Doom 64: Apparently It's Polarizing?

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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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Now

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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