6
Dec
2017

Doom VFR does enough right, but just barely

Doom VFR for the PlayStation VR (it’s also available on the HTC Vive) is worth buying, but it does everything in its power to fight the strengths it does have, and which just barely overshadow the problems.

And those problems are almost all due to id Software misunderstanding that virtual reality is a unique medium. You are supposed to be the character in the game; it’s your body doing these actions and experiencing their results. Why, then, does the main character speak in Doom VFR? Not only does he have a bland voice that gives you information that’s rarely necessary, but his voice also has to be pretty distracting if you’re a woman hoping to be immersed in the game.

The act of warping around the level and turning your character using the thumb stick while keeping the camera in “front” of your physical body is hard to describe, but it does become second nature after a bit of practice.

Then there’s the way movement works. You aim where you’d like to go while holding a button, and then let go to teleport there. This is a very good, very popular solution to a complicated problem about how to juggle free movement with player comfort in VR. But many people who are used to the traditional Doom franchise aren’t going to understand why movement is handled in such a funky manner. The somewhat strange way of handling movement isn’t a design flaw as much as it’s one of the current challenges that all VR games face, and can be hard to communicate to the player.

Along with the Move controller, I also played with the PlayStation VR Aim controller, which is an elegant piece of hardware that helped elevate Farpoint. You hold the controller with two hands, somewhat like you would a traditional rifle. Except in Doom VFR, your second hand is still just floating there, even though the game knows what controller you’re using — and that both of your physical hands are in position on your weapon. It feels like you have a third, phantom hand that exists only to throw grenades … and that’s a strange feeling to get from a video game.

ps vr aim controllerps vr aim controller
The PS VR Aim controller.
Sony

You can also use the Move controllers or the standard DualShock 4 controller, but the game never feels like it was fully adapted to any of those options. The guns themselves are sized oddly, which means that they often clip through your head if you try to aim them as you would a literal weapon or while using the Aim controller.

Guns can also pass through enemy characters, although you’re given an attack that pushes the demons away in case you’re surrounded. Even picking up or interacting with objects — something that should be intuitive and fun in VR — uses a virtual laser pointer and the analog sticks as buttons, rather than just letting you move your real-life hands.

The weapons themselves and death animations also lack the slaughterhouse kick that made the 2016 release so good, although I’m not sure what exactly is missing. It could have been a misstep in audio mixing, but the combat just isn’t as meaty and thick as it should be in this particular series. The compromises like these are constant, and they usually feel like Band-Aids placed over larger issues.

But if you’ve gotten this far and are still kind of interested? Good.

This is a good way to spend $29.99

Doom VFR needed much more tuning and design work to become a truly great VR game, but actually aiming and pulling the trigger on these weapons feels good, despite the clipping issues described above. The environments themselves are detailed and bloody, although you’ll notice the fidelity hit to get the game working at the necessary frame rate on even the PlayStation 4 Pro.

The music will still make your heart pump a little harder, and the feeling of being locked inside the game’s hellscape while having to shoot your way out is effective, even when the design trips over itself. But those design issues aren’t exactly subtle.

This isn’t a VR release that will sell the equipment on its own. Doom VFR doesn’t use the possibilities and intricacies of VR design well enough to feel like a native game. But you’ll want to pick up Doom VFR if you already have PSVR hardware and want an aggressive, bloody experience that could have used more time and thought in design to go from “passable, but fun” to “incredible.”

This is primarily a game that works as fan service for the core audience of Doom that wants to play everything and the VR owners already sold on the technology. Outside of those groups, Doom VFR is just barely good enough to stand on its own two feet.

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