Review: Golem (PSVR)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • PlayStation VR Required
  • DualShock 4 Optional (1)
  • Move Required (1)
  • PS VR Aim Controller None
Title: Golem
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (8.50 GB)
Release Date: November 15, 2019
Publisher: Perp Games
Developer: Highwire Games
Original MSRP: $39.99 (USD)
ESRB Rating: M
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Golem was a tough game to score. On one hand, the game has been incubating for years (announced in 2015). On the same hand, little-to-no detailed information – or gameplay – has been shown for the game, aside from the original trailer and some in-game footage from a few years ago. So, while initial footage looked interesting, I didn’t even know what type of game I was playing until I pressed ‘start’.

After spending a few hours with the game, I can describe it as a rogue-lite type game (gulp) with a slower pace, a brilliant combat system (particularly for VR), and an interesting story that’s told through memory crystals as you explore ruins of a lost city.

Exploring the city is done through your powers as a Dreamer. Your character is not able to visit the city on her own, as she was paralyzed during a tragic accident. However, because of her abilities, she is able to possess golems and traverse the city by proxy.

Golems can be equipped with weapons and items found throughout the city, but like any true rogue-lite game, when you die, you lose any items on you are wearing. As annoying as someone like me finds this, there are plenty of swords and items littered throughout the ruins, so I never really found myself without a weapon to wield.

Where this does become a bit frustrating is when you collect a new mask. You use masks for defensive and offensive augmentations, but more importantly, you use them to gain access through doorways locked with the same emblems as your mask.

Problem is that when you loot the mask from a golem, you can’t just go straight to the doors and unlock them. You have to ditch your golem, return to your workshop and put on the mask from there, thus losing the weapons you were currently wearing.

This itself wasn’t too frustrating, but I experienced a game crash after looting a mask that was not easy to attain. And I lost the mask when I rebooted the game. The game doesn’t really let you know when you it’s saving.

Another area of absolute brilliance (and equal frustration) was the locomotion system. You only need one Move controller to play Golem. That’s because Highwire games developed a method of locomotion that uses the lean of your body to move. When they first mentioned this years ago, my first reaction was, “Why?”. Plenty of working locomotion schemes have been developed over the years and have worked great, even with PSVR’s limited controllers. So why fix what isn’t broken?

But when I actually tried it, I have to admit, I was somewhat impressed. By holding the trigger on the Move controller and leaning your body slightly, your golem will begin to walk in that direction. This includes strafing and backing away. Under normal circumstances, it feels very natural and works well when you’re exploring, for example. But, often, I’d run into a small impassible object in the game, and the camera would start rotating slowly. Now, I’m a VR vet. I can play games like Wipeout with all of the comfort settings turned off. But when your camera starts rotating slowly without your motivation, even I can start feeling a little sick.

Additionally, sometimes the game would lose sync of where my body center was. The result was that maybe I was leaning forward to walk forward, but my golem would stand completely still. Basically, the game thought that my forward lean was my center position and I had to lean even further to move. The simple way to get around this was to release the trigger, center my body on the chair, and lean forward again. Not the end of the world, except…

Combat.

Combat is one of the more engaging aspects of Golem. And while it starts simple enough, I swear that I really learned some fencing techniques by playing this game. Not only are you parrying swords and spears with what feels like true physics, but often I’d block something on pure instincts and the game would let me have the block, even if my angle wasn’t exactly what the game recommended.

But locomotion is also part of the combat, like when you want to back off a golem after striking it to avoid a retaliatory swing. Well, if I’m leaning forward to strike it, and the game forgets my center, then when I lean back my golem wouldn’t move and I’d get hit.

All of this can be remedied with the second control option available in the game: the use of the DualShock controller. Nowhere does the game tell you that you can use the DualShock to walk around, but if you pick up the controller, you can just start using the left joystick to walk. This makes traveling a lot easier, as does it for combat maneuvering.

Even though I’d often want to throw my headset because a golem killed me with what must have been a “cheap shot,” I still found myself wanting to go back and try again, and again. And through it all, I felt that I was learning how to really use a sword to deflect and repost.

I was also intrigued by the slowly-developing narrative that was going on through the memories of my character’s mother.

Visuals:
Golem is definitely one of the better-looking PSVR games. While there aren’t a lot of characters in the game, the opening cinematics include some vibrantly animated NPCs that indicate that some time was spent on presentation. The entire opening could have been told with scrolling text. Instead, time was spent developing your family so that you could truly feel what led to your tragic accident.

Similarly, there are various minor elements throughout the game that indicate attention to detail. For example, some of the weapons include small chain links that jingle and react when you shake the weapon. If you look at your own shoulders, you will see tattered material flowing in the wind and reacting to your movements.

The ruined city is also a wonder to behold, with crumbling debris everywhere you traverse and some fantastic lighting and a fog (dust) system that tells a story where there is none.

On the animation side, I also found some incredible things going on with the combat system. Yes, VR has a long way to go in compensating for things like weight and piercing geometry with your weapons and such. But Golem truly made me feel like my weapon could be used to deflect attacks in way that I personally hadn’t experienced.

One example was after knocking a golem down to his knees. For a few tries, they always reacted with a swipe that almost always hit me, because I wasn’t expecting it. After a few fails, my instinct kicked in and I was able to get my blade up just in time to block the wild attack, but I blocked it before it became a full swing, so I actually held the blade at bay and pushed the enemy back.

Other times, the attacks were so fast that I had to just let instincts kick in. It started feeling great to battle these things, when the locomotion wasn’t hurting my positioning, particularly when fighting the bigger golems that could pierce my defenses, so movement was my only option.

Audio:
The narrative here is told via memory crystals that you find in the environment. The acting is top tier, in both the visually represented characters, but also in the voice of your in-game mother, who shares stories of the past via these memory crystals.

But the thing that stuck with me is the musical score. So moved was I by it, that I ended up buying the CD for it. Haunting and appropriately themed, it held a melody that carried the game forward during emotional moments.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
The overall experience was one that I kept coming back to. I would get killed, swear I wouldn’t play for another day, then immediately put the headset back on and say, “just one more time.”

I felt that a part of me probably learned some real sword skills because of the brilliant combat system, but I also grew frustrated when the locomotion system got me killed. Fortunately, Highwire Games included that option for the DualShock controller, and here’s to hoping they add support for that old Navigation controller that’s still in a box somewhere.

The narrative was brilliant, and very personal, if not grand, but fit perfectly into this lonely world hidden underneath ruins of a forgotten age.

Score:

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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