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The classic Doom games are still extremely enjoyable today. They have certainly stood the test of time and probably always will. They still attract new players and the fan base is still growing even after decades of new games, improved technology, and changes in the industry. There’s no denying that Doom is legendary and the fan community is frequently pumping out new quality content for it. Doom originated on PC, well DOS if you want to get specific, but it’s home away from home is on console. The original game has been ported to numerous systems and the first true sequel to Doom II was released exclusively for the Nintendo 64. Developed and published by Midway Games, Doom 64 was released for the system in March, 1997. It plays very much like the classic games but with updated visuals and a different tone. An unofficial PC version or source port was released as Doom 64 EX a while ago. It uses original data from the game’s ROM. For this review, I played the original game using the Project 64 emulator simply because it allows me to play with basically any controller. I was going to play EX as well but decided to wait after hearing rumors that an official PC version might release.
Set after the events of the original games, the lone Marine returns from Hell and the military decides to bombard the installations on the moons of Mars with extreme levels of radiation. But, of course, that wasn’t enough to stop the forces of Hell for good. A mysterious entity with the power to resurrect demons slipped passed detection, resulting in another invasion. Like Doom II, the story here is different but also the same as the first game. Hell invades and it’s up to the Marine to stop it. The story is conveyed through text displayed after beating certain levels and the game’s manual does provide some context. But, ultimately, if you’re a Doom veteran, this should all be very familiar.
Doom 64 plays like the classic games. In fact, the gameplay and mechanics are basically identical except you play this with a 64 controller instead of a keyboard and mouse. You can run, sprint, and look left and right. You cannot look up or down and there’s no traditional jumping. You sprint over gaps to get across them. You can shoot at enemies at different elevations by simply aiming and shooting in their direction but trying to target a specific enemy in a crowd is not always easy. There’s four difficulty modes or skill levels and I played on “I own Doom!” because I figured it was the equivalent to Ultra Violence. The higher the difficulty, the stronger the enemies, and the more you’ll encounter. Your progress is saved to the controller pak but if you don’t have one, you can enter the passwords provided at the end of levels to continue where you left off.
Unfortunately, Doom 64 shows that the 64 controller is not the best way to play a Doom game. You can remap the buttons which is nice but not the analog stick. I have never found a truly comfortable way to play this game with a 64 controller. Part of it is because that you either have to hold a button or press separate buttons to strafe. You can’t strafe with the stick without holding a button. I wish I could use the stick to move forwards and backwards and strafe left and right. I would turn with the c-buttons, switch weapons with the shoulder buttons, shoot with the Z button, and run and interact with things with the A and B buttons. You can actually map the buttons like that but forcing the player to strafe with a button or multiple just throws it all off. I’ve heard some say they don’t have a problem with the controls. Some just get used to it. And that’s great, I’m happy for them. But that doesn’t make playing this with the 64 controller any better. Let me ask you this, would you play the classic games with a 64 controller? There are ways to make that happen but do you actually think it would be the ideal way to play? That’s basically what Doom 64 is. That’s what happens when you take Doom’s gameplay and mechanics and just move them to the 64. And the issue is not playing Doom with a controller. The issue is the 64 controller.
In today’s world, many of us are used to more modern first-person shooter control schemes and two sticks. I know I am. In fact, playing classic Doom with a controller really isn’t bad which is evident from the ports to recent systems. Playing with a 64 controller, on the other hand, is just uncomfortable now. At least I think so. But, luckily, there are multiple options when it comes to how you want to play the game. Third-party controllers, controller adapters, emulators, and of course, the PC version which I think is the best way to play it. Since I played this with the Project 64 emulator, I was able to play it using the 8BitDo SN30 Pro+ controller. I was able to remap everything, including the sticks, and while the new mappings made navigating the menus a bit clunky, actually playing the game was very comfortable. Scrolling through all of your weapons to find the one you want can be tedious but tolerable. In the end, the 64 controller may have been fine back when the game released, you could get used to it, and Doom 64 is not the only first-person shooter on the system that has controls that feel odd and outdated. Golden Eye, Perfect Dark, Turok, you name it. Every time I fire one of them up, I have to mess with the controller mappings in order to get comfortable. The controller, itself, has aged and, luckily, there are more comfortable ways to play this today and other first-person shooters released on the system.
