Remember the glory days of a couple years ago when virtual reality was going to be the latest, greatest advance in video game tech? We’d all be wearing headsets and flailing around, each and every one of us! Oculus then-frontman Palmer Luckey even appeared on a hilarious and somewhat condescending photo in 2015. Of course, it’s 2017 now, Luckey’s lost much of his shine for numerous reasons, VR has largely fallen by the wayside and everyone’s talking about the Switch as the new big thing in gaming tech. What happened?
Well, VR is expensive, it’s a pain to set up, you need some pretty hefty tech for it (thus making it even more expensive) and there aren’t a lot of games worth playing on a VR headset (and the ones that do exist are expensive.) That’s rough. VR’s not going to see mainstream success unless you can reliably solve most of those. Sony, with its PSVR headset, is taking a stab at the pile o’ problems – the PSVR is (relatively) inexpensive, it runs on the PS4 you probably already have and, slowly but surely, it’s accumulating games that are worth playing like DOOM VFR. It’s still a pain to set up, but hey…baby steps!
Not everyone caught in the demonic incursion on Mars was a badass like the Doom Slayer, protagonist of 2016’s DOOM. Plenty of random folks got turned into puppy chow when the gates to Hell opened. In VFR, you’re one of those luckless chumps…but maybe your luck hasn’t run out completely. Using advanced technology your consciousness is able to survive your untimely death, ending up in a robotic combat chassis that’s fully armed and ready to get some revenge.
Story aside, this is…well, it’s DOOM in VR. Go through the painstaking process of hooking up the PSVR, pop it on your head, pick a control mechanism and get to work. For the record, I primarily played on the PS4 with a pair of Move controllers; when I read up on the game after playing it seems like this was the least popular option, with the preferred choice being the PSVR Aim controller. The regular PS4 controller works as well, but if I’m playing something in VR then I want immersion, damn it, so glowy fairy wands were the order of the day.
Motion sickness in VR is one of the more significant problems facing the medium, so Doom VFR’s control scheme is focused around minimizing its effects. Personally, this isn’t an issue I suffer from, so I mostly found the whole thing a little awkward. Your primary means of locomotion is teleportation via the left Move controller, while the face buttons on the left Move allow you to perform quick dashes in the direction of your choice. Turning proves to be a significant issue, and I often found myself relying on the quick-turn mapped to one of the face buttons on the right Move controller to reorient myself. None of this feels especially natural and in a fast-paced game like DOOM that’s going to get you killed.
I know what you’re thinking based on that last sentence, and yes – VFR is still DOOM. I never fully got a handle on the controls, but my wobbling and tottering about was eventually able to approximate the fast-paced action present in DOOM 2016. The weapon controls try their best to pick up the slack left by the movement controls and they put up quite the fight – shooting and throwing grenades in VFR feels absolutely amazing. I was sold early on when I was able to hold my pistol gangsta style and still bust caps with no issue, and the rest of the weapons remain just as satisfying. Shoving a shotgun in a demon’s face before blasting them is especially enjoyable since you’re physically performing the action, while the touchiness of tossing grenades (which you need to actually toss) means that, with a little practice, you can perform some impressive explosive combos.
Your arsenal is largely similar to DOOM 2016’s array of gear and moves with one significant change: Glory Kills aren’t present here, replaced by a telefrag attack that occurs when you warp into a stunned foe. This is great in theory but in practice it largely served as another source of disorientation.
Aside from the various changes and quibbles associated with the headset, VFR plays out like a DLC for DOOM 2016. You’re doing all the same stuff you would in that game – running around blasting demons, searching for keys, hitting switches (by physically grabbing and moving them, which is a nice touch) and destroying demon-summoning flesh pods. It’s all made a little bit more puke-worthy thanks to the controls and perspective (and the graphics are by no means as impressive when you get close to something, which isn’t a surprise) but the fact of the matter is that this is a full-on, honest-to-God video game you can play in virtual reality. That’s not something you can say very often, but Bethesda’s leading the way on that front and seemingly putting more faith in the medium than nearly any other company.
That’s an interesting point and it’s probably the most important aspect of DOOM VFR: rather than being yet another throwaway tech demo being sold for $20, this is an actual video game for your PSVR (or HTV Vive, if you’re so invested). From my perspective, that solves two of the big problems facing virtual reality as a mainstream gaming solution: it doesn’t have enough “real” games and it’s too expensive. The PSVR’s not that pricey, DOOM VFR is about as “real” as you can get, and if you’re patient with the controls it’s also one of the better experiences you can have in virtual reality. Let’s deal with the cumbersome setup and maybe push that headset price down just a little further, then we’ll see if games like DOOM VFR can help turn VR into the mainstream hit that’s been prognosticated for years now.