Doom 64 review
I went through hell and all I got was this Nintendo 64 game
Doom was the shit! While not quite the first of its kind, it was the game that took the first person shooting formula and made it its own. Everybody who played it loved it, and it became pretty big. Not quite Mario and Sonic big, but for the PC crowd, it came close enough to that level. Bit of a shame it was linked with the Columbine Massacre, but them's the brakes I guess – Ozzy Osbourne and Marilyn Manson used to be linked with bad shit too. Anyway, Doom had to expand its mighty empire, so it was ported to most any console that was available. It'd be easier if I listed what it wasn't ported to – the Sega Genesis and the Nintendo 64. Even then, it was ported to the Sega Genesis' 32X add on, but not the Sega CD for whatever reason. As for the Nintendo 64, well, its controller isn't exactly first person shooter friendly like a keyboard is, and all that gory Satanic imagery on what was mostly a kiddy console wouldn't really sit well with parents – hell, it didn't sit well with Christian organizations when it was on PC! So Midway went and made something completely different using a modified Doom engine...
...and while it started off innocently enough – or about as innocently as gunning down zombie marines and carving up demons with chainsaws got, anyway – it wasn't until the ninth level (of which there are 32) when you went into hell itself, and that's when shit gets hectic! All of a sudden, the barren UAC bases with the occasional zombies and surprise demon attacks are like tea time with the Teletubbies compared to the fire, brimstone, pentagrams and guys in red pyjamas sticking pitchforks up your butt (and that's if these demons don't make you jittery with that trigger finger). Honestly, while Doom on the PC had satanic imagery and demons out the ass, Doom 64 upped the ante in terms of sheer atmosphere, especially once you entered hell. It probably helped that Doom 64 has an entirely ambient soundtrack consisting of droning noises rather than MIDI formatted heavy metal, but then you take note of the colors and the lighting, and from there, it becomes clear that this isn't your older brother's Doom.
Doom is a mother*bleep*ing classic, that much can't be denied; but Doom 64 does plenty to stand alongside its big brother. Being that it's a shooter for the Nintendo 64, obviously, some things had to be done to make it work. Thankfully, you can customize the controls in the options menu – you can either have it control like Turok where you use the C buttons to move and the control stick to look around, or you can have it control like Goldeneye where the control stick gives you forward and backward momentum while looking left and right and the C buttons strafe (can't look up and down here). Either way, it stops itself from forcing a potentially awkward control scheme onto you, which I feel is a smart move on Midway's part. Controllers will never be a perfect substitute for a keyboard and mouse, not even back in the 90s, but it tries to work with what it's got, and it does well enough with it to work.
If you've never played Doom before, the aim of the game is to get from Point A to Point B while shooting up whatever demons get in your way. You start off with your fists and a pistol, but you can eventually find all sorts of weaponry like chainsaws, shotguns, plasma guns, rocket launchers and the BFG as you progress through each level. However, Doom 64 changes things up a bit. Although they sound more powerful, the weapons have actually been scaled down a bit in terms of raw power. It's not noticeable in the pistol and shotgun because they still get the job done, but it's definitely noticeable in the BFG. You can't exactly rush in and go apeshit with BFG shots without running out and getting eaten alive. The fact that ammo is a bit more scarce than you'd expect means that each shot ought to count. Funny enough, for a game that seems to try and blend balls out action with survival horror, there seem to be quite a lot of enemies (at least on the harder difficulty modes – also love the name of the one of them; I Own Doom). Combined with the slightly powered down weapons and slightly stronger enemies, it can make for some potentially frightening experiences. Forget skulking around a mansion with one bullet left, trying to avoid zombies; try having a Cyberdemon appearing in front of you as you collect a key and then chase you down a dark hallway while you only have a few rockets left and it can hit you at anytime with ranged attacks.
