The control schemes for VR games have come a leaps and bounds since the launch of the PSVR in 2016. Hell, just a couple of days ago I was praising the Rift exclusive, Stormland for pushing boundaries and creating a unique feeling of freedom with its smooth and speedy locomotion.
This is probably why I found Golem to be so intensely disappointing. Going from flinging myself around a huge virtual world like a sci-fi Spider-Man to what felt like wading through treacle using a bizarre, unnatural and imprecise method of locomotion was something that gave me serious Kinect flashbacks.
You can watch me swear my way through the first 90 minutes of Golem in this week’s Ian’s VR Corner, which you’ll find just below these words. In it you’ll be able to watch my disbelief as I experience the ‘lean your body to move’ locomotion method for the first time, something that made me feel sick in VR for the first time since July of 2018 when I experienced the pitch and yaw of Detached.
After I finished recording and editing this week’s episode, I pushed on for a good 3 or four hours and I’m happy to report that things in Golem do get a bit more interesting after its incredibly slow opening.
Following the Dark Souls formula of exploration, the further you go, the more shortcuts you open. That means on new runs you won’t need to retread as much ground. This is great news because movement remains sluggish throughout the game, making lengthy backtracking or exploration feel like a chore.
Exploration isn’t just a grind though, it also gets physically painful due to the head driven locomotion. About halfway through this week’s episode, I realised that I could also use the DualShock thumb stick to move myself forward. This relieved a bit of the backache the game was giving me, but it also slowed my character’s movement speed. In the end I worked out that I had to combine stick movement with a forward tilt of my head in order to move at maximum the speed, which is as awkward and unnecessary as you could imagine.
For the love of God, Highwire Games, if you’re reading this, please, please, please patch a new movement scheme into the game. I’d be way more willing to play Golem if it didn’t simultaneously hurt and make me want to hurl!
Another sore point for me was the shonky combat, which involves using your Move controller to block attacks from hostile Golems. When this works it actually feels really nice and there were a couple of runs where I felt like I was experiencing the game that Highwire wanted to make. But then other times tracking really let the game down and I would get killed by strikes that I almost certainly blocked.
When compared to the swordplay of recent games like Vader Immortal or Asgard’s Wrath, Golem just feels rickety and the unfairness of some of the deaths combined with the mind numbing backtracking that followed really ate into my patience.
So is there anything to like about Golem at all? Well, the visuals are really nice and I loved the look of the big chunky weapons that can be bashed against the scenery with a satisfying clang as you wander around.
While the backtracking almost made me fall asleep at times, I also enjoyed the massive amount of hidden areas and secrets to discover. Once I’d got the hang of hoovering up weapons and ‘lore balls’, I got caught in a nice little loot gathering loop that felt really satisfying. I also enjoyed finding hidden doll Golems that I could possess and use to explore smaller, out-of-the-way areas for even more collectibles.
Oh, and the music is nice too, thanks to the work of legendary composer Marty O’Donnell.
I almost certainly would have gone easier on Golem if this was 2016 and it had released alongside the first batch of PSVR games. Back then I probably would have forgiven the faults but when viewed alongside the slew of modern VR games that have all but solved the problems that Golem has, this just feels like a huge step backwards.
A new control scheme and an increase in movement speed would go a very long way to making Golem a much more satisfying experience. Here’s hoping Highwire take the criticism on board and release a fix at some point, because there’s a good game hiding underneath all the back pain and boredom.
If you enjoyed this episode of Ian’s VR Corner, you can catch up with my previous adventures over on YouTube in our VR playlist, where I’ve covered Asgard’s Wrath, Ghost Giant and Five Nights at Freddy’s VR. You can also read our list of best PSVR games.