Doom May Have Solved VR's Traversal Problem
Warp speed ahead.
There's a glaring, unavoidable issue facing every developer who dares to venture into virtual reality: how do you handle movement? The answer for many creators--especially those making first-person shooters--has been some form of teleportation. Rather than risking motion sickness by letting players sprint straight ahead, they allow you to warp around the map with some sort of point-and-shoot traversal mechanic. It works, but it's clumsy and often jarring, especially since it's easy to lose your bearings while magically popping from the place to place in first-person.
Doom VR takes this same tact but ends up feeling far more elegant thanks to a few subtle yet crucial tweaks. Rather than instantly shifting the camera from point A to point B, Doom makes you feel like you're dashing through the world with super speed: when you hold down the trigger of HTC Vive's left handheld controller, the world slows down, the audio drops into a deep rumble, and a bright blue aiming cursor appears. When you release the trigger, you see the world rush past as you dart to your selected destination. Being able to see how you got to where you're going while feeling like a time-bending badass in the process feels worlds better than the instantaneous, unceremonious perspective shift found in other VR games.
In fact, it works so well, it actually enhances the intensity of Doom's already frantic action. During a recent hands-on demo at QuakeCon, I found myself locked in a circular, metallic hallway filled with infinitely-spawning mancubi, cacodemons, revenant soldiers...basically every iconic Doom enemy imaginable. Seeing those familiar creatures up close in VR was breathtakingly cool, but that's no surprise--immersion is what VR does well. Far more impressively, I had an absolute blast warping through the environment with the new bullet-time-meets-traversal system.
When waves of snarling monsters rushed towards me, I would whip my head around in search of open areas I could target with the glowing traversal cursor, frantically chaining together multiple consecutive teleports with my left hand while still firing off rockets with my right. I eventually found myself crossing my arms and even aiming behind my head to avoid enemy flanks and maximize my chances of survival. Where many VR shooters end up being dull, on-rails shooting galleries, Doom's unique movement mechanic turned every area into a dynamic, open arena, and instead of letting enemies shamble straight at me, I could blink all around them like Dishonored's Corvo Attano. In short: I was having fun not in spite of the traversal mechanic but because of the traversal mechanic.
It certainly didn't hurt that Doom VR looks excellent, though. It retains most of the visual detail of the recently released (and well reviewed) full game, as well as many of the series' signature weapons: I used the plasma rifle, super shotgun, rocket launcher, and long-range pistol during my run, and even got to lob a grenade by actually swinging my arm. Like the movement, the aiming and shooting controls felt smooth and clearly communicated.
What's not clear, however, is the structure and scope of Doom VR. Will we be able to play the entire Doom campaign in VR? Possibly, but the developers have yet to confirm or deny anything. For now, my demo featured a selection of unrelated environments that were stitched together by an in-game narrator (communicating by radio or intercom) who would matter of factly inform me he was saving me from certain annihilation as he beamed me from one dangerous situation to the next.
After starting in a quiet marine laboratory filled with weapons and enemy holograms to examine, I was quickly thrust into a looping, inescapable metal hallway that was rapidly filling with monsters. After that, I was beamed "somewhere safer" and ended up on a rocky pillar in the middle of hell. Finally I found myself in a dark cavern occupied by the Spider Mastermind, whose fleshy brain spurted blood as his massive, scorpion-like claws swiped at me. I was terrified, awestruck, and--shortly thereafter--dead.
Clearly Doom VR doesn't intend to shy away from boss battles or other major set piece moments, though there's really no way to predict how many we'll find in the final product. But regardless of how deep the full experience ends up being, my QuakeCon demo put Doom VR's earlier E3 showing to shame and gave us a reason to be optimistic for its predicted (but unconfirmed) 2017 release.
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