Released: March 2020
Originally Released: April 1997
Developer: Nightdive Studios
Original Developer: Midway Games
Also Available For: Nintendo 64, Nintendo Switch, PC, and PlayStation 4
Everyone knows Doom (id Software, 1993), right? The gory, action-packed first-person shooter (FPS) that has seemingly been ported to every console and format known to man and pretty much thrust the FPS genre into the mainstream? Well, if you don’t, then I envy your naivety. Doom was not only the first in a still-ongoing series of fantastic FPS games, it also kick-started a slew of brilliant FPS titles on the PC and home consoles, as well as popularising online “Deathmatches” against other human players.
In keeping with the fact that Doom has appeared on nearly every piece of hardware available, id Software drafted Midway Games to work on a port for the under-rated Nintendo 64. However, rather than being a straight-up, by-the-numbers conversion of Doom, Doom 64 featured entirely new levels, redesigned weapons, some new enemies, and a greater emphasis on exploration. With the release of Doom: Eternal (ibid, 2020), a game largely inspired by and related to Doom 64, Doom 64 finally saw a wider re-release on modern consoles, bringing this oft-forgotten Doom title back into the spotlight. But does it hold up to the original Doom and its sequel, Doom II: Hell on Earth (ibid, 1994), or was it better left forgotten?
After thwarting Hell’s attempt at invading Mars and Earth, the hard-as-nails Doom Marine (or “Doomguy”) is once again forced to take up arms and journey to space stations and through Hell itself, slaughtering demons in a head-on collision with the Mother Demon herself.
As you should probably be aware, Doom 64 is a traditional Doom FPS through-and-through; as in the classic Doom, you control the Doomguy, a silent, no-nonsense marine who enjoys nothing more than blasting demons with a shotgun or skewing them into bloody sushi with a chainsaw.
Unlike modern FPS games, aiming and precise camera control are not necessary in Doom 64; you can more left, right, straight ahead, and backwards, and those are the only directions you can shoot in. There’s also no crosshair or aiming recital; you simply point your weapon in the direction of your target, shoot, and let the game’s auto aim direct your shot.
This is helpful when faced with swarms of enemies and it keeps the action fast and frantic but it can make picking off demons from a distance a bit trickier; I prefer to clear out rooms and areas first so I can explore unimpeded and this often meant to would blast at enemies hiding above or below the game’s maze-like stages. As the game seems to want you to engage demons at point-blank range, the auto aim doesn’t always shoot at enemies up above or below, making this technique tricky, to say the least.
As you explore the game’s massive thirty-odd stages, you’ll be tasked with finding a number of coloured keys to open doors and progress further towards the stage exit. Generally, you’ll need three of these (blue, red, and yellow) to progress, but not always, and you’ll also find secret areas and rooms hidden behind seemingly innocuous walls.
While this is par for the course with Doom videogames, I don’t remember it being this necessary or difficult in Doom or Doom II; it doesn’t help that every one of Doom 64’s stages is labyrinthine in nature. This is fine in small doses but I found myself wandering around in circles in every other stage, desperately trying to figure out where to go next, and was forced to turn to a guide more than once just to find the next key…only to find it seemingly led to a dead-end room. There are a lot of hidden weapons and rooms in Doom 64 and this extends to certain switches and doors; more than once, you’ll have to press a certain switch, or switches in certain combinations, or stand in a certain place or race to a lowered platform or opened passageway before the close. I don’t mind this in principle but, more often than not, I would activate a switch and open a door or lower a platform that is outside of your viewpoint, meaning I would struggle to see where I had to go at the best of times.
Additionally, in certain stages, you can find three Demon Keys; these artefacts can only be acquired after solving some of the game’s trickier puzzles but, with them, you can upgrade the firepower and effectiveness f the game’s ultimate weapon, the “Unmaker”, and will greatly increase your chances at defeating the game’s final boss. Ultimately, Doom 64 offers a classic dose of Doom that will be new for many players, even those more than familiar with the first two games. However, I found my enjoyment of the ripping and tearing soured somewhat by the over-emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving; I find these elements ill-fitting in FPS games at the best of times and they feel especially out of place in a Doom game and incorporated simply to mix things up for those who have played Doom and Doom II to death.
Graphics and Sound:
Graphically, Doom 64 looks and feels like a classic Doom title; stages are build out of three-dimensional polygons and the game’s wide variety of enemies are rendered using 2D sprites. Enemies are largely and diverse but, as always with classic Doom games, they suffer from this 2D rendering; there are very few frames of animation, meaning enemies can appear a bit jerky and pixelated. Thankfully, this doesn’t stop the blood and gore and the game’s creepy, supernatural aesthetic remaining in full force. Pentagrams, fire, and blood are everywhere, lending a creepy ambiance and horror to the game that is punctuated by the ominous (yet rocking) soundtrack that is pure Doom through and through.
