The F in Doom VFR stands for “fucking.” Doom Virtual Fucking Reality. This is a statement of intent and an invoiced agreement of sophisticated obscenity. Doom’s modern revival surfed a wave of nostalgia and bravado on its way to being 2016’s biggest surprise. Doom VFR, under a controlled set of expectations, seeks to make a complimentary impact inside of virtual reality. Figuratively and literally, it’s in your face.
Doom VFR begins with a routine, almost unconcerned demonic disturbance. An everyman scientist on a UAC facility on Mars is killed, auto-revived with cybernetic parts, and dutifully resolves to stifle the emerging calamity. Dispassionate writing and an air of well, it’s another day at the office drive existential horror out of the equation and open up room for his warm embrace of post-humanity. One can only conclude this guy had prepared for this, igniting Doom VFR’s action and placing it in the same category as Cabin in the Woods’ routine monster barking facility. When you’re playing with hell energy, of course something like this would happen.
You’re soon driven to engage an escalating succession of demons in arena-based combat. Before that can take place, however, movement and control must be established and learned. This is where we meet the first of Doom VFR’s headaches. With the absence of analog sticks on Sony’s Move controllers, point-and-shoot teleportation is often solution for virtual reality movement. It’s worked in Robinson: The Journey and in Bethesda’s own Skyrim VR. Teleportation is also the immediate choice for Doom VFR, albeit through three very different interfaces.
With Move controls, the left Move wand is responsible for pointing at and shooting to your teleportation target. It also employs all four face buttons as cardinal-direction dashes. The opposite controller aims a weapon, handles bits of the interface, and has a button dedicated to performing a 180-degree turn. You’ll notice that none of these options account for x-axis rotation, which makes this method of control a frustrating waste of time. Craning your head in extreme right or left angles physically hurts and functionally fails to connect to the demands of the game. Even on its easiest difficulty, Doom VFR is too fast and demanding to put up with the inability to orient yourself in the correct direction. Walking through a door is just as hard as lining up a shot.
The preferred, albeit less immersive, method of control is with a traditional DualShock 4. Turning on left-stick movement and smoothing out the right-stick camera renders Doom VFR a close facsimile of Doom 2016. Still along for the ride is the ability to teleport. It’s no longer a band aid on movement, but a viable mechanic that’s as fun as it is effective. As a trade-off, two giant guns are always popping out of your neck area and aiming is based entirely around your viewpoint (as opposed to manually aiming with a Move controller). This is still 100% preferable two using two Move controllers.
A third option includes support for Sony’s Aim Controller. I did not get to see how this works because I did not hand over $80 to play Farpoint, but I can’t imagine holding a single gun is a viable solution to a game where you’re always holding a two guns (or a grenade and a gun). Perhaps I’m wrong.
Sorting out control clears the way for Doom VFR’s violent overtures. While it’s entirely possible to dump senseless ammunition into every demon that comes you’re way, it’s both more satisfying and more effective to pellet them until they glow blue and then teleport into their bodies and explode them. It also makes a neat sound effect and you get to see them blow up. Health and ammunition also explode out of your opponent, likening Doom VFR’s teleport-and-explode mechanics to Doom’s melee-focused glory kills. It’s the same principle translated to a different interface.
As expected, Doom’s usual stack of insane firearms arrives in quick order. The pistol has infinite ammunition and will always be there for you. Two different shotguns, a pulse rifle, a normal rifle, rocket launcher, a gauss canon—if it was in Doom, it’s here. Weapon mods, found at obviously placed upgrade stations inside of each level, return as well. Doom VFR truncated run-time, however, reduce the number of mods down to just one for each weapon.
70% of Doom VFR filters the player into de facto arenas and loads them up with an escalating series of monsters. Imps give way to Hell Knights, followed by Lost Souls, Revenants, Mancubus, Cacodemons, and Barons of Hell. Doom VFR recycles most of its assets—be it monsters, level designs, asset textures, you name it—from Doom. While an extremely economical way to manufacture a virtual reality game, it does rob Doom VFR of its own identity. It can often feel like you’re touring familiar, blurry landscapes and repeating many of the same tricks.
As either a means of adjusting the pace or a buoy to Doom VFR’s four hour clock, you also spend a significant amount of time not blasting demons. The besieged UAC facility acts as a hub of sorts, tasking the player to run around the spokes that surround its core. This includes five or six trite “hit the button” minigames and two instances of aligning lasers. Both require about five seconds to complete. Putting out fires, riding elevators, and pushing buttons consume the remainder of your passive activity.
While Doom VFR’s levels are not large, there are a few extra objectives tucked inside. Weapon and skill upgrade stations are never too hard to find, but locating all of the Doom Guy Dolls usually calls for a closer attention to detail. Likewise, completing in-level challenges, like making two Lost Souls crash into each other or killing a Cacodemon with a pistol, are refreshed every level. Completing them all for each level builds toward reducing the amount of damage you receive.
Generally, however, the reason to stick around is also the reason that Doom VFR (and Doom) is fun in the first place. Unlike every other first-person shooter on the market, it’s constructed around that idea that constant motion is valuable and improvisation is necessary. You will routinely use every weapon against every enemy, and while the inevitable BFG is basically a win button, it won’t bail you out of every hairy situation. Doom VFR makes the mindless medley of run-and-gun into an intelligent, occasionally symphonic solution.
After wrapping up Doom VFR’s on hard (it’s third of five difficulties), I don’t feel compelled to return back to it. I was kind of done after I finished the last of its eight levels. I had a great time, but I didn’t want anymore. Perhaps if I didn’t dump a ton of hours into Doom last year, and maybe if I hadn’t inundated myself with other PlayStation VR games over the last twelve months, I may have stuck around longer. As it stands, Doom VFR is a flawed but serviceable execution of the idea of modern Doom. At $30, this is in line with expectations.
In the end, Doom VFR leverages extant resources to construct an intimate sensation of murdering hell demons in virtual reality. Dealing with Satan entails a short list of sacrifices which Doom VFR obliges through its compressed experience, inadequate control options, and risk averse experimentation. Safe and sensible, however, are sufficient labels for Doom VFR’s pledge of menacing intensity.