Before, when everything was better… When the emblematic characters of the game were not all restarted. In Retrofiel, one of the editors of Eurogamer Benelux goes back to the good old days. With the release of the new Doom, Samuel returns to his favorite part of the series, the nightmare Doom 64.
Sometimes I ask myself difficult questions. Like, “Which part of Doom is my favorite?” Should I choose the original, perhaps the most influential title in shooter history? Or will I opt for the second part, the game that extended and perfected the formula of its predecessor? Both have a warm place in my heart and (always) a permanent place on my hard drive. But if I really have to do it, I always choose the third part. It’s Doom with an emphasis on horror, Doom without its original iconic pixels but with beautiful new interpretations. I choose Doom 64. What, Doom 3? What is this?
Compared to the rest of the id Software series, Doom 64 remains a strange man. It’s an oft-forgotten game that not only tried to do something new with the form of its predecessors, but also combined horror and action in a special way. But to understand why Doom’s estranged cousin is the way he is, we have to go back to the puberty of the first-person shooter. It was late 1994 and Nintendo was working hard on a new console. Somewhere in San Diego, a small team from Midway is tasked with introducing this mysterious “Ultra 64” to the world’s most popular shooter. Work on Doom 64 begins.
These days, it’s hard to imagine how quickly games were developing back then. It only took six years for the FPS genre to shift from Wolfenstein 3D to Half-Life. For comparison, it’s been as many years between Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Advanced Warfare. It was in 1997 that Doom 64 was in store. It’s Turok Summer and the GoldenEye Year for Nintendo 64. In PC land, Epic finalizes Unreal and puts id Software Quake 2 under the Christmas tree. It took just two years for Midway to bring Doom to Nintendo 64, but the world had changed by then. Even as a result, Doom 64 was already an old story, a curious relic from the distant past.
Under such circumstances, Doom 64 had no chance of leaving the same impression as its illustrious predecessors. Yet it was these same circumstances that made Doom 64 something very special. When Midway started working, Texan id Software had already started developing Quake. Although they kept an eye on the Port of Dallas, Doom was far from at the top of the list. It gave Midway enormous creative freedom.
Id Software may have finished Doom, but the guys in San Diego grew up with it. They were big fans, and many of them were cartographers for whom Doom had proven to be the entry point into the industry. In their hands was the key to the palace: unlimited access to their game’s engine and favorite hardware one could only dream of in 1993. This led to a bold plan: Doom 64 was to be a brand new game. port, but the next part of the series on a new platform.
But how do you keep up with one of the most legendary games of all time? This is a delicate question. If you stray too far from your predecessors, your new room will become unrecognizable. But if you change too little, your game is over. Midway started with a simple principle: form rather than substance. Not much has changed under the hood. There are always the same monsters and the same weapons. Everything always runs on the same engine, and here too we dance like clockwork with the speed of a racing car and the arsenal of a tank. It’s Doom in heart and soul.
But it’s also Doom like you’ve never seen it before. The monsters have been re-sculpted, the weapons have received a lick of paint, and all graphics are new and crisper. From foreign skies to colorful touches: nothing is left untouched. The gameplay may be the same, but the aesthetic is new. Midway didn’t bring Doom to Nintendo 64 as much as their image of what Doom could be. As a result, Doom 64 looks like an anachronism, a complete set that goes beyond the original games and seeks an interpretation of all of Id Software’s work in 1997.
It’s Doom, after the earthquake. Space stations are no longer made of fluorescent colors, but are rusty iron titans. Hell is no longer a stylized labyrinth, but a collection of Gothic structures recognizable from HR Giger’s nightmares where metal nails protrude from the walls. Bobby Prince’s music has been replaced with spooky soundscapes that Trent Reznor would be proud of.
“The form above the substance” may seem superficial, but here it is a golden handle. By changing shape, the gameplay becomes a new experience. Doom and horror have always gone hand in hand, but Doom 64 is the only part that makes me uncomfortable. This is not only due to the design of the pictures and the levels, but also the fantastic soundtrack by Aubrey Hodges. In Doom 1 and 2, horror is mostly a thematic thing. When a level begins, there’s rousing music, a big gun, and colorful demons – it’s not scary, it’s the cover of an Iron Maiden album.
Doom 3 flirts with survival horror, but seeks fear in times of terror. A dark hallway, a scared sound and a demon flies in the picture. For a scary moment, but after that you shoot the beast upside down with a rocket launcher. Doom 64 feels different. It’s not going well. The soundtrack is no longer rock music, but the sounds of a swarm of flies and crying babies. The levels are too recognizable to be truly abstract, but too strange to feel normal. It’s the world like a nightmare, and it’s no longer the monsters that inspire fear – it’s all you don’t see, but it is suggested that it scares you. No matter how many monsters you shoot, Doom 64 will never let you forget they’re just a small part of something far more terrible. Welcome to Hell.
It’s 2016. Johnny praises the game in his Doom review. Yesterday I saw a Cacodemon in a TV commercial. In a few months, new “Cacowards” will be presented on the Internet for the best modifications of Doom 1 and 2. The “grandfather of FPS” has a long lifespan, and gamers a longer memory. We remembered those games. Ironically, only Doom 64 is known as a cult classic.
Yet this game is more relevant than ever today. Doom 64 was created by a team that was not involved in the creation of the original. He tried to capture the feel of those old games and add something unique to a new platform with new possibilities. And at the end of the story, it worked wonderfully. This year we see the same story repeating itself with the new Doom. After all, today’s id software employs as many original Doom makers as Midway did at the time. Games are a mobile medium. They change shape, depend on our equipment, and are passed from studio to studio and manufacturer to manufacturer. Stories like these force us to think about what a game really is for us. It shows us how we remember games as experiences, even though those experiences are changeable.
If you’re curious about Doom 64, but don’t want to take the N64 out of the closet, I recommend Samuel Villareal’s Doom64 EX. It transfers the game to the PC, where it can be played with the mouse and keyboard. This control and the higher resolution doesn’t do quite the same as the original, but that doesn’t matter. Experiences change and Doom always changes with them. He has been doing this for 24 years.