When I think of the Doom franchise, I think of both Doom (2016) and Doom Eternal—I think it is safe to say most modern gamers will. By that manner of thinking, Doom is wide-open hellscapes, rip-roaring weapons, and gameplay so attention-gulping that you could probably throw a super shotgun off my face and I’d keep ripping and tearing. Sadly, when it came to Doom 3 VR Edition, you’d barely get to mention a deadly weapon, let alone thrown one off my face, before I’d drop off this trite VR port.
Doom 3 VR Edition (D3VR) is a very different affair from the fun action found in the other entries in the series, and anyone that played the original 2004 release will know that to be the case. Gone are the expansive fire-imbued landscapes and bold demons that simply cannot wait to do anything other than hear your skin sizzle. In their place, we have a much tamer, tighter, and (literally) darker experience that has more akin to a horror title than any Doom that I’ve come to know. As someone that never played Doom 3, this subversion of my franchise expectations was what drew me in more than anything as I eagerly donned the PSVR headset.
As I landed on Mars for the first time, however, I was immediately pulled out of the experience. Largely unimpressed by the graphical presentation of the game (coupled with its all-encapsulating blur), D3VR failed to capture any sense of place in its setting—something that some of the worst looking VR games I’ve played still managed to attain. Understandably, this is a port based on a 17-year-old game, so we aren’t exactly going to get 4K visuals, but the game’s jagged amalgam of greys, blacks, and browns incited more headaches than they did fear.
Thankfully though, the magic of VR did rear its head on the odd occasion—aided by my PS Aim controller, which had been unceremoniously gathering dust since I jumped into Doom VFR. With its inclusion of a gun-mounted flashlight, a fallen ceiling panel would result in my shotgun tucked in tight, jumpily pointed upwards, unveiling the metal-mess of bundled vents and pipes, as my trigger finger was ready to blast whoever was responsible. There is a degree of role-playing to its experience, and I found I enjoyed myself far more by taking things slow, deliberating over every turn, and imagining myself really in the pits of a demon-infested hallway—and the Aim controller goes a long way to amplify this.
D3VR is packed full of jump scares, which range from enemies tucked in dark corners to horrifically mean mirrors. Being able to eradicate the darkness at the turn of your weapon’s flashlight is a flicker of ingenuity in this port that made me wish I were playing a better game. Even the guns themselves don’t feel particularly good, with each coming with a weightlessness and lack of individuality. However, the Aim controller completely bypassed any of the familiar VR fumbles that comes with the uninspired motion controls, with its simplistic control layout meaning that movement instantly felt natural.
Yet after dozens of hours of formulating gun-cocktails in the revitalised Doom games and despite its comfortable controls, when the enemies started to frequent the hallways of the UAC facility, any semblance of immersion faded away. With vague sound design, it quickly became difficult to pinpoint enemies in a 3D space, resulting in brief moments of confusion when an enthusiastic demon got the drop on me from behind. Even when demons were in front of me, gunplay felt flat and ultimately delivered an experience that felt unsuited to VR. As the game throws multiple enemies at you simultaneously, I took to strafing and, without even realising it, simply snapping around to the enemies with the flick of a thumbstick rather than physically turning myself or the aim controller—like a re-enactment of old school Doom. This isn’t necessarily a falter in the game’s original design—it is the way it was intended to be played after all. But with games like Half-Life Alyx and Blood and Truth highlighting the immersive boost of cover-based mechanics in VR, D3VR feels comparatively uninvolved, as you rely more on the control movement than any physically carried out by yourself or the Aim controller.
The speed I started to recognise from the later Doom games only faltered the experience further, as a paper-thin selection of VR comfort settings meant that D3VR quickly became a game that I couldn’t play for more than an hour. Its speedy movement would often leave my head spinning but slowing down movement sensitivity felt detrimental to the overall experience. This, coupled with the blurred visuals, is sure to deliver an experience that will rip-and-tear through the stomach of those yet to earn their sturdy VR legs. At least the game-freezing auto-saves give you a few seconds of respite…
Doom 3 VR Edition is a solid idea—a somewhat slower, more atmosphere affair that seems perfect for VR. Instead, we are left with nothing more than a quick cash grab. With its dated graphics, flat-screen cutscenes, and a lack of VR interactivity, Doom 3 VR Edition does so little to validate its porting into virtual reality that a few hours in I had a yearning to simply experience the game on a television. For any fans of this FPS then, sure, this is probably worth checking out, and with its relatively low £20 price tag coming with around 15-hours of content (including its DLC), it can’t be disputed that there is bang for a fan’s buck—especially as a VR experience.
Yet Doom 3 VR Edition proves that the mere premise of VR isn’t enough to guarantee a fun experience. This is a game that deserved a more thoughtful repurposing to allow its players to feel a part of its world. Instead, I was left with an experience that made me wholly aware that I was wearing a bit of plastic over my face.