Bethesda announced during their pre-E3 event that Doom, as well as Fallout 4, would be playable during the show in VR form. I was able to get my head into Doom‘s HTC Vive powered VR demo, here’s my take on my virtual journey to hell.
When they first announced that people would get to play it in VR at E3, they said that you would “take a virtual tour of hell” and get “a totally unique look at the very latest in graphics and true next gen rendering from [their] id Tech 6 engine”. This drew some speculation because they didn’t announce anything else. Would Bethesda release any of it at all publicly? And how much of Doom would be playable in VR? Since history tells us that VR ports of monitor-based games don’t often turn out well, some were skeptical about Bethesda’s foray into VR with the Doom franchise.
After going hands on with the HTC Vive powered Doom VR at E3 this week and I can confirm, it was indeed just a tech demo, albeit a visually impressive one.
The demo had a collection of different scenes that it would transition between. The first was mostly passive in nature, taking place in a typical bunker from the Doom universe, but filled with tables upon which various, virtual assets from the game sat, including pickups, miniaturized enemies, and more. You could lean in and get close to them, spin them around, and inspect them closely. The amount of detail appreciable in VR does the art much more justice than a regular monitor, something I’m sure Doom’s artists are pleased with.
The next scene transported you to a dark cavern, surrounded by some of Doom‘s larger enemies. This one was clearly designed to demonstrate to you the feeling of character scale, and just how big they were ‘in person’. There was no interaction possible during this section, although I was thankful the scarier looking demons weren’t moving, that probably would have been terrifying.
Thankfully, this being Doom, there were other non-passive sections which did include shooting. Don’t expect advanced gunplay however should you ever get to try the demo – this was essentially a “shooting gallery” experience. One of your motion controllers would turn into a pistol, and you could switch between that and a plasma rifle whilst in your other hand, a frag grenade. Again, motion controls and VR allowed you to inspect these familiar items in detail but they had limited functionality compared to the full game. Do note too that the demo gave you no in-VR avatar, i.e. your hands and body weren’t visible at any time.
Overall then, Doom VR didn’t look or feel an awful lot like the original game. The enemy behaviour was simplistic, you were rooted to the spot, and there was no HUD and no action ‘quick time’ events to enjoy. It was, perhaps expectedly, a truly bare bones realisation of Doom in virtual reality with the experience designed for comfort and minimising nausea through restricted locomotion – all of which are good things, but it does highlight why bringing very traditional game styles into a wholly new medium is problematic. It illustrating that Bethesda VR are well aware of these fundamental limitations and are designing for them.
The demo as a whole felt in need of a little polish too. Most notably, a glaring graphics issue popped up in one of the open air locations of the demo, with the stereo imagery of the skybox completely mismatched between eyes. Other more minor niggles included guns not positioned correctly in virtual space. The angle you held the guns at did not match the angle of the real life controller you’re holding, meaning that part of gun would have been lodged into your flesh in real life. It was subtly off, but I noticed upon inspection that there was something wrong with the way I had to twist my hand in order to aim down the sights. This is clearly early days for the Bethesda VR team though, and we suspect their time to prepare both Doom and Fallout VR demo’s may not have left a lot of room for polish.
While visuals were worthwhile seeing in VR (especially if you’re a Doom fan), the simplicity of in-game mechanics and overall lack of polish shows that Doom in VR right now is experimental. With some polish however it could be a nice little treat for Doom players who own an HTC Vive VR headset. However, if Bethesda VR eventually do embark on a significant VR port of the franchise, there’s clearly a lot of work to be done.