Review: Doom 64 (N64)

In this review, we hunt down the source of evil in the N64 game Doom 64. We find out how well this First Person Shooter plays.

This game was released in 1997 and was a spinoff to the Doom series. Previously, we’ve reviewed Doom II and the game got a pretty positive review here. We also reviewed the original Doom which originally made this franchise so famous. That game got an excellent score. In addition to this, we reviewed the 32x version of Doom and, despite some of the elements that were pulled, still earned a great score overall. So, we decided to enhance our familiarity with this series by giving the N64 version a try.

The story in this game follows the events of Doom II. The UAC (Union Aerospace Corporation) had been experimenting with teleportation technology. Unfortunately, demons from hell began to emerge and slaughtered everyone, save for one unnamed marine (the player). The unnamed marine stopped the initial invasion, but when he returned to Earth, nearly everyone had been wiped out (events of Doom II). After stopping the invasion on Earth, the military decides to bombard the moon bases with radiation in an effort to kill every last demon there. Unfortunately, something survived and began actively resurrecting the demons that have been killed. A strike force was ordered, but was slaughtered save for one marine (the nameless marine). It is up to you to stop this new threat.

You begin in the staging area armed with only a pistol. Some ammunition is available right away in the form of clips. Generally speaking, you don’t use the pistol for long as you are able to get a shotgun off of a fallen zombified soldier. As you make your way through the game, you’ll find other weapons you can pick up. These include the chainsaw, super shotgun, chaingun, rocket launcher, the BFG9000, and even what is commonly referred to as the unmaker. Some weapons share ammunition such as the pistol and the chaingun (bullets). Ultimately, there isn’t a whole lot that is new in terms of weaponry, but a lot of weapons have been given a makeover. Ammunition can be found spread throughout the levels.

All the enemies that I am aware of that have been in previous games are featured in this game. Some demons might have slightly altered names, but everything you are familiar with is in here. The boss designs were also nicely done as the cyberdemon alone is quite intimidating the first time you encounter that one. The final boss does have some pretty nasty weapons as well.

What is new are the levels themselves. While the familiar key system has made its way back into this iteration of Doom, what you get to experience is a whole new set of levels. In all, there are 28 levels and 4 secret levels. There is even a small handful of bonus levels that can be accessed via cheat, though they are generally more difficult overall and just seemingly meant to challenge the player.

The levels are more or less split into two environments. In the first bunch of levels, you are working your way through the UAC level bases. Eventually, you’ll encounter a teleporter to hell. This second, and somewhat longer, section of the game takes place in hell much like previous games. A subtle difference is that the exit to the final switch is denoted by an “exit” sign or two. The door itself isn’t any different and the exits can be a switch, a drop off point, or even a teleporter.

What is new to this game are the demon keys. While they follow the same color scheme as the regular keys in each level, what is different is the fact that the keys stick with you between each level. In all, there are three keys total. Each key is found in 3 of the 4 secret levels. The first one is probably the trickiest as it is not only hidden behind a door that requires a correctly guessed combination on the first try, but also hidden away in a very confusing maze of switches, secret platforms, drop offs, and a locked door where the key is very well hidden. The other two keys, while no cakewalk to find, are generally a little easier to locate and collect. The use of these keys aren’t immediately clear, but they actually have multiple uses. The more immediate use is making the unmaker weapon much more powerful. The other use is found fighting the final boss. The more keys you have, the easier it is to survive the initial onslaught of demons before taking on the final boss. I have yet to beat the final boss with no keys, personally, but I have been able to make it to the final boss and fire a good volley of shots before being taken down. The way you can tell you’ve found a secret level is if you get some text before starting the next level.

One thing about this game is that the overall control style stays largely true to the original Doom games as opposed to what other FPS games are doing. You have no real jumping ability other than running off a platform. While that seems like an absurd notion given the release of other FPS games that contain a jumping ability (Blood, Chasm – The Rift, Quake II, and Turok – Dinosaur Hunter to name a few), the levels are designed in such a way that this is merely a challenge to the player more than a limitation.

Another thing is the fact that this game has a nice mix of problem solving and general firefights. It isn’t just about blasting everything necessarily, but rather, trying to find which switch unlocks which door, finding the secret areas, and eventually finding the level exit. A few levels cam be rather confusing, but it isn’t impossible.

The game also offers different difficulty settings. The difficulties, from easiest to hardest, are “Be gentle!”, “Bring it on!”, “I Own Doom!”, and “Watch me die!”. The main differences between the difficulties are the number of enemies you encounter. Even though “Be gentle!” is the easiest setting, that’s not to say there isn’t any challenge to the game. If the enemies aren’t a challenge, then the overall level configuration and problem solving will eventually make you think. Besides, taking on the cyberdemon isn’t exactly a walk in the park and will challenge you to some degree. Meanwhile, if you take on “I Own Doom!”, it’s not as though the levels are made almost impossible. If you beat the whole game on the easiest setting, the levels on “I Own Doom!” are definitely passable, though just don’t expect to make it through most of the levels with a single weapon or constantly find yourself maxing out on health and armor by the end of each level.

