Bethesda is going all-in with virtual reality, and as part of its first wave of titles they are bringing three of their biggest franchises to the table. They recently ported their open world RPG Skyrim as a timed exclusive for PlayStation VR to huge success and are looking to do the same with Fallout 4 on the HTC Vive this month. The AAA publisher is also bringing DOOM to both the aforementioned headsets with the appropriately titled DOOM VFR (the “F” stands for friendly), which this time is a whole new title built from the ground up for virtual reality. Like with any deal with the devil DOOM in VR ends up being a double-edged sword, and while DOOM VFR provides an exhilarating shooting experience that lives up to the DOOM name, it’s cursed by a pesky and persistent demon that at times makes the experience feel like a living hell (not in a good way).
Having played the full campaign, I can confidently say this is a pure DOOM game through and through. It’s got all the weapons, all the enemy types and all the map environments from the stellar 2016 release, and is packed with challenges, weapon mods, upgrades, Doomguy doll collectibles and even classic maps of the retro DOOM in all their pixelated glory. Even the best tracks from the adrenaline pumping soundtrack from last year’s game composed by Australia’s own Mick Gordon made it to VFR. The feeling of the drums rolling while you zip around Hell blasting demons’ heads clean off their necks at lightning speed really captures the DOOM spirit. It would have been difficult to imitate the responsive gun controls and fast-paced nature of the series in VR, but id Software manage to retain that in a way that works for the medium. All the guns feel unique and carry a massive kick with each bullet fired, and a teleportation mechanic slows down time so you can dodge incoming attacks or rush into staggered enemies and watch their body explode into fleshy pieces. The teleportation feature also allows you hop onto high ledges which provides for some interesting level design and fast ways to outflank the enemy.
One of the most disgustingly beautiful games in the VR catalogue
On a presentation level, it looks like a AAA title despite the fact it does take a slight hit to the visuals compared to its big brother. Textures are lower quality and take longer to load, but thankfully the id Tech engine scales surprisingly well. The demons look menacing, Hell looks disturbing and the Mars facility brings a nostalgic feeling of playing classic id Software titles. The levels are also mostly indoors, so the graphical quality and atmospheric effects look devilishly good for a VR title.
The story is not great, but DOOM never really cared about plotlines. It’s there to provide context so you feel like you’re not in some shooting simulation exercise. You play as a scientist at the UAC facility on Mars who winds up getting killed bloody by a demon. You then transfer your consciousness to a droid where you can walk around, complete objectives and carry weapons to exact your sweet revenge. The campaign lasts about five hours and while they could have maybe added some more challenge or score modes for replayability, the price point and variety in the levels and missions seem fair. That’s not to say there isn’t replayability there. There are multiple difficulty modes, classic maps, challenges and other rewards that encourage exploration throughout the levels.
So far DOOM VFR is ticking all the right boxes for being a fantastic AAA shooter built from the ground up for VR that lives up to its franchise name. But unfortunately it’s not all fun, games and demonic evisceration, as there’s one beast that continually rears its ugly head and gets in the way of a good time: the damn controls. I think it’s great that DOOM VFR offers three control methods and caters to different players, except I have a gripe with each and every method, and in VR this can be a real killer for an otherwise quality title.
The teleportation mechanic retains help keep the gameplay fast, brutal and strategic
Let’s get the Dualshock 4 out of the way. DOOM VFR allows you to play the game traditionally as you would playing DOOM on a PlayStation 4. The best thing about this method is familiarity. As I switched from the two other confusing controls to the Dualshock 4, I immediately knew how to play the game and was able to get into the action a lot faster. It felt like second nature, which helps in some of the battles that swamp you with enemies. Being familiar with the controls allows you to focus on the actual fight itself and I found myself performing better. The downside to this control method is the fact that it’s kind of boring. It’s probably the fact that I associate traditional controllers with playing a video game rather than being in one (which is an issue I had in Skyrim VR), however my top priority when playing any VR game is immersion and the Dualshock 4 doesn’t bring it.
Dual-wielding motion controls is what the game was originally designed to be played with and for the most part, the PlayStation Move controls feel the better because of that reason. Dual-wielding two guns feels incredibly satisfying, and the combination of using each hand to shoot independently while simultaneously teleporting like Merlin on PCP creates some epic scenarios. The tracking feels much more accurate than other shooters I’ve played on the system too; every bullet I shoot goes where I want it to go and the haptic feedback on the Moves provides some added immersion. One gripe people may have is the lack of locomotion movement with the Moves. This is due to the lack of analogue sticks on the controls and the Move button being assigned to teleporting. Although I’m not normally a fan of teleportation movement in VR, teleporting actually feels fun in DOOM VFR and more thoughtful than other VR games. It also slows down time, which provides some useful strategic options.
My gripe with the Move controllers comes down to the messy button layouts, which is more of an issue with the Moves than the game itself. I have mentioned this many times in previous articles, but choosing the square layout of the face buttons over the diamond layout used in every other controller is a huge drawback. An example in DOOM involved me pressing ‘square-right’ to change my weapon when I wanted to turn 180 degrees, which is ‘circle-right’. It gets fiddly mid-battle when you hit a wall and want to turn around but accidently pull out your rocket launcher instead. Then you have the dashing, which is mapped to ‘circle-left’ and ‘square-left’, which makes things even more overwhelming. It’s a very clumsy control layout and I think that short of Sony rejigging the peripheral itself, more games are going to have this issue in the future.
As a surprising, last minute addition, DOOM VFR supports Sony’s AIM controller which was released earlier this year. Having played Farpoint on it I am convinced it has potential to be one of the greatest controllers out there, so it’s disappointing that DOOM VFR’s implementation feels forced, rushed and half-arsed in comparison. Yes, firing the guns feels accurate and realistic. Yes, the analogue sticks allow you to turn and move without teleporting in a more natural way. Yes, the button layout is better designed than the Moves’, but the drawback of this method may be the reason I prefer the other two more. This is because the AIM Controller is a two-handed controller and DOOM VFR is a dual-wielding game. So while I feel like I am holding my shotgun in my hand when I fire it, I have a grenade launcher coming out of my shoulder that moves when I move my head. It’s annoying and at times, jarring. In fact, it gets in the way most of the time. If the developers do want to take the controller seriously, they need to design each gun to be held in two hands and come up with an alternative for throwing grenades (each weapon has an alternate fire mode for grenades perhaps?). As a lefty lunatic, I was disappointed to find no left-handed control option for the AIM controller. This further demonstrates that the AIM support was an afterthought.
DOOM VFR offers multiple control options, each with their own gift and curse
DOOM gets a lot of things right. The gunplay and teleportation implementation is excellent and combine to create a chaotic and fast-paced shooter that allows it to stand proudly next to its predecessors. While classic maps, upgrades, collectibles, weapons, enemies and environments might have been recycled from 2016’s DOOM, id Software have remixed it in a way that feels like it’s its own thing and a fully-fledged title. It’s a little on the short side, but each second counts in terms of gameplay and the asking price isn’t bad. In terms of depth, variety and mechanics DOOM VFR stands above most of the other VR shooters on the market right now. It’s just a shame that it’s held back by the flaws in its multiple control options. Hopefully the developer is able to troubleshoot (literally) some solutions to improve each control method, because I really do think there’s an aspect in each that’s lacking. In saying that, I think this has been an overall successful venture from Bethesda and I do like what they’re doing for the medium. It’s definitely a learning experience for them but these franchises and first wave show a lot of potential. Let’s hope they get those controls patched and DOOM VFR is as successful as Skyrim VR so we can get a Dishonored VR!
Reviewed on PSVR using the PS4 Pro