Bethesda sure are the good guys this Christmas, eh? After coveting controversy with its review code policy over a year ago, the publisher’s really recaptured the adoration of gamers this holiday, supporting fledgling new formats like the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation VR. And following on from last month’s transformative virtual reality adaptation of Skyrim, it’s last year’s DOOM reboot that the company’s got in its crosshairs. The question is: can the frenetic first-person shooter land the transition?
DOOM VFR really, really tries. Unlike the Elder Scrolls adaptation, id Software’s opted to recycle locations from its 2016 title and build a new story around them. Essentially you play as a kind of scientist who dies right at the start of the game and leverages some clever coding to stay alive as a kind of artificial intelligence – or something. At the end of the day, it’s DOOM so the plot doesn’t matter at all, but the setup does provide some narrative justification for the title’s teleportation.
Ah yes, teleportation – perhaps the most divisive mechanic in virtual reality right now. While you’re only forced to use this method of navigation with the PlayStation Move controllers, it’s an important game mechanic on the DualShock 4 and PSVR Aim Controller too, as it replaces the Glory Kills from the main game. Essentially, upon staggering your demonic adversaries, you can teleport into them to finish the job – a neat idea as it maintains the franchise’s frantic pace without prompting you to puke.
Of course, you can also move with the left-stick if you’re using a controller that has one, while rotation options include smooth turning and customisable increments. As alluded, the PlayStation Move wands offer none of these controls, encouraging you to pivot on the spot like in SUPERHOT and rely on teleportation to get about. It feels extremely limiting when you’re playing with the motion controllers, and while a dash system does help with your mobility, it just doesn’t feel quite right.
But to be honest, none of Sony’s accessories fit the experience as tightly as they should. Take the PSVR Aim Controller, for example: it’s great being able to hold the gun and aim with it, but DOOM VFR’s gameplay is designed around holding each gun in one hand, while the plastic firearm demands two appendages. As such, you’re stuck with a grenade just floating around in your peripheral vision, and later on in the campaign a grenade launcher instead. It’s not great.
So what of the DualShock 4, then? Well you get all of the control options of the PSVR Aim Controller, but targeting is instead mapped to head tracking. This works absolutely fine, but it means that both of your weapons are locked to the centre of the screen, following your vision around like they’re protruding out of your neck. The thing is, the game is fully playable with whichever controller you choose, but we’d be lying if we said we felt truly comfortable with any of them.
Which is a bit of a shame because DOOM in virtual reality is just about as mental as you’d expect it to be. The sense of scale isn’t quite as grand as other games – although coming face-to-face with Cacodemons is bloody cool – so instead the title impresses via its thrilling sci-fi setting. It just looks so, so pretty with PlayStation VR, as broken computer terminals fizz and illuminate the enormous firearms that you’re rolling around in your hands.
The gameplay’s also stellar, too. Obvs. Despite the transition to virtual reality, this is the same destructive gunplay that you’ll remember from last year’s campaign, with superb weaponry and awesome alternative fire options. The teleportation Glory Kills feel good with PlayStation VR, and maintain the intense sense of speed of the series without going too over-the-top. It is quite an overwhelming experience at times, but we were able to play comfortably in two hours sessions.
Unfortunately, it’ll only take you a couple of these sittings to beat the game, as it is rather short. To be fair to Bethesda, it’s priced the package appropriately, and multiple difficulty tiers as well as an array of collectibles at least give you a reason to run through it twice. There are also classic maps that you’ll unlock, which allow you to experience retro levels inside Sony’s futuristic facemask.
Bethesda’s really tried to make DOOM work in virtual reality, but despite supporting all three of PlayStation VR’s control options, it doesn’t really feel like the title was designed with any of them in mind. That said, if you can ignore the flaws with whichever peripheral you choose, then the over-the-top action of id Software’s series translates well, and this is arguably one of the better looking virtual reality titles to date. It’s a little on the short side, but the price point reflects that, and the gunplay is still as intense as it’s ever been.