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Written by Dave Gamble on 8/19/2019 for RIFT  
More On: Gorn

Everyone that cares to pretty much understands the benefits of playing games in Virtual Reality these days;  the immersion, scale, full-rotation head tracking - they add up to far more than the sum of the parts. I anticipated that most, if not all, of those attributes would make great contributions to the simulations of two of my real world passions, auto racing and flying. Sure, I knew there would also be all sorts of games that make good use of those capabilities, but even as those started hitting the market, I still found myself gravitating to games like Iron Wolf VR, a highly stylized U-boat game, and VTOL VR, an even heavier stylization of a vertical takeoff combat jet. 

Although it should have been obvious, I never managed to consider how well VR would apply to other types of activities. I didn’t think many sports would really lend themselves well to VR, and when I bought The Golf Club VR only to find it to be unusable dreck, I more or less retreated back into my racing/flying comfort zone. That, as it turns out, was something of a mistake. One activity that I had not considered was sword fighting. When you think about it, sword fighting is, to some degree, not a sport/activity that requires a great deal of mobility. Given that VR mobility is fraught with problems (motion sickness, the lack of leg tracking, etc.), it seemed that there would be little opportunity for decent ball sports to be improved by the new hardware. But sword fighting - that just might be crazy enough to work.

And so it has transpired. I have discovered GORN. While not exclusively a sword fighting game, it does include swordplay along with a plethora of other means for dismantling (literally) human opponents. GORN puts the player in the role of a gladiator. Borrowing from Wikipedia, “a gladiator (Latin: gladiator, "swordsman", from gladius, "sword") was an armed combatant who entertained audiences in the Roman Republic and Roman Empire in violent confrontations with other gladiators, wild animals, and condemned criminals.”

Yep, I would say that covers it. GORN (which I suspect could just as easily be named “GORE” for reasons I will soon get to) presents itself in the cartoonish manner of early VR-only titles, but is anything but childish. If GORN was a movie, it would be rated at something well over PG-13. In fact, there is so much violence, blood, severed limbs, escaped eyeballs, decapitations, and outright carnage that it actually flies right past gross and into the realm of humorously ludicrous. No, that doesn’t make it acceptable to turn your fiver year old loose with it, but nor does it trigger a squeamish repulsion. What it ends up being is something of a guilty pleasure. You really want to feel bad about tearing off an opponent’s arm and using it to bludgeon another into a twitching pile of viscera, but you simply can’t. It actually makes you laugh!

I was surprised by that.

GORN is not so much a game that you win; it’s a game that you survive. And if you aren’t blessed with a large, open room to play it in, it is also a game that you hope your furniture, decorations, and controllers also survive. It takes a good half dozen good whacks against inanimate objects to teach you to keep your feet planted. This is not necessarily a problem with the game or the playing of it, it’s really just something you will need to adapt to. Why? Didn’t I just say that a great deal of mobility isn’t required in sword fighting? Well, yes. Yes I did. That remains true, but when the fighting gets up close and personal, you will find it extremely difficult to not take a step or two now and then. You won’t even realize you had done so until… WHACK!! Depending on the costs of physical damage to you or your wife’s favorite antique vase, you will learn to stay still quickly, or VERY quickly.

Another thing that happens more quickly than you might expect is learning to play the game itself. There is very little interface to deal with, and the rules are very simple: there are no rules. Anything goes. And by that, I mean pretty much anything! There are many creative ways to kill your opponents, ranging from crushing their skulls with your bare fists up to filleting them with a sharp sword, with a couple dozen other weapons between. It doesn’t take long to get up to speed, but it also doesn’t take long to start encountering stronger and better equipped opponents. It also doesn’t take long to realize that a better armed opponent can be just what you need - if you do it right, it’s not that difficult to liberate that fancy new weapon from a dead opponent and use it yourself.

