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Whether you play video games or not there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the Doom series. The classic Doom games were developed by id Software and released for DOS in the early 90’s. When the original shareware version of the original Doom released in 1993, it really popularized the first-person shooter genre. Developed and published by Midway Games, Doom 64 was released for the Nintendo 64 in March, 1997. Even with its bigger focus on horror and atmosphere, Doom 64 retains the came classic gameplay we all know and love. At the time, it gave console players a chance to enjoy what they were missing from the PC titles.
Navigating maze-like levels, key hunting, and blowing away hordes of demons with a badass arsenal is what primarily makes up a Doom game and Doom 64 is no exception. Because I never owned a Nintendo 64 growing up, I missed out on this title but over the years I’ve heard it really wasn’t that great. When I did eventually play it, the controls immediately turned me off but you can’t really blame the game for that. It can be hard to replicate PC controls on consoles, let alone on the Nintendo 64. For a Doom game, using a 64 controller is just not ideal. However, in 2017, we have more options available to us in terms of controls so I recently purchased the GameCube controller to N64 adapter which enables you to play 64 games using a GameCube controller and you can even the map the buttons to your liking. For this review, I used this adapter and the GameCube controller eliminated all issues I had with the controls.
I will also cover Doom 64 EX in this review, a faithful recreation of the game for PC using the Doom source code as a base. I’m going to tell you right now that Doom 64 EX is the ultimate version of this game and benefits greatly by being on PC. It plays just like the classic Doom games, runs on modern operating systems, and even supports new graphical options. Doom 64 EX was developed by Samuel Villarreal, the same guy who brought us the Doom 64: Absolution total conversion in 2003. He’s now part of the team at Nightdive Studios, the same developers that recently brought us the Strife: Veteran Edition, the latest PC versions of Turok and Turok 2, and even the System Shock: Enhanced Edition. Doom 64 EX is not technically official and you are required to extract the ROM from the game’s actual Nintendo 64 cartridge in order to play it. And, no, I will not tell you where you can get a copy of the ROM, so please don’t ask.
The story in a Doom game is never the focus but the basic idea is that you play as a silent Space Marine, simply known as “Doomguy”, and must stop Hell’s forces from invading. I don’t know if Doom 64’s story is considered canon but it really wouldn’t matter anyway since it’s basically the same story we’ve seen before being retold again. I don’t have the actual manual but my research tells me that Doom 64 is considered a sequel to the original PC titles, taking place after Final Doom. Apparently, this time, Marines were attempting to prevent the advancing armies of Hell, and failed miserably. You play as the sole survivor and need to stop Hell’s demonic army. I don’t know what planet the story takes place on, but based on previous games I’m guessing Mars or one of it’s moons. After working your way through military installations you then fight your way through Hell, itself. There’s no voice acting and only after specific levels is any form of story presented to the player in the form of text. This is one series where the story really doesn’t matter and, honestly, that’s fine. It’s just you against an army of demons and that’s really all it needs to be. The premise has always been awesome and it’s really up to the gameplay to back that up.
The gameplay in Doom 64 is pretty much identical to that of previous games. If you can control it properly, that is. You can still run and strafe, look left and right, and sprint which is also used to jump across gaps. If you’re playing the original game you cannot aim vertically and instead use autoaim to shoot at enemies above or below you. In Doom 64 EX you do have the option to aim vertically and can toggle it on and off. You run around the levels, blowing away demons, and need to find the exits to progress. Throughout each level are keys that are used to open doors but, of course, the challenge is figuring out how to get to the keys, and sometimes, even the color-coded doors they correspond to. The levels are all labyrinths with plenty of doors, buttons, switches, and secret areas. Ammo, health, armor, and powerups are scattered throughout each level, and backtracking is a common thing. The levels are never so big that backtracking really becomes tedious but if you’ve never played this before, getting lost is very easy and I found myself running around in circles often. Even after playing the original game, I would still get lost in many of the same levels in Doom 64 EX.
All of the same weapons we’ve come to know and love make a return. The pistol, chainsaw, shotgun, super shotgun, chaingun, rocket launcher, plasma rifle, and of course the BFG 9000. All of the weapons have been redesigned and I actually prefer some of them to their classic counterparts. My two favorite redesigned weapons are the chainsaw and chaingun. The the chainsaw now has two blades instead of one, although it functions exactly the same, letting you slice enemies to their deaths. And I think the chaingun is just awesome looking. Knowing what weapons to use and when is still a big part of the gameplay and other than the pistol, all of the guns prove to be extremely useful. The combat in Doom consists of shooting enemies until they die and that’s exactly what you do here. New to Doom 64 is a laser weapon known as the Unmaker. It’s not a very good name but it is what it is and it’s also the most powerful weapon in the game. What makes this weapon unique is that it can be upgraded by finding Demon Keys. Each key makes the Unmaker more powerful and also increases its rate of fire and the amount of lasers it fires at once. The weapon itself actually feels quite underwhelming when you fire it but at least it looks pretty cool. All of the Demon Keys are hidden in three secret levels and they’re also used to make the final boss fight significantly easier. Without them, the final boss is a real bitch so I would say that making the extra effort to locate these keys is a very good idea.
