It’s one thing to step into 2016’s Doom and witness its version of hell in all its modern, HD glory. It’s another thing entirely to step out of a portal in the new Doom VFR and suddenly find yourself inescapably surrounded by fire and death. Hell has been made more harrowing and real than ever before, and Doom VFR leverages this to present a new tale. But a big issue is that compared to last year’s hit, Doom VFR is more conservative with its action, stingier with the bloody, brutal joys that were part and parcel of Doom’s successful return to the stage.
Doom VFR is a pseudo-sequel set one year after the events of the last game, where a milquetoast UAC employee, Adams, finds himself knocked out after a face-to-face encounter with a demon after a portal to Hell opens. When he wakes up, he’s connected to a virtual reality rig, allowing him to pilot a holographic representation of his body around the facility to try and shut the portal to Hell for good. Right off the bat, the priorities are different than before. Adams is a generic cypher whose voice is present only to tell us what piece of expensive tech is broken in the Mars facility and how to fix it. That meticulous fawning over UAC equipment is the kind of legwork that the Doomslayer–the series’ faceless Marine protagonist–never had a whole lot of time for. The guy who cocked his shotgun to the chugging beat of his own theme song has been replaced by a guy who’s essentially reading a UAC instruction manual at the beginning of each stage, robbing the game of its familiar brutal charm.
Thankfully, when it’s demon killing time, Adams knows to shut his mouth and let the guns and Mick Gordon’s metal soundtrack do the talking. There’re three ways to play on PSVR: with a DualShock 4, with two Playstation Move controllers, or with the gun-shaped Aim controller. The Dualshock 4 handles like the non-VR Doom, just with a Teleport button, which has become the standard mode of movement in VR shooters. There’s also a new Shield Burst ability, a crowd-control function allowing you to repulse all enemies halfway across the room with an overloaded electrical shield. The Dualshock 4 is certainly functional for the game, but it’s also the least immersive option available.
Playing with Move controllers fares the worst. Aiming with the right controller feels natural, but actual movement is handled by a quick dash function using the left controller’s buttons as directional inputs, which leaves absolutely zero room for the kind of precision you need to survive.
The Aim controller is the ideal. It’s not perfect either–for some reason, the PSVR’s camera tracking on the Aim seems to drift more than normal, which is a problem if you’re trying to use one of the larger weapons, like the Gauss Cannon–but it is by far the most gratifying way to play, using the same mix of movement controls as the DualShock 4 but with a prop in your hand that feels more inline with your actions. White knuckle clutching a physical rifle while the forces of Hell charge ahead puts you into the right mode to slay demons, and feels exactly like the kind of experience the Aim was made for.
For the most part, shooting your way through Hell’s armies feels just as brutal as it does in the 2016 game. Demons explode into bloody, fleshy messes. Arenas are wide open, encouraging constant awareness of your surroundings, something made much more efficient with the Teleport function. The entirety of the enemy roster returns here, from the nimble, annoying Imps to the towering Barons, but VR puts them right in your face, making the physical act of pulling the trigger point blank all the more satisfying. The big missing element here is the Glory Kill system, where hitting the melee button on a blinking enemy let you demolish them with a quick, gruesome fatality. The replacement in Doom VFR is the ability to teleport into a blinking enemy and explode them from the inside. It mechanically gets the job done, but it’s less impactful than it sounds, and pales in comparison to tearing enemies limb from limb.
Perhaps the ultimate complaint is that for a game that’s so good at delivering fast-paced combat, it’s strangely shy about letting you do so for extended periods of time. The campaign itself is only about 4 hours long, minus extra time spent exploring for collectibles and power-ups, with only the added bonus of playing some old-school Doom maps in VR–admittedly, a ridiculously fun, nostalgic bonus–to pad things out. Much of your time in the game is spent wandering the UAC facility, waiting for the chance to unleash wrath on Hell’s inner circle. When you do, it can feel great, but Doom VFR feels like a game unsure of whether that’s the case. The result is a game that feels tentative about its own considerable power.