Most folks don’t love Doom 3, often citing how much slower the game feels compared to old Doom titles. But that slower speed plus its focus on creating a dark, scary atmosphere means that nearly 17 years after its release, Doom 3 ends up being a great VR game. It might even be a better game in VR.
Before I go any further: I like Doom 3. I’ve written about the game before on this site and while it’s not my favorite Doom game, it’s not as bad as some folks will have you believe! Still, it’s impossible to ignore how different Doom 3 is from the games that came before it. But those differences are why I was so intrigued by the idea of Doom 3: VR Edition. This new version of the game was released on PSVR last week and was ported over by developers Archiact.
It’s not just a quick and dirty port either. The devs made some smart changes to help Doom 3 work better as a VR title. Hud elements are moved to your arms and weapons, making it easier to keep track of your ammo and health at a quick glance. Gun models have been improved too, so they look better in VR. Another nice change: The Doomguy in Doom 3 now holds the pistol with two hands. This doesn’t help the VR experience, but it makes me happy and so I’m sharing that fact with you. Archiact did a great job keeping the sharp look of Doom 3 and its shadows intact in PSVR. This isn’t easy! I’ve played many PSVR games that are ugly, fuzzy, and blurry. I imagine Doom 3’s id tech-powered engine helped a lot too.
All the VR improvements are nice, but what really makes Doom 3 so great to play in VR is how the game was built back in the day. Doom 3 rarely throws a ton of enemies at you at once. Combat is slower. And there is a big focus on setting up scares and letting you explore outside combat. This all translates very nicely into virtual reality, where too many enemies or too much constant action can quickly become frustrating or even exhausting.
As an added bonus, Doom 3 in VR scared me all over again! I thought I was finally done being afraid of Doom 3. But in VR, surrounded by creepy whispers and super dark rooms, with only a tiny flashlight to guide me, I was genuinely scared. And when Doom 3 tossed a few jump scares my way, they were much worse on a count of them being shoved directly into my anxious face.
Things aren’t perfect. For one, this is still Doom 3. If you didn’t like Doom 3 and you don’t care about VR, this version is not for you. But you already knew that. I also ran into some minor performance issues. I was playing on a PS4 Pro and sometimes in certain spots I would feel a small bit of slowdown. It’s never frequent or bad enough to make me feel sick, but I also have a strong VR stomach. YMMV.
Even with some issues, this might be the best version of Doom 3. In VR, it feels like a perfect fit and it elevates some parts of the game that always felt lacking.
Doom 3 in VR also has a bit of history behind it. Long ago (in 2012) id co-founder and super programmer John Carmack was letting folks try out a weird VR headset he had custom built. It was covered in duct tape and was his attempt at fixing some of the issues VR was dealing with back then. The game he modded to work with it was Doom 3.
A year after the interview above with Giant Bomb, Carmack would join Oculus and in 2016 the company would release its first consumer-targeted HMD, the Oculus Rift. I have no idea if any of the work Carmack did on Doom 3’s tech ended up in this VR build of the game, though considering how Carmack’s history with Bethesda, probably not. But I still found it a bit wild that about eight years after I first saw Carmack showing off Doom 3 in a weird VR headset he built, I can now play something similar to that 2012 experiment.
Doom 3: VR Edition is out now on PSVR for $20. No PC version is out yet, but I really hope it shows up on PC at some point so folks can tinker with this cool VR port of Doom 3.