Circle strafing to avoid enemy projectiles is the key to survival and you’ll need to switch weapons on the fly often which can prove to be a chore on the 64. In Doom 64 EX, keyboard buttons are mapped for each weapon, making switching weapons much easier. Even though you can remap the buttons in the original 64 game, when a using an actual 64 controller, movement never felt quite right and that’s really because of the lack of two joysticks. Moving forwards and backwards, while being able to strafe at the same time should never feel cumbersome which is the problem with the 64 game. As I stated earlier, I was using an adapter so I could play using a GameCube controller so I was able to map the buttons in a way that makes movement second nature. As for Doom 64 EX, it controls perfectly just like previous games and even includes Xbox 360 controller support.
Most of the same demons from previous titles return and all of them have been redesigned. The Pain Elemental now has two mouths that spit out Lost Souls and it looks pretty cool. Lost Souls are annoying as fuck, more so than in previous games, and they fly at you at rapid speed. Zombies, Imps, Demons, Spectres, Cacodemons, Hell Knights, Barons, Mancubus, Arachnotrons, and of course the Cyberdemon, are all here and they do look pretty good. I really have no complaints when it comes to the redesigns. Doom 64 does contain two new monsters – the Nightmare Imp which is just a blue or purple Imp that hurls fireballs faster than the standard one, and the final boss, Mother Demon. As I stated earlier, collecting all of the Demon Keys makes the battle with her significantly easier. Before you can fight her you need to fight off waves of enemies but if you have the Demon Keys you can stop the enemies from constantly spawning in. Without the Demon Keys, this entire battle can feel almost impossible. Avoiding the Mother Demon’s attacks can be quite difficult but if you have the upgraded Unmaker you can bring her down very quickly. Enemies that did not make the cut include Heavy Weapon Dude, Revenant, Spider Mastermind, and Arch-Vile which is probably for the best. Arch-Vile was always an asshole.
Doom 64 includes four difficulty modes – “Be Gentle!”, “Bring It On!”, “I Own Doom!”, and “Watch Me Die!”. When playing the original game, I played on the “Bring It On!” difficulty and when playing Doom 64 EX, I played on “I Own Doom!”. The higher difficulty modes include more enemies, specifically more Hell Knights and Barons. These two appear much more often and it does get a bit annoying. These guys have always been bullet sponges and with so many of them to deal with, some levels feel like they just drag on. It’s not that I don’t like them but you kind of know what to expect after a while. The later levels include more Arachnatrons and the Cyberdemon only appears in a few levels. Ambushes have always been common in the Doom games and Doom 64 is no exception. It happens much more frequently late in the game, almost to the point where you hesitate to activate a switch. You can hear enemies teleport in nearby and many times you’ll find new enemies populating already explored areas. Considering how much backtracking you’ll be doing, it does help to keep the action going. Speaking of action, there’s a big difference between the “Bring It On!” and “I Own Doom!” difficulty modes. “Bring It On!” seems to have noticeably less enemies in the levels which makes the levels feel kind of boring. I would highly suggest you play on the two higher difficulty modes, especially if you’re playing Doom 64 EX. But in regards to the original, unless you have the adapter, the cumbersome 64 controls can make the combat much more challenging, and not in a good way.
Some levels contain environmental hazards like crushers, lava, toxic liquid, and structures that fire these bolt things. Explosive barrels are scattered throughout the levels and can be helpful during certain encounters. You can acquire powerups, normally in hard to reach places, that can prove to be very helpful. Although, there’s nothing really new if you’ve played the prior games. The Soulsphere, Megaspehere, and Berserk powerups are all here and serve their same purpose.
Doom 64 deviates quite a bit from previous games in terms of it’s presentation. There’s a big focus on the horror aspects so it’s much darker in tone. This darker atmosphere is represented visually, by a lot of darkness. I found the original game to be way too dark to the point where it was hard to see anything, even with the brightness turned all the way up. I had to turn up the brightness and contrast in the recording software. Doom 64 EX does not have this problem. There are quite a few little details that really add to the immersive atmosphere. You hear thunder and lightning crackling in the skies of some levels and you’ll even hear babies crying and people moaning in the background. Other than that, it’s just like previous games. The levels are filled with demonic imagery, corpses, and enemies still die in that classic gory fashion. The sound effects for the guns are alright and match up with the PC titles but it’s really the music that stands out here. The music really drives the atmosphere. Doom 64 contains dark ambient music that does fit in with the dark theme the game is going for. It’s not bad and I can see why people like it but I prefer the more rock inspired stuff heard in prior games.
When it comes to the 64 game, it’s hard to recommend because the controls are just awful. I only played it because I really wanted to say I beat it on its original platform but mainly because I had the GameCube controller to N64 adapter. Doom 64 EX is the far superior version although I did encounter a few issues. Sometimes enemies would get stuck at their spawn points or two of the same enemy would spawn in the same spot and they just get stuck. EX crashed on me once but these issues are definitely not enough to recommend playing the original game over this enhanced version. I do like Doom 64 and if you can play it with a proper control scheme, like all Doom games are meant to be played, it’s just more of the same, which means it’s extremely fun. Doom II: Hell on Earth is still my favorite Doom game and favorite first-person shooter ever. Doom 64 doesn’t even come close but it’s still a great game that I would highly recommend. I would suggest you skip the original and just play the EX version. It runs smoother, controls better, looks better, supports widescreen resolutions, and even supports mods all while remaining faithful to the original game.