The RetroBeat: Doom 64 proves old shooters are still great

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As happens more and more often these days, I felt myself burned out from in-game dialogue, text, and other passive storytelling devices. Don’t get me wrong: I like a good narrative in my games. But sometimes, it can feel like I’m spending more time reading and watching cutscenes than actually playing.

When this happens, I usually retreat to something indie or retro for awhile. This time, I was in the mood for some shooting. And when it comes to a game with a lot of shooting and little story, it’s easy to think of Doom.

But I didn’t want to play any of the older games. I wanted something old-school yet new to me. That’s why I got into Doom 64, which I had never played before.

Back in the day

Growing up, I had no idea that Doom 64 was a unique game. I just thought it was another console port of the original Doom. And if you were around in the ’90s, you know that console ports of Doom were usually pretty bad. Doom 64, however, is a full sequel to Doom II.

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Sure, it looks and play a lot like its predecessors. You explore small, non-linear levels looking for keys while mowing down demons. The environment itself is 3D, but enemies are based on scaling sprites. It’s a look that was revolutionary, then dated, and now charming.

Like those early first-person shooters, you don’t aim on the Y-axis. You can only turn your head left and right. That might sound obnoxious, but you automatically aim upward or downward at enemy that’s above or bellow the barrel of your gun.

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New old Doom

Doom 64 first came out for the Nintendo 64 (shocking, I know) back in 1997. But it got a great port to just about every platform you can imagine, including Switch, last year. The game looks and runs great, and the options let you customize the controls. I for one was happy to discover that I could assign quick save and quick load functions to the D-pad.

Some people might be intimidated to play an old-school shooter like Doom 64. The genre changed rapidly right after its release. Games like Half-Life and Halo put a greater emphasis on storytelling and multiplayer. But there’s something special about that old-school Doom formula. Fights encourage you to stay on the move, often strafing around multiple demons while avoiding their devilish fireballs while you unload shotgun shells in their faces. The focus on exploration might sound tedious, but each stage is small enough that you’ll never get stuck for long. It always feels great to find that next key, switch, or hidden door.

Heck, the bite-sized nature of each level is my favorite part of these older Doom games. With Doom Eternal, I found each stage to be too long. I’d be exhausted halfway through but feel uncomfortable ending a play session in the middle of a level. With Doom 64, I can easily play a stage or two in bed before I go to sleep.

If you like the original Doom games but haven’t tried Doom 64, it’s something you must play. In a lot of ways, it’s more of a Doom III than the actual Doom III. And that modern remaster makes it easy and enjoyable to experience on modern platforms.

I may ride this retro shooter wave for awhile. Maybe I’ll finally give Star Wars: Dark Forces a whirl next.

The RetroBeat is a weekly column that looks at gaming’s past, diving into classics, new retro titles, or looking at how old favorites — and their design techniques — inspire today’s market and experiences. If you have any retro-themed projects or scoops you’d like to send my way, please contact me.

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