When Bart commands his Golem to speak in Treehouse of Horror XVII, the creature is racked with guilt for all the malice he has been forced to cause and the torment he has endured. I felt similar anguish during my time with Highwire Games’ Golem, an inventive, often infuriating PSVR experience that seems to reward and resist your efforts in equal measure.
As Twine, the youngest daughter in a family of desert-dwelling scavengers, you spend your days scouring the borderlands of The Endless City with your sister Sky. When an incident with Sky’s golem leaves you crippled and she vanished, you, now bedbound, harness the power of the magical dream stone allowing you to seize control of inanimate effigies. After a slow, insectophobia-inducing intro which has you controlling a doll under the floorboard of your house, you finally pilot a golem as you delve into The Endless City in search of precious treasure and even more valuable answers.
The moment you first project yourself into your golem is a thrilling sensation, the weight of the hulking creature present in every movement. Adjusting to the game’s minimalist incline controls takes some time but you soon feel at home in your lumbering new form. A single Move Controller which acts as both your dream stone and weapon is all that is required. The move button allows you to interact with objects while holding T and leaning your head forward makes your golem move.
Combat consists of blocking incoming attacks from fellow golems by positioning your sword at corresponding angles. Consecutive successful blocks stagger your foe allowing you to strike their glowing, crystalized weak spots until they crumble before you. In the opening hours, these core mechanics of movement and combat felt elegant, simple and intuitive yet as I delved deeper their inconsistencies became increasingly, frustratingly apparent.
Golem borrows much of its level design philosophy from Dark Souls, one of its few strong design choices. The labyrinthine Endless City is dotted with shortcuts and sealed off areas. Each death resurrects you back at the city’s front gate while also respawning all enemies, making opening shortcuts essential as you irk out progress. Each enemy’s mask denotes a rank, and each rank gains entry to another of the city’s districts. These increasingly higher rank enemies act as quasi-boss battles, although tactics never differ, only the number of strikes they can endure. While the spine-straining incline controls and repetitive, temperamental combat system, mechanics which had now shown their shallowness, had hindered my experience thus far, it was one of these boss encounters that firmly halted my momentum.
Before deploying your Golem, you equip a loadout in your workshop, selecting a gemstone, a mask and a weapon. Weaker gemstones simply power you golem while more powerful ones bolster your resilience and regenerate health. Similarly, weapons range from weak rusted swords to powerful silver halberds and onyx greatswords. Combined these tools often mean the difference between failure and success in battle. When you hit your stride powerful equipment begets powerful equipment, incrementally aiding your progress against increasingly tough enemies. However, in practice, inconsistent controller tracking and buggy enemy animations make the already tedious combat all the more testing.
At the end of a particularly long run, the backtracking not helped by your arduously slow walking speed was one such “boss”. Each time this damage-sponge won, my resources dwindled, forcing me to face him with weaker and weaker gear each time that I inevitably failed. Grinding equipment from lesser enemies remained my only option, but this process was just that, a grind. My eventual success felt cheap, not the product of skill but rather a combination of the sturdy equipment and blind luck. Following this point, I powered my way through the city’s innermost areas, too deterred from the banality and frustration of combat to take my time confronting each golem I passed.
Narratively, Golem shows potential but much like its gameplay this too reveals itself to be disappointing. Compelling exposition promises a world brimming with tantalizing mystery and rich lore while the stellar voice acting, sound design and gorgeous visuals present an appealing package. While magical audio logs known as echoes left by your mother provide snippets of world-building and backstory, key story beats are offered too sparsely to remain coherent or engaging. Likewise, the narrative’s conclusion feels rushed and anticlimactic. Post-game content leaves plenty of treasures and echoes to gather, enemies to kill, and trophies to unlock, yet I am tentative to return to The Endless City.
Golem left me conflicted. It’s vibrant, beautifully rendered world is at times a joy to explore thanks to intelligent, Miyazaki-inspired level design which provide a rewarding sense of progression. But equally the game all too often pushes back; progress is halted by frustrating foes, the occasional satisfaction derived from combat is muted by bugs and monotony and the lack of iteration make the already limited mechanics feel all the more stale.
Golem PSVR Review
- Overall - Good - 6.5/106.5/10
Enjoying Golem requires that you take the bad with the good. A fascinating game world, gorgeous visuals and intelligent level design are let down by lacklustre storytelling, repetitive combat and progression that resists and frustrates as much as it satisfies and rewards.
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 PS4 Pro.
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