Doom 64 found new life with the bundled release alongside Doom Eternal, id Software’s newest iteration of the game that truly propelled them into the mainstream, and with it a handful of new levels that help tie it into Doom 2016, but is the game even worth playing now that we have two new versions on the market?
For most of my life I thought Doom 64 was just another port of the original Doom for the Nintendo 64 which I imagine most people did because I didn’t hear much of this game until very recently when id Software, along with the hard work of the development team at Nightdive Studios, decided to release a reworked version of their game with the recently released Doom Eternal.
Up until the 1997 release of Doom 64 we hadn’t seen a solid Doom game released since Doom II: Hell on Earth in 1994. What we had gotten were subpar clones of the mighty original that were lacking in multiple ways from the PC original. The Atari Jaguar version, which most all the other console ports are based on, is one of the most solid of the bunch right after the Playstation One (until the subsequent Xbox 360/Playstation 3 releases), but it also lays the shaky foundation with missing maps and enemies, modified levels and sprites, and much more. The following 3DO Interactive, Super NES, and Sega Saturn versions faired worse due to even lower end hardware performance, poorer development and rushed delivery. [If you want to learn more about these, Digital Foundry has a wonderful video on YouTube explaining each in detail.]
And then there was Doom 64.
Doom 64 was developed by Midway Games after their very successful release of Doom and Final Doom on the Playstation One. Because of this, they got a lot of leeway from id Software who basically gave them free reign to create their own version of Doom with some restrictions – mainly they didn’t want them creating a number 3 because if id ever returned to the property, they wanted to make the official sequel. That was fine with everyone at Midway. They built everything from scratch and put it into what they called “Project Annihilation”.
⛧ THE DOOM SLAYER IS BORN⛧
In some regards the atmosphere of Doom 64 is an abrupt departure from the first two games diving into a more strategic and methodical horror/action hybrid while still remaining more true to the originals than Doom 3 which wouldn’t be released for another seven years. The story gets dark as well shedding some of the more humorous, macho text and depicting a more realistic Doomguy who, for all intensive purposes, has PTSD from his previous run-ins with the demons of hell. It also pushes him a bit further (which ties into the Doom Slayer in Doom 2016, Doom Eternal) leaning towards the mindless violence that Flynn Taggart displays in the comic books. His ultimate goal, after all, is “MERCILESS EXTERMINATION”.
Pulling from the darker tones of the story is the absolutely fantastic music from Aubrey Hodges who had worked on previous Doom ports. The music adds a particularly unnerving level of anxiety to the game, such as in level 20: Breakdown. The track “The Rotted Foul” features an orchestra of strings playing alongside the twisted moans of damned humans and demons alike, interjecting pauses silence to throw off the player and provide the most unnerving feeling of sheer and utter Doom. Breakdown may be the most appropriate title after all.
|Lighting on display looks even better when seeing it animated.|
The lighting in this game is top notch and is used to the fullest effect on most every level starting from the very first level. Rooms drenched in darkness featuring only red lights falling off into the distance are on the opposite end of the pendulum from rooms that are bathed in pulsating light casting wonderful shadows across the room. It adds so much to the atmosphere of the game and does a wonderful job of making the levels feel dramatically different even when the textures don’t vary that often in color, even if they do have a good variation in type.
Another thing that helps with variation and increased are the beautifully animated skies and liquids in the level. No longer are the skies solid skyboxes, but now are animated with rolling thunder and lighting crashing along with parallax scrolling… it’s amazing. Along the same line the liquids – water, lava, acid, etc. – are now smoothly animated so that they appear like… well, liquid! Seriously, it’s a big difference if you compare the two. Then there’s fog and it’s not implemented to hide parts of the level in order to speed gameplay; it’s there for atmosphere! It’s actually quite amazing how much of that is in this game.
|You’ll have to take my word that that green fire is beautifully animated… or just buy the game!|
The levels, though not true 3d, are built, textured and lit in a way that honestly make them look 3d. I stopped multiple times and marvelled at their construction because they are laid out in such a conscious, strategic way you would swear that they are. Honestly, the way the levels are designed is brilliant. In “Breakdown” you will travel the length of a level, flip a switch and see a stairway drop down which leads to another portion of the level you never knew existed which leads to a switch that alters the level further for you to pass. Many levels use this tactic in glorious ways.