At the end of each level, you’ll get some stats. You’ll get a percentage of how many kills you got, how many special items you’ve collected, and how many secrets you were able to find. You’ll also get a time for how long it took you to complete a level. This gives you two ways you can play. You can either go for how quickly you want to complete the level or try for total level completion. A couple of glitches do not permit 100% completion of every level, but it is more than possible to get most of the levels at 100% completion. Getting fast times or completing levels at 100% don’t necessarily net you anything extra, but it does tell you how well you did in the level. You’ll also be shown the name of the next level in the process.

One positive element in this game is the fact that this game has length to it. Some levels took me as little as 5 minutes to complete while one level took me longer than 20 minutes to complete (I think it was Breakdown). Even though 28 levels sounds like a moderate number of levels, taking into context that some levels can take 10 minutes to complete on the first run, you might actually be looking at about 3 days worth of gameplay just to complete the game. You might also be inclined to play the game after on a harder difficulty as well. That would translate to possibly close to a week worth of gameplay. One thing is for sure, I didn’t feel like one playthrough was enough and would have happily taken on the harder difficulties in the game as well after playing on the “Be Gentle!” difficulty.

The use of the demon keys was a very nicely done addition to the game. The fact that it made one weapon more powerful was just a nicely done bonus that added to the game.

My only criticism was the fact that locating the first key may have been a bit excessively difficult. In fact, it relied a lot on luck in getting that combination right on the first attempt just to access the level. To my knowledge, there are no hints on which order to hit the switches, which meant either looking it up online, or restarting that level multiple times until you get the combination right. This was more annoying than anything else.

What I do like is the difficulty settings. As a result, this game is certainly open to new players who aren’t used to the style of play while, at the same time, challenging more experienced players with the harder difficulties. A great combination of approachability as well as challenge can definitely be found in this game.

Generally speaking, this game has nicely done gameplay, very well done level design, unique new features with the demon keys, and a nice set of enemies. The assortment of enemies, weapons, and items were both familiar and refreshing. The difficulties offered allow players of many different skill levels to play this game, making it highly accessible. With the exception of the difficulty in getting the first demon key, I had no real complaints about this game.

Graphics were a weak spot for this game for other players. One of the biggest complaints about this game was that it was far too dark. Even with the brightness turned up, it can still be too dark. While the complaint is justified, this does not affect all levels. The first few levels do suffer from it, but with the remaining levels, the darkness was either part of the challenge, or simply non-existent altogether. In terms of graphics otherwise, this game does have a bit of a dated feel to it for a game of its time. There is a very heavy reliance on 2D sprites where other games at the time were converting to going all 3D. Even though the redrawn weapons were nicely done, it wasn’t enough to make up for the graphical shortfalls. It was decent overall, but nothing huge.

Audio was a major strength in this game. Some FPS games were relying on rock music or orchestral scores at this point in time. This trend would only be bolstered in the future. What stood out in this game is the fact that the music took on an entirely different approach. While the intro and ending music was quite orchestral, the level music itself was actually ambient. Instead of relying on that white-knuckled sound to project a high energy emotion, the music here was simply much more creepy. As a result, the ambience was much more creepy overall and provided a very fitting mood to the game. A very well done effort. The audio was pretty well done. The weapons had their own sounds that worked very well. Even some of the idle sounds such as the buzzing of the plasma gun or the growling of the chainsaw were nicely done. A lot of the demon sounds were obviously throwbacks to previous games, but it still worked well here. So, a nicely done effort here. My only complaint in the audio was the limited door sounds.

Overall, this was a great game to play. It really served the franchise well and was another excellent entry. There was great level design and good gameplay in spite of the limitations of movement. The addition of the demon keys worked very well. The range of difficulties allowed newcomers and experienced players alike to enjoy this game. There’s plenty of gameplay to be had. The graphics were probably the weakest part of the game with some levels being a little too dark. Still, they were nicely done. The audio stood out nicely for providing a very well realized mood that fit the series well. Even with the limited door sounds, the audio was a strong feature in the game. Overall, definitely a recommended play.

Furthest point in game:
Be Gentle: Beat the game with all three demon keys.
Bring it on: Not attempted.
I Own Doom: Beat first two levels. Third level not attempted.
Watch me die: Beat first level. Second level not attempted.

General gameplay: 23/25
Replay value: 9/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 86%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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