Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.
Last year’s DOOM reboot was a goddamn incredible game. id Software’s re-imagining of the property embraced the classic’s old school feel, threw in some cool modern twists, and set it all to the most rockin’ soundtrack ever seen in a game. It was easily the best single player shooter of 2016.
And now we have DOOM VFR, the virtual reality sequel to last year’s hit. DOOM VFR, as with a lot of VR titles, is going to be a tough one to review as your experience with the game will depend on what accessories you have at your disposal and how susceptible to motion sickness you are. Sure, the idea of facing down a life-size rampaging Pinky demon sounds like a thrilling experience (and it was for me!), but the thought may not live up to your expectations once the VR headset starts its brain trickery and your stomach won’t have a bar of it.
Suffice it to say, no matter how you swing it, DOOM VFR’s fast-paced, high intensity gameplay means it most certainly should not be your first gallivant into VR gaming.
Now, there’s a whopping three different types of control schemes you can use to play DOOM VFR on Playstation 4, each with their own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to player comfort versus intuitive gameplay. Firstly there’s the stock standard Dualshock 4 controller, offering the least amount of immersion but the most familiar controls. Then there’s using a pair of Playstation Move motion controllers, throwing tangible hands into the mix but having no options for joystick control. And lastly there’s the newly released PSVR Aim Controller, a rifle shaped gadget that combines the motion elements of the Move while boasting the entire button roster of the Dualshock 4. If you live in the US then you can pick up an Aim Controller as a standalone item, but here in Australia you need to buy PSVR exclusive Farpoint in a bundle with it.
I luckily have access to all three of these controller options and have given each a good go in the game. And my conclusion is that the Dualshock 4 surprisingly gave me the most consistently good experience, and the Aim Controller is the most impressive but had a tendency to lose tracking. Playing DOOM VFR with twin Move controllers, however, is absolute garbage.
You see, DOOM VFR supports two kinds of movement, full locomotion and teleportation. The former is basically the same as playing the previous non-VR game, while teleporting is done via holding the left trigger, slowing down time and choosing a new spot to warp to. There’s also other orientation controls, such as Triangle instigating a 180 degree turn, directional buttons boosting you short distances, and the right joystick offering both segmented turning and regular smooth turning.
Obviously any of the joystick options are only available on the Dualshock 4 and Aim Controller, and once I set both to full locomotion and smooth turning, DOOM VFR was much easier to play. Amazingly I didn’t suffer from any motion sickness controlling the game like it was a regular FPS while standing still, but I imagine that will not be the case for everyone. I still had to use teleportation on occasion because it also replaces the jumping mechanic, so its necessary to traverse some environments.
While the Dualshock 4 option essentially controlled exactly like the previous DOOM, albeit with specific aiming controls being tied to your head tracking rather than the usual right joystick, the Aim Controller brought the feel of holding the game’s many awesome guns in your hands. Between bouts with the armies of Hell, I could stand still and admire the detail in the Super Shotgun by holding it up to my face, with the Aim Controller’s grip mimicking the feel of a gun handle and trigger.
Unfortunately there are some drawbacks. For starters, there’s no option to use the Aim Controller left-handed, so if that’s your forte you’ll constantly be discombobulated by the fact your guns are represented in the world backwards.
But more importantly, the Aim Controller would consistently start to lose tracking over time, with the in-game aiming becoming more and more disjointed from how I was actually holding the controller. At first its a small difference, where my in-game gun is pointing slightly out to the right when I’m aiming straight. But over time it would get to the point where I’m aiming the controller straight ahead and in-game my weapons were aimed 90-plus degrees to the right. And let me tell you, having to point you Aim Controller over your opposite shoulder in order to fire straight ahead is not a good time. Every re-calibration trick I could muster failed to alleviate the problem, all I could do was quit the game and load it back up again, and wait for it to happen again.
And as for the Move controllers, they are the worst way to experience DOOM VFR. DOOM is a game where never standing still is imperative to success, as demons come at you from every direction. Playing the game relying solely on teleportation and short boosts is the exact opposite of that mantra, as whenever you’re not teleporting you’re standing still. Teleporting works well enough to traverse the environments during down time, but that first demon battle is nigh-on impossible without full locomotion. I’d go so far as to say it’s unplayable without it.
Moving on from the controls, DOOM VFR looks pretty nice in PSVR. As with most PSVR games it can be a little blurry around the edges, particularly around objects in the distance, but the environments and creatures up close looks pretty stunning. Despite my aforementioned hangups with the consistency of the gameplay, facing down a charging Pinky, hovering Cacodemons and the towering Barons of Hell was pretty awe inspiring at times. VR certainly still has that wow factor going for it.
Sadly the same praise can’t be given to the story of DOOM VFR. You take control of a UAC employee whose consciousness has been automatically uploaded into a cybernetic body to deal with the demon infestation on the Mars base. Unlike the previous DOOM’s silent-yet-personality-filled protagonist, this guy has a tendency to spout dull exposition and objectives to himself, and his overall goal in the game doesn’t really amount to much. Granted, story was never the focus of the previous DOOM game, but it still managed to tell a really awesome narrative in the background of all the demon killing. DOOM VFR on the other hand adds nothing to the story started in last year’s DOOM, which is disappointing.
But hey, if you’re here to just shoot some demons in the face with some big ass guns in VR, then you’ll get that in spades. It’s just a shame that the most consistently good experience comes from the least VR-like input method. DOOM VFR is perfectly fine with a Dualshock 4, and certainly adds a new dimension to the shooter, but it’s really disappointing to see the more immersive options so poorly optimised.