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Golem (PSVR)

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Perp Games
Developer: Highwire Game
Release Date: Nov. 19, 2019 (US), Nov. 15, 2019 (EU)

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PS VR Review - 'Golem'

by Andreas Salmen on May 8, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

In Golem, you take on the role of Twine, an adventurous kid who has been left critically injured by a serious accident. While you can’t leave your bed, you develop an extraordinary ability to create and control large stone golems and see the world through their eyes.

Announced for PSVR in its earliest days, Golem took years to see a release date, and there wasn't much information in between. While its initial announcement looked intriguing, I wasn't sure what to expect or what the game would eventually entail. There's a decent game buried under questionable design decisions and a lot of motion sickness.

In Golem, we control a child named Twine in a city surrounded by a magical barrier that humans cannot pass. Behind that barrier are the ruins of an old city full of treasures and secrets, and our family of scavengers is keen to find and sell it for a profit. Thankfully, we have some magic running in our bloodline that lets us control golems, which are towering beings that can pass through the barrier unscathed. That's the setup in broad strokes, and the game makes a very good first impression in terms of story and introducing you to the world. Initially, the game restricts most of our movements and sits us down for a series of cut scenes, which is an odd decision for a VR game, but thankfully, it looks so good that some sitting around is easily forgiven.

Golem flexes its visual muscles with very detailed environments and character models that rival any AAA title on PSVR. From the very first moment, ambient audio, dialogue and voice-overs create a surprisingly polished sonic experience. When the game returns control to the gamer and we start to move around the beautiful world, things stop going in its favor. Bound to the bed in her room, Twine uses a magic wand to possess inanimate objects like the golem and puppets.

Our first steps are as a puppet that falls off the bed and has to make its way across the floorboards to get a golem and explore the old city. This is where we grapple with the controls for the first time. Even after an early patch, Golem's biggest issue is its control scheme and comfort options. We can either move forward using a singular Move controller, which we can use to move our main weapon hand. There is no teleportation in the game, so free locomotion is the only way to move through the world. Instead of using tried-and-true movement controls, Golem goes its own way.

Pressing the trigger on the Move and leaning your head forward or backward moves you back and forth, and you look in a direction to steer. There is turning via button input, but even using this option, Golem frequently gave me motion sickness, and it's the first game to do so in a long time. Throughout its run time, this feeling never completely went away, and it didn't help that I was experiencing some back and neck pain from shifting my body around in awkward positions.

There is an option to use a regular DualShock controller in one hand for movement, but that didn't feel natural or alleviate the motion sickness. The latest patch also added support for the long-forgotten PS3 Nav controller and its joystick for movement. Since I don't possess a Nav, I couldn't test this version, but I'm not holding my breath that it would make the experience better.

That's a shame. Aside from the impressive visuals and sound, the game is pretty decent. We make continuous runs with golems into the city ruins to search for loot and equipment. The game usually gives you free rein, with minimal HUD or intrusions about where to go and what to fetch. There are plenty of secrets to find and golems to slay. While on the lookout for precious wares, other golems and smaller enemies attack you on sight. With our sword, we can deflect archer arrows and kill smaller foes with targeted swipes. Golems need more patience and fencing skills to defeat.

The combat system is quite enjoyable. It's slow and deliberate, which makes sense since we are talking about two massive machines squaring off in sword combat. Enemies visibly telegraph upcoming attacks to strike you down unless your sword is in a good blocking position. Eventually, our defense creates a highlighted opening, which we can use to deal damage. It's relatively simple in theory, but it is a fun way to incorporate sword combat that feels powerful but not overwhelming. It's not the toughest combat, but it quickly scales up, with enemies increasing their attack frequency so you have to pay attention to where strikes are coming from before landing a hit.

There is more to Golem than walking down a few streets and collecting shiny objects to sell. You'll eventually die or come across a locked door. When defeating golems, we acquire gear and masks. Good gear can make the difference between life and death, especially early in the game, and masks are used to open specific doors. While it sounds like a fun Metroidvania approach to an open-world VR game, the system has its flaws. Everything we have equipped, including our masks, is lost upon death. Don't get too attached to your favorite sword or think that a mask will always open a door for you. If you die before you pass through that door and lose the mask, it is back to square one. I'll be honest; it didn't bother me too much, but there were moments when the frequent backtracking would've felt more frustrating than rewarding. It's a delicate balance to strike, and Golem occasionally leans too much into tedium, which makes it difficult to enjoy when it's combined with the sub-par controls and occasional motion sickness.

The game has about seven hours of content, depending on degree of completion and player skill; plenty of hidden secrets and dolls help the player get into areas that we couldn't otherwise explore. It's a fun idea, especially since it's a good gameplay contrast to switch between massive golems and tiny dolls to explore the environment.

Golem is nothing to scoff at. It looks and sounds beautiful, it has an open world that can be explored freely, and the sword combat feels satisfying. On the other hand, cumbersome and awkward controls, a decent amount of motion sickness, and a few frustrating game mechanics prevent the title from reaching its potential. If you have a strong stomach and think you can make do with the controls, Golem will provide some joy, even though it is far from a VR masterpiece.

Score: 5.8/10

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