In 2015, former Bungie developers who worked on games like Destiny and Halo announced the formation of a new studio called Highwire Games. With Destiny and Halo both very popular FPS franchises, it would be hard to blame fans for thinking the first title from Highwire Games would follow in their footsteps, but instead, Highwire is set to work on a something completely different. Announced at the 2015 PlayStation Experience event, the first title from Highwire Games is Golem, an ambitious virtual reality title exclusive to PlayStation VR. Golem comes from a team of tried and tested individuals, but to say it fails to live up to expectations is an understatement.
Golem plays like a VR game that would come out around the launch of the PlayStation VR or the Oculus Rift. It doesn’t feature any of the real advances that have been made in virtual reality in the years since its initial revelation, and this is immediately apparent. For example, the main sin many early VR games committed was starting with long cut-scenes where players do nothing but watch the game unfold around them, and Golem is guilty of this. It takes about 20 minutes for the actual game to start, which is a long time to sit there with a PlayStation VR headset strapped on and not really doing anything.
Golem spends a lot of time setting up its story, which sees players in the role of a girl named Twine, who lives with her father and adventurous older sister. Twine’s sister takes him to some forbidden ruins, blocked by a magical field that only ancient Golems can pass through. Twine’s sister reveals her ability to control these Golems, though she is attacked by one and Twine is also injured in the process.
When Twine arrived, his father told him that his legs were injured and he could not walk. It was meant to be an emotional moment, but the problem was that Golem never let Twine walk to begin with. The 20 minutes of cut-scenes that precede this moment are all spent with Twine just sitting there, not interacting with anyone or anything or even making a single sound. It robs what is a potentially emotional moment of any impact otherwise. It just doesn’t come at all.
The drama surrounding Twine meets a bit, as Golem has some solid voice performances. The well-written dialogue and performances by the voice actors made the scenes following the incident with Twine’s brother carry some weight. The narrative generally improves after these opening sequences, as players are left to explore a strange, devastating world reminiscent of games like Ico and even FromSoftware’s Souls series. Players can collect “Echos” in the game world which add more context to what they’re doing and expand the story, which we found very enjoyable.
Learning more about Golem’s world is one of the few things players will love about the game, but it also has a few other notable features. As far as PlayStation VR games go, Golem is one of the better ones available, with a sharper draw distance than PSVR users are used to in their games. Golem’s musical score is also pretty good, but that’s to be expected with former Halo and Destiny composer Marty O’Donnell at the helm. There may not be anything as memorable as Halo’s theme, but Golem’s music still tops the music in many other games.
Golem has great music and graphics along with an interesting story and game world, but actually playing the game is not only not fun, it is sometimes physically difficult. There are a few different reasons why Golem might be too uncomfortable for some people to play, but the biggest issue is its default control scheme. To move the Golem, players have to lean over, and while it doesn’t sound like a terrible idea on paper, in practice it can be very uncomfortable, especially for extended gaming sessions. It doesn’t help that PlayStation VR doesn’t always register when players are leaning back, so they can sometimes find themselves practically falling out of their seat just to move their character around in the game. Fortunately, there is an option in Golem to control the character with a DualShock 4 in one hand and a PlayStation Move controller in the other, and playing the game this way is much better.
Unfortunately, Golem’s controls aren’t the only reason the game can be uncomfortable to play. Another main reason is that the simple act of looking around is nauseating, and not because of VR, but a specific design decision by the developers. Since Twine is technically still sitting in his room throughout this game as he controls his Golems, players can see the outline of his room in their peripheral vision. As players move, the Golem’s view shrinks to reveal more of Twine’s room, and if they stop, they see more of the Golem’s view. So what happens is that players move and decide to look somewhere else, and the game switches between the two perspectives in a stomach-churning way.
Nothing of note happens in Twine’s vision, and if it was removed, Golem would be a much more tolerable experience. However, this issue is not the only thing that can cause players to experience some dizziness when playing Golem. We also ran into some technical issues where the head-tracking would go crazy, where our view would disconnect from Twine and the Golem. This caused the camera to jerk violently from side to side and we felt sick.
Other people may experience motion sickness in VR games because of how fast they are, like in Insomniac’s Stormland, but Golem’s motion sickness stems from camera problems and confusing design choices. Although these things are not an issue with Golem, however, the minute to minute gameplay is also lacking.
Golem has players exploring fairly large environments, but in the body of a large stone creature that moves painfully. There’s also a lot of retreating and wandering aimlessly that players have to contend with whenever they get stuck, which combined with Golem’s slow movement can make playing Golem more frustrating than anything else. The game just lacks direction, and while that seems to be done on purpose, it doesn’t work with how slow the Golem moves. Players will be discouraged from actually doing much exploring because of this.
As players slowly march through Golem’s game world, they will encounter some basic puzzles to solve and some enemies to fight. Golems are equipped with a variety of melee weapons, and the game’s combat is one of its better pieces, though still not perfect. It’s a basic system of blocking enemy attacks and then hitting them when something opens up, but like movement, it can be slow and tedious. This is especially true when fighting enemies that take five or more hits to take down, as players can only deal damage when the game allows them to do so. If the players are not perfectly positioned and the enemy misses their attack instead of it being blocked, the Golem players will find themselves waiting for the enemy to go through the same sequences again. attack.
By defeating enemy Golems, players can collect new weapons, items, and armor. Collecting new gear and Golem upgrades can be fun, but it also has a big catch that makes it less worthwhile. To equip any Golem item, players must return to the Workshop, and when they return to the game world, they are no longer where they were before they left. This means more backtracking on the slow moving Golem, not to mention players getting lost trying to find their way back to wherever they need to be.
It’s a shame that Golem’s gameplay is so short because its graphics, music, and story are pretty good. But even with these highlights, Golem’s gameplay issues make it impossible to recommend. Golem used to be one of our most anticipated virtual reality games, but VR fans would be better off playing something else.
Golem is now out for PlayStation VR.