There probably isn’t a better barometer for how far gaming has come in the past two and a half decades than Doom VFR. It’s nearly 24 years ago to the day that the original classic revolutionized gaming with its 3D first-person view that rooted players in the center of the action and now id Software is bringing us closer to the demon-slaying than ever before with one of the first full VR first-person shooters (FPSs) based on an AAA franchise.
For all our fond memories of Doom 1993, though, it’s easy to forget that it didn’t have all the answers; you couldn’t look up and down, for example, and the game technically only provided the illusion of being in 3D with clever graphical trickery. Somewhat fittingly, Doom VFR is much the same story.
Rather than creating an original adventure from scratch, id has remixed the campaign from the excellent 2016 reboot for Doom VFR. It takes about a quarter of the locations and, from what I can remember, all of the enemies and weapons, dresses them up in a fresh but instantly forgettable story and tweaks the controls to make it as immersive and as comfortable as possible inside a VR headset. The result is a handful of levels forming a two to four-hour-long campaign depending on the difficulty you pick (I played on hard). Each of these will see you travel to different locations at the Union Aerospace Corporation on Mars, which is overrun by demons of all shapes and sizes. Without spoiling anything, you’ll later visit another location seen in the 2016 campaign.
It’s a shame not to be getting an all-new game or a full port of last year’s shooter (Bethesda has ported all of Skyrim and Fallout 4 to VR), though it’s certainly better than nothing. On the bright side, it means that this is a VR game already built upon a rock-solid foundation; Doom VFR’s enemy variety is unmatched in VR and every encounter has its own twists and turns, be it through the sheer overwhelming odds or the verticality of an environment that keeps you on the run.
You’ll blast baddies back to hell with one of three control setups. Firstly, the game’s seemingly designed for two handheld motion controllers (either Move on PSVR or the wands on Vive), which allow you to wield one gun with your right hand and a grenade/grenade launcher with your left. You can also play with a DualShock 4 or gamepad, which assigns aiming of both weapons to head-tracking or, on PSVR, you can use the new Aim controller to handle your right gun, while the left hand is still assigned to your head. Movement also comes in three flavors: a primary teleport mechanic (which can be used to teleport into stunned enemies to shower yourself in their blood), a quick dash to avoid incoming fire, and smooth locomotion for those that can stomach it on compatible controllers.
How much you enjoy Doom VFR is largely going to depend on what platform you play it on and with what controller. Though it was seemingly first designed with it in mind, the Move controls on PSVR are easily the worst way to play thanks to some truly woeful implementation. For starters, there’s no option to turn in increments on the controllers, instead only turning 180 degrees at a time. This gives you just enough freedom to navigate the facility with the teleport option (there’s no smooth locomotion for Move), but in circular rooms it’s incredibly awkward to use, especially in the rush of battle. PSVR’s limited tracking means that, if you fight an enemy off to the side you’ll have to deal with jittery weapons that are more difficult to aim. Vive’s 360 degree tracking, meanwhile, makes this much less of a problem.
Dashing on Move is assigned to the face buttons on the left controller, which themselves don’t actually represent a direction. I often needed to dash out of the way of a heavy hitter, only to press the wrong button and jump right into the enemy, leading to a quick death (though another button smartly pushes enemies surrounding you away by a few meters). When it works, the Move controller feels great, especially as you unleash a storm of chaingun fire into a crowd of shambling zombies, but there are just far too many speedbumps getting in the way of the experience. It’s clear the game was designed with the teleporting, dual-wielding setup in mind but, seeing as Doom requires you to be on the move at all times, smooth locomotion is much more preferable than having to constantly jump across a room (though I would use this mechanic to avoid enemy attacks).
