Bethesda’s experiment is messy in ways good and bad
Hats off to Id and Bethesda. Blithely ignoring the limitations of the tech, developer and publisher have invested time and money retooling one of the fastest shooters around for a format where movement – especially movement at speed – is a problem. Does Doom VFR miraculously fix that problem? Of course not. But it has a bloody good go. Emphasis on bloody. It’s a folly, then, albeit occasionally a glorious one. Technically, it’s astounding, appearing somehow sharper than most VR games with no loss of smoothness. It looks like Doom, only this time you’re in it, and that’s an unequivocal win. On paper, the controls are smartly considered, too. A game as immediate as Doom – here be demons, go shoot them – shouldn’t need a tutorial, but it feels necessary here. The intro contrives an excuse to show you the basics, as you pick up a combat chassis and quickly learn how to use it.
You can use regular analogue controls for movement, but unless you’re keen to be reminded of what you had for breakfast, we’d recommend the default, which gives you the ability to teleport a short distance, with a short-range dash mapped to each D-pad direction. If you need to turn rather than strafe, you can do so in small increments with the right stick (we’d recommend reducing the step size slightly if you can handle it). While it’s not perfect, getting around doesn’t feel nearly as awkward as it could have.
And then the Cyberdemons, Mancubi, and Cacodemons arrive to hurt you, and while it doesn’t fall apart entirely, what follows certainly feels like a messy compromise. Encounters are still fast-paced and intense, but disorientating as you jerk this way and that, attempting to dodge projectiles lobbed your way. The shooting isn’t the issue, since looking to aim works well enough. But Doom was also a game about outmanoeuvring your opponents, whizzing smoothly around as if on rocket-powered skates. Here, it feels a bit like streaming video over wonky wi-fi, the action constantly stuttering and lurching. The frame rate is smooth; your movement not so much.
It just doesn’t feel right, and it doesn’t look quite right, either: the UI floats in front of your arms, positioned in such a way as to be distractingly noticeable yet hard to properly keep track of when all hell (quite literally) breaks loose. And if you’re playing with a DualShock 4, it looks like your arms are attached to the sides of your neck. We’d still recommend it over PS Move controllers, mind, since you’re given fewer turning options and some inputs are awkwardly mapped.
Pity, as there are some neat ideas here. Weakened enemies glow, prompting you to teleport into them for a grisly explosion: a smart approximation of the original’s rip-and-tear mechanic. There are optional asides, figurines, and minigames to locate, and a clutch of simple puzzles to mix things up – not to mention a satisfying bit of business with a fire extinguisher. It’s well-paced, too: for all its clunky moments, its brisk four-hour campaign never gets boring. It might be a valiant but ultimately misguided effort to fit a square peg into a round hole, but as long as you don’t expect it to hit the heights of the main game, Doom VFR is PFG – Pretty Flipping Good.
Pickups confer temporary buffs: quad damage in a room full of hellspawn comes in extremely handy.