Story time: For my first ever demonstration of a virtual reality, I psyched myself with a mantra of my own elegant design: “Don’t throw up.” I had heard stories of people losing their lunch with VR and because I was so fascinated by it, I didn’t want a weak constitution forcing me to bow out. Thankfully, I walked away vomit free and jumped into the VR swimming pool with the PlayStation VR and maintained a sick-free track record. But all good things must come to an end. DOOM VFR earns the distinct honor of being the game that made me too sick to play. It turns out that adapting an incredibly fast and visceral first-person shooter into VR can be uncomfortably disorienting. Who knew?
I returned to the doomed (heh, get it?!) UAC facility on Mars expecting to replay 2016’s DOOM, which was, and still is, an incredible game. Instead, DOOM VFR is a whole new story that appears to run concurrently with the Doom Slayer’s adventure, as hinted by the opening cutscene. As a nameless UAC employee, you’re instantly brutalized by a demon after all hell literally breaks loose in the facility. Your consciousness is then transferred into a robot under your control as you attempt to close a portal that’s spilling out demons and other nightmare fuel. The story is largely a non-entity, it’s just something to get you moving from point A to point B. It might pick up later in the game but for reasons I’ll explain later, I didn’t stick around long enough.
In my mind, DOOM VFR feels like it has something to prove and in its haste, it falls flat on its face. DOOM did a great job of storytelling through atmosphere, employee logs, and an evil Optimus Prime that got more and more upset as you smashed the shit out of sensitive UAC equipment. This doesn’t do enough to elicit any urgency or short-term interest, though. I also didn’t like the overly chatty protagonist, often delivering his lines as if he was really disinterested in the project. Were the acting any better, he could be tolerable. But then I just think about how well Id did a great job giving the Doom Slayer so much personality - without him saying a word. 2016’s DOOM was a transcendent first-person shooter experience. DOOM VFR is about as good as a licensed title to be released before the movie adaptation comes out in theaters. DOOM also handled progression really well, introducing more diverse enemies the further you advanced in the UAC base and Hell itself. DOOM VFR, however, doesn’t waste time getting the player into the mess and bringing in some fairly tough enemies, like the Mancubus and Revenant, pretty early on.
There are two ways to play, either with the Dualshock controller or PlayStation Move Wands. For the best experience, you’ll want to stick with the Dualshock because it perfectly matches the control scheme of the last year’s game. You’ll get pitch perfect movement and control over weapons with the VR headset offering free aim, which is really great. The player can also teleport to cover large distances and kill (telefrag) stunned enemies by popping up out of their bodies, leaving behind lots of bloody viscera. Telefragging is fine and functional but it made me miss the brutal melee kill animations that were prominently featured in the full game. The only problem with playing the game using the Dualshock is how well it all runs. That may not sound like much of a complaint, but for me the speed of the gameplay made me overly queasy every time.
There is a vomit-free solution that, unfortunately, comes with its own frustrations. The PlayStation Move wands offer a more stable, if leashed, gameplay experience because the movement is limited entirely to teleportation. You can dash forward and backward but you can’t turn your body incrementally except for a quick 180 degree about face. For a game that throws enemies at you from every direction, the absence is felt considerably. Furthermore, I found the Move wand’s button configuration clunky to use. Now that I think about it, this game might benefit from PlayStation Aim support. I thought it was telling much that when I saw DOOM VFR being demoed at the PlayStation Experience in Anaheim, none of the stations were using the Move wands.
DOOM VFR sounds like a great idea but it doesn’t do enough to justify its existence. Take away the VR headset and it would be just as playable on a TV or computer monitor. It might have actually been better that way, because then I wouldn’t have gotten so uncomfortable. Control issues aside, this is a competent and solidly designed video game that means well enough even though it strips away the cool things that made DOOM great. Skyrim and maybe Fallout aside, not every Bethesda game has to be made into a VR version of itself.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.