Golem, a long-delayed PSVR exclusive, finally emerged from the shadows this week. First announced in 2015, the debut title from Highwire Games has made a habit of disappearing for months on end following last-minute push backs. This week, all that ends. But there’s still one more Golem-related delay we have for you, and that’s for our full review.
See, there’s a lot to talk about with Golem. From its troublesome movement system that upsets an otherwise lavishly-produced game, to the puzzling roguelike elements and the considered pacing of its combat. But it’s that last point that’s led me to an unfortunate stalemate with a game I so desperately want to love but keep being rejected by.
Golem’s melee-based combat works a lot like Star Wars: Vader Immortal. You must first hold your weapon of choice up to block an incoming attack, telegraphed by the movement of your gigantic opponents. Block a succession of attacks and you’ll momentarily expose a weak point. You need to really seize that opportunity; hesitate for even a second and you’ll miss your window.
When the game works, this makes for a thrilling war of attrition. When it doesn’t, it amounts to one of if not the most infuriating experience I’ve had in VR, one I can’t justify continuing on with right now.
Sometimes, Golem’s blocking doesn’t really seem to register. I hold my weapon out, confident I’m about to block an attack and it just… doesn’t work. With most encounters, this is frustrating, but it won’t cost you the battle so long as you quickly regain your focus. Not only that but sometimes an enemy exposes their weak point just out of reach from you and, with the game’s sluggish movement, you can’t react and close the gap in time. Worse yet, sometimes they expose their weak point just before a heavy attack that can’t be blocked. If you’re out of reach you’ll miss your shot, but they probably won’t miss theirs.
A short time into the game, though, you encounter an enemy that, with the right amount of force, can kill you with one hit. One mistake, either on your part or (what I perceive to be) the game’s and you’re gone.
But you’re not just gone. You’re back to a checkpoint ten minutes away, forced to slog through the environment again and do another two or three other battles again before you reach that moment. Plus you’ll lose the gear you had in that battle, so there’s a chance you’re heading into the fight in worse shape than last time. So losing isn’t just a little annoying, it’s deeply costly.
So, I present to you Exhibit A. This is the culprit. In this video I make two blocks; one around five seconds in, another around 30 seconds in. Watch along.
Now I’ll give you that the first block might not seem legit; I hold the weapon upside down to give myself more room, though this usually works. Plus you can hear the sound of the block. The second hit, however, I find pretty indefensible. In my mind, I’ve clearly made that block; my weapon is there in time. Not that I’m obsessing too much about this (can you tell?) But here’s the exact millisecond before I die.
I mean, that looks like it’s on course for a block, does it not? It doesn’t seem like the game cares either way. Even if I get lucky on the blocking, chances are he’ll execute a heavy attack, I’ll take a swipe to try and stop him, realize I’m not standing close enough and, by then, it’s already too late.
Now, I’ve agonized over this today. I know that some people have got past this section. I know some people will tell me to just ‘git gud’. I’m frankly a little terrified that there’s something I’m missing or I’m just not playing the game right. But then I started to think back to all of the other sword-slinging VR games I’ve conquered. Vanishing Realms, for example. Heck, I think I was one of the first people to surpass Wave 40 in Vader Immortal’s Lightsaber Dojo.
To put it simply, I have had enough experiences with great VR melee combat to know when something doesn’t feel right.
So I’m not going to stick a review score on Golem, at least not right now, as much as I’d like to. I frankly haven’t seen enough of the game and refuse to subject myself to much more of this random torture. I’ll be fascinated to see if players have a similar experience to me as they start getting their hands on the game tomorrow. If there is a deeper problem, I’m hopeful Highwire is able to address it through patches. Right now, however, Golem feels stuck in the stone age, and I have no desire to spend much more time there.