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Pixel-perfect Doom characters run toward a blazing gun in Doom 64 Image: Nightdive Studios/Bethesda Softworks via Polygon

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Doom 64 is the best Doom game you (probably) haven’t played

Get ready for an amazing re-release of a near-forgotten classic

Doom 64 is a bizarre piece of gaming history, one that will finally be accessible to everyone. It has taken long enough; this is a game more fans of the series need to play.

But let’s get some context out of the way before we dig into why, and get rid of one major misconception about the game.

Wrong place, wrong time

The original Doom 64 was released during a time when just about every viable platform was getting its own port of Doom or Doom 2, and the Nintendo 64 was not one of Nintendo’s more popular systems. People were burned out on Doom ports, they may not have owned a Nintendo 64, and finding an original copy of Doom 64 has only grown more expensive. This combination of factors all led to a very strange situation: At least some people, and perhaps many, believed it was a port of some kind.

But Doom 64 wasn’t a port or an aesthetic reboot of any of previous Doom titles when it was released on Nintendo 64 in 1997. It was an entirely new game that took place after the events of Doom 2, a game that was itself first released in 1994. Doom 64 is also a game worth revisiting, despite being developed by the now-defunct Midway Games instead of id Software.

Throughout its brand-new campaign, Doom 64 kept the frantic pace and aggressive tone of Doom and Doom 2, while adding very little — mechanically, at least — outside of a new weapon that may not have been as forgotten as hardcore Doom 64 fans had long believed.

Midway did change one aspect of the series, however: Doom 64 didn’t look anything like previous games in the series, or even games that would come later. The gameplay itself featured everything that made Doom great, while the aesthetics seemed only loosely based on what came before. Doom 64 had always been a strange beast, and was kept in the vault since its debut, with only a relatively small cult of hardcore fans remaining.

It would be the last Doom game until 2004’s Doom 3, which substantially changed what it meant for a game to carry the franchise’s name until Doom (2016) rebooted the series yet again.

So yeah, the classic Doom series went out on a very strange, very underappreciated note, with a strange-looking, underappreciated game that was often mistaken for just another damn port. But that’s what makes it so cool to play in 2020, and why I’m so glad Doom 64 is back and available on so many platforms.

Yep, this looks like hell

Doom (2016) and Doom Eternal both try to retain the spirit of the series while updating the mechanics and giving the player more tactical options and control of the situation — as long as you stay aggressive, of course — but the Doom 64 team didn’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel.

You run, you shoot, you rip, you tear, you find keycards, and that’s about it. It’s simple — it’s a wonderful jumble of 3D levels and pre-rendered sprites. Moreover, it feels like the Doom so many of us grew up playing while still being a self-contained game with its own story, as well as fresh levels that evoked the first two games without copying them. For many players in 2020, this is going to feel like finding a claymation Star Wars movie that somehow fits in between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

Doom 64 has always been an incredibly difficult game, although playing with a mouse and keyboard on the PC version is certainly going to help. This updated version of the game also offers more resolution options, along with decreased input lag and even a brand-new level. Be warned, however, that the game is visually dark, even for a Doom game, although you can always adjust the brightness levels if you don’t mind ruining a bit of the original experience.

These details are just details, however. The core part of the experience, the action and speed that made it such a good Doom game, stand out even more when they’re not being smothered by the time period and the platform on which the game was originally released. It has taken a long time to get an official port of Doom 64, but the wait was worth it.

If you have yet to play Doom 64, you should start getting very, very excited about what’s coming your way.

Doom62 game cartridge
An original copy of Doom 64
Photo: Chris Grant/Polygon

Doom 64 will be released March 20 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One, and will be free for anyone who pre-ordered Doom Eternal. The game will cost $4.99 on its own.