Missteps on HTC Vive (literally and figuratively) are nothing compared to PSVR problems.
My 2013 PAX West demo came courtesy of Oculus executive Brendan Iribe, who put a duct-taped, unfinished VR headset over my eyes before booting a modified version of Doom 3. Almost instantly, I praised the immersion. I oohed and ahhed at my ability to rapidly turn my head to line up demon-killing buckshot. I appreciated the lighting and perspective tricks used to convey how much chaos was going on all around me. There really was nothing like it at the time.
Oculus continued demonstrating this build of Doom 3 at other events to drum up excitement for its eventual headset, a fact not lost on the folks who happened to own the Doom license. The ensuing legal battle between Bethesda and Oculus has been legendary, but no lawsuit could wipe away that intrinsic link created between Doom and VR by this formative demo.
That’s a lot of baggage for a long-awaited video game to hang onto, but finally, the world has its first official, full-blown Doom VR game. (You can probably guess what the “F” stands for in its official name, Doom VFR.) And yet, it lands not with a heavy-metal rip-and-tear, but with a perfectly reasonable shotgun blast. Doom VFR is totally fine at best if you get to play it on PC with a full HTC Vive VR kit. On that platform, the game’s satisfying Doom 2016 elements collide with underwhelming VR optimizations and a wimpy runtime of a few hours.
Sadly, the game has also been shoehorned onto PlayStation VR, and the results there are almost impossible to recommend.
Doom VFR is similar to the 2016 Doom reboot, in that players are dropped onto a demon-overrun military outpost on Mars before eventually descending into Hell. You control a different soldier one year later, and he audibly ambles about various people and objectives as an obnoxious narrator. This Doom VFR aspect is a disappointment compared to the “eff the plot” attitude of “Doom guy” in last year’s version, but he’s easy enough to ignore. All you need to know: Demons are bad. You have guns. Time to kill.
VR shooters are a different breed from their standard, flat-screen siblings, of course. The constant running, jumping, and spinning you might do with a mouse or a joystick doesn’t necessarily translate to VR, whether because players don’t have physical space to move around or because so much motion can make players feel woozy if they’re not actually moving in real life. I would argue that this year’s most successful VR “adventure-shooter” game, the PSVR exclusive Farpoint, pulls this off by combining a comfortable turn-and-move system with a clever “always run forward” level design philosophy.
Doom VFR is a little more complicated. Its most action-filled moments revolve around battles within massive, multi-tiered arenas (mostly brand-new ones, not ported firm the 2016 game) where enemies swarm in every direction. Thus, you need to spin around and rapidly move to survive. If you play on the HTC Vive, you won’t have a joystick, since its motion-tracked wands don’t have any. Instead, you’ll rely on a mix of a “teleport” button and a “dash” button.
The former lets you hold down a button, aim your left hand somewhere, and auto-warp to that point, so long as your pointing arrow is green when you let go. You can ascend to high platforms or descend to depths and down stairs with the teleport. The dash button, on the other hand, only works on the same altitude you’re already on, and it insta-warps you a few feet in whatever direction you tap.
Both of these maneuvers require pressing the Vive wand’s giant touchpad, by the way, and if you press the wrong spot on the pad, you’ll insta-dash instead of prepping a teleportation. This is weird, because the teleportation move requires holding the pad down; why didn’t id Software allow this to work with your thumb on any point of the touchpad? This may seem like a silly distinction, but when you’re in the heat of a crazy battle and cannot manage your teleports properly all because of a badly coded system, the rage builds quickly—and for the wrong reasons.
Other than that annoyance, however, warping and blasting around in one of Doom VFR‘s arenas can be quite satisfying. Rather than try to make this a balanced blaster of a game, id Software opts to crank up the game’s powers and its dangers simultaneously. Your hero starts out wielding a crap-ton of weapons and ammo, along with a “freeze nearby foes” move and a hearty amount of slow-down control when aiming and teleporting around. To compensate for this possibly being too powerful, Doom VFR‘s battles dump insane, powerful bad guy after insane, powerful bad guy into your field of view.
Plus, the “glory kill” mechanic returns from last year’s game, though now in VR, you simply teleport directly into an enemy’s body when it has been weakened. Do this, and its body explodes around you in bloody gibs. Unfortunately, these insta-splode attacks animate weirdly and feel a lot less satisfying than the similar melee-to-finish maneuvers in the 2016 version.
Still, the glory-kill move offers a nice “get health” incentive to teleport into madness, and the game ultimately delivers a harrowing and exciting series of battles… for as long as they last. Doom VFR tops out at roughly four hours, and half of that time is padded with crushingly boring “run around your home base” time-filler tasks between the big battles. These require teleporting around until you warp to exact spots to trigger levers and item-grabs, and it’s among the most obnoxious FPS stuff I’ve encountered in ages. I would have much rather the game filled that time with more opportunities to blast the game’s hearty cast of insane demons. Pretty much every Doom 2016 baddie returns here, and their variety of lurches, dashes, wall-crawls, and ranged attacks is better than any VR blasting game.