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‘DOOM 64’ by Midway Games: Game Review

Updated for modern systems by Nightdive Studios to coincide with the release of DOOM Eternal but originally developed by Midway for the Nintendo 64 way back in 1997, DOOM 64 occupies a strange place within the franchise’s history.

A canon sequel to the story of DOOM II, 64 was released exclusively for an under-performing home console at a time when first-person shooters for the PC like Quake II were rapidly evolving, adding advanced 3D graphics, mouselook aiming, and more detailed narratives. Compared to its contemporaries, DOOM 64 was something of a stubborn outlier.

doom 64 game review Midway Games nightdive studios

Make no mistake – though some at the time balked at DOOM 64’s tonal departures, this under-appreciated cult classic is the true sequel to the original DOOM and DOOM II.

There is no dialogue to be found here, no jumping, and no cutscenes. Instead what awaits as you enter DOOM 64’s demon-filled halls is more than 30 levels of classic DOOM action, infused with a remarkably spine-tingling atmosphere and an inspired, truly frightening score.

Most of the pieces you know from the original DOOM games are here – imps, shotguns, and chainsaws, oh my! – but it’s the way the designers at Midway tweaked and employed them that keeps the game so fresh, even today, and makes DOOM 64 so successful in its ambitions. The action is fluid and difficulty is tuned high, aided by level designs that keep you on your toes at all times; even DOOM die-hards will find themselves unable to rest on their laurels.

The designers of 64 clearly understood the conventions players had come to expect from the previous games and used that knowledge, combined with the enhanced power of their updated game engine, to keep the surprises coming. Whole rooms shift and change with the press of a button, releasing fresh hordes of beasts to soak up your bullets, while an inconspicuous medkit may lure you into a darkened pit full of invisible Pinky demons. Atmosphere in 64 is thick and scary in a way the original DOOM games no longer are – more than once we found ourselves screaming (in delight) as a powerful demon closed us into a small room or appeared behind us.

DOOM 64 runs as smoothly on modern systems as one would expect a 23-year-old game to, thankfully unplagued by the frame rate and aspect ratio problems that have dogged the ports of DOOM and DOOM II for years until recent patches. Played by us on Nintendo Switch, performance is seamless, though Nightdive’s tweaks to the engine have caused some changes to the original lighting; it’s recommended to turn the ‘Environmental Brightness’ setting all the way down to restore the game’s atmosphere to its intended moody state.

Scary, challenging and bloody good, DOOM 64 is well worth your time. What a delight to discover that this once-forgotten chapter in the series holds up so well today. If you, like us, have played the original DOOM games to death and long for something canon that sticks closer to the series roots than the modern games, give DOOM 64 a try.

While it may not necessarily be for everyone, anyone who claims to love these games owes it to themselves to give it a shot.

 

DOOM 64 is out now on PS4, Xbox One X, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

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March 26, 2020

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