Doom VFR is more like visiting an interactive Doom exhibit than playing Doom

When I heard a Doom game was coming to VR I just couldn't picture it. I associate Doom, both the original and the 2016 version, with speed. Slippery fast speed, racing and strafing and sliding all over the damn place like a greased lighting bolt on rocket-powered hockey skates. I just couldn't imagine the Doom experience would translate into VR, which I tend to associate with a slow, deliberate, tentative pace.

Of course, it doesn't translate. It simply can't. The speed of a keyboard and mouse can't be poured into a standing human being wearing a heavy tethered headset and holding two controllers. That doesn't mean Doom VFR (I assume you know what the F stands for) is bad. It's actually pretty cool. It's just a completely different experience from playing Doom as we know it. It's more like visiting an interactive Doom exhibit (a good one) at a museum or a riding a Doom theme park ride (a cool one). It's the gross and glorious sights and sounds of Doom, but it's not really Doom, and somehow immersing myself in its virtual world winds up making me feel somewhat removed from it.

To be clear, Doom VFR isn't a direct transfer of Doom into VR, it's a new episode taking place in the Doom universe and starring someone else. Rather than diving immediately into the action, VFR gives you a nice long adjustment period and plenty of training (though it probably makes you stand motionless a bit too long letting you listen to the narration of your surprisingly chatty non-Doomguy character). Demons have invaded your lab (surprise!) and you must make excursions to various sections of the facility to restore power, retrieve items, gain access to locked rooms, and get things up and running again. Each trip throws a bunch of monsters in your path as you travel the corridors and chambers, culminating in a big arena battle at the end of each mission.

There are two ways to move around: by teleporting, which involves aiming a beam to the spot you want to appear, and by 'dashing', which gives you a little hop frontwards or backwards, left or right. With some practice it begins to feel mostly normal (if not intuitive) but it never feels anything remotely speedy, smooth, or kinetic. I really wish there was an option to just move in VFR, as if walking, even if it was a bit slow and measured. I know there are issues simulating motion in VR (it makes some people extremely ill), but for those of us lucky enough to be unaffected by motion sickness it would be a welcome option. (For example, I played a little downhill skiing slash jetpack flying game in VR this weekend and the fast movement felt just fine in VR, even though I was standing still.)

Doom's weapons are extremely cool in VR: there's something awesome about holding the massive (yet weightless) chaingun and gauss cannon in your hands, turning them over, inspecting them, and watching their animations as they fire. It's just neat. The environments in VFR all look fantastic, and seeing the demons up close (sometimes extremely up close) looming over you is cool, too.

Glory kills, Doom's brutal melee finishing moves, have been replaced by telefragging: pointing your movement beam at the same space a stunned demon is occupying, and teleporting inside them for a shower of guts and a bundle of small powerups. It's fun, and maybe even preferable to watching the same gruesome melee animations play over and over again (which I'm sure wouldn't look so great with VFR's floating hands). Grabbing a berserk power-up does let you punch your way through monsters, which is enjoyable, yet, due to the fact that you're punching empty air, a bit toothless: hand controllers just can't simulate much in the way of feedback. Or maybe I just feel a little dumb shadowboxing while playing.

An odd choice for VFR is to include hacking, a minigame where a cursor moves quickly back and forth over a display. Squeeze the trigger when the cursor is over the correct symbol and drop down to the next line to repeat the task. I don't know why they chose to put this in: standing motionless staring at a screen while clicking a single button isn't something that benefits from virtual reality.

I played with an i5-6600K, 8 GB RAM, with a GTX 980, using a HTC Vive, and didn't have any performance issues except when I tried recording the gameplay constantly on my monitor, which would occasionally freeze me up for a moment. I experienced a couple of bugs: one time I loaded in and there was no in-game sound (though there was sound in the menu), and another time it showed my left controller on the ground at my feet instead of in my hand (again, it worked fine in the menu). Both problems were fixed with a restart.

I also found there's something about being completely immersed in 360 degrees of Doom that left me feeling more disconnected from the world than if I were playing Doom on a regular monitor. I never felt any kind of adrenaline rush or felt my heartbeat quicken in VFR. My reaction to grotesque demons suddenly appearing and attacking me was along the lines of, "Oh, look, demons are attacking me. I suppose I should shoot them all." Maybe it's that the movement never felt natural, maybe it's that I typically don't find VR to be a convincing and transporting experience, even when it's well done. Maybe VFR just felt so different from the real Doom that it came off more like a tour of the Doom universe than a Doom game. It's cool without really being fun, it's impressive without being really exciting. It's Doom VFR, but it's not really Doom.