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North American Nintendo 64 cover art
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Doom 64 plays similarly to earlier games in the Doom series; the player must advance through 32 levels battling demons, collecting weapons and keys, and activating switches in order to reach the level's exit while surviving deadly ambushes and traps. Changes were made to the Doom engine for use in Doom 64, and gameplay elements were altered.
All the weapons from Doom II are present, but redrawn with new sprites and sound effects. The chainsaw has two blades instead of one, the fists have bloodstained gloves instead of brass knuckles, the plasma gun has an electric core that emits a sparking sound when equipped, the rocket launcher has a small kick when fired, pushing the player back slightly, the shotgun's priming handle is at the grip instead of under the barrel, and the double-barreled "Super" shotgun reloads faster and causes recoil.
A new weapon known as the Laser, or "Unmaker", was added, using the same cell ammunition as the plasma gun and BFG 9000. It was first mentioned in the Doom Bible and was planned to be featured in the PC Doom games, but never appeared. Its appearance in Doom 64 is its only official appearance. With the power of three ancient artifacts found in the game, it becomes more powerful by shooting three laser beams (at a quicker rate than default) instead of one. The first artifact increases the laser speed, the second artifact adds a second laser, and the third artifact allows the weapon to fire three simultaneous lasers which can automatically aim separately from one another, allowing the weapon to attack three different enemies at once.
Following the conclusion of the original Doom series, the sole Marine who survived the horrors of Hell returned to Earth, reclaiming it from the invasion that almost eradicated the human race. Demons still lingered within the abandoned halls and complexes of Phobos and Deimos. As a last-ditch effort, the military decided to bombard the moons with extreme radiation in hopes of killing off any remaining demons. It was initially successful, however, something survived the exposure. The radiation blocked the military's sensors, and allowed something to slip past them undetected. This mysterious entity, possessing the ability to resurrect any demon it came across, recreated the entire demonic horde and made it stronger than ever before. A Marine strike force was ordered to contain the advancing armies of Hell, but was mercilessly slaughtered within moments. The player's character is the sole survivor of this group.
Doom 64 was developed by Midway Games at its San Diego studio. id Software, the primary developer of the Doom franchise, supervised the project. Development began in late 1994. Midway's original title of the game was The Absolution, however the name was changed to Doom 64 for brand recognition ("The Absolution" was reused as the name of the last level in the game). Midway wanted to include every demon from the original games, as well as a few extra levels, into the final product, but deadlines and memory constraints of the small capacity of the N64 cartridges made them scrap the levels and leave a few demons out of the game. Midway stated that a multiplayer mode was not included because Nintendo did not provide the necessary resources for multiplayer programming. The developer justified the decision based on alleged slowdown during split-screen multiplayer in other games on the console and the competitive nature of the mode. "Everyone knows that the best part of playing multiplayer is not knowing where your opponent is," stated a Midway representative, "and with a four-player split-screen, everyone can easily see where their opponents are."
The environments were built from 3-dimensional polygon models, while the enemies were created by pre-rendering sprites with SGI workstations. The Nightmare Imp was originally developed for the PlayStation version of Doom and appeared in a near-complete beta of the game, but was removed just prior to release for unknown reasons. As such, it made its debut in Doom 64 instead.
Doom 64 was slated to be a North American launch title, but near the deadline id Software expressed dissatisfaction with many of the level designs, so Midway postponed the game until April 1997 while they worked on redesigning the levels.
Nintendo's then-recent decision to remove the ability to run over animals from the Nintendo 64 version of Cruis'n USA raised concerns about the possibility of Doom 64 being censored, but Midway vice president of software Mike Abbot said Nintendo had not voiced any concerns about the game's violent content. He pointed out that Cruis'n USA was perceived by the public as a family game, while the Doom series was targeted towards mature gamers, making violent content less of a concern.
The music and sound effects were composed by Aubrey Hodges, who also created the original sound effects and music for the PlayStation port of Doom two years earlier. The original Doom 64 team was working on a potential sequel titled Doom Absolution designed only for two-player deathmatches not long after the first game was released, but decided to scrap it. Because id Software were impressed with their work on Doom 64, they were assigned to the Nintendo 64 version of Quake at this time, and this presumably kept them too busy to work on other projects.
By the time Doom 64 was released, the original Doom had received ports on nearly every platform capable of running it. Critics agreed that Doom 64 was by far the best-looking Doom to date, exceeding even the PC version, and were enthusiastic about the level designs, deeming them imaginative and much more challenging than those of the original Doom. A Next Generation critic remarked that "even the most skillful Doom fans will have their hands full. And pushing door switches often causes whole rooms to rearrange and fold out into new shapes."
However, most reviewers felt that the new graphics and levels were not enough to keep the game from feeling like yet another port of the original Doom. Peer Schneider of IGN concluded, "Make no mistake about it, this is the best update to Doom so far -- but if you've played the PC, PSX, SNES, Mac, Saturn, etc versions to death, you can do without this one." GamePro's Major Mike disagreed with the majority on this point, stating that "Doom 64 pumps the tried-and-true corridor-shooter formula full of life, with another challenging, intense experience that showcases the system's capabilities." He rated it a perfect 5.0 out of 5 in all four categories (graphics, sound, control, and funfactor). Shawn Smith of Electronic Gaming Monthly instead regarded the lack of advancements in the basic Doom gameplay as a positive: "Some of you may want to see your space Marine jumping around or swimming underwater. Purists wouldn't want these features added because Doom wasn't about that stuff. I'll have to agree with the purists."
Most critics praised the game's musical score for its atmospheric effect. Schneider and Major Mike were both pleased with how well the analog control works, but Jeff Gerstmann of GameSpot felt it was off and said of the game overall, "On paper, Doom 64 sounds better than the original could ever hope to be, but the end result feels more like a bastardization of the original." Comparing it to contemporary Nintendo 64 shooter Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Schneider and Major Mike both remarked that Doom 64 has less freedom of exploration and depth of control, but is more intense and "anxiety-filled".
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Impressed by Nintendo 64's conversion of Doom, id Software immediately granted the Quake conversion rights to Midway, even requesting that the same Doom team be responsible.
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