Platforms: HTC Vive (Reviewed), Oculus Rift, PSVR
DOOM VFR has officially brought a new kind of hellfire to your VR headset. It’s bloody, it’s gorgeous, and although it has a few quirks, it still manages to be an adrenaline rush that’s sure to please any fan of DOOM’s fast paced, frenetic action.
Hell in a Shell
DOOM VFR’s story is nothing to write home about, as per Doom’s MO. You play as Dr. Peters, a scientist that gets torn to shreds by a demon a few seconds into the game. Not long after, the facility’s emergency defense matrix snags your corpse and uploads your consciousness into a good ol’ fashioned advanced combat droid that just happens to kick nearly as much butt as everyone’s favorite DOOM Slayer.
From there, the story devolves into various fetch and retrieve missions, with plenty of demons and arena style murder-fests along the way. The end goal here is pretty much what you’d expect; shutting the gates of hell. It’s not clear where these events fall in relation to the events of id’s 2016 DOOM reboot, but it really doesn’t matter. DOOM VFR has nothing to do with deep narrative intrigue, and it doesn’t try to hide that fact.
DOOM isn’t about breaking story boundaries, it’s about breaking demon face, and there’s a lot of demon face to break in DOOM VFR.
Tools of the Trade
Completing DOOM VFR’s campaign takes about six hours from start to finish, so don’t expect a long, drawn out experience, but six hours of VR demon slaying is plenty for a single marathon session. If you’re craving more for your $29.99, DOOM VFR stays true to id Software’s stance on difficulty settings, and as a result you’ll find everything from easy to two locked difficulty settings above hard that you can only access by clearing the easier settings.
For players looking for a challenge, there’s no doubt that these offer a lot of replay value. For our review I played the base normal difficulty, and it felt just challenging enough to keep me on my toes. There were plenty of near-death close calls, but overall it felt very well balanced.
DOOM VFR also comes with a small pool of secrets and hidden collectibles that are worth searching out just for the massive boost that the extra ammo, health, and upgrades offer. Fortunately, they also offer a chance to catch a few laughs as you find secret arcade machines, altars to certain demonic female leads, and plenty of id Software’s humor spread liberally throughout the game. Combine that with level based challenges, and there are plenty of reasons to replay each level if you’re interested in unlocking everything.
The Whole Bloody Picture
As far as VR games go, DOOM VFR looks fantastic. Short, plain hallways are few and far between, and often lead to massive open rooms filled to the brim with details that are beautifully rendered and fit right in with DOOM’s sci-fi gothic art style.
Enemies look equally good, and it’s likely that many of the assets were pulled directly from the DOOM 2016 release. It’s worth mentioning that while some enemies move and react similar to the base game, there are definitely some that act more like massive bullet sponges and rarely move the way you would expect them to after taking a shotgun blasts or rockets to the face. It’s a bit of a downgrade, and for some demons it feels like you’re shooting a brick wall that happens to move occasionally rather than the living, screaming demons we’re used to in DOOM.
That said, DOOM VFR more than makes up for these animation issues with the particle effects and various ways that demons explode when you do kill them or deal enough damage for them to take notice. Telefragging in particular makes for a great visual moment as enemies detonate. It’s a satisfying feast for the senses, that’s made even more so when the game’s music and sound engineering really kick up. There’s just something satisfying about ripping apart hordes of the damned with your bare hands and massive miniguns to the tune of DOOM’s heavy metal soundtrack that just can’t be beat.
All of that is here, and it’s made the transition to VR in a very compelling way.
Hellish VR Design Choices
Unfortunately, DOOM VFR’s gameplay has more than a few issues that take some getting used to for veteran VR gamers. They’re far from game breaking, but they take time to adjust to, and definitely disrupt the sheer satisfaction and ease of use that you want in a VR game.
For starters, the movement system, which is a blend between teleportation and your standard dash mechanics, feels finicky for the first half of the game. Because both teleport and dash are bound to the same touchpad, you’ll often find yourself sliding in an odd direction when you’re trying to trigger a teleport, and triggering your teleport when you’re trying to dash.
It does seem to even out once you get familiar with exactly where your thumb needs to move on the Vive’s trackpad to trigger each movement. In the long run, the system starts to convey the sense of mobility that we expect from DOOM without sacrificing overall user comfort, but it definitely has a steep learning curve when you’re trying to dodge around demons that are more than willing to wipe the floor with your health bar while you’re fumbling with the controls.
I also experienced a few glitches that were inconvenient at best, and rage inducing at worst. For example, throwing or using grenades is a nightmare that often ends with the grenade randomly exploding in your hand, a mistake that often removes significant chunks of health any time you reach up to scratch your nose. This becomes less of an issue later on when you replace your thrown grenades with a grenade launcher, and eventually the BFG.
The ever-awesome BFG comes with its own set of issues however. It would often lose all the ammo it had available, resetting the three shots I so carefully horded down to zero. This glitch killed me more than a few times when I tried to use the BFG, and found myself instead running on empty. Having your best weapon randomly run out of bullets is no fun, especially in a game so focused on shooting.
The biggest issue, and the one that nearly breaks the fun of VR DOOM entirely, is the way the controllers align with the weapons in the game. At least on the Vive, the weapons sit almost 30 to 45 degrees off kilter from where they should be.
As a result, if you want to look down the sights to nail a headshot like you can in nearly every other VR shooter, you have to torque your wrist at an uncomfortable angle, as though you’re pointing your controller at the floor. As a result, you’re pretty much forced to aim from the hip constantly. You could argue this does provide some DOOM-esque immersion, but that doesn’t make it more fun to play.
By the end of the game you’ll probably get used to it, and you’ll eventually able to shoot without thinking with a reasonable degree of accuracy, especially with the larger full auto weapons. But it’s a design choice that feels like an odd carry over either from a Rift Touch Controller scheme, or from some kind of elitist gaming mentality that views overcoming nonsense handicaps as a badge of honor.
One of the advantages to VR is how natural and satisfying it is to use, and adding a tilt to the controller to force players to shoot from the hip adds an unnecessary learning curve that makes DOOM VFR feel frustrating by comparison to nearly every other VR Shooter.
Once you master the movement system, and how DOOM VFR forces you to aim, the Gameplay is very entertaining. Still though, it feels clunky and frustrating in the beginning, and when compared to games like Superhot VR, Echo Arena, and even Job Simulator, DOOM VFR feels like it is intentionally behind the times.