Doom 3 for PSVR is a solid showcase for Sony’s Aim Controller

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Doom 3 has a long history with VR, so it’s a little surprising that this week’s PlayStation VR release is the first version ever to go on sale. Almost nine years ago, we visited Id Software luminary John Carmack to see his duct-taped prototype “Oculus Rift” headset for the first time, and Doom 3 was the game he used to show it off.

Carmack later moved to Oculus, of course, and Id never put out an official Doom 3 VR release until now. That said, it’s not like you haven’t been able to play Doom 3 in VR before — the game is open source, and there are various third-party mods available, including a recent port to the Oculus Quest. So why is Doom 3: VR Edition only landing now as a PS4 exclusive?

After playing it for a while, I think I have the answer: the PSVR Aim Controller makes for a pretty good shotgun.

For better or worse, Doom 3: VR Edition is a straightforward port of Doom 3, including its expansions. That means there’s a lot more content here than most VR shooters, but it also means you spend a fair bit of time watching 2D cutscenes rendered in the kind of quality you’d expect from a game that came out in 2004. PSVR games aren’t known for their visual pyrotechnics, though, and Doom 3’s limited technology at least means it can run at a reasonable frame rate and resolution on a PS4 Pro.

Doom 3 itself is a somewhat divisive game that Id struggled to follow up for a long time before reviving the series with an excellent reboot and last year’s sequel Doom Eternal. Id decided to focus on atmosphere and horror with Doom 3, leaning into the series’s moodier moments rather than rampant monster blasting. You spend much of your time traipsing through corridors, anticipating the next jump-scare where a demon bursts out from nowhere.

VR is often all about atmosphere, and ‘Doom 3’ has plenty

In theory, this makes Doom 3 a much better fit for VR than the more recent Doom games, which are based around frenetic combat that’s difficult enough to keep track of on a regular monitor. (Id did adapt the reboot into a separate game called Doom VFR in 2017, but it suffered from awkward controls and didn’t play anything like the original.) VR is often all about atmosphere, and Doom 3 has plenty, even 17 years on.

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That said, this is still an old-school PC first-person shooter at its heart. The sprawling levels are designed to be navigated quickly, and they wouldn’t really work with typical solutions for VR locomotion like teleportation. Doom 3: VR Edition forces you to be comfortable with analog stick movement and its affordances designed to ward off nausea, like a vignette that limits field of view and the use of snap turning instead of free motion on the right stick.

I didn’t have issues with nausea myself, though Doom 3: VR Edition is definitely on the intense side of VR games. It does help that the PSVR is generally geared around seated experiences, given that it’s likely to be used in living rooms. You can play with a regular DualShock controller, which works reasonably well, but there’s no option for the Move motion controllers — probably for the better.

The PlayStation VR Aim Controller. Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Really, though, the only way to play Doom 3: VR Edition is the PlayStation VR Aim Controller. Sony’s abstract gun-styled peripheral doesn’t have a lot of support, but it might as well have been made for this version of Doom 3. It gives you all of the controls you need, including independent movement and aiming ability, and — crucially — it makes you feel like you’re holding a Super Shotgun. The game immediately becomes more immersive and easier to play.

Not all of the weapons work perfectly with the controller. The starting pistol feels a little off with the Aim Controller’s two-handed setup, for example, and the machine gun’s sights don’t quite track with the controller itself. Overall, though, the Aim Controller is great to use, and it’s the only time PSVR ever beats competing VR systems on the control front. If you have one, that’s reason alone to check out this version of Doom 3.

The combat in ‘Doom 3’ wasn’t designed for VR

Still, the original Doom 3’s combat wasn’t designed for VR, and it does show. You’ll find yourself needing to use the 180-degree-turn button constantly as enemies move behind you, which really detracts from the otherwise smooth controls. There’s just no escaping the fact that the game was always intended to be played with a mouse and keyboard, for all that this version makes the most of its best control option.

Doom 3: VR Edition is a good port, but it’s also a 2004 PC shooter that’s been adapted to VR, and there’s really only so much you can do with that. If you’re okay with an experience that ignores most of what we’ve learned about modern VR game design, and you have an Aim Controller, it’s a reasonable way to spend a few demon-destroying hours. But there are better VR shooters — and there are better ways to play Doom 3.

Doom 3: VR Edition is out now on the PlayStation 4. A PlayStation VR headset is required.

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