Doom 64 has a bit of a bad habit of placing some emphasis on traps and puzzle solving. Besides the good old “find the blue keycard to enter the blue door”, there's also the need to press buttons to activate something (usually opening a door). For the most part, it's not bad, but it is a bit of a drag when in the more labyrithine levels, you either miss a button somewhere or can't figure out what door you just opened. On a couple of occasions, I've found myself about ready to look up a walkthrough... until after some careful looking around, I find the point I'm meant to be at, so it could be a lot worse. Speaking of worse, there are moments where you have to do some platforming... and by platforming, I mean “run across gaps to platforms that may or may not be moving to get a key”. Even though Turok has aged about as well as stale bread, at least Turok could *bleep*ing jump! It isn't too common of an occurrence thankfully, so it could be a lot worse. Then it takes some cues from Quake (another game id Software made) by having a fair amount of traps like darts, homing fireballs and pillars that can crush you. They look cool, especially ones that can change a room's design (ooh set pieces), but at times, they got a bit too carried away.
Even in a lesser game, none of the above said stuff would hurt too badly. But in a game like Doom 64, the sheer fun of demon slaying, coupled with the satisfaction gained from killing a lot of demons tucks those problems in the corner. So if you loved yourself some classic Doom, you'll also love this game. There's still a load of demon rooms to clean up with bullets and energy balls, there's still a load of enemies that'll charge into you and require you to gun them down before they hurt you, and there's still the BFG. Yeah, it doesn't wreck every demon within a five mile radius quite as much as it did in classic Doom, but it still puts the smackdown on enemies better than most other weapons can. While more emphasis has been placed on horror, you can still feel like an unmitigated badass, so long as you don't accidentally run out of ammo. If there's anything more that I could pick on, the omission of the Arch Vile and Revenant is a bit of a boner killer for hardcore fans, although not so hardcore fans can better appreciate this game without the Arch Vile's ability to set you on fire and the Revenant's homing attacks. Dead Space and latter day Resident Evil should've taken notes; this is how you fuse horror and action (though Dead Space is still good).
I've already touched on the presentation, but I believe it bares elaboration. Simply put, it's fantastic. One would be wondering why a Nintendo 64 game opted for 2D visuals after the likes of Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire and Turok came out, but let's be real – neither of those games have aged too well from a graphical standpoint (and really, most 90s 3D games haven't) while Doom 64 has aged brilliantly. Aiding it is its stellar lighting and use of colors. It manages to paint a picture of creepy hallways and a hellish landscape through some rich color tones and dark lighting. We're not talking about being a blank screen like Doom 3; we're talking about a dab of brown, a smidge of orange and then airbrushing some darker colors. There's just so much depth to these locations and the enemies are given a very similar treatment.
But hands down, the one thing that really sells this game's atmosphere is the sound design. The weapons have quite a bit of bass behind their sounds, almost sounding like a/the real thing. There's also the clanging of a demon's steps, the screech emitted from certain demons or the whoosh of their ranged attacks that can instill fear when you least suspect it. But of particular note is the soundtrack. If you have a good sound system, the soundtrack really kicks ass! Eerie noises with droning rhythms can be surprisingly unsettling when composed just right and this soundtrack is a fine example of this. By the end of your current play session, it'll feel like you've just explored some creepy research centers, dark hallways and hell itself.
After playing through this game in the dark with a high end stereo system, I can conclude that Doom 64 has a hell of an atmosphere going for it. Doom has always had the potential to be scary or at least look scary, but it was always a wee bit too bright and flat in its lighting and the MIDI metal tracks more often than not sounded too uplifting and energetic. Midway realized its potential and went with it, creating a foreboding atmosphere to go with the traditional Doom style gameplay. But it's not just atmosphere. It's not just the dark and foreboding alleyways, the dark sky and the fire and brimstone; it's also a stark raving badass marine killing demons. By the end of the game, you'll be giving these denizens of hell a taste of what the world of the living has to offer by literally giving them hell.
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