At QuakeCon this year we tried two very familiar experiences in virtual reality.
We were bitterly disappointed to miss out on the Fallout 4 VR demo at E3 in June, so when the opportunity presented itself to head back to the wasteland via virtual reality during QuakeCon in Dallas, Texas, we jumped at the opportunity. But it wasn't just a Fallout demo, Bethesda also had Doom VR on hand for our viewing pleasure.
And so we queued patiently and eventually got stuck into a VR demo that took us to the wasteland of the future, followed by a trip to the seventh level of hell (or thereabouts) for some demon slaying. Positively speaking, neither experience caused vomiting or nausea, which is always a good thing. Both demos were played on a powerful rig packing two GT 1080s in SLI, so as you can imagine the visual fidelity was high (on Doom at least, Fallout looked as rough around the edges as you'd expect) on the HTC Vive we were wearing.
Fallout first. Movement is the standard point and teleport system. As a means of getting around a digital space it works fine, even if it is immersion breaking in the extreme. Using the Vive's left hand controller we were able to point where in the environment we wanted to be, before a simple click teleported us there directly. It's simple, and it works (and when trying to dodge the unfriendly advances of a deathclaw, being able to instantaneously teleport out of harm's way is extremely helpful).
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The demo was a wave based affair, set in the Red Rocket garage from early on in the campaign. Most of you who have played the game will know it well. While you're there you can interact with the workbench and send Dogmeat on an errand, but the main bulk of our time was spent shooting our shotgun (it required no reloading and didn't run out of ammo during the demo) at a wave of raiders, and later at the aforementioned deathclaw.
Did it work? Kind of. The teleporting makes it a different game entirely, and we're considering how this'll work beyond the demo in the garage. The word on the street is that when the VR version launches next year we'll have access to the full open world, but it remains to be seen if players are going to want to teleport around the wasteland like Corvo on steroids; Fallout's biggest asset is the atmosphere and sense of place, both of which suffer if you're blinking around the map instead of walking.
As a demo it was fine. It showed us how the world will look in VR, and it proves that there's elements that'll work really well (we particularly enjoyed pulling our arm up to look at the PipBoy). Similarly, base building will be nice and simple with the point and click motion controls. Will that be enough to persuade us to delve back into the wasteland and play it in this new and potentially more immersive way? We remain undecided and await its release next year so we can take an extended look at what it has to offer.
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Next Doom. We played through four arenas in this demonic VR experience. The first was a scene setter, with four tables from which we could see our options in terms of weapons, as well as check out the monsters that we were about to meet. Kind of like speed dating (albeit it with rocket launchers and demons).
At first we got the slightest twinge of a headache, a dose of mild motion sickness, and thus we were a little worried about what was to come, but we needn't have been. The next arena started, and we were doing what Doom does best: shooting monsters. They came at us from all angles. The motion sickness was gone now, and we were lost in the moment, oblivious to our surroundings.
There were several weapons to choose from, (the pistol, assault rifle, pulse rifle, rocket launcher, minigun, and so on) but our favourite was the shotgun, it was fast, and it was easy to shoot monstrous heads off. One thing we weren't great with was the frag grenade, and too often they landed at our feet instead of exploding near our enemies. We'd have liked more time to master this part of the game.
The third arena was a bit more challenging. We had to move, once again teleporting, this time around a big arena. There were a lot of opportunities for monster shooting, and we were even on the end of a few jump scares, which we enjoyed in a perverse way. The arena itself was rocky, with a mountainous backdrop and plenty of hiding places.
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The last arena featured a boss fight. We had a bunch of weapons and we were fighting The Spider Mastermind. Move fast, shoot fast. We were teleporting around, blasting away, and generally having a good time as we went. While at first we were skeptical, hesitant even, by the end we were convinced. Doom worked great in VR, and we'd reload our shotgun and go again if we were given the chance.
So two distinct experiences, and two slightly contrasting impressions. Fallout and Doom, on a mechanical level at least, weren't entirely dissimilar, with waves of enemies descending on the player while they teleported around and blasted away in self defence. The key difference is Fallout is not a shooter first and foremost, whereas Doom is and the format felt a more natural fit as a result. We'd like to see more of both, the former to find out how Bethesda are integrating VR into the wider game, the latter so we can blast demons in the face once more.