I’m not sure how much I’ve written about Doom in the past. Sure, I have the bit I wrote about modding, but I didn’t really cover it beyond that. A quick rundown: Doom and Quake laid the foundation for my love of first-person shooters, much like Resident Evil and Dino Crisis did the same for my love of horror. With that out of the way, Doom Eternal has been out for about a week at the time of writing this, but released along side it with little or no fanfare is Doom 64; a sleeper hit of the Doom series. Recognized for its greatness far after its release date, Doom 64 takes a more horror focused approach to the formula far before Doom 3 was released, stripping away all of the metal and D&D inspiration, leaving a whole lot of horror. There are plenty of people that look at Doom 64 as the “real” Doom 3; close enough to its predecessor I personally thought it was just a re-release of Doom on the Nintendo 64 console, so I ignored it for way longer than I should have. Most recently, I played it via Doom 64 EX, and enjoyed it quite a bit (I‘m told the new release is a great version to play, but the thought of waiting through all the studio splashes and it requiring an internet connection to play makes me avoid it for now). I figured a look at Doom 64 was in order, if only to not have my entire article history be about survival horror, tank controls, and Resident Evil.
Look at that Atmosphere
Doom and Doom 2 scared me as a kid, and I’ll gladly admit it, but I quickly got into the habit of making the scary monsters go away with a super shotgun or a rocket launcher after a little while. The tension in Doom comes from the monster layout and density than the monsters themselves (except for Archvilles; those will never cease being scary). Levels in Doom 1 and 2 are well designed, but I they don’t exactly inspire fear. They act as loosely interconnected stages that are occasionally maze-like, be it in a substation, a city or what have you; perfectly acceptable locations to blast demons in. Doom 64 not only uses completely new textures for everything, but it has an improved lighting engine to boot. The level design is a little more maze like and claustrophobic, so what you end up with is a very stylistic and moody romp through space bases, castles, and sections of Hell. The new lighting engine makes for some impressive scene changes for the time, and even for today. It really helps sell the feeling of being trapped in a space base filled to the brim with Hell’s denizens. Monster sprites are all redesigned; instead of being hand drawn or clay models ported into the engine, they seem to be 3d models ported into the engine. It gives a few monsters a “shiny” look, but overall the monster sprites a really well done; similar enough to the originals that you can tell what they are at a glance, but different enough to offer a fresh perspective on classic enemies. Weapons sprites all fit the motif, with guns appearing more realistic (or about as realistic as they can be, considering this is a series about one guy fighting off the entirety of Hell). Classic Doom gives you the feeling of playing through a heavy metal album; loud, fast and full of carnage. Doom 64 doesn’t have that so much; its more like the seedy, underappreciated soundtrack that only gets a cult following and the recognition it deserves years after its time.
The Good Ol’ Shoot-Bang
Doom sits as one of the original templates for first person shooters. Sure, Wolfenstein came out before, but the limits of the engine didn’t really allow for a whole lot of tact when it came to combat. Doom, introducing vastly different weapons and enemies, has kept the combat fresh and exciting even all these years later, and Doom 64 is no exception. While Doom 64 is missing the Revenant, the Spider Mastermind, the Archville, and the Chaingun Zombie, the remaining monster variety is still enough to create lots of interesting combat scenarios. Furthermore, with the emphasis of the game being more horror focused, each of these enemies are a little more dangerous this time around. To compensate, your arsenal is buffed as well. The usual staples return (shotgun, chaingun, rocket launcher, BFG, etc) with the addition of another weapon, called the Unmaker. The Unmaker can only be found in three of Doom 64s maps; it has upgrades in the form of Demon Keys you find in secret maps. When fully upgraded, it melts the final boss in about 10 seconds. The shotgun is an absolute workhorse in this game. One-shotting Imps and zombies, it can reliably two shot pinky demons now. The super shotgun is, without a doubt, an absolute unit of a gun this time around. The chainsaw has two blades for double the fun and is absurdly powerful this time around, melting crowds of medium level demons in a few seconds. The rocket launcher this time around has a little bit of kick to it, sending the player backwards a quarter of a step when you fire it. It’s neat because it gives you the sense of firing a lofty projectile, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get me killed a handful of times due to being used to vanilla Doom’s rocket launcher.
Soundscapes and Howls
Doom 64 also diverges from the former games in the way of sound design. The well known and well loved sounds have been overhauled to fit the horror ascetic. Imps no longer sound like camels; guns are chunky-er when you shoot. The music, instead of 90s metal riffs, is replaced with a dark and brooding soundtrack; more Quake than Doom, if that’s any indicator. So, its less like this and more like this. The main reason for that is that the soundtrack was done by Aubrey Hodges; he was the composer for both the Doom and Final Doom ports on the Playstation. While the Playstation version of Doom looked like its PC counterpart (save for some muddier textures and the outright removal of other textures), the music and sound were vastly changed, and it gave the ports some really good horror vibes. Doom 64 continues that horror motif while reincorporating the speed into the equation. Its a rowdy mix of speed, aggression and nightmare creatures that feels so damn good to play even in the modern era.
One of These Things is Not Like the Other
Doom 64, most importantly, stands on its own. If you look up Doom 3 on the internets, chances are you’ll find some pretty negative feedback on the game. Personally I enjoyed it for what it is, but at this point it seems to be the “black sheep” (almost literally) of the Doom linage. To be fair, Doom 3 different from its predecessors in the sense that its a slow paced, atmospheric crawl through a hell-infested Mars base, but that’s what makes it so good to me. Doom 64 is more of a “true” bridge between the games, both in presentation and in its story, the little of it Doom has. By now everyone has seen the “Rip and Tear” meme that is one of the best damn comics ever put to page, and Doom Eternal uses both Doom 64 and said comic as a plot point in its story. I won’t spoil it here, even though spoiling a Doom story is kind of like spoiling the plot of a porno. Regardless, Doom 64 changes it up just enough to make killing demons super fun in its own setting, much like a lot of custom WADs out there.
So there you have it; just grab Doom 64 if you haven’t already and play it. I know this article was a little late, but with the current situation involving a global pandemic, I guess I can forgive myself a bit. Next week I dive back into horror with Resident Evil 3 Seemless HD on the Gamecube; trust me, its different enough than the second one.