Doom is a staple of the gaming world. A series that essentially kick-started the first-person shooter (FPS) genre and an utter nostalgic classic. The first version of Doom was released way back in the hazy days of 1993, but like all good things, it's not a series that's disappearing any time soon.
In 2016 a gruesome reimagining of Doom was released to critical acclaim. It had you tearing off limbs and smashing in demon's faces with aplomb. When we heard that version was getting a VR makeover, we could barely contain our excitement.
So just how does such a rip-roaring kill-fest stand up in the world of virtual reality?
Porting Hell into virtual reality
Where other developers might have just taken the original game and ported it into VR, id Software took a different stance. This is not the same game but in a virtual reality space. Instead, you're playing a new character battling through a new storyline but with the same familiar maps.
If you're expecting to be able to tear off arms and batter demons back to Hell - like you can in the animated kill moves in the main Doom game - then you're going to be disappointed. This mechanic would probably have been far too difficult to implement in VR and probably dangerous for your health anyway. Instead, there's a new mechanic: when an enemy is damaged and dazed sufficiently, you can beam through them and make them explode. It's not quite as satisfying but it still works well in the heat of battle.
Much like previous Doom games, Doom VFR features a relatively thin storyline that works nicely as an excuse for blasting your way around a Mars facility and onwards into Hell.
You play the last known human survivor and are fighting to shut down the portal to Hell and stop the hordes from causing chaos and wreaking havoc. The premise is similar to Doom's usual format: go here, kill a bunch of demons until the room is clear, then move to the next location, collect a keycard, open a door, complete and objective, rinse and repeat.
Gunplay in VR is a lot harder here than in the usual game, though. We found we were dying a lot more than we'd expected, mostly because movement isn't as easy in virtual reality as it is in the FPS game. If you read the Steam reviews you'll see a lot of gamers grumbling about the lack of smooth locomotion - and we also feel these complaints are warranted.
In Doom VFR movement is through two options: you can dash, teleport, or use a mixture of the two. What that means in practice is that pressing the movement button will send you flying forward or you can press-and-hold to select a beam point in the distance and zap over to there. This doesn't sound too bad in theory, but once you get stuck into battles you'll soon find that you need to strafe, dash and duck in order to survive.
Movement is hectic and frantic. We found this mix of dashing and teleporting tricky to master - but even more of a problem when there were demons all around and we had to constantly strafe to avoid death. Getting tied up in your VR device's cables is no fun when you're playing, neither is the disconnect that comes with dashing around the VR world.
This movement style also comes unstuck on various occasions. We often found we were colliding with walls or not being able to easily get to the lift button we needed to reach on a wall or the console we needed to interact with. It just wasn't accurate enough and took away from the immersion with painful regularity.
Each area needs to be cleared of demons so you can complete the specific objective for that section. We found each of these small battles to be much more frantic and taxing than in the mainstay game. The fights are harder and there are a lot of demons and monsters to battle. We often found ourselves low on ammo and dying over and over again.
Thankfully, there is the option to turn the difficulty down and, as seasoned gamers, we were surprised to have to resort to this. Normally, we'd play on medium difficulty (or "Hurt me plenty" in Doom's world) but this just wasn't practical and became frustrating very quickly. There's nothing enjoyable about dying over and over again in quick succession (Bloodborne exempt, perhaps). Even on the lower difficulty levels, Doom VFR is an incredibly tough game to play and hard to master.
Beauty in the beast
Doom VFR is graphically impressive, but not as accomplished looking as Doom 2017. If you have the PC power then you can crank the graphics up in advanced settings to "ultra" which makes quite a difference. For a VR game that makes it pretty special.
A lot of Doom's weapons are present in Doom VFR, including upgrades for guns, health, ammo carrying ability and time-dilation (which happens when you switch weapons). Unlocks and upgrades are easy to find and even easier to apply. We found we'd collected them all by the end of the game and these assists often make a big difference to play.
As with all Doom games, you can carry a mass of guns in your arsenal. Which is exactly what you'll need to do, because there are a lot of demons that need killing and a distinct lack of ammo when you need it most.
Switching guns is achieved via the weapon wheel, which is activated using the trackpad - but it's often finicky to use and we had real trouble switching between weapons, often getting the same gun out twice, when it was empty, which isn't much use to anyone. Luckily the game does automatically switch to another gun if you're out of ammo in the one you're using, but by default that seems to be the shotgun, which frankly is about as effective as a spud gun a lot of the time.
Shortage of ammunition is often a painful frustration (and it's hard to collect by walking over it, as accuracy is a requirement). We understand that it adds to the intensity of gameplay, but even on the lower difficulty modes we found ourselves having to deal with the bigger, badder boss-like demons with just a shotgun and a few shells, or a frustrating lack of ammo in all weapons. At one point, everything was empty except for our pistol and hell demons just shrugged off the shots as we desperately tried to dash to safety.
A highlight later in the game is the ability to dual wield weapons. You're granted a small grenade launcher that later gets upgraded to tiny BFG which, with limited ammo, is a great tool for survival. This is a lot of fun to use and a nice addition that we've not seen in other Doom games.
The main game is lacking in several ways – including the ability to interact with the environment as you'd expect to be able to in VR. Other than a few consoles, there's very little to actually engage with. Unlike other virtual reality games, there's not much to pick up, hold or use. This perhaps shouldn't be a surprise, of course, as this is Doom.
Reviving the nostalgia
The main campaign of Doom VFR is somewhere around three hours long. That, of course, depends on your skill levels and the difficulty mode you've chosen. We found we had to replay several sections multiple times thanks to inevitable deaths from lack of ammo or just getting used to movement mechanics. Therefore, there's not a lot of hours of playtime and replayability is fairly lacking.
One highlight, however, is the ability to play maps styled like the original game from 1993, complete with pixelated walls. This isn't part of the main game, it's a separate standalone experience, and a very welcome addition. Demons and weapons from the new game are present, rather than the originals, which was a shame, but we still love this little outing - it's like a VR portal through time.
If you're a fan of Doom in general, then Doom VFR is worth checking out. It's not without its hiccups - especially in terms of frustrations with movement mechanics - but cranked up to ultra settings its graphics are impressive and you'll want to wade through Hell.
We're glad VFR isn't a straight port of 2016's Doom, giving the virtual reality title a nice balance between being familiar (in terms of weapon and ability upgrades) and offering something new. We also love the nostalgia that comes from playing VR versions of the pixelated goodness from the original 1993 game.
That said, with just two-to-three hours of gameplay, not much in the way of replayability, and a difficulty setting that's harder than Hell itself, it's hard to justify recommending Doom VFR at its current price point.