After a year of VR gaming being available to most players, we’ve started to see the bigger publishers begin to take notice. Bethesda is one of the biggest, taking some of their best games of the last couple of years and porting them to VR platforms. They came out swinging with Skyrim VR, and everyone’s been excited for the potential of Fallout 4 VR, but wedged in the middle is DOOM VFR. This action-heavy shooter could have also been a massive shift for the VR gaming scene, but instead has ended up as a bit of a misstep along the path to our wonderful VR future.
DOOM VFR seems like a perfect fit. The game is action packed and full of shooting, so that makes it a lot like about 90% of the VR games currently out there. But the power of the property could easily raise it above the competition, making for one of the few AAA experiences on the medium. Things start off promising, with the game introducing you the world of DOOM in classic fashion.
Deep within a laboratory on Mars, things aren’t going exactly as planned. As the player rides an elevator they begin to hear rumblings of trouble outside. The doors open and you are quickly killed, but this isn’t game over. Instead you take control of a robotic sort of body, which gives you unique abilities that will help you take on the demon menace.
DOOM VFR doesn’t have a satisfactory way of turning your character
This includes teleportation, marking the main method players will get around the world of DOOM VFR. Now, tons of VR games use teleportation, and it’s a fine way to move about a gaming space, especially when you don’t have full room scale, such as on PSVR. However, DOOM VFR ignores the movement methods that other VR titles have found to be the preferred option for many players, such as free movement, which was recently found on Skyrim.
There is a way to move your character’s body without moving yourself or teleporting, but it’s this odd boost mechanic that never feels good, no matter how familiar you are with it. It sends you sliding in a single direction, which seems like it would work, but in practice it just feels clumsy and uncontrollable.
This whole issue is compounded by the fact that DOOM VFR doesn’t have a satisfactory way of turning your character. By pressing one button you can rotate 180 degrees, but most VR titles allow for more fine-tuned rotation. The 180 degree turns are serviceable, you can make them work, but they don’t function very well for action-packed combat. This is especially true on PSVR, where players have less freedom of movement, and likely are playing in a smaller game space.
Once you move past these, or get used to the quirks, the game functions fairly well. Teleporting around the labs of Mars, shooting demons in the face, then teleporting into them to mimic the melee combat of the original title, can be a definitely fun time. All the usual DOOM eccentricities are here, such as keycards and ammo and health pickups. Puzzles also come into play, though they’re mostly simple stuff.
The campaign will likely take you a few hours to complete, fitting comfortably in with other VR single player experiences. If you have played the 2016 release of DOOM though, some of the stages will be familiar, as they are recycled from that title. It feels odd that much of the game is new, while some is recycled. It would have been better to do all of one or the other, making either a totally new game, or a VR port of DOOM 2016, like how Skyrim and Fallout 4 are made. This does diminish the value of the game a bit, and should be considered before a purchase.
Built on the foundation of DOOM, DOOM VFR seems like it’d be a rock solid action game. The aforementioned control problems certainly dampen the experience though, and there’s still more issues. Your left hand (or off hand) is reserved for grenades, which takes a lot away from the VR experience. Dual wielding guns is much preferred to having a grenade always at the ready, especially when they’re so tough to throw properly.
Guns also take awhile to get used to, as the aiming feels a bit different from most other titles. It’s just not comfortable, and there’s some issues with secondary fire that will likely need a patch later on. PSVR seems to have actually gotten the better deal in some respects, as Vive owners have been reporting even more troubling problems, though other aspects do make that the preferred experience for some.
The game does look great though, and is certainly pushing the boundaries of what PSVR is capable of. The platform continues to impress, given the demanding nature of VR gaming. This isn’t quite as stark a visual experience as some other games, but it’s quite pleasant, considering the power necessary to deliver it. But not enough can be said about the controls, which totally take you out of the game.
VR titles are all about immersion, and DOOM VFR simply lacks it. Even if it does some thing better than other VR games, when you’re too busy fiddling with the controls, or relegating yourself to using the Dualshock, it is just not delivering the real VR dream. It feels like a step backwards in terms of movement and control options, like the developers weren’t paying attention to the advancements made by other games. Maybe now that they have feedback from players they’ll get them added in, but until they do DOOM VFR will suffer for it.
DOOM VFR is Bethesda’s second major VR release, but it feels like one that is coming a year too late. Poor controls and odd design decisions detract from what would otherwise be an excellent VR shooter. But those who loved the 2016 release and want more in VR will find something to love here. And with a few changes, this could become a top tier VR title.