All I remember from playing Doom 3 from the original 2004 PC release are the jump scares. Yes, it’s got all the guns you would expect from a Doom game, and you’re fighting demons from Hell on Mars, but it’s the jump scares that defined this game. Enemies wait behind hidden doors that open as you walk past, demons jump through staircases at you, and at one point you look into a mirror and everything turns to fire. You can’t even trust the mirrors in Doom.
Doom 3 VR Edition is exactly what you’re expecting it to be. It’s Doom 3… in virtual reality. This isn’t a ground-up remake of the game, but an adaptation of what already exists. By 2021 standards, it looks a little dated and the game’s original issues are still here, you also have to accept that cutscenes play out on a cinema screen in front of you instead of immersing you in the scene, and the game in general is a little rough around the edges. Even so, it’s Doom 3 and this time it’s in VR, for better or worse.
The game doesn’t look too bad – I’ve played games in VR that look quite a bit worse – but Doom 3 VR looks like an old game even through your headset. Textures in general look just slightly blurry and low resolution when you get up close, and there’s an odd sense of scale to human character models, making NPCs seem to have heads that are only slightly bigger than your fist. It’s nothing too bad, mostly just things that will make you chuckle to yourself, but it’s there. The game’s visual focus on light and dark is still effective, especially when the game introduces spidery aliens with their shadows moving in the corner of your eye, and there’s a slight warping effect when looking through thick glass which is quite nice.
Feel even closer to the terror with all-new VR enhancements including head tracking to peer around corners and 180-degree quick-turn functionality to catch demons sneaking up from behind.
Once you’re moving around and shooting at things you won’t really notice any of this. Combat in Doom 3 moves as quickly as you’d expect from Doom, and there’s the usual comfort settings to help you deal with the speed and playing with a DualShock 4 (which I reviewed with) or Aim Controller. Once you’ve adjusted, weaving between enemies and projectiles feels great. Aiming is particularly satisfying as well, as it tracks the DualShock 4 to allow you to physically aim with your controller, allowing you to neatly dodge and then put a well placed shotgun blast into a demon’s face in dramatic fashion. It’s much more immersive than games where you can simply look to aim, though it doesn’t come without its own foibles.
The DualShock 4 is not the gun – which is to say, it’s more like it’s representing your two arms rather than your actual real life hands are holding a gun. When you have the pistol equipped for example with your hands in your lap, the gun is at about eye height, not where your hands are. This offset allows you to play for a long period whilst sparing your arms the unnecessary ache of holding them in front of your face to aim all the time, which is good. It also makes aiming at certain melee enemies when they get right in your face a bit awkward, and there’s been once or twice where I died because I was surrounded by spiders, but couldn’t shoot them because I couldn’t get the aim right as they were too close (or practically inside) me. This, as an aside, is actually a nightmare I once had, although my head never passed through the enemy in my nightmare, so that was nice.
Your gun also twists slightly to the left sometimes, forcing you to compensate by aiming your controller slightly further right, so you don’t quite feel like you’re aiming at them with the controller. It can usually be fixed by waggling your controller a bit, but it also lessens your immersion, I can’t imagine any Doom protagonist has trouble keeping his weapons in line.
Another annoyance is how both the cinematics and the auto-save trigger, which is to suddenly and without warning jerk you out of the game. Auto-saves freeze the game momentarily while it saves, which is very disorientating at first, while cutscenes trigger similarly without warning and, as already mentioned, play them on the cinema screen in front of you. Considering the swooping cameras and quick cuts through these cutscenes, it makes sense not to subject players to that in VR, but it still seems a shame to just watch them on a screen, especially since the scariest (and therefore coolest) scenes are always in the cinematics.
In spite of all of this, it’s difficult not to enjoy the game, at least for a while. Jump scares might be cheap, but they’re also effective and something I find endlessly entertaining, only serving to enhance the oppressive atmosphere that is far more convincing in VR. You do get lost occasionally as there isn’t a map, but at least there’s now a torch on every gun – the torch/flashlight was a separate item when I first played it years ago – and the HUD has been recreated in a wrist mounted display.
Then there’s the guns themselves, I spent most of my time using the shotgun because, well, it’s a shotgun in a Doom game, and once I got a plasma gun I used it whenever I could. When I picked up the minigun for the first time and it turned out to be about five feet long, I couldn’t help but grin. When the rock music started and enemies started spawning, I was smiling from ear to ear as the barrel started to spin up.