Retro games are a hot topic these days, and the latest example of a classic returning for another bite at the apple is Doom 64, with Bethesda commissioning restoration-specialists Night Dive Studios to update a classic shooter that released over 20 years ago, bringing it to modern audiences and new platforms. Doom 64 is a sequel to the first two Doom games, and as the name implies, it was originally released only on Nintendo 64. The latest game in the series, Doom Eternal, is landing on March 20 and it includes Doom 64 as a pre-order bonus (it can also be purchased separately for a modest fee). Not only is it a slice of history, but it's also a perfect opportunity to see how the classic holds up against a modern Doom.
To bring you up to speed: the invasion of hellish demons has halted, but some of them survived in distant space stations. The military decided to bomb these demons with huge doses of radiation, and for the most part, they succeeded. However, something survived, and that something has started to resurrect demons. A strike team sent to destroy these creatures gets obliterated, but one member of the team survives, and that's you.
The story of Doom 64 is just complex enough to push players forward and kill some demons. The 32 levels don't bother too much with trying to tell you a story, instead, the player is sent down different corridors in search of their objectives while also fighting to stay alive, with each levels containing a bunch of keys to find and buttons to press so you can proceed. The arsenal of weapons is delightfully varied, and (of course) the most iconic Doom weapons are present. The chainsaw now has two blades, and berserk fist beats demons into a bloody pulp - it's just as gory as you think it's going to be.
A simple premise doesn't mean a simple game, however. The levels all feature secret rooms as a clever add-on, with additional treasures just waiting to be discovered. Sometimes a secret room will open up and a demon will jump out and try to kill the player as well, making it hard to relax. What's more, the game starts easy, but soon turns into a real battle for survival. A dark reminder of days past is that when you die; you need to start the current level from scratch without any of the progress you just made. Then, after finishing each level, a separate screen tells you how many secrets you missed, how many collectibles you didn't pick up, and how many demons you failed to kill. Do better next time, yeah?!
This new and updated version of Doom 64 also features a brand new chapter, which takes place after the main campaign. The now-defeated Mother Demon had a sister, you see, and it's up to you to sort the mess out. In truth, we didn't notice the joins at first as this new chapter fits seamlessly into the overall package - it looks like it could have been there all along. It is a nice bonus, but (of course) it should not be your sole reason to play this new version of Doom 64.
Back in 1997, it was a really good-looking game, and the same is still true today, albeit in a different way. The heartwarming pixel art has been given a new lease of life by Night Dive, and the game even includes those now ancient fake 3D effects and 2D sprites. Each character has around two or three different animations, and after dying you can see an impressive slide effect. The game also runs very smoothly, as is expected, which helps maintain the general tempo of the game (that said, it occasionally gets so hectic that it can take a while to work out what's going on around you). We also noticed some nausea after long play sessions, so that's something to watch out for. And for some reason, there were weird occasional stutters in the Xbox One version of the game, probably due to a lack of optimisation.
The sound effects are basic, but there is a certain grim beauty to them. Guns make a simple, almost childish, sound. Demons reveal their location with a clear growling noise. The same is true for their dying screams and the boom of the iconic exploding barrels. In terms of the music, heavy metal riffs are not as prevalent as we would have expected, but at least the original theme music is as impressive as ever.
Doom 64 shows modern gamers how things were done back in 1997. Enjoyment of the game could be held back by a brutal difficulty curve that may not sit right with some, but other than that, this is a perfect retro shooter for anyone who played the original, as well as newcomers looking to blast their way through a slice of gaming history.
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