All of the weapons we’ve come to know and love are present here, including the Super Shotgun, originally introduced in Doom II. They all feel and function the same as they did in the classic games, however, their new sprites look great and I absolutely love the new chaingun look. It’s my favorite weapon in the game just because I like how it looks. I also think the new chainsaw sprite looks pretty cool mainly because of the two blades. There is only one new weapon added to the arsenal and it’s called the Unmaker. It’s a laser weapon only found in a few levels, making it quite rare, and it can be upgraded by finding the three Demon Keys which are located in three of the game’s secret levels. Upgrading it is not required to beat the game but it does make the final boss battle much easier. Scattered throughout the levels are weapons, health, armor, ammo, and item pickups or power-ups which can aid you. They should all be familiar if you’ve played the previous games and because of how dark all the levels are, the Light Amplification Visor can prove to be extremely useful here.
Most of the enemies from the classic games make an appearance. However, some were cut. You won’t see Arch-Vile, the Commando, Revenant, or the Spider Mastermind. Like the weapons, the returning enemies have been redesigned and look pretty good. Demon or Pinky and Pain Elemental saw some significant changes and look a lot more threatening. There is two new enemies added to the game, one of them being the final boss. The other is the Nightmare Imp which I don’t really care for. It’s just a translucent Imp that can move and hurl it’s fireballs faster than its standard counterpart. I would have loved to see actual new enemy types like the Hellhound which I’ve read was cut before release. The enemies behave like they did in the previous games. If they spot you, they come after you. They don’t care if one of their buddies is in the way and often attack each other. Inciting infighting is a good way to save ammo. The Mother Demon is the final boss and she can be quite challenging. If you don’t have the Demon Keys, you can’t stop the enemies coming through the teleporters so you have to deal with them and her. Having all three Demon Keys makes this battle significantly easier and the upgraded Unmaker can take her down in seconds.
Doom 64 will take you through a lot of installations and tech areas and, of course, Hell, itself. The basic objective in each level is the same. Locate the exit. You’ll have to find and acquire keys to open specific doors and interact with switches to activate things and reveal new areas. None of this should be new if you’ve played the previous games. I find some of the levels in Doom 64 to be the most confusing in the series. You’ll ride platforms, use teleporters, and some levels feel very maze-like. Some switches are not obvious as in they don’t like typical switches, some need to be shot to be activated, and some levels force you to run back and forth. Some switches activate or unlock things in distant locations. Furthermore, you may only have a brief time to get to the newly revealed area. You may end up spending significant amounts of time in specific levels just because it’s not always clear what you have to do to proceed. Needless to say, it can be very easy to get stuck and you may find yourself running around in circles often.
You need to look around and be aware of your surroundings. You may come across a blocked off area that only becomes accessible after activating a switch in a distant location that you may not have discovered yet. You’ll have to solve some puzzles and there are plenty of secret areas which usually house goodies like health, armor, ammo, and item pickups. Some of the secrets in this game require you to do very specific things other than find a hidden door or switch. For example; one secret requires you to blow up every single barrel in the level. Certain levels contain secret exits which take you to secret levels and that’s where you’ll find the Demon Keys. I’m sure there are people out there that have found the Demon Keys without a guide, and it probably feels very rewarding, but let’s not pretend they’re easy to find. Not only do you have to know which levels house the secret exits and how to get to them but you also need to figure out how to acquire the Demon Keys. They’re not just sitting around for any shmuck to grab. You have to complete a series of events to acquire them. One of them requires you to obtain a standard key first which is hidden and not actually required to beat the level. Then there’s a series of switches you have to activate. Ultimately, the levels are well designed and encourage exploration but some can certainly be confusing. You’ll interact with things that transform areas and there are plenty of hazards to look out for like explosive barrels, crushers, hazardous surfaces, and things in the environments that fire projectiles.
