a three on three match (perhaps mercifully, the four vs four option is removed from the Switch version) the action lurks in the low 20fps area, while dropping back to a standard one on one face-off sees performance rise to the 25-30fps range. But in putting numbers to the game's rendering throughput, we still aren't conveying how awful the experience actually is - and part of that is in how WWE 2K18 operates when performance drops beneath its 30fps target. The vast majority of modern games skip frames when this happens, but WWE harkens back to the Super NES era in that gameplay actually slows down.

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There's a literal slow motion effect when performance is affected, and this translates into unresponsive controls that make the game feel terrible play. And the lower the frame-rate, the more slowdown you get. As an experiment, we ran WWE's intro sequences side-by-side on Switch and Xbox One - as you can see in the video above, you can see just how quickly the two feeds de-sync. This is perhaps not surprising bearing in mind the metrics: performance in the intros often remains markedly lower than 30fps and we actually reached a nadir here of a mere 13fps. Now, although it's not preferable by any means, we usually don't mind seeing some performance drops in non-gameplay engine-driven cutscenes. But these extended sequences only become more laborious to watch when so much of it is seemingly running in slow motion.

So is WWE 2K18 the worst game on Switch? Well, we've not played them all so can't really provide definitive comment there, but based on the range of titles we've played it's quantifiably terrible, and certainly out of the many cross-platform ports we've played, this is easily the least impressive. We've seen plenty of evidence that sensibly adapted PS4 and Xbox One titles can transition well to Nintendo's hardware, but perhaps what WWE 2K18 demonstrates is that if you strip back so much and still can't get a playable experience, perhaps the best way forward for all concerned is to throw in the towel.

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