It’s a good time to be a DOOM fan. Whether you’re enjoying the series’ most recent entry, Eternal, its two DLC expansions, the new Doom 3 VR, or one of the many classic games that were ported to modern consoles; I think it’s safe to say that there’s no shortage of great DOOM experiences available right now. One such offering is DOOM 64, Nightdive’s HD remaster of the 1997 N64 game by Midway Interactive. Nightdive have recently been proving themselves to be the king of the retro shooter remasters, with heavy-hitters like Quake, Turok and System Shock under their belt. Their trademark seems to be presenting the original games in all of their chunky glory, whilst providing much-appreciated quality of life enhancements to bring the game up to date under the hood. So, was DOOM 64 a game worthy of their efforts?
DOOM 64, within the loose canon of the series, takes place after DOOM II and tells the story of our beloved Doomguy fighting his way back to Hell in an attempt to finally put an end to Hell’s invasion of his universe. Save for a couple of brief text screens, you’re meant to mostly glean the plot from the progression of the levels (or just read the wiki).
But, you’re not here for the story. This is DOOM, so you’re here to kick some Hellspawn butt, and do it in spectacular fashion. Luckily, DOOM 64 delivers that classic fast-paced DOOM gameplay in spades. Enemies and weapons return from DOOMs 1 & 2, with a few new ones thrown into the mix as well. Make your way through expansive maps, finding keys, solving puzzles and dispatching demons along the way. If you’ve played a classic DOOM game, this will all be very familiar to you, and original developers Midway have done a bang-up job of emulating id’s signature style. Weapons feel punchy and satisfying, lending partially to the redone sound design in the N64 game.
The game is known to be one of the more difficult entries in the series, and it earns its reputation. Even on the more middling difficulty settings, enemies are plentiful and relentless, and later boss enemies provide some real challenge. In a very 90’s bit of game design, a weapon key to defeating the final boss is only made useful once you find three very hidden keys throughout the game’s levels, and the level is much more difficult without them, but a bit of cheesing makes easy(ish) work of the fight eventually.
Speaking of sound, the music in DOOM 64 might not be exactly what you’re expecting from a game in this series. If you come into this game expecting to thrash out to some MIDI-flavoured thrash metal classics, then you’ll come out disappointed. But fret not – DOOM 64 has something very different, and very interesting, to offer musically. Aubrey Hodges’ score is ambient, dark and anxiety-inducing in the best way. Distorted vocal samples, low droning sounds and even baby cries are all employed to create an oppressive and disturbing soundscape which, when combined with the labyrinthine levels and grisly imagery, give DOOM 64 a much more unnerving atmosphere than other games in the series. Even all these years later, DOOM 64 brings genuine frights and ambient scares in equal measure.
Level design, both from Midway and from Nightdive, is pretty solid throughout. DOOM 64’s maps are expansive, complex and easy to get turned around in. Not content with just dotting the level with Hellspawn, booby traps are also a common feature in the game. Arrows are shot from walls, pits fall from below your feet and ceilings come down from above to crush you into a paste. Sometimes they feel a little unfair, cheap even, but they’re mostly fun additions that ensure you never feel fully safe in a level even if you’ve eliminated all of the enemies within.
Nightdive’s remaster pretty much follows their winning formula: DOOM 64 looks more or less on-par with the N64 original, albeit with a much crisper resolution and a rock-solid framerate. The added quality-of-life improvements such as Quicksave (which I made liberal use of) are very welcome and make the whole package feel more complete and worthwhile. Perhaps the biggest addition, however, is The Lost Levels, a brand-new batch of maps meant to bridge the narrative gap between DOOM 64 and DOOM (2016). These levels, while few, are excellent and even beat out the original in some respects. Specifically, The Lost Levels’ final map feels more like an actual level, as opposed to the “throw you in a big room with all the enemies and hope for the best” approach of the original. There are still some comforts that would have improved the experience further – a graphical weapon select feature like the ones present in id Software’s in-house DOOM I & II ports would have really been appreciated. Trying to remember how many R1-presses away your chosen weapon and having to wait for the lengthy weapon changing animation can be frustrating – even more so in the heat of battle.
Overall, DOOM 64 is absolutely worth a play if you’re a classic DOOM fan, and Nightdive’s remaster bundles it into a great, definitive and (mostly) bug-free package. It’s on sale frequently and I think it’s worth it at full price. Unfortunately for you collectors, it’s only available digitally unless you want to fork out on eBay for the Limited Run release that came out a while back.
Formats: PS4 (reviewed), PC, Xbox One, Switch, Nintendo 64
Developer: Midway, Nightdive Studios (Remaster)
Release Date: 4th April 1997 (Original), March 20, 2020 (Remaster)
Age Rating: PEGI 16
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