The Doom series is one that I hold in very high regard. I own several devices that are capable of running the game (still waiting for the monochrome Amazon Kindle port though…sigh), and in my time as a gamer I think I’ve owned every version of the original Doom that has ever existed.From the dizzy heights of the original PC game and the almost perfect Jaguar port, to the technically fantastic SNES version and the colourful PSX incarnation, all the way to the appalling Saturn and 32X botch jobs; I have spent hours upon hours of my life traversing the dank, bio-mechanical, ghoul-infested corridors of Id’s superlative first person shooter.
Doom has spawned a couple of sequels (namely Doom 2 and Doom 3) and a sort of ‘fan edition’ in Final Doom, as well as a mobile RPG (er…Doom RPG for mobile phones), but here at Skirmish Frogs, the focus is today shifted to the N64’s exclusive and totally re-worked (bespoke, even) entry into the Doom pantheon: Doom 64. And I’m just gonna put it out there, no messing about: Doom 64 is easily my favourite of all of the Dooms. Sure the 3DO version has that kick-ass soundtrack and the PS1 games has the hallucinogenic colour pallette, but Doom 64 is so much more than a port or conversion – it’s a total reworking: new levels, new graphics, new weapons and new enemies…but yet it still manages to retain and even improve upon everything that makes the original games so appealing to me.
My love affair with Doom 64 began when I first played it upon release in the late 90s. I traded Extreme-G and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (plus a crisp £10 note, if memory serves) for Doom 64 about a week after I first spotted the box on the shelf of my local games shop; It was Doom…for the N64! Two of my favourite things combined – how could it be anything other than mind-breakingly amazing? I recall being blown away by the graphics as soon as I started playing – the enemies I’d only recently been gunning down in the dog-awful Saturn port were no longer pixellated shambling blobs but highly polished CGI renders, the lighting effects, the re-modelled weapons (albeit without reload animations – more on that later) and the new levels took my breath away. One of my friends, who was also a massive Doom nut, was just as amazed as I was by the new look, new levels and new mechanics on show and we stayed up well into the small hours on more than one occasion battling through the game, taking turns (a ‘life’ each, naturally) and giving ‘helpful’ commentary throughout.
Going back to play Doom 64 in 2015 is no less enjoyable. Sure we’ve got HD visuals on the PS4 and Xbox One et al, but there’s something very special about Doom 64 that keeps me wanting to continue the lone space marine’s fight against the legions of Hell. The graphics are still very impressive, even though I now know that they’re by no means the best on the N64. The engine used by Midway is nowhere near as advanced as those utilised by Rare for Goldeneye or Perfect Dark, as is evident in the use of 2D sprites and the whole no-rooms-above-rooms thing, but the level of ingenuity in the face of these limitations is nothing short of staggering. The first time you enter the corridors of the second level that are totally black, save for the neon arrows on the floor and ceiling, and then hit a switch that turns the lights on; or when you witness the massive machinery that actually smashes holes into walls or floors to allow you to continue on your way – these are not things you would ever have seen in the ‘old’ Doom. The puzzles too seem to have been totally re-thought. In previous Doom games, it was simply a case of finding a switch and unlocking doors in order to collect the differently coloured key cards. Doom 64 changes all that with some of the most cerebral puzzles seen in the series.
So yes, I’m a massive fan of Doom 64 – and who can blame me? It’s got a totally awesome new look (well, compared to what came before it) and the puzzles are pretty devious. There are some bones of contention, though. First: why the hell is it only a single player game? How hard would it have been for Midway to put a multi-player deathmatch or two-player co-op option? Instead of taking turns, my friend and I could have been kicking demonic ass together at the same time! For a console with 4 controller ports and a leaning towards the more social side of gaming, the N64 version of Doom missed a trick. Yes, I’m sure there’s a valid reason (probably cartridge space or development time constraints), but with a multiplayer mode, Doom 64 could have been so much more. The second issue is the total lack of a reload animation for either of the shotguns. The pump-action reload is one of the most iconic parts of the Doom series and has been ripped off ad nauseum by pretty much every shooter since the original Doom was made made available…surely a few frames of animation couldn’t have used that much space on the cart Midway? Well, apparently the shotgun in Doom 64 is meant to be a Winchester rifle…but that’s no excuse. Hmmph.
These, admittedly, are minor gripes. Doom 64 has all of the atmosphere and demon-slaughtering fun that the other entries in the franchise have, coupled with great graphics and perfect control thanks to the N64 joypad (just make sure you map the ‘strafe’ controls to Left C and Right C).
Sure, it isn’t the most technically impressive game – even in 1997 is was beginning to feel outdated thanks to the sprite-based engine and ‘shoot everything and collect keys’ gameplay – but Doom 64 has charm and gore, and both by the bucketload.