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Doom 3 VR Edition Review: Hell on Mars

Work, rest and slay.

Video games rarely age well. Advancement in technologies, ever increasing budgets and lessons learned from the plethora of successes and failures over the years have resulted in the quality of this medium improving exponentially. For this reason it’s all too easy to look back fondly of a game you loved when it was new, but returning to it 10 or more years later can sometimes bring with it some disappointment.

Doom 3 was the first game that ever made me feel genuine fear and for that reason alone it has always been a game that I remembered fondly. But after completing it a few times in 2004 I never returned to it due to the fear that my rose coloured memories of it might be tainted by the reality of a game that was great for its time, but imperfect.

The prospect of the VR Edition was too much for me to resist. Despite problems with VR, generally speaking, I’ve always enjoyed the immersion and scale it brings to games when executed effectively. That said, if you ever stepped foot in Doom VFR you’ll understand why I did my best to keep my excitement for Doom 3 VR Edition on a short leash. In case I didn’t make it clear, Doom VFR wasn’t great.

First and foremost, it’s important to know that this version of Doom 3 is not a full remaster. Sure the resolution is up and some important changes have been made to integrate VR but in many ways this still looks like a 17 year old game with a touch of polish. Clearly due to the tech available at the time, character models and animations look a bit off, and lighting, while ahead of its time doesn’t compare to today’s standard.

The same applies to how the game plays. VR features aside, Doom 3 is dated. Enemies behave predictably and are therefore unintimidating. In combat the difficulty curve steepens only as enemy numbers increase enemy types have little real impact. Further, the gameplay loop of reaching dead ends until you either find a PDA (aka key) or switch granting you access to a new area has not aged well. But again, this is a re-release of sorts so being aware of that and keeping it in the forefront of your mind while playing makes these matters easy to forgive in the same way you can look fondly on old 8-bit console games like Mario Bros. even after having played their more recent releases.

What VR brings to Doom 3 is a sense of scale and an extra level of immersion that makes it a much richer experience. It’s already well known for its use of lighting to create atmosphere as few titles had done it to this extent at the time. Levels are full of pitch black corners and corridors for enemies to hide in, not to mention the one-off scripted events that effectively extract a jump scare or two. The ye olde visuals understandably reduce the impact these events will have on a player but thanks to VR, some (not all) of the fear is regained by the 3D element.

While you’re not likely to find yourself feeling genuinely scared throughout the experience like you might have if you played more recent VR horror titles, in Doom 3 VR Eddition there are instances where you’ll feel a little less comfortable than you would have if you were playing this 17-year-old game on an old school CRT TV or monitor. To add to this, instances which might have not even intended on being scary moments in the original game — such as an enemy laying in wait around a corner, or a pair of glowing eyes approaching you from the darkness — can be quite unsettling in VR. To be clear, VR doesn’t make Doom 3 a new game, but it most certainly makes an old classic much better.

At the same time though, the VR element can also draw attention to the visual limitations of the game in some instances. Wall textures appear obviously flat if viewed from certain angles and frames appear to drop when turning your head at speed causing some eye strain. If playing with a DualShock 4 controller, aiming your weapon can be challenging and awkward due to some pretty severe drifting issues.

The latter is not nearly as much of an issue if you happen to own the Playstation 4 Aim controller, which changes how everything works for the better and is without a doubt the best way to experience Doom 3. That said, with both controller options there were instances in which my weapon would either hover right in front of my line of sight, or appear several meters off in the distance. These problems are quickly alleviated with a quick shake of the controller and my assumption is that this is more a failing with the PSVR hardware which we should remember is not only four years old but was also a budget entry into VR to begin with.

One gripe that I must bring to the table is an issue that has bothered me since the Doom 3 Resurection of Evil expansion was released in 2005. Developers and Doom fans, prepare to collectively roll your eyes over that damn flashlight. In the first version of Doom 3, you were made to choose between walking corridors either with a weapon drawn or a torch lighting your way, but never both at the same time. While a little annoying to begin with, this mechanic forced you to fully experience the creepy lighting of the game as it was intended.

Not only did it ensure you would fall victim to demons hiding in shadows, but it forced you to either fight them in pitch black darkness or retreat to the few well lit areas accessible. It was terrifying and challenging to boot. When the Resurrection of Evil expansion was released, the flashlight was then mounted to your pistol and in the BFG Edition that followed, every weapon had a light attached. For me this took away almost everything that made Doom 3 amazing in its day.

Doom 3 VR Edition includes all the past expansions and and with that, the BFG Edition version of the flashlight applies throughout. Considering how divisive this issue was back in the day, I had high hopes that an option for the original flashlight mechanic would be included. Sadly I’ve been left wanting though the option to turn the torch off with the left trigger is there so instead I’ve played through the game intentionally refusing to use the torch during combat. The experience is better this way.

Doom 3 was an excellent game in its day. Said day is long gone now and the limitations of the technology and the more simplistic gameplay loop are much more prominent 17 years later. While VR definitely makes things better by making the the world feel a little more real, the enemies feel a little larger and adding in the ability to free aim your weapons — all without being too gimmicky — it’s not enough to warrant a purchase of new VR gear if you don’t already have it.

If you already have PlayStation VR though, Doom 3 VR Edition‘s sub-$30 AUD price point is well worth it. Especially if you loved the experience at its original launch.

# out of 10

The good

  • A nostalgic romp through a classic game made better with VR.
  • VR makes it scary in new ways.

The bad

  • Shows its age.
  • Torch mechanics ruin it.

Doom 3 VR Edition was reviewed using a PS4 promotional code, played on PS5 via backwards compatibility, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.

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About the author

Jay Ball

I'm a big fan of older consoles and can flawlessly complete the first 2 levels of Donkey Kong Country with my eyes closed. These days I still play platformers but also love shooters, arcade racers and action adventure titles. I may or may not be in denial about the death of rhythm games.