Way back in the pages of a physical print magazine some time during the 90’s are the few screenshots of ‘Doom 64’ that were my first knowledge of this game. Despite some more recent interest in the console, at the time when it was relevant I was fairly indifferent to Nintendo’s last big player in the bit-wars. Something about these screenshots stuck with me however; I’d played Doom on PC of course, but this… this looked so… different. Even without my recent exploration of the Doom back-catalogue, I think the grainy memory of those screenshots would have drawn me in to picking up the (very reasonably priced) ‘Doom 64’ re-master-release that appeared on the Switch store a couple of weeks ago. Eagerly I downloaded it on release day, desperate to step in to, what I recall being, some dramatically new and cutting edge re-imaginings of the Doom universe…
… before playing it for about 10-minutes and switching it off, having not been very impressed…
… the fact that I’m writing this kind of gives away the reality that I picked it back up a few days later to give it a better shot; even then I had to push through a certain amount of ‘meh’ before I began to enjoy it; Doom 64 hides its true colours behind a pretty lacklustre couple of opening levels.
The exact moment that I started to enjoy Doom 64 was when I picked up the chaingun; mentally I’d prepared myself for the stock two-frame animation of the original incarnation of this weapon, accompanied by the telltale ‘mouse-hitting-a-snare-drum’ sound effect. Then I pressed fire and holy-heck! Deep thumping shots range out, licks of blue flame erupted from the spinning barrels, and the screen shook as I wrestled to tame this monster of steel and gunpowder. I seem to recall hearing at one point or another someone say that “Doom 64 is what Doom II should have been” and, with this snarling fire-breathing gun in hand, I started to realise that whoever that quote can be attributed to was probably right.
Doom 64 feels like the next evolutionary step after the original Doom, and I say this with a real affection for the original two outings, and with a hesitation going in to this version knowing that the familiar textures, DoomGuy-face, and enemy sprites would all be missing. Despite all of this, Doom 64 won me over. The first thing to note is that under the cosmetic changes, the nuts and bolts of Doom are still here beating in the heart of Doom 64. All the classic weapons have made the cut with a visual reworking as are all the original powerups. Many of the classic enemies are here too, again with a visual reworking, and in some cases a few tweaks to their behaviour. Sadly Doom 64 is missing the full roster of demons and I was disappointed not to see Arch Viles or Revenants amongst the lineup of gouls, but the rumour is that storage limitations meant a handful of enemies didn’t make the cut. Doom-guy is as fast and non-jumping as ever without the modern baggage of regenerative health or iron-sight aiming. This really is classic Doom gameplay.
The only major gameplay addition is a solitary new gun, the ‘Unmaker’, some kind of demonic phaser which some F.A.Q. reading informed me has a kind of unlockable-final-boss-fighting ability if you track down all the…. oh, heck, who’s got time for all that, I just wanted to play Doom. Visuals are where the game takes a real leap away from the classics; all the enemies have been reworked. They’re still sprites, but it appears as thought they are based on 3D-rendered images (just a guess) rather than the physical models of the early games. This gives them a slightly cartoonish, almost ‘claymation’, quality that takes some getting used to, but gives the game a distinctive feel and adds a breath of fresh air. Whilst most enemies fared well in this makeover, the Imp is in my opinion the weakest of these reimaginings having lost that fierce reptilian vibe in favour of disappointingly ‘generic-monster’. Similarly, the weapons have had a facelift for the better with everything feeling a little more substantial and awesome – I found myself switching up weapons way more often, especially back to that chaingun, whereas my normal Doom tactic is to pick up the shotgun and never let it leave my hands.
In-game the environments are detailed and vibrant for the age of the game thanks to some drastic improvements in the game engine. Light effects bathe the player in different hues as they walk down a corridor and at there is at least some capability to have sectors on top of sectors (insert gasp) meaning walkways and passages directly above and below other rooms make an appearance in Doom 64. There are even events that change an area’s layout significantly such as moving floors and one point where an entire corridor reworks its path at the flick of a switch. Team all this up with a wide-variety of sprites and textures to add an unholy garnish to the aesthetic and Doom 64 comes together as something visually striking.
Yet with all these improvements, the game never felt as though it had forgotten its roots. The levels are labyrinthine and have that puzzle-box quality to them that I enjoy so much; the player gradually picking their way through a map, unlocking and revealing each new corridor. Tight level design has always been the cornerstone of a good Doom experience and 64, in the most part, manages that. I say ‘in the most part’ because some of these levels are looong, and with occasional moments of “Well, I flicked that switch, but I have no idea what it did“. Luckily the ‘way’ tends to be signposted with more demons and, although some maps took me a long time to clear, I was never wandering around clueless for too long.
The more I played, the weirder it felt that this game has never received a re-release until now. The amount of reworks over the years of the Rare titles, or Ocarina of Time, and Doom 64 sat quietly on the sidelines as the ‘lost’ Doom game. And let’s face it, it really would have been a lost Doom game to many fans of the series; how many PC FPS gamers in the 90’s would have also had an N64? Sure, multi-platform households are common now, but it just wasn’t such a thing back then, and the Venn Diagram of ‘gamers who loved Doom’ and ‘Gamers who also had Nintendo’s family friendly console’ really can’t have been that big. So there would have been fans of the original Doom, and fans of Doom 64 who had never experienced the other until now… just like me.
So yeah, I enjoyed Doom 64; it’s a solid addition to the series and despite having played a heck of a lot of Doom in recent months, is a game that I saw through the end credits (despite very nearly throwing in the towel on the final boss). It’s also a nice note to finish my exploration of the past Doom game on – a real Doom game, because if I’m honest I had a heck of a lot more fun with this than Doom 3.