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Review: Golem – PS4/PSVR

I am honestly surprised to be writing a Golem review at all. This game was originally announced back in 2015 before the PSVR was even called “PSVR”. Over the next several years, it suffered delay after notorious delay and eventually, the studio behind it went completely dark. I had almost forgotten about it when news of its release dropped a few weeks ago. With a development team at Highwire Games featuring Halo and Destiny veterans, there was initially a ton of hype around Golem. That hype has come and gone, but after finally playing it, the question is did it live up to expectations? The answer to that for me was yes, but much like Golem’s gameplay, the path to satisfaction wasn’t a linear one.

First of all, this is a PSVR exclusive, so you’ll need the PlayStation headset and one Move controller. That’s right, I said a single Move controller. You can use an optional Dualshock 4, or better yet, an old PS3 Nav controller, in your opposite hand if you’d like, but one Move is required. Developer Highwire Games has just recently implemented a fairly substantial update to the game including several movement options of which I will get into later.

You’ll play as a young girl named Twine. She lives with her big sister Sky and her father in The Endless City. The city is surrounded by a desert and a strange magical barrier. This small family survives, like most in The Endless City, by scavenging and selling trinkets and treasure found in the outskirts of the village. In a long, but well-done opening cutscene, Sky divulges her scavenging secret to her little sister. That is to inhabit a massive stone golem via a magic dream stone. Using these golems, you’re able to cross the strange magical barrier to search the beautiful ancient city for treasure and, more importantly, answers to what happened to your sister. In the opening scene, your sister goes missing and your character is badly hurt. You spend the rest of the game bedridden with only your Dream Stone and a massive sense of adventure.

Most of these answers you seek and extra world-building are delivered via audio logs from your mother that you uncover during your exploration. These story and gameplay tips are sandwiched between two long cutscenes at the beginning and end of the game. The writing and voice acting are fantastic, but these audio logs struggle to maintain a tightly paced story, and I sometimes struggled to understand what was happening.

I wonder if my struggles with the story are due to the fact that for the first part of this review, I played before the aforementioned patch 1.02. Before this patch, the main thing on my mind while playing was trying not to get sick, which is not an ideal place to be and I wasn’t paying as much attention to the story as I should have been. At this point, I played using a mix of DS4 movement and the lean method. This lean method asks you to slightly lean in the direction you want to move while pressing the trigger. While this tilt-based movement is undoubtedly awkward, once I got used to it, it did increase the feeling that I was actually a hulking slab-of-rock with legs. The real problem for me was the “adaptive turning”, or head-based turning. In other words, whenever you turn your head while moving you automatically start walking in that direction. This style of turning never fails to make me sick. I had to crank the much-hated blinders all the way up to play, and even then, I could only play for an hour a day. I stopped playing the game when I heard that Highwire Games was working on a patch to potentially solve this issue.

After the patch, I use the PS3 era Nav controller in my left hand for the golem’s movement and a Move in the right hand to handle the combat. I have the blinders turned all the way off, which is how I play all other games, and I have the adaptive turning turned to the lowest notch. It can be turned off completely, but a very slight turn when I turn my head feels perfectly life-like with zero motion sickness. In fact, Golem plays like a dream for me now. If you don’t have a Nav controller, you can still use the DS4 in your left hand, but honestly, even the tilt-based movement feels pretty good with the adaptive turning turned off. I would probably use that method if I didn’t have a couple of Nav controllers laying around collecting dust.

The Endless City looks gorgeous and is a joy to explore. It features a Soul’s like structure where there are shortcuts and sections of the city blocked off until you have the right gear. As you destroy other golems in combat, you plunder their gear including gemstones, weapons, and masks. Each mask opens a certain door, but don’t die before you open that door, because if you do, the mask, and everything else you’re wearing, is lost. This can be frustrating and made even worse by the fact that you can’t equip any newfound gear until you die. It makes for a lot of backtracking made worse by the slow travel speed of the lumbering stone giants. The good news is once you open up the door, it stays open. Before the movement options added in patch 1.02 this was ruining the game for me, and I would have eventually abandoned my playthrough.

