Doom 64: Apparently It's Polarizing?

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Posted by JasonR86 (10274 posts) -
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Hey everyone, my name is Jason and I like Doom 64. Which is apparently a much more polarizing game than I thought it was. I recently replayed a total conversion of it, found here and thought I’d write about it. But first, context.

Personal History

So, I recently wrote about my experience recently replaying Doom 3 on the PS4. But, in short, my history with the Doom series was through osmosis until I played the 32X port of the first game. I never played the original versions of Doom 1 and 2 until 2001-2002, when I finally had a PC (I was a late comer to modernity). But I did play Doom 64 back when it launched on the Nintendo 64, back in 1997. At the time, I remember liking the darker atmosphere and soundtrack, the new art design, and the mechanics remained solid. I didn’t have a concept of ‘framerate’ per se, back then, but I do remember thinking it felt better than a lot of games on the N64. Looking at Youtube videos of the original game, on real N64 hardware, it does run much smoother than a lot of its contemporaries on the system. I was a bit bummed at the time that I couldn’t freelook and I remember having to crank the brightness up all the way because it was intensely dark. But, other than those small squabbles, I loved that game. When I played through Doom 3 originally, though I liked it, I remember feeling like the true ‘Doom 3’ experience was Doom 64.

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So, I played the TC on the GZDoom engine. Just a quick rundown of the TC, it essentially adds all the levels from Doom 64, extra levels that were added to a previously released Doom 64 TC called ‘Absolution’, and an extra episode made by the TC’s creators. It’s a good version of the game that runs flawlessly on GZDoom and looks pretty good with all the extra bells and whistles of that engine.

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When I replay Doom 1 and 2 now, I still really like those games, but like them on their own terms. I guess what I mean by that is those two games are the epitome of old FPS design and 2016 Doom is the natural evolution of that design. 2016 Doom is just as fast, nearly just as open in design, with a comparable atmosphere and tone, but adds more varied enemy AI, furthers the strategy needed for encounters, is even more intense, and so on. It’s an amazing game. Doom 64 is not a natural evolution of old FPS design. Doom 64 is old FPS design with a different presentation.

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Yeah, the presentation. That’s what I imagine is one of the biggest sticking points for people. Originally, I really like the art design. I thought it was cool to see a different take on the Doom universe, I really like the stark contrast and moments of heavy color use, and I thought the ambient soundscape soundtrack was perfectly fitting of that art design. But, now, I don’t know if I like it per se. I respect what they were going for. The easy answer is to update the original art design, maybe add a little bit here and there, and call it good. In fact, that would probably had been the smart decision, in hindsight. But I respect doing something different. But what results is a game that looks generic in design. The game doesn’t stand out graphically other than that the performance on real hardware is solid and it is generally of high fidelity for the console. But the art design just screams of the ‘space marine’ motif. Which, I suppose is fitting of Doom guy, who is in fact a space marine. But it feels dull, ultimately.

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The gameplay and level design are interesting. First, to get this out of the way, the shooting and AI patterns are that of Doom 2. There’s an added gun, which I don’t really like, but other than that the shooting feels exactly how you’d expect. The level design feels different than the first two games. By and large, all three games involve exploring a large map for keys, shooting enemies, and solving small puzzles. But where Doom 64 differs is that it feels more linear in that open design. It feels like there are routes through the level, linear paths within the larger areas. Maybe that’s how it was in Doom 1 and 2 as well and they just did a better job of hiding it. And I don’t even know if that linearity is a good or bad thing, honestly. It’s just, different. I do like the levels. I think they offer a stiff challenge; I think they flow well, and I like some of the set pieces and secrets. In a way, Doom 64 kind of feels like an expansion for Doom 2 with a new art design and soundtrack. Which is kind of what this TC is, as you need Doom 2 to run the TC. But even on original hardware, Doom 64 feels like a Doom 2 expansion even though the levels feel distinct in some ways from what the original ID team made.

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Replaying Doom 64 I was impressed by how good it all felt and how fun it still was. I was reminded of what it was like to replay Doom 1 and 2. So, I’m also then equally baffled it has the reputation it seems to have. I can understand disliking the art style and soundtrack but, also, it is impressive that they tried something different. Similarly to Doom 3, Doom 64 takes risks in its presentation given the franchise’s standard art and sound design. But, unlike Doom 3, Doom 64 still feels like old Doom. In some ways, then, Doom 3 is a bit more impressive because they went for something different across the board. But Doom 64 should be lauded for giving the old Doom experience with a new coat of paint, even if you don’t like the way the paintjob turned out. It’s not my favorite Doom. But I think it stands up well to Doom 1 and 2. I think it’s a more consistent experience than the two Final Dooms. I also like it much more than Doom 3. Given that I don’t really like the art design anymore that I like the game for its gameplay and level design alone speaks to its ability to realize the old Doom experience.

