Release Date: 31st March 1997 (N64) | Genre: FPS | Developer: Midway | Publisher: Midway | Playtime: 4hr 58mins |
So, Doom 64. It’s a game that pretty much nobody ever talks about, which is understandable seeing as a number of factors stifled it’s success when it originally came out. It was released for the N64, forgoing the Playstation completely which was strike one for the game, it was released with next to no fanfare whatsoever from the media or it’s publisher! Pretty much nobody except die-hard Doom fans knew of the game’s existence at the time, and the N64 wasn’t exactly an appealing prospect for those PC faring folks who had access to more powerful hardware and more technically advanced games too, it just kinda came out and then faded into obscurity. Luckily, thanks to a bunch of eager techno-wizards we’ve got multiple ways to play the game on PC now. You got Doom 64 EX, a re-creation of the original game that uses the original N64 ROM file to generate a WAD file and using the Doom source code to allow folks to play it with Mouse and Keyboard and a bunch of other modern luxuries, including filter and graphical settings!
Unfortunately, there’s a problem with Doom 64 EX that causes issues with mouse turning, it becomes a jittery mess even with the SDL fix the project lead put out a few years ago. Windows 10 being the main culprit. It’s a shame, but I resorted to a different option: Doom 64 Retribution, a fantastic fan recreation that keeps the original game intact, and fixes a bunch of issues the original game had, mainly general bug fixes and some texture issues!
Now, Doom is a series I’ve got mixed opinions about. I prefer Doom over Doom II, even with the extra weapons and enemies the latter added. I think it just had better overall level design! Doom II feels a bit scatterbrained in comparision, with some particularly egregious level design towards the middle portion of the game when you’re forced to wander around apartment blocks and big open maps. After playing the recent Switch ports (Now the audio issues are fixed and the Bethesda.net login is removed) I’ve found my opinion on both games hasn’t changed even after all these years. I was eager to try out Doom 64 after the announcement of the recent console and PC ports, which sadly are delayed until March along with Doom Eternal. So instead of waiting I just downloaded GZDoom and Doom 64 Retribution and holy shit, I didn’t expect to love this game as much as I did!
The first thing that I’ve got to talk about is the level design. It’s honestly the best in the entire series as well as some of the best in any FPS game to date, even after all these years. You’ve got a great mix of series-staples like labyrinthian corridor mazes, wider and more open multi-leveled maps, and even some straight-up gimmicky levels a-ka Doom II like the “Dead Simple” tribute that greets you upon first entering hell, simply titled “Even Simpler”! The original Doom games have always had a bit of an issue with level navigation as you got further into each game and the levels got more complex and more layered, wandering around aimlessly often became an issue in those games, especially Doom II. Doom 64 doesn’t have that issue. Not once did I have to look up an FAQ or a walkthrough for my first playthrough at all, which is something I have to do for the first two games every now and then! Doom 64’s sign-posting is excellent thanks to clever lighting choices and common-sense level design! If you hit a switch in one place you’ll have a good idea of exactly what it activated on the other side of the map, the coloured lighting...and even the lack of it in some places come together to push the player around each map effortlessly with little to no confusion, they're both complex and fun and effortless to navigate. The guys at Midway did an amazing job with mapping out all of these levels. There’s a bunch of highlights and in my opinion there’s not ONE weak map throughout!
Now, in terms of new stuff, there’s a couple of new things Midway have thrown in here, there’s a new variation of the Imp, a dark transparent spectral variant that throws darker, faster fireballs who also coincidentally blend in with the dark backgrounds of each map a bit too well! There’s also a new weapon, the Unmaker. Now this satanic pentagram etched laser gun seems weak at first, but through finding secret levels and collecting each of the demon keys hidden away in each level, you can upgrade this little pea-shooter to a fuel energy guzzling killing machine, rapidly shooting waves of lasers into enemies and making short work of pretty much any enemy in the game. Even Cyberdemons, Arachnatrons and the final boss, the Mother Demon! The new weapon designs are fantastic as well. Way more detailed and more sinister looking than their earlier counterparts. And hey, the Plasma Rifle finally doesn’t look like a vacuum clearner any more! It’s now a buzzing tesla cannon that rapidly fires meaty-sounding blue explosives!
The other thing I’ve got to talk about is the atmosphere, it’s outstanding. The darker maps, more intimidating re-designs of all of the original Doom enemies and the soundtrack….my fucking god, the soundtrack is sublime! It takes an already dark and brooding looking game and cranks up the horror and general anxiety and uneasiness tenfold. If the first two Doom games could be categorized as Heavy Metal, Doom 64 is Dark Ambience! Wandering around the dark corridors of the Phobos station and the shadow-laden fortresses and citadels of hell with the lights off in my room and the background noise cranked up genuinely made me anxious and nervous! Low pitched humming, distant wailing, whispers that gradually increase in volume and intensity before fading away gently, babies crying, demons groaning, buzzing and static….this is what Doom 64’s “Soundtrack” is comprised of. Throughout my playthrough I constantly peered over my shoulder into the darkness of my room during the downtime and quiet parts when clearing out a room or heading to the next coloured door. Final Outpost and Dark Citadel being particular highlights. Very few games have ever made me feel as nervous and tense as Doom 64 has, and Aubrey Hodge’s work here in my opinion is a fucking masterpiece!
Overall, I consider Doom 64 an underappreciated classic now that it’s unchained from the restrictive hardware it originated on. It trumps every other game in the series to date, and even most modern day games in the same genre. Download GZDoom, and the Doom 64 Retribution port and experience it for yourself!