You will face a steady increase in difficulty as opponents get better weapons, and more of them attack you at the same time. Killing them one at a time is one thing, being in a pitched battle with one while another joins in and yet another takes shots at you with a bow and arrow is something completely different. It is at this point where mobility starts to play a role. There are some options as to how you achieve movement, but the default is what I call the “knuckle-dragger” method. Basically, you hold down a button on your controller and swing your arms front to back in an exaggerated arm-swinging walk. It works well enough, although it can become difficult when both of your hands are grasping a long weapon, such as a pike or a bow. The other fighters don’t move very quickly, but nor do you. Sometimes it feels like a slow-motion train wreck. Even so, it is very uncommon to finish a fight without being drenched in sweat. It can get quite frenetic, and that is precisely when you have to remember not to move around your too-small room!

There are a few modes of play, ranging from Endless, which is exactly the never-ending horde attack that it sounds like, to fights determined by the Emperor sitting in the expensive seats in the colosseum. The latter is typically how you are introduced to new weapons. You are given a weapon at the start, and you have to pick it up and salute the Emperor and his minions with it to start the fight, but fortunately you can cast it off for something more of your liking if you can wrestle one away from an opponent. This is important because not all of the weapons you will be given will match your abilities. For example, I was given throwing knives in a fight against three opponents, but I could not throw them with any degree of accuracy. In fact, I never hit a single thing with those knives - I had to choose the least armored guy and bludgeon him with my fists in order to acquire the weapon he was carrying. If you survive three or four rounds, you win. 

The fights aren’t fought in big coliseum size fields as you might expect, they take place in smaller arenas. Each arena has its own Boss that you get to/have to fight after working your way through some “all against you” rounds, and a “free-for-all” round that is entertaining as the NPCs fight amongst themselves as well as you. Naturally, the Bosses all have different quirks and strengths. The arenas are spread across (currently) three floors. You work your way up from the first floor to the third.

So, what’s it like to play? It’s a mixed bag. At first, it seems as if you aren’t going to be able to beat these guys once they start wearing armor and your attacks seem entirely impotent. Then you notice that they aren’t wearing armor on their legs, so you grab a sword and chop them off. In a Monty Python-esque refusal to give up, they will sometimes try to attack you even though they have no legs, but for the most part they’re done for. Just as you start patting yourself on your back for figuring out such an amazing tactic, they start protecting their legs with armor. They aren’t entirely stupid, as it turns out. You soon discover that you can break their armor if you can hit it enough times, so you switch to a flurry-of-swings type of fighting. It goes on in this arms escalation style through a number of iterations - they gain a capability, you figure out a way to defeat it. It’s really quite fun, and if you’re the excitable type, it can be a good cardio workout.

That said… they may be smart about gaining new weapons and defenses, but they never get smart about tactics. They all move in a slow shuffle, they take mighty swings at you that you can almost always dodge around, and leave themselves wide open to counter attack(s). Sure, you may have to bludgeon them an astonishing number of times before killing them, and others might get involved in the fray, but there really isn’t much of the intricate swordplay you might have seen in movies like The Princess Bride. It ends up being a flailfest. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but it doesn’t serve to make you want to be a more skillful swordsman. For that kind of thing, you might be better served with something like Gladius or Swords & Sorcery.

GORN’s strengths are its easy, intuitive gameplay, the ambiance of its Colosseum type environment with spectators shouting for more blood, and the relative ease of working up a good cardio exercise program. One could say that it might be too easy to learn, or not challenging enough to warrant repeat play, but that proved to be untrue in my experience. There is always room on my VR shelf for games that I can launch, play for ten minutes, work up a good sweat and get my old heart pounding, and have a great time doing it. GORN makes no promises of realism - it is by no means a simulator, nor would I want it to be. GORN is simply… simple, which in no way means that it isn’t great, albeit gruesome, fun. 

GORN makes a gory, bloodfest type of fighting into a fun pastime that can also serve as a fairly good cardio workout. While there are buckets of blood and dismembered body parts flying around, it is designed in a way to make what would normally be prohibitively gross into something so fun that you will find yourself laughing at the incredible mayhem that surrounds you.

Rating: 8.5 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.

While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.

My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.
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