Developer: id Software
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Format(s): Playstation VR (Reviewed), HTC Vive
I already love Bethesda thanks to the sheer quality of their releases, but I also appreciate the support they’re giving Playstation VR. Don’t get me wrong, the platform isn’t exactly short of great titles anyway, but the fact that Bethesda are dropping some high-quality virtual reality releases based upon their franchises is superb.
After just releasing the brilliant The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR, they’re back with DOOM VFR: a new stand-alone adventure that takes place in the same universe as their 2016 DOOM release. Admittedly, it doesn’t quite reach the same high standards that Skyrim VR did, but it’s still a bloody good game that fans of the franchise will have a blast playing.
Rather than taking on the role of everyone’s favourite ‘DOOM Guy’, DOOM VFR puts you in the shoes of a scientist at the UAC Facility who gets killed almost immediately. Yay. Fortunately, his consciousness gets placed into a demon-killing teleporting Robot, so you’re not going to be completely useless at trying to take down the hordes of beasts that have slipped out of Hell.
The change of roles doesn’t really matter too much; it still feels like you’re essentially playing as the traditional protagonist, with the same weapons and abilities available. Your general goal in the game feels the same too, with you simply exploring the facility as you look to unravel the crisis and kill some demons. The narrative has never really been the main focus of a DOOM game and it’s the same here – there’s a context to the killing, but the priority is making sure that you enjoy doing it.
DOOM VFR feels just like DOOM should; it’s one of my favourite first-person shooters this generation, so being able to take part in the brutal action so up close and personal certainly wowed me. You’ll be blasting the same enemies away with the same weapons you’ve used before, but this time you’ll really feel like you’re there in the middle of the action – what more could you want?
A lot of the levels and environments feel a bit smaller this time around, with a few areas from the 2016 game appearing along with some all-new locations. This doesn’t stop DOOM VFR from feeling like its own game though – I’ve played the hell out of DOOM and I didn’t feel bored of seeing familiar locations, but instead more impressed that I’d get to visit them again in VR. Besides, there’s plenty of enemies to kill, so you’ll be too busy spilling demon blood to worry about the fact you might’ve seen some corridors before anyway.
The game mixes up exploration with taking on waves of enemies, with some environments a bit larger in scale but simply throwing hordes of enemies your way in a similar fashion to 2016’s DOOM. It’s quite fitting given that a lot of virtual reality shooters are wave-based, though the fact that DOOM VFR mixes this up with exploration and extremely basic puzzle solving makes it a lot more fun. Basically, if you’re already a fan of DOOM, you’re going to absolutely love DOOM VFR.
My only real complaint is that the ‘Glory Kills’ have been toned down; rather than brutally executing an enemy with some ridiculous over-the-top melee attack when they’re stunned, they simply explode when you teleport to them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s effective, but the twisted side of me would’ve liked to have seen the existing executions up-close….
DOOM VFR has you move around by pointing the controller in a direction and teleporting there. Not only does it tie into the plot but it’s also something we’ve seen across so many virtual reality titles anyway, with it proving to be both effective and comfortable for gamers. The game also allows you to quick-dash in all four directions too, which allows you to zip around with a bit more pace.
However, I found that these controls weren’t always enough. DOOM has always been one of those games that’s brutal and demands quick movements, so simply being able to dash in four directions or teleport to locations with little control as to what direction you’d be facing didn’t always work that well. Fortunately, you can play the game with free-movement enabled, allowing you to move around at a quick pace and always stay on top of your enemies.
Be warned though: DOOM VFR is one of the most intense virtual reality games I’ve played as far as movement is concerned, so you can expect a few twists and turns in your stomach if you’ve still got your VR training wheels on. It’s the best way to play the game though, so it’s a bit of a catch-22.
You can play DOOM VFR with one of three control schemes: with two Move controllers, the Playstation Aim controller, or with the Dual-Shock controller.
Naturally, I wanted to play the game with the Playstation Aim controller; I’ve found that it’s been perfect for virtual reality shooters in the past, especially those that demand movement. However, there was no option to set it up for left-handed players (which I am), so if I wanted to use free-movement in the game I’d have to control it with my right thumb. This might sound like a petty complaint, but honestly, it felt unbearable for me and completely threw me off. Fortunately, Bethesda have confirmed that a patch is coming to address this, but for now if you’re left handed you might want to give the Aim controller a miss.
One weird issue with the Aim controller was that the main character would hold a weapon in just one hand, with the other hand being reserved for grenades. This means you’ll be holding the controller with both hands, but it wouldn’t be represented that way visually in-game. It just felt awkward and broke the immersion a bit – it made the implementation of the control method feel a bit rushed and forced, especially since other smaller developers have managed to use it more meaningfully in their games.
On the other hand, the Move controllers don’t allow you to move freely at all (outside of the standard dashes), but they do give you full control over both hands meaning you can carefully line up each gunshot and grenade throw a lot more easily. The limited options in manoeuvrability make this method hard to recommend though; as mentioned, DOOM VFR demands a LOT of quick movements and the Move controllers felt a lot more limited. Maybe on the easier difficulties they’re a more viable option, but for the most part they’re not the best way to play the game.
This left the Dual-Shock controller, which was surprisingly the most enjoyable way to play the game. It leaves DOOM VFR playing just like a traditional first-person shooter with the analogue sticks controlling your movement and turning, but your head movement aiming your gun up and down. It works really well and as soon as I started using it I really felt like I was playing… well… DOOM.
It was a little disappointing that I had to settle on the Dual-Shock controller – especially after enjoying using motion controllers in other virtual reality shooters – but it certainly made the game a lot more fun to play. As soon as that left-handed patch for the Aim controller drops though, I’ll be diving right back in to give the game another go…
Given Playstation VR’s somewhat limited power, you can’t go into DOOM VFR expecting the same calibre of visuals you’d have seen in the game’s 2016 release. That’s not to say it doesn’t look great though – in fact, I’d say DOOM VFR is certainly one of Playstation VR’s most visually impressive titles. Seeing all of the grotesque demons up close and personal is great, whilst battling them across the game’s often stunning environments was superb. I really loved the setting and environmental design during the game’s initial non-VR release, so feeling like you’re actually there in the middle of the action was jaw-dropping. Just know that it doesn’t have the same fidelity or detail that you would’ve experience when playing the game last year on a traditional screen.
DOOM VFR shouldn’t take players too long to beat, with the campaign coming in at around the three to four hour mark. The price matches this though, with the £20 entry fee feeling fair given the content on offer. You can certainly extend your time with the game though; you can hit the game on the harder difficulties and try to find all of the hidden secrets, whilst there are also some bonus levels to unlock that will certainly be entertaining for fans of the classic DOOM games…
With DOOM VFR, Bethesda and id Software’s beloved first-person shooting franchise has made a fantastic first foray into virtual reality, but some awkward control schemes and design choices do hold it back a bit. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll have an absolute blast playing the game thanks to the brutally enjoyable gameplay and the superb visuals, but there are a few issues to be found that are a little hard to ignore.
Still, if you own the Playstation VR headset DOOM VFR is a must-own title for both existing fans and newcomers to the franchise. It’s a hell of a lot of fun to play and once you find a controller that suits you, it’ll be incredibly hard to put it back down.