At an event last week in Los Angeles, Bethesda Softworks gave me and other game journalists the opportunity to try the version of 2016’s Doom that they’re bringing to the Nintendo Switch later this year, as well as the virtual reality spin-off Doom VFR, which will be available for PlayStation VR and HTC Vive on December 1st. Here’s my quick impressions of both.
But first, a caveat. None of the images in this story are representative of the Switch version of Doom or of Doom VFR. Since Bethesda didn’t have any gameplay screens available, the above shot of Doom is from the 2016 version, while the image below of Doom VFR is a still from the E3 trailer, which I also included below.
For those unfamiliar with these games, both are first-person sci-fi shooters that have you running around a research base on Mars that’s been overrun by demons. Narratively, Doom VFR is a prequel to Doom, in that the former casts you as the last survivor of the original incident that caused the demonic infestation you enjoy in the latter.
First up, I played the Switch version of Doom. Unfortunately, I had to play it with the console’s built-in screen, not with it connected to a nice TV. Which is why I had trouble reading the button prompts and other text. I even tried picking the thing up, and playing with the Joy-Con controllers connected the side, but this didn’t work well at all; those controllers just aren’t suited for this kind of game, not in this configuration, anyway.
Doom for the Switch might also be playable with the Joy Con controller’s as motion sensitive controllers, but I can’t even imagine how terrible that might be.
That said, playing the the Switch version of Doom with the Nintendo Pro Controller did work well, and made the game feel just like the one I enjoyed on Xbox One last year. And, presumedly, the same would apply if the Joy Con controllers were housed in the Xbox/PlayStation-esque holders. The controls worked the same, the demons were still unrelenting, and it was just as much bloody good fun. And it looked the same, too. Well, from what I could see on the small screen. In other words, it’s the same game, which is good news for Switch owners who enjoy shooting monsters from the first-person perspective. Well, the ones who didn’t play this on Xbox, PlayStation, or PC, that is.
After this, I checked out Doom VFR. Which is not just Doom with a virtual reality viewpoint. Instead, it’s a new adventure, and with it, new controls and mechanics (as well as new problems). Rather than have you use a regular controller to move and shoot, you use PlayStation Move controllers if you’re playing on PS4 and the Vive controllers if you’re on PC. It also employs the teleportation style of movement we’ve seen in such VR games as Everest VR, where you use the left controller to point to a spot on the ground and then instantly move to it.
When the Doom VFR demo began, I found myself in the Martian base, but it was not as damaged or drenched in blood as it is in Doom. I also wasn’t a person anymore. Instead, my consciousness had been transferred into the body of a human-shaped robot. Though I was still able to hold things, which is good because this still has human-hating demons running amok.
After shooting a bunch of them in the corridor for a couple minutes, the Doom VFR demo jumped me to another part of the game, this one set in Hell. Moving from one rock platform to another, I continued to shoot the demons with the usual compliment of guns you get in the regular Doom games. It was here that I also noticed that the controller has a short, quick move that jumps you back a few feet, something that’s rather handy when a demon makes a leap towards you face. It was also here that I was able to grab the usual bits of health, ammo, and armor that are always just lying around in a Doom game.
More importantly, it was in the Hell part of Doom VFR that the game’s movement mechanics really started to work for me. While in the Mars base, where the enemies could come at me from all angles, the teleportation style of movement felt awkward and clumsy, and almost got me killed several times. That’s because, as odd as this may sound, turning around in VR isn’t as quick as it is with a controller. At least in my experience. Which was a problem in this section because it took place in a circular corridor, and the demons come at you from behind as much as after as they from the front.
Conversely, when I was in the Hell part of Doom VFR, where the demons mostly come at you from the front, mostly, the controls worked a lot better. Not as well as if you played this game with a regular controller and just looked around with the VR headset — especially since that would’ve made it easier to dodge incoming attacks — but still better than when I had to constantly turn around.
For the most part, the rest of Doom VFR feels like, well, Doom. It has all the same freaky looking demons, the same over-the-top weapons used to destroy them, and the immersion you only get when a game employs the first-person perspective. Except it’s VR, so that immersion is magnified. When one of those shoulder rocket demons leaps at your face, you really feel like it might plant a big ol’ kiss right on your lips.
In the end, the Switch version of Doom is the same game I’ve already played, still own, and plan to play again, while Doom VFR looks fun, just not enough to make me buy a PlayStation VR headset or a high-end gaming PC and HTV Vive. But if hadn’t already played Doom, and already had the necessary VR set-up, I’d not only get them both, but I’d play them back to back. If my time with them showed anything, it’s that they’re both bloody good fun.