Another Doom game? You sure mate?
Commonly mistaken as a port of the original Doom, Doom 64 is an original game with its own unique level design, enemies and graphics engine. This is the “third” classic style Doom after 1 and 2, with its own game engine created specifically for the N64. It feels pretty much the same, except the difference with this is that it’s more of a remaster than a port. Doom 1 and 2 have stayed the same since the 90s, but this game has been given a huge upgrade with this Switch port. This is extremely crisp, high-res, widescreen N64 goodness in all its glory. It’s so nice to see games of this era without the blur and slowdown, and I give huge props to Nightdive Studios for bringing both this and Turok back to life on Switch. This game looks really good and plays well.
Apart from the enhanced graphical touches, the level design is what defines this game and brings a unique flavour to it. Doom has always had a slight puzzle element involved in hitting switches and finding keys, but Doom 64 takes that to the next level. Unfortunately it doesn’t take it in a good direction. The design becomes very convoluted and inconsistent. After hitting a switch you often have to walk around in circles before discovering what it did. It could be something as small as another switch appearing on a tiny block in the previous room. Then a key will teleport to a place you’ve already been. It feels very scripted instead of natural exploration.
After a few levels it gets extremely convoluted to the point where solving the puzzle isn’t even satisfying. The “rules” of this game are so vague that it just messes with your head. Sometimes you need to find invisible doors just by humping the walls and mashing A to see what opens. Then you’ll need to sprint at full speed to hop across temporary platforms, and if you weren’t holding the run button you’re now stuck in a death pit with no way out. Is this intentional? I’m not really sure. The original Doom has invisible doors, but they were usually optional secrets and not mandatory for progression. Doom 64 came out in 1997 before too many 3D games had logical puzzles, and unfortunately just before Ocarina of Time revolutionised them. There is a level in Doom 64 that reminds me of the Water Temple, if it was in a point and click adventure game.
(this level isn’t the confusing one I just referenced, it just has nice water)
Another disappointing part of this game is the music. It doesn’t really have any. They were going for a much more ambient vibe with the dark lighting and ominous sound design instead of rockin’ guitar beats. The sound design is very good at least, with all the terrifying high quality enemy grunts you’d expect, and sound cues for puzzles playing a big role. It’s just a shame there’s no music to keep you hyped while you’re running around in circles getting lost in these nonsensical levels. It gets boring really quick, especially when you’ve cleared all the enemies.
The environments themselves are very cool, despite my problems with the level design. They tried to create a decent atmosphere with storm sound effects and lightning in the sky, splashing water sounds and a good variety of colours. Sometimes it’s nice to take it slow and enjoy the aesthetic of the level.
Doom 64 is still a good game despite my problems with it, the core gameplay and graphics might be the best classic Doom style gameplay there is. It’s just a shame that half the time is spent pushing switches instead of ripping and tearing. It goes to show that level design and gameplay is always more important than graphics. Even though this falls short of the incredibly high standards of Doom 1 and 2, it’s still an amazing game and accomplishes a different atmosphere. Some people might even enjoy this design if you love puzzles and traps, it’s nice to have another approach. After you learn the correct routes through each stage it stops being too much of an issue as well. Of course, that goes for every bad game design choice ever. Just know every fake door in advance and it makes perfect sense!
As a thanks for reading my writing, I’ll give you this password that unlocks level select.
?TJL BDFW BFGV JVVB
Now go to “Features” in the pause menu, pick one of the last levels named Fun: Cat & Mouse, and see how long you can survive with the basic handgun. You’re welcome!