In the old days before televisions, mobile phones, and virtual reality, there was the simple pleasure of watching people duke it out for fame and glory in colosseum deathmatches. In GORN, developers Free Lives have created an over the top battle arena that allows you to put your VR sense to the test and take on wave after wave of gladiators. GORN was first shown off almost a year ago when the development team released an early alpha showing off their idea and is now available for all through Steam's Early Access program.
You play as one of the gladiators, heading into battle against an unknown foe. You pick up two of the random weapons in front of you before raising your hands to the sky to salute, beginning the battle. Each of the weapons act in their own different way, from the obvious items like shields and swords to flails that allow you to continually swing them around your head and build momentum to deal a harsh strike. Your opponents on the battlefield are men with comically large upper bodies that look like they missed leg month. As they bounce in your general direction, you have time to prepare your weapons, pick a good position to hold, and plan out a strategy. Any weapon you have access to are also part of the pool of weapons your opponents can spawn with. The basic goal of the game is to be the last one standing in the arena, and you do this by beating, bludgeoning, and beheading every opponent in your path.
Cosmetic damage is a large part of the game. While you might not ever see the state of your own body, your opponents can go through various stages of damage ranging from slight red and purple marks to bones poking through flesh and full dismemberment. Any of the recently departed (or their severed limbs) can be picked up and used to either shield yourself or beat your opponents. For those playing who aren't too fond of blood, or want to add in some comedy, there is also an option to turn your enemies into pinatas with candy falling out with every smack. There's a certain morbid satisfaction that comes from not only using an enemies mace to beat them to death but that their hand is still holding onto it. As you progress through the game, you'll face tougher and tougher fights with more and more gladiators per battle. The armor that your foes eventually wear is able to break with enough hits from a regular weapon or by using the unlockable hammer Armor Breaker weapon that has extra power to back up its short range. Of course, this can also be used against you if you happen to bring a shield to a hammer fight.
At the end of the round, your kills are tallied up and go towards a proficiency total. After gaining enough kills, double kills and other merits, you'll be able to unlock more weapons to take into battle. After a certain number of wins you'll also get a chance to take on a Champion, this is a one on one fight with an extremely powerful foe such as Achilles. Though you can normally find one way or another to take them down before you find yourself too worse for wear.
Making a fist or picking up a weapon is as simple as pulling the triggers, from there the combat is about connecting your hits using real life movement. The Vive's tracking does a great job of keeping your movements one-to-one as you pivot to make sure all enemies are accounted for. One mechanic that doesn't seem to work in the heat of battle is locomotion. In order to move your character you hold down on the touchpad and push or pull to drag yourself, imagine pulling on a rope every time you want to move forward. Having to be holding on to the triggers all battle and then also slowly drag yourself around if you need to approach or flee takes away the intuitive design from the rest of the game. Having multiple locomotion options taken from other VR experiences would fix this issue, and I hope that it's considered before the game's full release. As an Early Access title there is still only so much that random matches can grant you before too long you might find yourself in the same battle time and time again. While many players will enjoy what's here, there will be some that may become burnt out on the Early Access version of the game and should wait to see what's added in the final build.
This is Free Lives first foray into VR, and they've created a fun and fast paced combat title. While wave based VR titles are all the rage at the moment, GORN manages to pair short but fun gameplay sessions with a progression system that can change your experience. In addition, there are plenty of laughs to be had as you batter down your enemies with friends and try to beat your next challenge or see what kind of weird scenarios you end up in.
GORN was previewed on HTC Vive with a code provided by the publisher.