Most of the encounters are typical Doom. Plenty of enemies populate each level so there’s always something to shoot. You interact with something or acquire an important item and enemies come spawning in around you. Some of the bullshit from the previous games is also carried over like enemies sniping you from distant locations and shooting you from behind walls. You’ll enter some levels and be immediately surrounded, sometimes by Zombiemen which are hit scan types. For the most part, I would say the encounters are not as challenging as those in the previous games nor are there as many that feel more cheap than anything. You’ll often get locked in rooms, surrounded by numerous enemies and/or tough types and any tight and confined areas or areas where there’s not a lot of room to maneuver can sometimes be frustrating. You’ll want to take your time and know what weapons are best against what enemies.
Doom 64 is a dark game. Every level is dark and brooding resulting in the game having a drastically different tone and atmosphere than its predecessors. The environments are three dimensional but enemies, weapons, and objects are all sprites. The new weapon and enemy sprites look excellent, the Hell levels contain all kinds of demonic imagery, and you’ll witness different lighting effect which helps to make the game feel very atmospheric. The gore effects are on the same level as the previous games. You can turn enemies to gibs and you’ll get to see the innards of some foes when they die. You’ll hear thunder and see lightning in the skies, body parts and corpses are scattered about, and the action is accompanied by an ominous soundtrack that enhances the game’s dark and brooding atmosphere. I’ll admit, I prefer the more heavy metal inspired jams heard in the previous games but the music here is certainly different and fits the game’s dark tone. The sound effects are alright. The weapons fire gets the job done and enemies will grunt and roar but I can’t say any of the sound effects are better or worse than those heard in the previous entries. On the technical side, I can say the game does a great job at maintaining a solid frame rate, although I did witness it dip a few times. I did see some clipping but no major issues.
I had a great time with Doom 64 but I won’t deny that it’s just more of the same. It’s essentially a darker Doom. It’s Doom on the 64 with some visual enhancements and a new set of levels. Almost everything feels recycled but with a new coat of paint. I do love the new weapon and enemy sprites and the developers did a great job turning the classic Doom gameplay into a more dark and atmospheric experience. However, it also feels like they played it safe instead of taking any chances. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I get it. But this is supposed to be a sequel. It’s not a port of an existing game. Doom II didn’t add a lot of new content, either, but I expected more from Doom 64. There’s one new boss, a new enemy that’s just a faster-moving re-skin of an existing one, and a new weapon. That’s it. It feels like a custom megawad but released as a 64 game. In fact, it runs on a modified Doom engine. There’s not enough new content to make it feel like a new experience. I enjoy Doom 64 because I enjoy classic Doom’s gameplay. The darker tone and ominous soundtrack are neat and work well together but they don’t hide the fact that the gameplay is recycled. And it’s hard for me to shower the game with praise because of that. It’s a good game but I’ve seen it all before.
I would recommend Doom 64 to fans of the series and shooters. And while it’s a great shooter for the 64, I would recommend you play the PC version instead. Playing with a keyboard and mouse is superior to playing with a 64 controller and it comes with plenty of bug fixes. If you’re looking to get into the series for the first time then I would suggest you start with the first two games and Final Doom. I’ve heard a lot of people say Doom 64 is underrated. Some even claim it’s the best in the series. To me, saying that means that all the cosmetic changes and ominous soundtrack put this a step above the others. To each their own, of course, but I don’t think so. I prefer blowing away a shit-ton of demons with metal tunes blasting in the background. Ultimately, Doom 64 is good but I think it could have been more than just a rehash with a new coat of paint.