Gorn is a strange game, to say the least. When you’re stood there in VR with a rubbery sword in one hand and a flail in the other, holding them ready as two comically proportioned gladiators awkwardly lurch towards you whilst the floating heads in the crowd laugh sadistically, it’s really a profoundly ridiculous experience.
As a game, Gorn is really simple. Each level starts with a brief speech from a rather important looking guy in the stands, making dry comments on the likelihood of your survival right up until the spike barrier in the middle of the arena lowers and your latest opponent is revealed. It might sound ominous, but it’s anything but.
That’s largely thanks to Gorn being a physics-based game. The enemies are physics objects that shamble towards you whilst seemingly barely able to keep themselves upright, a hilarious mass of swinging limbs and weapons that are just as likely to cause harm to you as they are to trip over each other. Once they’re disposed of, you do the same again with a different weapon and enemies.
Even the weapons are silly. Pretty much every medieval weapon you can think of is here, swords, axes, spears, quarterstaffs, and bows. They literally bend as you wave them side to side like they’re made of rubber, while chained weapons, like the flail, can be spun so quickly that any contact with an enemy could send them flying across the stadium. And that’s just the normal, “boring” weapons; there’s also the wrist mounted crossbow that is reloaded by turning the lever on the side, or the crab claws.
The gore in Gorn is off the scale in a Looney Tunes sort of way. It’s difficult to take seriously as it is, but little cartoony touches like eye balls staying suspended briefly before falling to the ground when the destroy someone’s head, or when you accidentally grab and tear off an arm and realise you can start hitting people with it, help to distract from the admittedly quite horrific actions you’re perpetrating. It’s perfect comic ultra-violence, and if that’s your thing then you’ve come to the right place.
If that particular blend of stupid and violent isn’t for you, Gorn has little else to offer. As you can imagine with enemies that barely manage to stay standing whilst walking, the combat is not going to satisfy anyone that is looking for in-depth swordsmanship, despite the wealth of weapons available and the brief slo-mo that is triggered when parrying. It’s not really trying to be a serious simulation by any stretch, but a little more depth wouldn’t have hurt.
I also found that the type of weapon I was using affected how enjoyable it was as well. Blunt weapons like the mace feel much more like just swinging at things until they stop moving, but bladed weapons make the combat feel far more rewarding as you can slice and stab, with the added risk that comes from trying to pull that off. Blunt weapons are great at destroying armour though, so I found a mace in one hand and a sword in the other was a winning combination.
When the game launched, the movement system was far from ideal, pressing the move button on your Move controllers and moving the world around you bit by bit. What resulted was a cartoonish facsimile of the arm movements you’d make when walking in the real world. Not only was it unnecessarily tiring, it becames incredibly unwieldy in combat.
Thankfully, Gorn has since been updated with the option not only to move by pointing your controller in a direction and pressing the button, also letting you choose which controller to use. This movement system, which is the new standard system on PSVR, is far superior as you can actually attack whilst walking as your hands aren’t stuck by your sides.
You can do this through nine levels, each of which features waves of enemies, a free for all against a lot of enemies, then a boss battle against the champion. Most enemies are fairly generic but for varying weapons and armour, but the champions are all nicely varied. Achilles, whom the announcer confidently stated “had no weaknesses,” was an early highlight, but later there’s a badgermancer, a man who rides a giant crab, and another man who just rides a giant. Most of them are just single humans though, and depending how much armour they have on they can go down just as easily as the others, which is equal parts underwhelming and relieving after four rounds in the arena.
You can probably clobber your way through the game in a few hours, but most waves give you a new weapon to play with, which is then unlocked for custom mode. This gives you a lot of options to choose from to create your perfect gladiatorial battle, even if that involves making yourself invincible, giving you the ability to fly, or just lowering gravity to see if you can make it rain gladiators. If you don’t see yourself making your own fun or replaying the nine levels, then the game will feel light on content.
The game looks good enough on PSVR; it’s highly stylised and it’s an art style that fits the comically over the top nature of just about everything in the game. It’s not perfect though, most noticeably with the very blurry textures that make up the ends of the bloodied stumps that used to be body parts. It’s a strange thing to complain about, but this extreme blurriness stick out against the rest of the game.
There’s also a few problem weapons, namely shields and bows, that don’t feel quite right to use. Rather than holding the Move controller horizontally like you’re holding a bow or shield, you have to point it forward, which feels unnatural and makes aiming the bow more difficult that it needs to be.
Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that Gorn needs a little more room than other games on PSVR. It’s almost impossible to resist the compulsion to turn around and attack an enemy who just so happens to be sharing its virtual place with a very real wall. then bruise your finger on a real life wall. It also needs to see your feet – no, not for any Tarantino-esque reasons, it’s so you can physically reach down and pick things up without awkwardly trying to wiggle the controller into position. In general, it’s a very active game and will likely have you sweating like a candle after only 20 minutes due to your totally realistic swordsmanship.