Back in 2014, Project Morpheus was announced, bringing virtual reality to the PlayStation 4. When it was officially named PlayStation VR in 2015, one of the first major game announcements was Highwire Games’ Golem. Using Unreal Engine 4 and promising a full narrative adventure, the expectations were pretty high. After a few delays, the game finally came out last year. With all the extra polishing, and even a patch, is Golem worth the wait? Well unfortunately, despite the promising concept, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Golem tells the story of Twine, a young girl who, after an accident, is left bed-ridden. Using a mysterious artifact that her sister bestows upon her, Twine is now able to take control of inanimate figures. This first starts out with dolls, but eventually leads to giant golems. Using these golems, Twine is able to enter an ancient city with a powerful barrier that dispels all life forms. Since golems aren’t of the living, this allows Twine to explore and uncover treasures. It also means that Twine will encounter new dangers as well.
In the city, there are many secrets to discover, including memory orbs left by your mother. These orbs reveal lore for the game, giving added context for your setting. The game also offers a sort of roguelike experience, as players will explore the city and open shortcuts with each time the visit. Unfortunately, defeated enemies will also return, meaning you’ll have to always be on your toes. When you do die, you’ll lose gear like masks and weapons and you’ll have to earn it all again. It’s a cool concept on paper, but it ultimately leads to other issues in the game. If it wasn’t a VR title, it might be more acceptable.
The combat involves using a sword to attack and defend by placing your sword in various positions. It takes some time to adjust, and sometimes, the game won’t always recognize your defensive moves. This leads to unfair hits and will often lead to your demise. When it comes to movement, the game had a big hurdle in the beginning. Originally, players would lean forward to walk in the game, but this eventually leads to some discomfort. The best way to play is to use a Nav controller or DualShock 4 joystick to explore the city. This solves one of the big problems, though there are still other issues in the game.
Perhaps the biggest issue I have with the game is the movement speed. I understand that as a VR game, the movement is intentionally slow to keep the visuals from being too overwhelming. Unfortunately, with the roguelike element, the slow speed makes it a chore to move through areas. You’ll learn this rather quickly, as the first run involves trying to get past roaches, only for them to swarm you en masse. When you start over at the foot of your bed, you’ll see why this process will grow tiring real quick. You’ll use a crystal light to fend them off, but it takes a bit to learn exactly how it works. When playing as a golem, it’s a bit better since you can properly defend yourself, but it’s still problematic.
The other issue comes from the use of two “worlds” in the game. Since you’re bed-ridden child, you’re seeing things through the eyes of a golem. For some strange reason, this means that in certain instances, you can see Twine’s room in your peripheral vision. It really adds to the discomfort of moving around, and it’s really an unusual implementation. Even weirder is that this seems to be a feature that was missing in the initial previews of the game, so it’s strange that it’s in the final game. With issues like this, it does make it difficult to get through the entire game. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish the game for the review, as it’s just not a very enjoyable experience.
Despite the issues in Golem, there are some redeeming qualities. The visuals are pretty impressive for VR and the game does well to build this cool setting. Highwire Games did a good job at crafting the ancient city, as the level design is pretty good too. The voice acting is solid as well, though unfortunately, I have no idea who portrays the characters. Perhaps the biggest highlight is the music coming from veteran Halo composer Martin O’Donnell. The music is fantastic, emphasizing mystique and wonder, which is perfect for the perspective of a child.
Honestly, Golem seems like it would be a better game without the VR. If I could move faster and use buttons in place of the motion gestures for combat, I’d probably have a much better time. It’s unfortunate that people will likely overlook such a cool idea because of the various issues. I feel like this concept has the right foundation, but sadly, the virtual reality execution falls flat. If the game ever drops the VR requirement, my thoughts could easily change. Since that seems unlikely, even with a solid presentation, the overall experience is difficult to recommend.