In something of a strange move, Bethesda (just acquired by Microsoft) has dropped an official VR port of DOOM 3 as a PlayStation VR exclusive. Even stranger still, it comes at a time when PSVR is heading into its fifth year on the market come October. As a game that has consistently been teased to come to the medium, DOOM 3 VR Edition is a welcome addition, if a little late in some regards, particularly considering the fact that DOOM creators Id Software made their own standalone DOOM VR experience back in 2017 (DOOM VFR). While that game was certainly more tailored to the VR experience, it felt somewhat lacking in the content department leaving it feeling like a technical showcase rather than a fully-fledged DOOM title, and its imperfect controller options left a lot to be desired. DOOM 3 VR Edition then, solves some of those problems following the lessons learned from that experiment. However, in the areas where DOOM VFR did shine, DOOM 3 VR Edition feels like an expected step back (given how old the title is). While some tweaks to the original game work well enough, some of the more dated aspects of the game take away from that immersion. This VR version as a result comes off almost like a spooky horror carnival ride, where everything looks low budget and you can certainly tell none of it is real but can still enjoy the ride if you temper your expectations.
DOOM 3 actually has quite the history with VR. It was one of the first games to be showcased with high-end VR functionality by John McCormack before the medium hit the mass market in 2016. Since then, different communities have created unofficial VR mods of the game, but an official version has never seen the light of day until now. Handled by Archiact, Bethesda finally decided it was time to put a VR ring on it. Unlike the recent DOOM games (or the original ones for that matter), DOOM 3 took more of a survival horror approach with a slower pace than the series was known for. These distinguishing factors make DOOM 3 a perfect candidate for VR itself. I am not going to go too much into detail on the quality of the original 2004 classic as many people have likely already played it. This review then looks into whether or not the VR transition holds up and whether the experience is enhanced or compromised in that transition.
A faster way to play DOOM 3
In terms of content and the game itself you do have a worthy addition to a very small library of games on PSVR, especially with first-person shooters. DOOM 3 VR Edition boasts a sizeable first-person shooter campaign that can last around 15 hours and also includes the two expansions for the original game. Compare that to other single player VR shooters like Blood & Truth, Farpoint or DOOM VFR, which are probably one third as long. DOOM 3 also holds up well given how long it’s been since the original release. Yes, the voice acting is atrocious and some of the arbitrary exploring feels like a little bit of an obstacle between the good stuff, but it’s still a solid campaign all these years later.
Surprisingly, the retro-style environments still carry a unique sense of atmosphere, with dark tunnels lit only by your torch and steamy air vents feeling appropriately claustrophobic. This is thanks to a solid lighting model, which still creates an unsettling mood even in 2021. Unfortunately, that does not apply to character models, which look particularly blurry even for a game of its time. The extremely low resolution makes some facial models in-game indistinguishable and some aliasing for signage in the distance can be difficult to read.
UI Changes and the new flashlight mechanic are welcome improvements
In this version of the game, the developer Archiact has actually made some nice improvements and tweaks to the original. For example, the weapon assets have been redone, helping them better fit VR. UI elements have also been placed on the wrist of the players, which is a common yet clever integration in VR games, giving you a clear point of reference for your health, ammo and armour. Not only does it help keep you engaged in the action but it looks super clean as well. The flashlight has now been added to the end of your gun, which really changes the pace of the game, allowing you to easily flick it on or off while still aiming your controller, allowing you to stay focused on the environment and push forward rather than fumbling between a weapon and a flashlight. Having everything available conveniently is essential for VR immersion, and they nail it here.
The sound has also been improved over the original game, particularly the weapon effects, which have been upgraded to give them more of a kick and sense of impact. Whether it’s the blast of a shotgun, the whirring fire of the chaingun or even just reloading your weapon, everything sounds appropriately punchy, often punctuating quiet scenes and ramping up the tension and chaos once the bullets start flying. Moreover, the 3D audio helps with some of the environmental sound like churning gears, dripping ceilings or hissing gas, creating those especially tense moments between battles. It’s a beautifully haunting contrast that I didn’t really notice in my previous playthroughs of the original game.
