Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, there are very few games like DOOM 3. This soft reboot of the DOOM franchise took a more narrative driven approach for the events that lead demons to be unleashed on Mars. The presentation was stunning for the time and showcased what the id Tech Engine could do, particularly using the absence of light as a feature. The persistent darkness is claustrophobic, oppressive and hides all manner of nasty beasts from sight, enabling the potential for scares and sneak attacks to unbalance the player. It was also unashamedly proud of the gameplay roots, offering little variation to the classic run and gun style. With several re-releases over the years on various platforms, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’d seen all the versions now, but Bethesda had other ideas. What could possibly make the game more uncomfortable and frightening? Putting you right in the thick of the action with the DOOM 3: VR Edition.
This latest vision of the game is the full version of the classic 2004 title, and the accompanying expansion packs, overhauled to allow virtual reality immersion. This means full 360 degree vision and total control over aiming and shooting. DOOM 3 VR’s story is still the same – marine transferred to Mars gets caught up in the dimensional tear that unleashes Hell on the planet – but the perspective is somewhat shifted. Now you’re fully encompassing that role as you work your way through the infested UAC facility, trying to catch up with the facility’s security team as they head out to gain back control and shut the portal. Danger lurks around every corner, creatures hide in the deep shadows, and the only thing that can keep you alive is how quickly you can point and shoot… and wrangle with the movement controls. FPS adventures in VR are typically fraught with locomotion problems, so it’s handy that for this game there’s a solution with Sony’s Aim Controller.
A massively underused peripheral, the Aim Controller is absolutely designed for one purpose – first person shooters in VR. Ignore the fact that you look like a bit of a dick holding it (face it, there’s no one who can make the VR look work), its tubular plastic frame is perfectly designed to make you feel like you’re holding the real weapon from the display in your hand. Of course, there’s a disconnect when working with pistols and grenades, though that’s hardly an issue in DOOM 3: VR Edition where you always want to be holding the biggest weapon possible and feeling it vibrate as you fire away. The real boon of the controller though is the dual analogue sticks that sit directly under your thumbs. FPS movement is a breeze with these, and even when it gets frantic there are no problems dodging fireballs and letting loose a stream of bullets. It’s perfect for the flashlight as well, something that’s integral to the gameplay, and you find yourself illuminating corners and holes much more easily than with a standard pad. With the two front mounted buttons used for the light on/off and weapon swap, you’re always resting a digit on them in anticipation and it feels like everything is in easy reach to make the focus on shooting all the more intuitive.
Of course, the main issue with FPS movement in VR is motion sickness, and that’s something that can badly affect a lot of players. DOOM 3 VR however manages to be a surprisingly nausea-free experience. There are plenty of comfort settings to find the right level for each player, though you’ll want to get the smooth motion switched on right away for full fat DOOM action. Maybe it’s the combination of the controller itself and standing up that helps your mind cope with the mismatch between visual and physical movement? It’s definitely one of the best implementations I’ve played. Likewise, there’s a lot of thought gone into the HUD… there is none. Everything is either on the weapons or on your wrist, and it’s always just in view so a quick glance doesn’t interrupt watching the shadows for movement. There’s contextual interaction too where each time you’re pointing at an interactive panel or switch the weapon drops away and just leaves a hand ready to press buttons. It’s a simple yet useful touch. Listening to audio logs and reading emails for clues isn’t quite as easy – the “touchpad” button on top of the Aim Controller is just a bit awkward to reach with a stretched hand, and given the amount of time spent dipping in and out of the PDA it probably should have been mapped to something else.
In terms of graphics, it’s fair to say that it looks its age. The screens on here were taken in game and probably make it look at bit nicer than it does in the headset due to the display resolution differences. It’s by no means bad, and every PSVR player knows you need to sacrifice some visual fidelity to get a smooth and absorbing experience, but under close inspection you realise just exactly how many flat textures were used in the game. Maybe it’s a homage to the original. It is however solid with no breaks in the scenery or highlighted edges, and the aesthetic of the UAC facility does the job of feeling cramped and dangerous. In some games the switch to VR can help you realise the large scale of the play space, in DOOM 3 VR it only serves to make you realise how tight the corridors and crawlspaces are. At least there’s the option to fully peak around corners or push a plasma rifle through a grate to keep yourself out of harms way as long as possible. It’s in these moments when you’re listening for signs of demonic activity and creeping from wall to wall that the imperative on the graphics falls away. It’s drawn you in and immersed you in the situation, who cares if it’s a slightly lower polygon count.
The core gameplay transfers over well too with backpedalling and reloading being the only thing sometimes that can stave off death. Circle strafing remains your friend, as long as your stomach can cope. Enemy AI is as relentless as ever, particularly the melee ones that want to get up close to do some damage. Get trapped between them and a wall and there’s a desperate motion of firing downwards to kill them off, and cursing as well. It’s in some of these encounters that DOOM 3: VR Edition shows that it’s not entirely suited for the conversion. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what my melee attack was to knock them back, and the hit detection felt a bit off as I got pummelled whilst unloading full clips. Shotguns do work though, you just have to pray that they don’t need reloading. Arguably it makes the encounters more intense and you’ll learn to keep a lot of distance from certain enemies, though that’s not always possible in the tight confines of the facility.
One thing that really does drop the engagement is the story, and specifically the cutscenes. None are converted to VR, so there’s a pull back from the marines head to watch them play out in glorious early 2000’s 2D. It could have been done in worse ways, it’s not terrible, yet you want it to try and stay engrossing. There’s a similar interrupt with the auto save as well. It freezes everything when it kicks in – and tells you it’s doing it – though checkpoints don’t do the same. It’s a bit odd. The biggest issue you’ll face though is the Aim Controller alignment. This is very probably the PSVR system rather than the game, but every few minutes you need to shake the controller or drop it down and bring it back up so that it pulls the in-game position back to match the real life location. They drift off by around 10 to 20 degrees, and it makes snap aiming a pain. There’s an auto aim option available that seems to help in some instances, though it’s best to have everything pointing in the right direction in the first place.
On the whole though, DOOM 3: VR Edition is a solid game that provides a lot of thrills at a fairly low price and brings even more life to the 17 year original, as well as getting it to a new audience. The promotional material reckons on about 15 hours of content across the main campaign and the two expansions (which are available to dive straight into from the main menu), and that’s probably not factoring in those of us that will be overly cautious and jump at every shadow… plus everything in VR feels like it’s longer. There’s plenty of scares and surprises throughout, though the biggest has to be how well suited the Aim Controller is. It turns out it’s perfect for fast paced shooting and it really should have had a bit more love. DOOM fans should be ripping and tearing into this whether they’ve played the original or not.
A PSVR review copy of Doom 3: VR Edition was provided by Bethesda’s PR team, and the game is available now on PS4 and PS5 for around £16.