Sadly, however, Doom 64 omits Doom’s trademark heads-up display (HUD); rather than seeing a pixelated representation of the Doomguy react in pain when hurt or grin sadistically when acquiring new weapons, you simply have numbers showing your health, armour, and ammo status. However, the game’s weapons did receive a new coat of paint and it’s always nice seeing Doomguy slot a fresh shell into the super shotgun before blasting a Cacodemon to pieces.
Enemies and Bosses:
Doom 64 features all the classic Doom enemies: you’ll battle shotgun-toting zombies, fireball-spewing Imps, and the lumbering Bull Demons. There’s even a new enemy exclusive to this version, the Nightmare Imp, which is just a faster, more translucent version of the regular Imp but it’s nice to see some exclusivity to this version.
Doomguy also battles some more testing enemies, like the big-ass Hell Knight; the worst of which, for me, are the Pain Elementals. These disgusting, blob-like bastards spew the always-annoying flaming skulls known as Lost Souls, which quickly swarm you and drain your health in no time. Seriously, I would rather run in circles like a madman shooting rockets at a slew of Mancubuses or Barons of Hell than take on a handful of these bastards!
Speaking of which, you’ll often have to battle a rocket-firing Baron of Hell, Mancubus, or Arachnotron as bosses as you progress through the game’s stages but, once you’ve bested them, they’ll crop up in later stages, sometimes in twos or massive groups. In the game’s final level, “The Absolution”, you’ll have to battle through a slaughter of an endurance against an entire army of the game’s enemies, including these bosses, before you can face the Mother Demon…unless you have the three Demon Keys.
With these, you can close up the portals these enemies spew from and battle the Mother Demon with more of your health and ammo. With these artefacts, the Unmaker will be fully powered, allowing you to make short work of this final boss but, even still, she’s no cake-walk and, without the artefacts, it’s next to impossible to reach the Mother Demon with a decent amount of health, armour, or ammo.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
You begin the game with a simple pistol and the Doomguy’s patented right hand. As you explore your surroundings (or kill certain enemies), you’ll acquire ammo and additional weapons, including the shotgun, super shotgun, the chaingun, a plasma cannon, and a rocket launcher. Doom’s signature weapon, the BFG-9000, can also be found either in secret areas or in later stages of the game; this baby can be charged up and unleash an energy blast that disintegrates all onscreen enemies and makes short work of the game’s bosses.
The game’s most powerful weapon, however, is the Unmaker, a demonic weapon that must be powered up with the three Demon Keys in order to cut through enemies and bosses. Ammo for this weapon, and the BFG-9000, is relatively scarce, however, so it’s advisable to only use it when absolutely necessary. Thankfully, you can still grab a chainsaw (this time, it has two blades!) to rip and tear demons into bloody pieces, which won’t cost you any ammo at all.
As you explore the stages, you’ll find medikits to restore your health, various armours to increase your resistance to attack, increase your maximum and health and armour points with smaller items, and view any unexplored areas on the game’s awkward map screen. You can also grab the Berserk item to be fully healed and enter a state of rage where the damage you deal with your fists is increased exponentially, pick up a radiation shield so you can walk through lava or radioactive waste, or grab the supercharge and megasphere to boost your health and/or armour to their fullest, attain partial invisibility or limited invincibility, or grab a backpack to increase the amount of ammo you can hold.
Doom 64 features four difficulty settings, each of which affects your health, armour, ammo, and the frequency and aggressiveness of the game’s enemies. There are numerous secrets to be found in each stage, one of which is so well hidden that you’ll be destroying certain explosive barrels in a specific order in order to reach the super secret level, “Heretic”.
Once you beat either this stage, or the entire game on any difficulty, you’ll unlock “The Lost Levels”, six additional stages that take the Doomguy back to hell to confront the Mother Demon’s sister (and which form the basis of a link to Doom: Eternal). In addition to this, there are a number of pretty simple Achievements to get on the Xbox One version and, as always, some passwords and cheat codes to make the game more interesting or allow you to warp to the challenging “Fun” stages (however, it is notable that you won’t get an Achievement if you have a cheat code activated).
Doom 64 is a classic Doom experience first and foremost. At its core, its as bloody and action-packed as the classic Doom and its sequel but, because of its additional features and skewed focus, feels like a fresh experience and an entirely new game rather than a straight-up port.
Unfortunately, it can’t be denied that the game’s reliance on maze-like stages, exploration, and keys to progress make the game more frustrating than it needed to be. When I’m playing Doom, I like to blast through demons in a largely linear environment; I don’t really play to think, if that makes sense, and I was forced to a guide more often than I would like for a Doom title. Yet, the game is at its best when you’re fully locked and loaded and faced with a hoard of flesh-eating demons just begging to be blown to bloody chunks.
What are your thoughts on Doom 64? Did you play the original release on the Nintendo 64 or did you play it as part of Doom: Eternal? Which Doom is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Doom, or FPS games in general, leave a comment below.