Shaun Munro reviews Doom VFR…
What’s that, a VR game based on a much-loved IP that’s released at a reasonable price, and it’s actually good? Trust Bethesda to be the ones to do it, after recently defying a heap of industry skepticism regarding their ability to pull off a full-fat VR version of Skyrim.
Though Doom VFR isn’t, as many hoped, a full VR reworking of last year’s surprisingly excellent franchise reboot, it is nevertheless a snappy, blood-soaked three-hour thrill-ride sure to please any VR owners looking to get some extra use from their doubtless dust-covered PSVR Aim controllers.
Right off the bat, this bite-sized mini-campaign touts an incredible feeling of immersion, even if the intensity is constantly mitigated by how powerful the player feels at almost all times. Don’t expect to be quaking in your boots and filled with sweaty-palmed terror as you enter the next area ala Resident Evil 7; the enemies largely piss themselves in your presence here, as you’ve got tons of health, a fast-growing arsenal of weaponry, and for good measure you can even teleport into staggered enemies to explode them into a geyser of gore.
That’s the entire power fantasy of Doom in a nutshell, though, and to see it enhanced with the additional layer of VR is a barmy joy, with some not insignificant qualifications. Even with the series’ reputation for fast-paced, ultra-violent arenas of mayhem, on Hurt Me Plenty (aka Normal) difficulty you likely won’t find yourself dying very much at all, as the overall speed and lethality of the enemies has clearly been nerfed somewhat for VR. Rather, most of the replay value stems from tackling the mayhem on more punishing difficulties and seeking out some tasty collectibles.
It goes without saying that the plot isn’t up to much here, with the focus instead trained cleanly on the novelty of getting to blast Imps in the face in VR. Aptly transpiring a year after the last game, the player takes the role of Adams, Mars’ apparently final surviving UAC employee, who gets incapacitated when a Pinky attacks him at the start of the game. Adams awakens with his consciousness having been uploaded to an A.I. network, allowing him to traverse the facility at will and attempt to close the portal to Hell once and for all.
What’s perhaps most surprising about Doom VFR‘s campaign is how often you’ll be fetch questing, lever pulling and working through laughably simplistic mini-games, to the extent that a shocking amount of time can pass without an enemy encounter. Considering that this isn’t Resident Evil 7, where enemy placement needs to be scarce in order to keep the VR horror palpable, it’s an odd creative decision. When you’re faced with a room full of demons, though, things can get pretty intense, even if it’s disappointing that so many environments have been shamelessly rehashed from the “flat” game.
I thoroughly recommend playing Doom VFR with PSVR’s fantastic Aim controller, even if having to fumble around for the gun’s badly-placed R1 button to bring up the weapon wheel never stops feeling incredibly awkward. Moreover, make sure you immediately switch segmented turning off in the control options and play the game with smooth turning, which for my money combined with the Aim creates the most immersive experience possible.
Smooth play has been nicknamed “vomit mode” by many VR owners, but considering that you’ll still want to use teleportation and dashing in conjunction with traditional analog turning for maximum maneuverability, the nausea potential is actually surprisingly mild. The only major downside with using the Aim is that it makes the game incredibly easy compared to playing with more “primitive” controller types.
The controller’s implementation does seem to cause the game some technical trouble, though; getting it properly configured can be a bit of a pain, to the point that I frequently encountered controller drift and guns clipping through my face, both of which were mildly immersion-breaking. It’s also hilariously awkward watching your hands weirdly float in the air when you’re not holding a weapon, not to mention the obvious cognitive dissonance created by holding a gun in one hand and a grenade in the other, despite both of your real-world hands being glued to the Aim.
If you’re limited to other controls options, the Move controllers allow use of both arms individually but aren’t anywhere near as immersive, and the lack of analog sticks makes movement a real chore. Otherwise, you’re stuck with the DualShock 4, which is great for movement but easily the worst for immersion. Honestly, you really should just splash out for the Aim controller if you’re going to play this game, because the other control schemes don’t remotely compare.
Graphically, the textures aren’t incredible by any means, but they certainly do the job given PSVR’s limitations, resulting in one of the more slickly consistent AAA PSVR titles to date. Sound-wise, this is an incredibly crisp package. Sure, it largely recycles Mick Gordon’s metal soundtrack from last year not to mention the same library of gnarly sound effects, but they’re still decidedly crunchier and more satisfying than most of what gets piped through the ears while playing other PSVR games.
Though Bethesda certainly isn’t charging an arm and a leg for the game, the lack of content may still be a little disappointing. While you can unlock classic Doom maps by picking up Doom Guys littered throughout the campaign, it’s a fun novelty more than something that’s going to add hours of value. The real shame is the lack of modes outside of the short campaign, namely the absence of online multiplayer, or even basic bot-based combat. Being able to go head-to-head with fellow Aim controller owners in a deathmatch has a ludicrous amount of potential, but perhaps it’ll be added in the future; after all, Farpoint just got a PVP mode patched in this very week.
Played with the Aim, Doom VFR is a fun, breezy blast charged at a thoroughly reasonable asking price, but it’s decidedly harder to enthusiastically recommend if you’ll have to make do with other control schemes, because they’re so prone to frustration. Under ideal conditions, though, the game is a firmly enjoyable exercise in wish fulfillment that leaves the player desperately craving more.
+ Slick gameplay will easily satisfy Doom fans.
+ Mostly excellent use of the Aim controller.
+ Surprisingly sharp visuals on PSVR.
+ Great sound.
+ Classic Doom maps are a cute touch.
– Campaign is short and padded with non-combat sections.
– Move and DS4 control schemes can be frustrating.
– Lack of multiplayer.
Reviewed for PS4 (also available on HTC Vive)
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more video game rambling.