Putting my hands on my knees I catch my breath. It’s a mixture of nausea, sweat, and intensity, and that’s a great way to sum up DOOM VFR. I’ve spent some time in virtual hell, so let’s get knee deep in the dead and talk about virtual demon murder.
First and foremost, DOOM VFR has monstrous minimum requirements, not the least of which is the GeForce 1070 video card. That said, if you can handle those lofty requirements, the game is gorgeous. Surprisingly, if you can’t, the game will still provide a smooth experience, albeit a little more blurry and at lower resolution. I tested the game on a 1080, a 980 TI, a 980, and my 980M, which is equivalent to a GeForce 970. While all of them provided a smooth lag-free experience, there is a marked difference in quality, to be sure.
On the 1080, the draw distances and texture quality rivals that of last year’s DOOM reboot, and that’s high praise as that game was gorgeous, as I said in my review. Seeing it come to life on a VR platform was eyebrow-raising. The 980 TI was nearly as good, but the 980 and 980M both took a pretty serious hit to quality. The game is more than playable on a 970, albeit on low settings. The good news is that the framerate remained solid on all tested platforms. There was some slight reprojection on the lower-ended cards, but smooth otherwise.
Up close, the models are gruesomely gorgeous. Beautiful lighting brings the denizens of hell to life, and the draw distance pushes to the horizon in the few opportunities where that opportunity presents itself. While a lot of games stick to characters little more than wireframes, the team at id Software wanted something that pushes the envelope.
Last year’s DOOM had a surprisingly good storyline and some real legs to it. The game took about 12 hours to complete, showcasing a great deal of variety both in locales and gameplay. Fast-paced and visceral would be an understatement. DOOM VFR takes some of the best story beats and drops you smack dab in the middle.
The player starts off as a poor schlub on his way to work when a demon infestation invades the Mars colony we call home. I mean, I think we’ve all been there, right? Even though demons return to “minimum safe levels”, unfortunately you find yourself shuffled off your mortal coil. Waking up as little more than meat hanging in the lab, you jack yourself into a power suit and begin working on getting some revenge for that whole “killing you” thing.
In terms of controls, both the Vive and the PSVR version of the game support both a teleport mechanic and a “dash” system. By pressing the four directions on the left touchpad, or the four face buttons on the Move controller, your marine will zip in the direction designated. By pressing the center of the Vive wand, or the left Move button, a green arc will appear as time slows, allowing you to pick a teleport destination. Both HDMs allow you to turn your head all the way around to assess threats, but neither allow you to change directions with a button press that I could find. Surprisingly, neither controller option supported any sort of vibration feedback either, leaving gunplay feeling hollow — the polar opposite of the intense feeling of 2016’s flat-screened DOOM. The guns also feel like they are are all aimed a bit lower than where I’m pointing them. In practice, the aiming mechanic takes a little getting used to, but the lack of punch sucks the life out of big weapons like the rocket launcher or heavier weapons.
Movement brings a whole separate set of issues. DOOM VFR is high-speed, and that is preserved perfectly here. Using a combination of the dash mechanic and teleportation, I was able to zip around the environment. Whatever was in front of me, I ripped apart. Unfortunately, it was in the wide open spaces that I started to struggle. Creatures behind me would kick me in the ass, and I was nearly powerless to position myself to do something about it. I’d end up teleporting as far away as possible, turning my head and teleporting to get the correct angle as I wrestled the controls into submission, and then finally charging back at my foes in a linear fashion. The combined mechanics are, at best, serviceable, and at their worst moments, cumbersome in a way that is incompatible with the big nasties on the screen, leaving my marine dead, and facing the loading screen once again. I also ran into an issue that I can’t decide if it was the game loading the next area, or losing synch with the lighthouses on the Vive, but occasionally I’d see the grid of the Steam loading screen, and then the game would pop back to life. Given that I’m using two SSDs in RAID0 configuration for speed, that seems rather odd, but I didn’t encounter this on the PSVR. I thought it could be my lighthouse placement, but others have reported this same issue.
Back on the PC, teams of intrepid modders have already begun their inevitable work to spruce up areas they feel are lacking. DOOM VFR shipped without smooth locomotion options on the Vive (which is fine by me as that’ll make me sick almost instantly), and there are already two highly viable options that provide exactly this function for players who desire it. Conversely, the PlayStation Aim controller (which I borrowed to test this out), supports smooth movement, but you are holding the controller with two hands, leaving an oddly-floating left hand hanging out in midair. You can play the game with the DualShock controller, but then you have two vestigial hands that seem to protrude from your chest. On both platforms it feels like a bit of jumble of control options where none of them feel quite right. It’s not a deal-breaker, but there are quite a few shooters (Arizona Sunshine jumps to mind immediately) that have captured two-handed shooting much better than DOOM VFR on either platform.
Surprisingly, there isn’t a melee option in DOOM VFR. On close range you’ll end up shooting through your target, but you can also press either side button to release some sort of energy wave to push your foes away. With that in mind, I never did figure out how to make the Berserk power work as I couldn’t punch imps and demons into submission.
There is one way that teleportation works its way into the gameplay of DOOM VFR. In the 2016 version of the game, you could dismember demons in a spectacular fashion if you staggered them (signified by a whole-body flashing indication as your foes stumble around in a daze). Tearing them limb from limb was one of the most satisfying parts of the game. Here, that system is simpler, allowing you to teleport into the middle of your staggered foe, gibbing them into giblets in the process. It’s not as satisfying, but it is a bit of explosive fun.
I do have to take a moment and compliment the sound in this game. The beasts of hell sound absolutely magnificent, and the heavy metal soundtrack springs to life during the tense moments. It was great on the flat screen version, and it’s even more heart-pounding when you are experiencing it in the virtual world.
In the beginning of this review I mentioned that I was sweaty and a bit nauseous. More often than not, I ended up using the dash mechanic as teleportation just didn’t feel like DOOM. Surprisingly, this system didn’t make me sick immediately, instead leaving me a little queasy after roughly two hours of play. That said, this game is quite intense, so if you suffer from motion sickness issues, you are likely to face them here.
In total, there are about 4 hours of gameplay available here, with three default difficulty levels, and two additional ones to be unlocked. Just like the flat screen version, there are gun upgrades, as well as character upgrades. The character upgrades (Argent Spheres) give you health, additional ammo, or more slowdown time when you teleport, but otherwise it functions pretty much as its predecessor. There are also mini-marines to find, as well as secrets in the levels. Both of which will keep you coming back when the credits roll, even if the game feels a bit short for its $29.99 starting price. Completing the game unlocks classic DOOM levels to play in VR, if that make for a jarring and pixelated bit of fun on their own.
A touch on the short side, and with more than a few gripes around the control mechanisms, DOOM VFR, like most Bethesda games, is made better through mods and community support. That said, even without it, there’s a serviceable vertical slice of the best parts of last year’s flatscreen title. I just wish the damned game would let me punch something!