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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Free Lives
Release Date: May 19, 2020

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PS VR Review - 'Gorn'

by Andreas Salmen on July 22, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Gorn is a ludicrously violent VR gladiator simulator featuring a unique, fully physics-driven combat engine where combatants creatively execute their most violent coliseum fantasies.

Few games stand out on the virtual reality platform. Killer apps for VR are rare, and almost every other release is a half-finished tech demo. Even worse, many of them recycle the same formula, and for the longest time, VR felt like a platform for mediocre hand-to-hand or sword-based combat. Gorn wasn't perfect on the PC, but it didn't succumb to mediocrity; it exemplified everything fun about VR, and it was enjoyable for beginners and tenured VR players alike.

That was almost three years ago, and much has changed. Gorn was recently ported to PSVR, and while it was initially met with excitement, the question is how well the game can perform on the PS4 system and headset, which are inferior to an up-to-date PC rig. Tracking is severely limited, but Gorn proves that its concept and foundation are solid enough to survive the jump to PSVR almost unscathed.

In Gorn, we are a gladiator in an arena, and we must kill everything that comes through the gates with your fists, an assortment of bladed and blunt weaponry, or a special gadget like crab claws or a grappling hook. It's a sandbox brawler that's been polished, and it has enough content to keep your attention for longer than 30 minutes. It also provides a fun workout in the process. Since we're in VR, everything is done with our hands: grab a weapon, bash in a head, and throw someone into the stands. It's a VR title where it's easy to drop in and start playing, even if you're not too familiar with it.

What sets apart Gorn from similar games is its simple concept. You step into the arena with a big-headed Caesar towering above you, and he's demanding that blood be spilled. Despite the cartoon visuals, dismemberment is a core tenet of Gorn, and opponents can be taken apart with an appropriate amount liquid spilling forth. It's not as gruesome as it sounds thanks to the cartoon visuals, but if you're sensitive, this may not be your cup of tea. You can turn off the "blood" option and replace it with candy, basically turning your opponents into piñatas.

In the arenas, we fight to grow in size as we ascend the ranks, but the tasks remain the same. We have a specific weapon for every round and must kill everything that moves. Enemies are stupid at best, but they pose a risk in numbers as they stumble toward you while wildly swinging their weapons. They are slow and easy to take down in theory, but a few factors complicate the situation. Some of them are armored, so the location of your strike makes a difference. If they are armored around the head, why not take off their arms and legs? While that makes me sound like a destabilized psychopath, there will be instances when you dance around the dismembered but still-crawling corpses of a gladiator army while giggling to yourself. It's this weird and goofy gore that makes the game "charming."

Arenas offer some pits and spikes to throw enemies in, but generally, they look quite similar. Once we finish a level, we face off against a boss. I usually found the moment-to-moment gameplay to be far more challenging than the boss fights. There are four difficulty settings to choose from, and it basically modifies the health and damage numbers.

Challenging encounters may not be entirely reliant on skill but rather on a finicky control scheme. Gorn only allows for a single control scheme that is clearly designed for beginners. With the Move controllers, which are the only supported input method, we move forward by grabbing the world with the move button and then pulling or pushing away. While this supposedly helps with motion sickness, it's unusual, and I couldn't get the hang of it for a while. I'd prefer to have an option to move smoothly via button press or even teleport around. The control scheme can be difficult to navigate at times, especially when you're swarmed by enemies. It even takes away from the fun, since it can be a pain to get around, especially in larger arenas. On the flip side, it's probably the best workout that I've had so far in a VR title.

This is further elevated by the limited tracking capabilities of PSVR. Since the system can only track you when you're facing the camera and not 360 degrees in a given space like many PCVR headsets, you can't offset the controls by physically moving around, and you must use the Move controllers to orient yourself. Be prepared for some frustrating moments because of this, since you don't strictly have a health bar. As soon as you're struck, the field of view narrows as you bleed out. The only way to save your skin is by landing a kill. Given the exaggerated physics, weird movement and restricted view, it can be frustratingly tough to get a kill when it matters the most. You'll frequently run into other enemies or get stuck on their weapons while you're desperately trying to break free and finish off someone to restore some of your health.

Another friendly piece of advice: You'll be moving and flailing your hands around a lot. Gorn is one of the few VR games where I ran into issues in terms of space. It's very easy to move from the spot you're in and even easier to damage your surroundings — and yourself. Be aware of that and take precautions before jumping in. That's also the reason why the game constantly displays a strict grid to keep you from moving too far from your current spot. While that is appreciated, the feature cannot be turned off at the moment. Tracking worked well for me as long as I was front and center. There were some instances when tracking got a bit wonky, but I'd chalk that up to the PSVR side, rather than Gorn.

I'm also not quite satisfied with the quality of the port in the graphics department. It's perfectly serviceable, but it can get incredibly blurry as soon as objects are a short distance away. Since we've seen much better ports of much bigger games, it's unfortunate that Gorn on a PS4 Pro doesn't look much different to the title playing on the base system. Performance is solid, and apart from blurry textures, there isn't much to complain about.

In addition to the nine levels that will probably take a handful of hours to complete, Gorn also features an endless mode and a sandbox mode. The latter lets you pull a few sliders to activate effects, such as god mode, altered gravity, and strength. This is where you can literally knock yourself out. I started up this mode for some mindless fun that easily doubled as a light workout, given all of the flailing and dragging going on. This is where the concept clicks, since we can use all of the unlocked weapons to our heart's content. Given the sheer number of weapons, you'll likely find enough to do here to keep yourself busy for a while.

Gorn has aged reasonably well. Sure, there are bigger and prettier games available, but few of them match the almost cathartic and brutal fun that Gorn so innately delivers. It works well enough in PSVR to warrant a purchase if you're OK with its limitations. The controls are frustrating and more limited on PSVR than elsewhere, and visuals are clearly a step down, but the core experience is still intact. If that fits the bill for you, it can be a blast, so ready your fist and blade and enter the arena. Just don't lose a limb.

Score: 7.5/10

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