Another thing that this game does well is put puzzles in front of you in various unique ways. On map 23, “Unholy Temple”, you grab all three skull keys but then need to go to a code room to input the color code in the correct sequence to unlock doors around the level.
|Key puzzle protected by an Arachnatron|
However, not all the level design is brilliant. There are certain areas in the game that will drop you in a pit of lava or a pit of darkness filled with Spectres and won’t provide a way out. I understand the idea behind negative reinforcement – teach someone not to do something by giving them a negative consequence for doing it – but why does it have to be so harsh in a game you are supposed to enjoy? This doesn’t happen all the time either, which may be even more confusing. There are some pits that you can escape from, and other times you’ll fall into an escapable pit. I don’t get it.
They add in some cool traps though, and I’m mostly just talking about the dart traps that open up in walls that shoot darts at you, but they are used in some questionable ways like in “Dark Citadel” where you push a button which reveals a key surrounded by dart traps and in “Burnt Offerings” where you take damage for a short time waiting for a door to open up. There are apparently ways around this that I read on the internet so I’ll give them a pass for now, but they weren’t entirely apparent at the time. I won’t give those damn homing rocket turrets a pass though.
|Cacodemons, Pain Elementals and Lost Souls – oh my!|
The monsters are rendered with new sprites that work for the most part. The Cacodemon, for whatever reason, now looks like the Pain Elemental from past games. The Pain Elemental is entirely new with two mouths for twice as many Lost Souls flying at you because it is twice the pain, as are the flaming skulls it is firing out of its mouths. They added in a new Nightmare Imp that is slightly invisible and fires a stronger, purple projectile that is… whatever.
They don’t have the Machine Gunner, Arch-vile or the Spider Mastermind, and they are missed. The current enemies, unless thrown at you in waves like in “Even Simpler”, are not terribly hard. They generally attack slower than their previous counterparts and their attacks can be dodged without trouble. I understand their reasons for limiting type of enemy in the game because of cartridge size, but a quick firing Machine Gunner or Arch-vile thrown in to change up the speed and gameplay would have been much liked.
|Boomstick and Barons|
Of course, the enemies aren’t the only things that are slower. You character, while moving generally the same speed while running, loads weapons much slower than the previous games. Most noticeably is the the shotgun and super shotgun, with the latter taking a whole second before it reloads (and without the usual Doom II graphical flare). That may not seem like much, but when you’re in the thick of combat and are used to the faster reload of previous games, the new speed seems like an eternity and will mess with whatever rhythm you have learned up to that point.
The controls seem on point, for the most part. Because of the slower reload, the weapons swap a bit slower than usual. You’re movement is generally precise, which is needed in a game like this, but there were a few stairs that I was running towards and as soon as I hit the top I started an seemingly endless slide that didn’t stop until I hit the bottom. I’m sure it wouldn’t have been a problem if I didn’t have run lock on, but I imagine most people do when they play a Doom game so it’s an odd design choice. Regardless, it didn’t affect the game that much.
What is noticeable and much loved are the beefier sound effects. Almost everything from the deeper boom of the super shotgun to the grisly death of a Hell Knight all sound so rich and harshly beautiful. Top notch.
⛧ OVERALL ⛧
All said, this truly feels and plays like the true sequel to Doom II: Hell on Earth. I’m glad that id Software and Nightdive Studios are not only shining more light on it, but also pulling it into the fray as it’s a damn fine entry into the series. There are only a few negatives that are far outweighed by the many positives it showcases. It isn’t as hard as the previous entries except in a couple of levels, so if you are a somewhat skilled player feel free to play it on the hardest difficulty and look for all those Demon Keys to unlock the full potential of the Unmaker so you can finally stick it to Mother!