Review: DOOM VFR
Bethesda brings the big f’ing guns to VR.
Last year’s rebirth of the DOOM franchise was met with rapturous applause from both critics and consumers alike, as the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC title redefined the all-action, guns-blazing first-person shooter (FPS) videogame for a new generation of player. This year’s Nintendo Switch port was equally well received, and now we come to DOOM VFR; the virtual reality (VR) exclusive sequel-not-sequel.
DOOM VFR is a standalone release for PlayStation VR and HTC Vive that does not require the player own 2016’s DOOM, nor have any knowledge of it. While DOOM VFR has a story that ties-in to that inspiration and shares many assets and gameplay mechanics, it is a unique entry in the franchise that expands on the universe. And unique it is, for while you may have been playing DOOM for over 20 years, you’ve never played it like this.
The storyline itself is about as important as Marcus Fenix’s family history: far from an essential piece of the puzzle but you’ll still wonder exactly why the developers decided to go into such detail. Here, for the first time in a DOOM videogame, the player’s character will narrate the action in more than just simple groans and quips. The player enters the shoes of a character that is more than just a blank slate, somewhat at odds with the going trend of VR design philosophy but none the worse for it.
What’s truly important in a DOOM experience is of course the action, and DOOM VFR doesn’t disappoint. A decent variety of weapons brought over from the 2016 release will grant the player the opportunity to pick a favourite demon-destroying device and while there’s no longer any forced animation on the glory kill mechanic (due to the requirement of locking the player’s head movement; a sure-fire recipe for simulation sickness) the ability to chain-teleport through enemies in a shower of viscera will quickly be established as a valid tactic.
Outside of bludgeoning hellspawn DOOM VFR frequently takes a slower pace than any previous entry in the franchise by asking the player to retread familiar ground almost empty of combat in order to find a way to move forward. But while this sounds like a misstep it actually helps keep the loading times to a minimum and aids the player with learning the minutiae of navigation with what could easily be considered a limited selection of movement options compared to a more traditional FPS experience. On PlayStation VR there are three input options available – PlayStation Move, PlayStation Aim and DualShock 4 – each with its own unique strengths and weaknesses.
The basic locomotion options are teleportation – holding a button will slow time as a glowing icon appears denoting your landing point – and quick step (labelled ‘dash’ in-game). With the PlayStation Move there is no smooth locomotion options, but the quick step is a good alternative similar to the snap-rotation (a 180 degree turn) for avoiding simulation sickness. The DualShock 4 controller does offer a more traditional FPS control scheme however, though the rotation on the right analog stick is still in small increments. Smooth locomotion is available when using the PlayStation Aim via a checkbox on the controller screen in combination with the snap rotation system.
The PlayStation Move control system can be a little frustrating at first, demanding some time to adapt despite the customisation opportunities afforded in the options for button layout. Of course, with DOOM VFR trying to stay as close to the DOOM formula as possible, that time is not offered to you easily; it’s only a few minutes into the videogame before you’re heavily outnumbered, and less than 30 minutes before you’ll encounter your first real firefight.
While DOOM VFR won’t be considered a lengthy experience by many, prior to the launch of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR it would stand as one of the more enduring campaigns on PlayStation VR. The fact that the videogame is offered at a budget price (£19.99 GBP) is a reflection of the duration of a single campaign playthrough, and Bethesda Softworks should most definitely be commended for that.
Ultimately DOOM VFR stands as a fine example of just what can be achieved with the FPS genre in VR as of today, lining-up against Robo Recall as an action-heavy experience that throws the rulebook out of the window. It’s true that the visual quality has suffered dramatically and the control systems could be seen as far too awkward by many, but the fact that DOOM VFR pushes so hard against the VR grain makes it well worth any PlayStation VR owner’s time and money.
CORRECTION: Smooth locomotion is available when using the PlayStation Aim via a checkbox on the controller screen. This has not affected the score awarded to DOOM VFR.