The one Doom game everyone always forgets has finally been remastered for modern consoles and it offers a hell of a good time.
By the time Doom 64 was released in 1997 it was not only four years after the original Doom on PC but GoldenEye 007 had already revolutionised the concept of first person shooters on consoles and the world was only a year away from the launch of Half-Life. Doom 64 was as late to the party as it’s possible for a video game to be and was promptly dismissed by critics and gamers, who both quickly forgot all about it. But then a curious thing happened: people started to realise it was actually a very good game and possibly even better than the original.
What makes Doom 64’s story especially odd is that apart from quality control, id Software had nothing to do with it and the game was instead developed by the now defunct Midway Games. Rather than a straight(-ish) port, like the earlier SNES and PlayStation versions, Doom 64 was essentially a brand-new game. It incorporated elements from both Doom and Doom 2 and added ideas of its own, as well as a focus on more puzzle-orientated levels that emphasised exploration and careful exploitation of the game’s different weapons and enemies.
In short, it was a lot more like this week’s Doom Eternal than any of the other games, so you can see why Bethesda was so keen to promote this remaster at the same time. This is the first time the game has been re-released since it originally came out on the Nintendo 64 and while its dated mechanics may be too much for complete newcomers everyone else will find this a fascinating missing link between old school shooters and the modern era.
One major difference between this game and Doom Eternal is that Doom 64 doesn’t really have a story. Technically it’s canon, happening sometime after Final Doom, but starting the game you’re given no explanation for what’s going on or what you have to do. There are demons and there’s a shotgun on the floor, ready to be picked it up, and the rest is left for you to work out yourself.
Although Doom popularised the concept of first person shooters, and was a technical milestone for gaming as a whole, it always had major limitations, the most obvious being that you can’t look up and down. There is a certain verticality to most levels but there’s none of the leaping and platforming seen in Doom Eternal. Enemies have little in the way of artificial intelligence and it’s only the exploration that prevents it from being a straight shooting gallery.
That wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing though as the game is still a surprisingly satisfying shooter, with a wide selection of fun weapons that have a good heft to them, even though they’re little 2D sprites poking out from the middle of the screen. The entire arsenal from Doom 2 is present, although the super shotgun and rocket launcher now have recoil and there’s a completely new laser weapon called the Unmaker, that was originally planned for the PC games.
On the Switch version there’s also optional motion controls for aiming, both in portable mode and using the Pro Controller, which we always appreciate. And while the graphics are obviously old fashioned all the 2D sprites were remade for the N64, adding extra details such as the chainsaw having two blades and making all the demons look much more imposing while staying true to their original designs.
The biggest change though is how complex the level design is, not in literal terms – the maps are tiny by modern standards – but your path is constantly blocked by locked doors, time-delayed switches, and trap rooms full of demons. At times it does get too contrived, to the point where you just want to get on and shoot something, but there’s plenty of that too and it’s fascinating to see how much the Midway designers were trying to push the limits of what Doom is, to the point where it would only take a little nudge to turn it into a fully-fledged Metroidvania.
What was always disappointing about the game though was that it had no multiplayer of any kind. This was variously blamed on the N64’s lack of power and Nintendo themselves refusing to help out with the software, but it’s a terrible shame because four-player splitscreen Deathmatch would’ve been great. That’s still the major flaw today, although the game is also very difficult and at times unfairly so, when it comes to dropping you into a trap you couldn’t possibly have foreseen.
Despite these problems Doom 64 has already had its revenge, as in its original form it’s far more replayable nowadays than the more technically ambitious Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and GoldenEye 007. Whereas they’re rendered almost unplayable today, thanks to their glacially slow frame rates, that was never a problem for Doom 64 and its sprite-based enemies.
Doom 64 is a relic but while first person shooters usually age faster than most other genres this is still highly enjoyable, and its balance of mindful violence and environmental puzzle-solving works very well. Unlike some retro remasters it’s also sensibly priced, at just £4, and that alone should help to get it into more people’s hands, so that everyone can rip and tear the old-fashioned way.
Doom 64 Nintendo Switch review summary
In Short: An unfairly neglected part of the Doom canon is given the remaster it most certainly deserves, in what is one of the most welcome retro remasters of recent years.
Pros: Core gameplay is still a lot of fun, with some surprisingly involved map layouts and enjoyable combat. 2D sprites or not, the graphics stand up very well. Sensibly priced.
Cons: The complex level design and door-opening puzzles can get very contrived, and sometimes patently unfair. The lack of multiplayer is a real shame, although that’s no fault of the remaster.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Developer: NightDive and Midway Games
Release Date: 20th March 2020
Age Rating: 16
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