Gorn is a visceral and goofy VR gladiator experience from the minds of Free Lives that prioritizes unadulterated violent fun over realism, and is all the better for it.
Developer: Free Lives
MonsterVine was supplied with a PC code for review
Gorn’s is a fairly simple gladiator setup. Enter the arena, pick your weapons, fight to survive. The number, skill and equipment of combatants changes from round to round and mode to mode, but the little variety that’s there is enough to keep Gorn fresh for a while.
As with most VR titles, movement is a bit unique. Instead of teleportation or joystick movement, Gorn uses a manual movement system in which you move when holding a face button while moving your hands as if you’re walking. The result is playable, even if it can be inexact sometimes, and extremely silly. Just how goofy this can be would be a problem if it wasn’t for the overall tone of the game.
Virtual Reality is still a budding frontier in gaming and it’s nowhere near perfect just yet. Free Lives knows this, and rolls with it. The entire tone of Gorn is non-serious. Enemies are generic, floppy messes. Spectators are essentially nonsense spouting bobbleheads. Weapons made of wood and metal that should be stiff are extremely flimsy. The playful nature of Gorn helps mask some of the imperfections of the game and virtual reality itself.
Combat is simple, but extremely enjoyable. There are one-handed, two-handed and ranged weapons with varying roles and degrees of success. Weapon swings mostly went where I wanted them, but often the wobbly enemies made predicting exactly what was going to happen surprisingly difficult. In later levels enemies come out equipped with protective armor that leaves them undamaged until broken. Eventually, multiple enemies equipped with a variety of weapons, armor and shields which ultimately amounts to enemies taking a bit longer to kill, making later levels, where several enemies appear at once, very challenging.
Weapons are unlocked gradually and differ on exactly how they’re unlocked. For example, the mace is earned after killing five enemies and the hammer is earned after breaking ten armor pieces. My personal favorite combination of weapons was a set of throwing knives equipped on my wrist, a bow in my hands and a mace and shield combination ready to go. The bow is extremely powerful and was perhaps the most immersive part of Gorn, arrows went exactly where I aimed them. When I eventually ran out of arrows I’d pick off anybody I could with my throwing knives before moving in with my mace and shield.
Two-Handed weapons were the most obtuse part of Gorn and were extremely difficult to use. When working properly, two-handed weapons are extremely powerful and hurl enemies away from you. When working improperly, which occurred more often than not, two-handed weapons are an unusable mess, primarily because the handles try to adjust to wherever your hands are, resulting in the weapon sliding up and down your hands like a retractable pole. Two-handed weapons slide around so much in fact that I legitimately thought that’s just how the spear worked, so I slide it in and out of my hand towards the enemy in an incredibly ineffective and awkward manner.
The default arena mode grows simultaneously more difficult and stale after a few hours. There are two alternate modes to satiate the sameness of the arena that apply small but appreciated changes in objective. Every three wins in the arena allows you to battle a new champion, including the fabled Achilles, which are basically mini-boss fights where each combatant has a special gimmick or two, such as weak heels or incredibly bouncy walking behavior. Aside from these modes are the weapon score battles, endless battles in the arena with the sole goal of getting as many kills with a specific weapon as possible. It’s a great way to challenge friends and learn new weapon types without the linear difficulty progression of the main arena.
Gorn is an incredibly fun game because of its simplicity and irregularity. Gameplay ultimately amounts to dopey swordfights and eviscerating reskinned enemies, and is all the better for it. There are definitely some parts of the game that don’t quite work, specifically the two-handed weapons system, but overall Gorn is an over-the-top and easy to play VR brawler.