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DOOM VFR

Monday, December 11, 2017

I've seen a lot of negativity towards this game on the internet. A lot of people have been criticising it, and it currently has a Mixed (58%) rating on Steam. Knowing that the game seemed to have some issues, I went into it with a positive mindset. I didn't think it could be so bad. I thought that surely, if I go in without expecting too much, I can have fun killing some demons with some great music.

I don't normally review games, but I'm making an exception for DOOM VFR. I'll take you through the short story of me playing this game, and hopefully you will find that helpful. Keep in mind that this was reviewed with the Vive.

The Main Menu

The first thing I did was load the game, and when you do this you will hopefully reach the main menu (Figure 1 shows the Settings menu, a sub-section of the Main menu). Some people have been complaining of crashes on launch, but I have not experienced this issue. The main menu is where the more minor issues began for me. In every VR game I've played, you either touch menu items with your hands, or you point at them with some sort of laser that fires out of your hand, as you do in the SteamVR overlay. I went in expecting that this would be a laser-approach, and was fine with that; but the implementation could have been better.

Figure 1: The Settings Menu

Take a look at the menu above, in Figure 1. Let's say you want to change the anti-aliasing mode. You point at Video on the left and pull the trigger, point at Anti-Aliasing and pull the trigger, and repeat to select an option from the drop-down. Now we've done that, so we want to check out the Advanced section. Sounds simple. We just point at Advanced, pull the trigger, and the Advanced section opens, right?

What happens when you pull the trigger now is that mysteriously, the anti-aliasing drop-down re-opens, and you end up re-selecting your anti-aliasing settings (See end of video in Figure 7). You try clicking something else, and the same thing happens. After half a minute of this, you notice some small red writing off to the bottom-left of the menu, which is behind the Vive wand in the image, and which says you need to use the left trigger to go back, and the right trigger to go forward. To get out of the Video menu, I had to pull the left trigger. Why did they do this? I don't know. It's very counter intuitive, and inside VR, it's not easy to see the tiny instructions off to the bottom left. They should be placed much closer to the menu, or better yet, the controls should be improved. Additionally, due to these controls, you're out of luck if you're left handed, because the pointing and clicking needs to be done with the right wand.

Furthermore, some of these menus are scrollable. SteamVR also has scrollable menus, and we scroll them in one of two ways; We either click and drag the scrollbar, or we scroll on the touchpad. I tried dragging the scroll bar, and nothing happened. I tried scrolling the touchpad, and that didn't work either. After a little bit of fiddling, I realised that you have to actually click the top or bottom of the touch pad to scroll. This is another example of entirely counter-intuitive behaviour that does not fit with standard SteamVR behaviour, and this one doesn't even have a barely-visible line of text to tell you; or not one that I could see.

As if this isn't bad enough, the menus also try to be smart. They rotate with your head. You look left, and they rotate with you. You lean in, and they move back, because they want to keep the same distance from your face at all times. This is quite annoying when you try to lean in to get a better look at things, and the menu just moves away from you.

Hands and Aiming

After the main menu, you'll reach the first in-game scene. In case you want to play this yourself, I'll avoid any spoilers; but this is where you get a glimpse of what's wrong with the gameplay. The first thing I saw was my hands, but they didn't seem right. It's not something I can show in a picture, but the positioning is quite off. Not only are they angled wrong, but they are too far away from the controllers. It's like you're holding onto someone else's wrists, and it feels wrong.

Some stuff happens, and you shortly reach some demons to kill. I noticed immediately that the aiming was off. On top of that, due to the hands being implemented so poorly, with the angle being off and the hands being too far away, aiming didn't feel natural. I decided to investigate this further and made some rather shocking discoveries. Not only is the aiming off, but the "bullets" don't even fire from your gun. What's worse is that where your bullets hit is heavily influenced by the position of your head, and isn't purely determined by your aim. I used my friend Shadowplay to record a video of this. See it below in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Aiming

The video shows a test where I do my best to keep the gun perpendicular to the wall and aimed at the same spot. You can see that as I move my head, the impact site of the bullets changes drastically. On first inspection, it may appear that this is caused by head rotation; however, I think the cause of it happening under head rotations is actually the position change of the headset, since it moves from one side of your head to the other. This first conclusion is also cleared up by the following tests, where I move side to side and crouch.

Having seen how the aiming works, you may be wondering what happens if you try to shoot around a corner. As expected, this is something that you cannot do in DOOM VFR. See an example in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3 - Aiming Around Corners

Teleportation

The game uses a teleportation system for moving around. You can hold the touchpad to slow time and aim an arc, which is rather like The Lab aside from the time slowing. You can also press up, down, left or right to do a quick dash in each direction. Whilst dashing, I noticed some irregularities. After dashing, the game would sometimes correct my position. See the video in Figure 4 for an example.

Figure 4: Dash Teleport

In the video, you can see that after some dashes, the game pushes me by a small amount. It's like a correction to my teleportation. It's more difficult to see when played back like this, but in VR it's a bit jarring.

Additionally, for whatever reason, your height seems to be re-calculated after each dash. From my testing, it seems that the doomguy you play as needs to have a certain height, and no matter how tall you are, the game adjusts your virtual height to match this. So for example, if you dash whilst crouched, then the game now thinks you are a dwarf, so when you stand back up you are much taller. This is an unfortunate design choice. See Figure 5 below for a video example.

Figure 5 - Teleport Height Issue

The slow-mo teleport doesn't always work, and can be quite problematic to use. See Figure 6 below. This video does a good job of illustrating teleportation issues, and my resultant difficulty in obtaining a collectable. In the video, I attempt to teleport into a small area next to some old and broken arcade machines, but the teleport beam is red, meaning I can't get there. Naturally, I assume that area is inaccessible, so I crouch down to attempt to obtain the collectable from on top of the box. This gives me some trouble, and I later discover that you can reach that area, but you have to try from a different angle. After finally reaching the area, I also discover that not all of the arcade machines are broken.

