Golem has always been a title that piqued my interest, especially since it was actually one of the first games revealed for the PlayStation VR headset back in 2015. I mean, sure, no one really knew what it was or what gameplay comprised of, but there was no denying that controlling big stone-like creatures was going to be ridiculously cool.
Well, after a somewhat rocky development cycle, Golem is finally in the hands of PlayStation VR gamers – did it live up to the hype and meet gamers’ hefty expectations though, or has it turned out to be a bit of a virtual reality dud?
Golem puts players in the role of Twine, a young ‘Dreamer’ who is able to control the titular golems from the comfort of her own bedroom. The golems are the only things able to navigate an ancient city that is protected by a magical barrier, so Twine uses them to uncover both its hidden treasures and its dark secrets that link back to her own family. This means exploring it’s many twists and turns, opening up new pathways, and battling the myriad of enemy golems that are constantly in your path.
Firstly, I need to mention Golem’s controls, which are awkward to say the least. You’ve got two movement options in place: you can either lean your head to move and turn, or use the left analogue stick of a Dual Shock to move. Both schemes require the use of a Move controller in one of your hands to use your weapon too.
Leaning with your head feels cumbersome, with the player expected to move their head slightly to get around. The thing is, not only is this awkward and forces you to keep your head completely stationary if you want to stay still, but it’ll also give you an aching neck if you play for too long. The Dual Shock controller option is a bit easier, but even that feels a little unnatural when combined with the head movements to turn. I just never felt like I had a whole lot of precision with either control scheme and I wish the developer could’ve done something a bit more intuitive. Thankfully, It does get easier the longer you play and it has also been confirmed that a patch is in the works, so hopefully we’ll see improvements sooner rather than later.
Fortunately, combat is a WHOLE lot more satisfying and manages to feel great in-game, with a big emphasis based on timing and precision. Showdowns with enemy golems balance out defensive and offensive manoeuvres – you’ve got to use your weapon to deflect incoming attacks that can come from all angles, and then wait for your moment to counter-attack and strike at your opponent’s highlighted weak spots. It requires a fair bit of patience, but between controlling the distance between you both and the satisfying weightiness that combat brings, it’s hard not to feel completely absorbed into each intense encounter. Enemies become more difficult as you progress through the game to ensure the challenge remains satisfying, whilst there are even smaller enemies to whack out of your path with your hulking golem along the way too. It’s just a whole lot of fun, with Golem offering some of the best close-ranged combat mechanics I’ve seen in any virtual reality title.
Besides combat, you’ll also spend a fair bit of time exploring the ruins of the city. It’s a fairly open environment too, so there are plenty of areas to explore and different secrets or optional enemy encounter to uncover if you’re willing to head off the beaten track a bit. To progress through the story, you have to unlock doors by using the masks of the golems you’ve defeated, each of which act as a key for the many locked doors.
This is where Golem makes one of the more weirdest design choices I’ve seen in a game. Rather than just allowing you to equip different items, you’ve got to completely scrap everything that is attached to your current golem and return to the starting point of the area with an all-new build. You do unlock different weapons too so it’s something that’s worth playing around with, but doing so not only forces you to make your way back to the area you were previously at but also respawns the enemies that you’d defeated along the way. The same process happens if you die too, so if you didn’t make your way back to the door you wanted to unlock, you’ll have to gather the mask again and repeat the process.
Now I’ll admit, this isn’t a game breaking design choice and the city itself is always neat to explore anyway, but I do think that the developer could’ve done something a bit more intuitive that didn’t force the player to do a lot of the same things over and over again. It just made the process of playing feel a little repetitive, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the combat in the game is so good I may have found myself walking away from it for this reason. It should only take you around six-to-seven hours to beat Golem, but a lot of that time is spent going through previously explored areas again just because you wanted to equip a game-progressing item… it’s madness.
At least the city itself is fantastic to explore, with some remarkable sights to be seen across the land that really demonstrate how impressive the PlayStation VR’s visuals can be. It’s certainly one of the better looking games you’ll play on the hardware, whilst the beautiful soundtrack and impressive voice acting really add to the game’s cinematic vibe. It’s just an immersive and stunning experience.
Golem has some of the most impressive combat I’ve seen in any virtual reality title, whilst the visuals and the world itself are simply beautiful throughout. It’s just a shame that the controls and some of the design choices are so odd, with them both making for quite a few frustrating moments during my time with the game.
The fact that I enjoyed the combat so much does make it easier to recommend Golem to PlayStation VR gamers, but I don’t think it’ll be for everyone. There’s no doubting that it’s an impressive game, but it will need a bit of fixing before it’ll be able to really fulfil its potential.
Developer: Highwire Games
Publisher: Perp Games
Platform(s): PlayStation VR