Doom VFR Review
Take on the Cyberdemon on his own turf.
So far, the most common way to adapt an existing first-person shooter to VR has been to turn it into a shooting gallery, where you hold still and shoot targets as they pop up. Doom VFR is not that, at all. Instead of taking that route or converting the original version (as Bethesda did with Skyrim VR), id built VFR from the ground up as a new game that bravely embraces Doom’s love of movement and momentum. It lets you get up in the faces of demonic invaders in some of the fastest-paced VR action I’ve experienced yet.
Most VR games are afraid of motion sickness, but VFR makes energetic movement work pretty well thanks to a combination of two different forms of movement. One is the standard point-to-teleport, which activates a slow-motion effect as you target it. (You can also use that slow-mo period to aim.) At first, that seems like an enormous advantage in a game where you can easily dodge rockets fired at your face, but VFR quickly evens the odds with a ton of fast-moving, tough-as-nails demons.
Teleportation is also what VFR uses to replace the gory melee kills in Doom: once you stagger and enemy by dealing some damage, you telefrag them (teleport on top of their location) for fun and extra items. Watching gore shower around you as you explode a demon from the inside isn’t quite as satisfying as Doom’s elaborately animated demon-dismembering kills, but it’s just about as effective in adding some strategy to the fray: the same concept of picking off weaker demons off to replenish your health as you take a beating from the stronger ones works in VFR.
The other movement is a sort of scoot, where you use the directional buttons or d-pad to jump a few feet at a time. You can do this as quickly as you can push the button, making for a jerky but speedy form of movement. It works, but makes me wish I could just enable smooth movement in the menus, just like you can turn on smooth turning if you don’t like the default incremental turns.
Using two types of movement together takes some getting used to.
Using those two types of movement together to stay one step ahead of the horde takes some getting used to, especially learning not to panic when it looks like a 12-foot-tall Hell Knight is about to rip your spine out through your eye socket. But once you get the hang of teleporting behind an enemy and using the 180-degree-turn button to whip around and blast them in the back, and using the backward-scoot button to kite as you lay down a stream of fire at pursuing enemies, it starts to click.
Through the roughly six-hour campaign of all-new levels (built to accommodate teleportation), you get to blast all the familiar enemies (who all have pretty much the same unique behaviors as in Doom) with all the familiar weapons using a simplified version of the familiar alternate-fire modes and upgrades. From the meaty Super Shotgun to the damage-hose of a Plasma Rifle and the room-clearing BFG (which is now launched as a grenade), it’s a great arsenal.
Motion-tracked controllers dramatically improve the immersion of aiming and firing a gun.
VFR can be played with a controller by using your face to aim, but preferably with Moves or Vive controllers (or the Oculus Touch controllers, if you enable the new Steam VR beta), or the PSVR Aim controller. Motion-tracked controllers dramatically improve the immersion of aiming and firing a gun, and the sticks on the Aim controller work especially well for controlling teleportation. The one downside to the Aim is that accessing the weapon wheel is tough because it’s hard to hold the R1 button on the side down while gripping the handle.
But one of the persistent issues I have while playing with motion controls is that a charging enemy (imps, mostly) will often get so close that pointing my gun at them and firing misses because the barrel of my gun is sticking out of their backs. I have to hold the gun up above them and shoot down, which is just goofy. There’s a shockwave move that blasts them back to help combat this, thankfully – and it works on big enemies that have you cornered, too.
Another way VFR stands out is that it looks very respectable for a VR game, even on a stock PlayStation 4. Obviously, it’s not as sharp as Doom itself, and there’s some noticeable pop-in, but the relatively environments let it run smoothly without overtaxing the hardware. It’s great that id didn’t have to reduce the impressively animated demons down to pixel blobs. And when you die and have to reload, load times are mercifully brief.
After the surprisingly smart take on interdimensional invasion in Doom, VFR’s story is the biggest letdown. It doesn’t bother to make use of its concept of a demon attack victim’s consciousness being transferred into a robotic body – it’s a whole lot of nothing.
Beyond that, VFR carries forward Doom’s very smart achievement-based side goals for all its levels, such as killing 20 enemies with telefrags, bullseying cacodemons, and getting a large number of kills with powerups like berserk or invulnerability. And as a fun bonus, it even includes some classic-style Doom levels to blast through, though they’re inhabited by the modern incarnations of the enemies instead of their sprite-based ancestors.