Despite the fantastic score throughout, and possibly the best graphics on the system, it is the feeling of combat that sets Golem apart. I can hardly explain how weighty and intense it is going toe-to-toe with the other golems. The music ratchets up the tension perfectly and when you hold up your sword and perfectly block the incoming blow, the audio cues and feedback honestly make you feel the near-miss. You’ll need to hold your Move controller in the right position to block the blows and eventually you’ll stun them enough to allow an opening. A portion of your enemy will turn blue signifying the body part to attack. Eventually, the golem will crumble before you, allowing you to grab its goodies. Despite this being the entire form of combat, it is done so well, it rarely got old. As you get deeper into the game, the golems introduce new swings and techniques that keep it all fresh. In addition to the golems, you’ll encounter these strange demons scattered about that will toss spears in your direction until they are close enough to jump at you. You’ll hear their menacing screams tipping you off that they are near. You can dodge their spears or bash them away as they get close. Once you get within range, they are no match for you and your massive right arm. One swing will send them into the afterlife.The downside to the combat is light-based tracking of the Move controllers. Thankfully, I have an ideal setup that rarely gives me trouble. But even the perfect setup will have some disconnect with this outdated tech, and in Golem, the combat is unforgiving. Most of the deaths I suffered in Golem (and I died plenty) were my own, but some of them were aided and abetted by tracking problems. And when one of these tracking-based failures leaves you backtracking and redoing a tough battle, it’s almost enough to make you turn the game off. In fact, this combined with the movement option the title shipped with made me initially give up on the game entirely. Despite knowing there was an interesting and beautiful world to discover here, the frustration, and in my case, the sickness, was not worth enduring. When I saw on Twitter that Highwire Games had added some options, I jumped back in with both feet, and I’m so glad I did.

The last negative for me is a personal one, much like the nausea I suffered with the Adaptive Turning. I don’t like insects of any kind. Before you ever get to control a golem in the game, you must pilot a doll from Twine’s bedroom, climb into the floorboards, and crawl under the house until you find your freedom and your first golem. I’ll just say, if you’re an insectiphobe, this part won’t be much fun. I’m glad most VR games have moved on from forcing us to endure bugs and spiders everywhere. I don’t need bugs crawling over me to be immersed. Some may enjoy the Adaptive Turning and the bug scenes, but in my experience, they were near deal-breakers. Thankfully for me, the bugs are very short-lived, and now the Adaptive Turning is optional.

Golem isn’t perfect by any stretch, but it does so much right, and is so much different than any other game on the system, that I can’t help but recommend it to anyone looking for a challenging adventure with an interesting world to discover.

Golem PSVR Review
  • Overall - Fantastic - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
8.5/10

Summary

It took four long years and two patches but Golem is finally here and it actually lives up to the hype. With industry veterans from both Halo and Destiny pulling the strings, Golem looks as good as it sounds. The combat is fun and so intense, only brought down slightly by the sketchy tracking inherent in the hardware. The additions and improvements in the second patch were fantastic and transformed Golem from a game I couldn’t even finish to one of my favorite PSVR games yet.

Pros

  • Beautiful world to explore full of treasure and branching paths
  • Fantastic soundtrack that builds tension and enhances gameplay
  • Challenging and fun combat that feels amazing when the tracking holds up
  • Voice actors and writing are topnotch
  • A small but dedicated development team suggests more improvements and additions are probable.

Cons

  • Challenging combat can be frustrating when tracking problems arise.
  • Questionable design choices require lots of backtracking
  • Game shipped with only head-based turning. Now fixed with patch 1.02

Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.

Reviewed using PSVR on PS4 Slim.

For more VR reviews, be sure to check out our Reviews section, as well as our friends over on VR Game Critic.

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