All of these small additions actually bridge the gap between the slow, awkward and atmospheric pacing of DOOM 3 and the fast, chaotic and rushed pacing of the latest DOOM titles. Combining the flashlight and the weapons, adding the UI to the wrist band and upgrading the sound effects really makes it feel like a nice sweet spot between both and in fact a more retro style of play for DOOM 3, making it one of the most unique versions of the game to date (and possibly my favourite).
Don’t sleep on this if you’re an owner of an AIM Controller
The control options, a very important part in any VR game, are unfortunately a mixed bag. Firstly, the game does not support Move controllers. Don’t get me wrong, as an AIM controller owner I’m not complaining, but those who aren’t may feel like they’re missing out. As a game that supports two-handed weapons without a lot of environmental interactivity, it makes sense that Moves wouldn’t add much to the experience, but the option would be nice. Thankfully, all PSVR owners should have a DualShock 4, which is supported albeit a little underwhelmingly given the nature of the controller.
The real star of the show is the AIM controller and is in my opinion the major reason to get DOOM 3 VR (or vice versa). Unlike DOOM VFR, which tried to shove a two-handed controller in a dual-wielding game, DOOM 3 VR Edition is the opposite, making the AIM controller the prime candidate for an ideal way to play the game. You do have to suffer with having two hands in front of your face until you unlock the pistol at the start of the game (which only takes about 5–10 minutes), but once you do, everything will feel much better. Without any option to aim down sights in the original game, the hip-fire nature of DOOM 3 makes holding and pointing the AIM controller effortless while still maintaining the immersion of you holding an actual weapon. Whether you’re blasting the shotgun, firing the BFG or using the Grabber, all the weapons feel natural which is fantastic given how tracking is usually a significant issue in PSVR titles. The addition of two analogue sticks, face buttons and other buttons gives enough button real estate to map things out and make things as comfortable as possible. I would honestly rank DOOM 3 VR Edition as a top three AIM Controller supported game.
Speaking of comfort, the game does have some comfort options such as snap turning and vignettes and even a choice to pick your dominant hand, which as a lefty I appreciated. Conversely, the game seems to be missing other basic options such as teleportation, so those who are prone to motion sickness due to locomotion may want to stay away from this. I also noted that the smooth turning actually felt less disorienting than the snap turning, especially now that the AIM controller has a camera stick. Another odd thing in the game are the height settings. The default felt a little too short for me and most characters were looking down on me, which is very accurate for me in real life but probably not the in-game height the original developers designed the game for. Have a play around with the settings when you start the game just to make sure everything feels right for you.
While the shooting is good in VR, other functionalities could have used some more thought
While the shooting definitely feels satisfying and exploring the environments feels immersive in VR, some of the other aspects do not. The cutscenes feel incredibly dated and some basic motions such as pressing a touch intercom feel disjointed from the actual experience make some aspects feel like a point-and-click adventure rather than an interactive experience. Having come back from PS5 titles in the last couple months, the loading screen lengths feel inconsistent but often long, and jarring to the experience. They’re not nearly as long or as frequent as something like Iron Man VR, but loading screens are less tolerable for me in VR than on a flat screen where I can do other things like check my phone in the meantime.
DOOM 3 VR Edition is a bit of a double-edged sword then. For PSVR owners wanting a proven lengthy singleplayer first-person shooter in VR, AIM controller owners who just want a new solid experience to play, or those DOOM 3 fans that want a refreshing way to take a trip down memory lane, DOOM 3 VR Edition certainly ticks those boxes. DOOM 3 is a classic first-person shooter and the addition of its expansions leave players with an experience of around 20 hours. The AIM controller is a great fit for the bread-and-butter shooting of the game and it’s fun to revisit Mars with VR-tinted glasses. But if you’re looking for the next big hit for PSVR, DOOM 3 is a 17-year-old game, and one that certainly wasn’t made with modern technologies in mind, let alone VR, and some of those aging aspects do make the transition into VR a little less effective. In that case, DOOM 3 VR Edition may not be that fully-fledged AAA PSVR game you were waiting for.
Reviewed on PSVR using a PS5 and an AIM Controller // Review code supplied by publisher
- March 29, 2021