The Aim controller fares just a little better, though it’s still stiff. Its implementation feels very last minute; I couldn’t aim down the sights of a gun without it clipping into my face, and it’s extremely off-putting to see your grenade hand lifelessly attached to the left side of the screen. It’s disappointing id didn’t go back and retool the game to work much more naturally with Aim like Vertigo Games did for Arizona Sunshine; holding a heavy assault rifle in your hands should feel empowering, but it instead comes off as clumsy. The dual analog sticks mean you can use smooth locomotion which makes the game drastically easier (and much more fun) than if you just rely on the teleporting.
In the end, I surprisingly settled on just the standard DualShock 4 controls for the PSVR version. It’s the most solid, dependable way to play the game, with full locomotion and a much better button layout than on either Aim or Move. It allows you to rediscover a bit of that satisfying combat flow that made the original tick, with a few new additions of its own. Teleporting behind a charging enemy, for example, and then quick-turning and firing a rocket into their backs is extremely satisfying. Playing this way gives the game an existential crisis, though, as it essentially means you’re now just playing a shorter, blurrier version of a great shooter from last year. Sadly, that’s about the best the game can muster on PSVR.
There are moments of VR awesomeness to be had, of course; blowing the head off of a Baron of Hell and watching its entire body slam down in front of you had me wanting to high-five the nearest person, while blasting enemies mid-air as you spring off of a launch pad will have you cackling with laughter. But these instances aren’t enough to overlook the far more common moments in which you’re fighting the game’s controls more than you are its demons.
On Vive, it’s a bit of a different story. You can play with a gamepad, just like you can on PS4, but 360 degree tracking means you’ll be able to turn in real life much more freely than you can on PSVR, and the button layout is much easier to get to grips with than it is on Sony’s controllers. It’s an entirely different experience to be able to enter a room with full tracking and freely twist and turn to meet the monsters that surround you. That said, the Vive controller option doesn’t support free locomotion, so you’re stuck with the teleport option only. But it’s a much more valid tactic with the full range of tracking at your disposal and, with the added headset clarity and improved visuals, the experience is markedly better on Vive than it is on PSVR.
Hopping from place-to-place in the Vive version feels much more seamless, and gives the game a bit more of an identity over trying to replicate the classic controls. It’s quite satisfying to be able to teleport into a demon, blow him to pieces, and then jump back out again all with a few button presses. For smooth locomotion purists, it’s not going to be the ideal solution, but this is currently the best way to play the game in my opinion.
Whereas last year’s game expertly paced its action, slowly introducing one new enemy or a different weapon at a time, VFR’s short run time throws you in at the deep end from the start. The bulk of enemy types, which teleport into battles set in arena-style locations, show up within the first hour and you’ll find a new gun to play with every 20 minutes or so. It’s like a whirlwind tour of hell, and I often wished the game would take a little time to slow things down, though there are the same secrets and collectibles from last year’s game to hunt for. I also encountered a handful of glitches — one that forced me to reset and replay a 15 minute section — and the UI is somewhat poorly integrated. Objectives, for example, are suck to the left side of the screen and if you try to turn to look at them, they just move further away.
While Skyrim VR made a great case for the VR port, Doom VFR brings us back to the drawing board. On PSVR, the game has its moments, largely thanks to the foundations it was built upon with the 2016 original. In the end, though, the real fight is with its awkward control setups that eventually led me back to play with just a standard gamepad. Though the foundations of a hugely enjoyable shooter are intact, VFR’s struggle with the platform’s limitations makes it feel like the VR support is holding it back more than anything.
Thanks to 360 degree tracking and a superior button layout (as well as improved visuals), Doom VFR on Vive is a noticeably better experience on PC than on PSVR. The lack of smooth locomotion with the Vive controllers definitely hurts, but the game sets its own unique pace with the teleportation-based combat that regularly succeeds in making you into a demon-murdering action star. That said, there’s still no getting around the fact this is a short game with recycled content that feels cut down and repackaged rather than fresh and innovative. There’s a fun afternoon of thrills here, but we want VR to take us even deeper into hell.
Doom VFR is available now on the PlayStation Store and Steam for $29.99 with PSVR and Vive support respectively. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrive at our review scores.