Figure 6 - Turkey Punch

Misdirection

After fighting with the teleportation system, Figure 7 shows a video of me trying to do something - I wasn't sure what. The prompt said to "Pull Trigger", and that's what I tried to do... for about three minutes. Yes, three minutes; so please excuse the language.

Figure 7: Pull Trigger

I struggled with this for about 30 seconds before recording, and then went to turn on Shadowplay. I tried all manner of things. I tried using both the triggers, as I remembered my experience with the menus. I tried holding them, mashing them... I tried aiming with my head, having remembered another lesson from my aiming tests. It just would not work.

Not only did I struggle with seemingly broken controls for another two and a half minutes, but after that video I had to call it quits. I was pretty annoyed, and had I not purchased the key from Amazon, I would have already refunded this game. I wasn't happy at that point.

After exiting VR, I looked up a guide for this section and found that you need another part first. You collect a part for the teleporter, and then you can attach it here. I didn't have that part, but the game didn't tell me that. Rather than telling me to pull the trigger, it should have read "Part Needed", or similar. The developers unfortunately didn't account for a case where you reach this before collecting the teleporter part.

Visuals and Performance

This review has been rather critical so far; Is it all DOOM and gloom? Well, the game looks quite good. It has inherited nice models, textures, particle effects and more from its sibling DOOM 2016. I found the game to look quite crisp, contrary to some people's experiences, where they've said it was blurry. I think this is caused by Doom using an adaptive resolution system, and as I'm running it on a 1080Ti, I get good resolution. If you play with a lower-end GPU, then the adaptive resolution may not be so nice to you. I got a glimpse of the adaptive resolution system in action during the video presented in Figure 2, near to the end of the video. The game froze for a few seconds and then came back at lower resolution, and at that resolution it did look quite blurry. I've also experienced these types of complete freezes on several other occasions.

The next day, I went back in. I wouldn't have, but since I'd committed to writing a review, I decided to give it another go to get a better view of things. This time, I got a much better look at the adaptive resolution system, as I was stuck on the lowest end of it. The visuals were now horrible, and I had constant reprojection. It was unplayable.

I took off the headset, and looked in Task Manager. With the Windows 10 Fall Creator's Update, you can now see GPU usage in Task Manager, which is very handy. I could see that DOOM was using only a few percent of my GPU, and no more. This explained the visual and performance problems - the hardware I had was no longer being utilized; but why?

I googled around and found that this was due to forcing Vsync in my graphics control panel. As I use a Gsync monitor, I force global Vsync in the Nvidia Control Panel. For my first Day of Doom, I had this off. For the second day, I had it back on, and this caused Doom to perform horrifically. To solve this, I added a new profile in the Nvidia Control Panel for DOOM VFR, and set Vsync to use whatever the game wants.

Combat

I didn't enjoy the combat in earlier encounters, but I think that was largely due to fighting the controls. The more demons I encountered, the more I enjoyed killing them. By this point, I'd largely got to grips with the teleportation systems, and had some fun dodging around and shooting demons. The main issue I faced was with weapon selection, as sometimes it was difficult to open up the weapon wheel, which is done by clicking the center of the right touchpad. Clicking to the left or right changes between your latest two weapons, and it's easy to mis-click, especially in the heat of battle. I also encountered a glitch where I couldn't fire my equipped weapon, and couldn't change weapons either - unless switching to the pistol, which solved it.

The combat itself is quite fun, and I find the weapons to be satisfying. See Figure 8 for a video of two battles from later in the game, so you can get an idea of how the combat works. The weapons can create some highly satisfying dismemberment, blowing the demons to pieces. The level of detail is very impressive. Seeing the demons just split into pieces like that in VR is quite a special experience.

Some people have been complaining about the teleportation system, and have been saying that smooth locomotion (meaning regular WASD-style movement) should have been an option. I think that generally speaking, options can't hurt; but the teleportation makes a lot of sense here. The dash teleport is highly useful for dodging, and the slow mo teleport is great for taking a short breather and observing your surroundings. DOOM is a fast paced game, but in VR, there are times where you need to slow things down for a moment. This also allows you to take in the sights, and see some of the epicness of a demon preparing to throw a fireball at you, or a huge demon jumping at you.

Figure 8: Combat

Conclusion

I've illustrated several issues with this game, such as the bad aiming and sometimes-bad teleportation systems; but what does that mean for the game as a whole? This review was originally much more critical, but the more that I've played this game, the more I've grown to enjoy it. It clearly has issues and it's a bit rough around the edges, but I'm sure most of that is due to this game being a conversion of a pancake game, rather than being developed for VR from the start. Whilst it is not the same game as DOOM 2016, many of the underlying systems will have been re-used, and I'm sure this presented challenges in adapting those systems to VR.

After getting better with the controls, the combat became fun; even without being able to shoot around corners. Visually, the game has a lot of quality. The effects are great, and seeing a demon jumping at you in slow motion is awesome. You can create huge messes of demons with weapons that feel good to use, in typical DOOM style, and see everything in Virtual Reality. The more I played, the more I wanted to come back to it.

Would I rather play the next DOOM in VR or pancake mode? That's a good question to answer. If you like DOOM in pancake mode, then adding VR amplifies all of the details. It has a few issues, but it's worth giving this game a chance to impress you; there's nothing like seeing a demon explode right in front of you in gruesome detail. If Id makes another DOOM game, which I hope they will, then I also hope they make it fully playable in VR, because this is the new way to play. This game is DOOMED... but in a good way ;-)

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