Doom 3: VR Edition Review

April 7, 2021
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The recent Doom games may have hypercharged the series, but the tighter corridors and comparably slower burn of 2004’s Doom 3 seem like they’d be the more natural fit for a straight-to-VR port – at least in theory. In reality, its poorly-scaled world, the PSVR’s limitation to forward-facing play, and the slippery nature of its still relatively fast-paced combat mean Doom 3: VR Edition is more often a demon-grade headache than a joyride through hell. Both its original campaign and its two DLCs are unaltered, and as a result unsuited for VR, especially when you compare them to modern PSVR shooters like Blood & Truth or The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners that show what games truly built for the medium can do.

17 years later and Doom 3 still stacks up as one of id Software’s greatest hits. That’s thanks to its fantastic arsenal of guns, terrifying enemies, and engaging level design. Packing all of its action into the relatively limited PSVR headset and making it play as well as it does with the delightful but similarly limited gun-shaped Aim Controller could not possibly have been a simple task. It runs great on a technical level, text is remarkably clear to read, and the guns are just as weighty and fun to shoot as in the original – especially when the optional Aim Controller thumps with every blast of your pump shotgun.

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I felt a sense of tense exhilaration whenever I shined my flashlight into the dark corners of a room, often followed by a startling jolt as a demon popped out of the shadows or through a doorway at me. These constant jumpscares work as well in VR in 2021 as they did on-screen in 2004. Furthermore, there’s an indescribable level of satisfaction that comes with blasting a Cacodemon with a plasma rifle or sawing apart a zombie with a chainsaw when your entire Aim Controller is rumbling from top to bottom. Its added weight brings an extra something special to the quality of two-handed weapons in VR, and Doom 3 is the perfect game to showcase that in.

However, this port immediately reveals some of the key flaws of just taking a campaign that plays great in 2D and dropping it into virtual reality. Right off the bat, the scale of the world around you is noticeably weird. Even when you adjust the height settings to your real-life height, the terrain itself never feels appropriately sized to accommodate you. At one point, I towered over everything. Then, after holding the ‘Options’ button down and resetting the view, I’d apparently been sized down to a small child.

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Meanwhile, NPCs and even the enemies you fight are irregularly scaled. It’s hard to see from outside, but in VR the disproportion between NPCs and your field of view is almost comical – like you’ve stepped into an episode of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, except the kids are face-eating demons. This is especially apparent when comparing an NPC’s size to that of your weapons, which look huge in your hands and often block your field of view unless you’re holding your controller in your lap. Ironically, doing so worked much better with the standard DualShock 4 controller than with the Aim Controller, which isn’t nearly as comfortable held at waist-height.

Another major issue is the way Doom 3 wants you to move during combat. In later zones, swarms of bite-sized Trites, Cherubs, and Maggots – giant spiders, flying babies, and two-headed monstrosities — try to surround you in close physical proximity, which makes it paramount that you strafe around and keep your distance. That sort of FPS movement feels natural with a keyboard or a gamepad, but is just plain nauseating in the PSVR headset. There’s no option to move via teleportation, either, and doing any kind of strafing or backing up with Doom 3’s super slippery movement controls is an instant recipe for motion sickness.

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While there’s an option to activate snap-turns and screen-blocking vignettes that cover your peripheral vision whenever you turn a corner, playing with those features turned on is an inconvenience when you’re tasked with fighting literal waves of demons spawning in every direction. As a result, it’s easy to find yourself aiming your controller directly downward and frantically holding your trigger to clear your path of enemies while skittishly darting left and right. This happens too often, and it’s neither comfortable nor fun.

All of these frustrations would be easier to move past if Doom 3 had more moments of VR interactivity, but its 10-hour campaign is mostly packed with fast-paced combat because that’s simply how the original was designed. Your hands are bolted to your gun at all times, and your only actions are “move,” “attack,” and occasionally “push buttons on a computer screen.” Once again, this style of play works great outside of VR, but the lack of variety in its interactions beyond this is tiring – even when your real-life hands are plastered to the Aim Controller. Other Aim-friendly games like Farpoint, Firewall: Zero Hour, and even Borderlands 2 VR feel more tailored to the limitations of PSVR, whereas Doom 3: VR Edition often forgets to accommodate those limitations at all.

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Cutscenes are also a major issue in Doom 3: VR Edition. These are completely flat, two-dimensional scenes that play out in front of you, and they pull you out of the action entirely. These scenes do set up a few key pieces of the story of Doom 3, especially the bits about the appropriately menacing villain, Dr. Betruger. However, it’d be nice if there were an option to skip them – or better yet, experience the same exposition face-to-face with those characters in VR instead of having to sit through a bunch of flat scenes.

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