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#1 Posted by csl316 (15037 posts) -

Doom 64 on modern hardware is great. I also tried this modernized version a month ago and was surprised how much fun I had. Like the 60fps Perfect Dark remake on XBLA, it highlights the strengths of the game's design instead of hurting your eyes with N64 frame rates and resolutions. God bless Dan for somehow playing through Goldeneye this year.

For years, since I never owned this game I assumed it was slower and closer to Doom 3 in terms of design, but it really adheres to those original games more than I ever imagined. With the dark art style, it almost feels like a companion to the original Quake when looking at 90's id offerings.

I hope the rerelease is a full remaster like the recent Turok stuff or the aformentioned Perfect Dark XBLA. I feel like these old FPS games with modern controls and spruced-up graphics deserve a second look by more folks.

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#2 Posted by MrGreenMan (253 posts) -

Doom 64 is honestly a technical achievement that is more impressive looking back at what they were able to pull off with so little, than it is a good game. They made the most minimal version possible and made it still playable on a console that should not have been able to play it at all.

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#3 Posted by JasonR86 (10274 posts) -

@csl316: It actually looks pretty good on real N64 hardware considering the console standards. Because they weren't pushing ahead with 3D models they were able to push technology in different ways, like dynamic lights and a consistent 30 FPS. Considering the console, I think the graphically fidelity is pretty high. I could see how it's similar to Quake in its art design and, as much as I don't like the art design anymore, I don't necessarily dislike it and the moments when the game uses really saturated colors mixed with total darkness look pretty cool.

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#4 Posted by JasonR86 (10274 posts) -

@mrgreenman: I think it's a pretty impressive technical achievement too. They made a smart decision making a 3D engine that emulates the look and feel of the old games rather than relying on a software mode, like so many other Doom ports had done. It would have led to terrible performance.

What makes you think that the game isn't good? I mentioned it in the write up, but I think the level design is fairly solid throughout and the shooting and AI is almost identical to Doom 2, just played with a 64 controller (or a mouse and keyboard with the TC).

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#5 Posted by fisk0 (6967 posts) -

Yeah, I've been really surprised hearing anybody actually having negative opinions of this game recently. To me it was always rad. Didn't like it as much as Doom 1 on PC, but few things compare to that.

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#6 Posted by zombiepenguin9 (782 posts) -

Thanks for the write-up, duder. I didn't play Doom 64 back in the day, and didn't know there was a solid PC port available. I'll have to check this out.

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#7 Posted by ArbitraryWater (15755 posts) -

I totally played through one of the PC Total Conversions for Doom 64 last year and was generally impressed with it. It's definitely going for a different thing, between the moody, atmospheric soundtrack and the much more contained, often puzzle-focused levels, but I find the weird divisiveness surrounding it confusing. It's not my favorite Doom by any means, but it's a neat thing and I think it manages to set itself apart from Doom and Doom 2 in an interesting way.

On the other hand, it gets genuinely difficult by the end with all of the gotcha monster teleports, and if I had to play it with a N64 controller I think I might've hated it too. I have to imagine some of the indifference also comes from it being from 1997 and thus competing with the likes of Quake and the Build Engine, which I'm sure aren't the best comparison if you were someone on the up and up with the PC shooters of the time.

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#8 Posted by JasonR86 (10274 posts) -

@arbitrarywater: I have a personal bias toward against comparing games from one platform to another, or even games against one another. I understand it logically. If a review is a type of buying advice, it would make sense to compare one FPS against another to see which is the better purchase from the perspective of the reviewer. But, I generally prefer it when a game is judged by its own merits. When looking at Doom 64 on its own merits, I think it's a fun, solid shooter. I'm not sure how it can be deemed poor simply from a gameplay design perspective. The N64 is hard to go back to, for sure, and would pale in comparison to mouse and keyboard even back when Doom 64 first released. But, it was perfectly fine for the time and because Doom 64 doesn't have freelook the now bad feeling analog stick doesn't hamper the gameplay as much as it does when going back to, say, Goldeneye or Turok.

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#9 Edited by Grocery_Bag (10 posts) -

I’ve been playing this game through GZDoom aswell, but it is the updated Doom64: Retribution which released a few years ago. Made by same person who started Absolution, but also includes more episodes and I believe it is a DOOM II TC. Everyone here pretty much gave the same description I would, but I personally think DOOM 64 on PC is more enjoyable than DOOM 3. DOOM 64 has some great puzzles and atmosphere.

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#10 Posted by Cure_Optimism (89 posts) -

If you like oldschool FPS, you'll like Doom 64. Hearing Jeff talk mad shit about it was a surprise, but to each their own.

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#11 Posted by JasonR86 (10274 posts) -

@cure_optimism: To each their own I guess, right? I went back and read his review and it seemed like a pretty different time. From what I was gathering, it looked like the market was flooded with Doom console ports and Doom 64 seemed like just another one. If I were to paraphrase Jeff's take, it seemed like he liked the effort made in the art design and atmosphere but felt that the developers hadn't done a good job replicating the Doom feeling for the N64. I don't agree, but that's fine I suppose.

@grocery_bag:That's the one I linked in the OP. Yeah, they did a great job with the conversion.

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