Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Doom 64

Released on March, 31, 1997 by Midway Games for the Nintendo 64, Doom 64 sends the space marine from the PC original back to hell once more, for 32 levels of FPS action.

Demon Skull Icon faces off in an intense staring contest with "NEW GAME."

In the mid-90's, I was more of a Duke Nukem fan than a Doom one. That is largely due to the fact that I didn't realize until much later that Duke stole all his lines from Bruce Campbell. Plus, Duke Nukem 3D has boobs, and Doom, decidedly, does not. Why only have violence when you can have violence AND nudity, thought my teenage mind. By the time Doom 64 rolled around to the Nintendo 64, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter had already been released, with the seminal Goldeneye right around the corner. Next to them, Doom 64 seemed downright archaic, and I didn't pick up the game for years. Then, one day, I did. I don't know why. Doom was inevitable.

Anybody got a light?

After firing up the old 64, something quickly became apparent: Doom 64 is dark. I mean "dark" as in, you can't see anything. Thankfully, this can be easily remedied by going to the options menu (accessible at every point of the game), and turning up the brightness. After that, something else quickly became apparent: Doom 64 is dark. You'll be hard-pressed to find a game as thematically dark as this one on a Nintendo system. The game starts off grisly enough, what with all the corpses and moonbase-based demon slaughtering.


You start the game as the last surviving human marine on a moonbase decimated by a surprise demon attack. The demon army is still present, and It's up to you to clear them out. Once you've annihilated the uggly buggers, you hop a ride to hell to prevent further invasion, and maybe get a little payback. The demon hordes you face there have decorated their place with pentagrams, inverted crosses, demonic engravings, candles, and a load of decaying human sacrifices.  
What a bunch of jerks.

Also, their sacrifices are blurry!

The game's fully 3-D environments are a little drab, befitting of a military base and a demon fortress in hell, though there are some nice details (like the aforementioned engravings) throughout. The demons are sprite-based, meaning they are 2-D drawn objects simulated as 3-D, though they are appropriately freaky, and move pretty believably for 2-D objects in a 3-D environment. The sky is often aglow in demonic light, which adds color to a game otherwise lacking it. Weapons looks good, from basic handguns, to blue-glowing energy rifles. While none of these elements is spectacular alone, in concert they work quite well. Midway's graphic artists did most of this from scratch, their work unique from that of the original PC game, and it pays off with a visually unsettling game world.

To quote the great poet Bone Crusher, I ain't never scared.

As unsettling  as Doom 64 can be visually, its music brings the horror. Aubrey Hodges, working within the limitations of the Nintendo 64's soundchip, makes a wise decision. Instead of attempting to create complex, orchestral arrangements, Hodges creates a minimalistic landscape consisting of ambient sound textures, sudden electronic squeals and scrapes, babies crying, chainsaws revving--it really puts the player on edge...or at least, it put me on edge. This is coupled with great monster sounds and booming weapons effects (much love to the super shotgun), though it's a bit strange that your footfalls are silent. Actually, I guess in Nintendo 64 third-person shooters, outside of Perfect Dark, your footfalls are pretty much always silent. Weird, I never noticed that.

What about that? Did you notice that?

I would say "yes." Yes, I did notice that.

As for gameplay, Doom 64 harkens back to an ancient time before objectives, and rescues, and escort missions, and missions themselves
. Instead, you:
Kill everything in front of you. Collect keys to open locked doors impeding your progress. Get to the end of the level. Solve reasonably challenging puzzles, like clicking panels in the proper order, flipping a switch and running to the right place, or finding a hidden lever, that block your path. Run out of health (your bar starts at a hundred, and can be replenished, and sometimes increased by certain items scattered around each level), and you die.

Looks like you're about to be scattered around each, this level.

This simplicity is refreshing, and lends itself to fast and furious gameplay. Guns, including pistols, shotguns, energy rifles, rocket launchers, and evil alien implements, along with ammo, are sprinkled liberally enough through the game to give the player confidence in a guns-blazing strategy. Enemies are plentiful. You will shoot of lot of bad guys, and they will bleed, and gore, and burst into piles of quivering guts. They will also shoot you, a lot, so be prepared to die, and often. The challenging difficulty is a bit invigorating. As the stages aren't Turok long (though there are nearly 30 of them, all original to the N64!), and the option of a password or control pak saving system means it's easy to pick up and put down the game at any time, getting your nethers handed to you repeatedly isn't as discouraging a proposition. Also, the game revels in your failure to such a degree, it's almost worth it to get blasted to bits sometimes.

These two cloven-hoofed jerks are about to kill me. Maybe I should try an easier level.

For instance, die, and the game forces you to look up at your killer(s) from your corpse's point of view. Wait a moment, and the game will mock you.

You try an easier level!!!

Thankfully, Doom 64 includes the option to choose between several difficulty levels, so the novice player can still put together a respectable game. 

There are also plenty of secrets, including well-hidden bonus levels, to keep the Doom 64 cartridge in place, long after the Demon Mother has been destroyed. This makes up for the game's lack of multi-player in a post-Goldeneye world.
Overall, you've got fast action, pick-up-anytime gameplay, and incredible tension--think one-hit's worth of health left, with something thumping around the corner, electronic noises swelling, evil imagery all around. Doom 64 is a game well-worth playing.

More like, "Finally, this review is dead," Amirite?!

Just Kidding! Here's a picture of some lovely mountains in hell.

Rockets are high in riboflavin. 

Real 3-D stages and fake 3-D demons mesh well with a cool lighting system, for a nightmarish landscape that has to be brightened to be appreciated.

Music and Sound
Monster roars, screams, and growls, and an ambient nightmare of a soundtrack are perfectly terrifying.

Like being in a...nightmare. Simple, fast-paced and violent first-person shooter fun, mixed with some devious puzzles. Obviously not for children.

Lasting Value
Chock-full of secrets, and the not-overly long, but plentiful stages are easy to explore at leisure with a password and control-pak saving system. No multi-player, though.