The human race is at a point in its evolution of moral standards where blood sports such as ancient Roman gladiatorial combat has become obscene and abhorred. However, after picking up a nail filled bat in GORN and smashing it over an unlucky enemies head, watching as their skull disintegrates and the left eye suddenly wishes to leave its socket at great speed, it’s difficult not to smile as the digital carnage unfolds. Is it wrong to enjoy such visceral violence? Why make such a ludicrous videogame you may ask yourself? Well, bury those moral questions deep as things are about to get much worse (better). GORN is not for the squeamish.
Launched into Early Access in August 2018, GORN has gained notoriety on a similar scale in virtual reality (VR) circles to Beat Saber – although for very different reasons. You might be swinging swords (and a bunch of other weapons) but there’s no music, only the cheers of the crowd, the tearing of limbs, the squirt of blood and the crack of bones.
There literally isn’t another VR videogame currently available that allows the same level of violence and pure graphic destruction. GORN has dispensed with the fluff of things like narrative, novelty modes, and right and wrong. You are a gladiator and you have one job, kill and don’t die – which you will, many, many times.
The core experience is very much a wave brawler, where you’re in an arena given weapons and told to kill everyone, no exceptions, no mercy. So the main hook of the gameplay is its brutality mixed with some dark comedy. Both go hand in hand in GORN with dumb enemies infused with ragdoll physics and bodies seemingly held together with loose tape. The early levels and weapons are just about smashing bodies, whacking enemies over the head to see it explode. As you progress and access more weapons such a sword’s and axes, these offer even greater dismemberment opportunities.
For example, take a leaf out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail with its Black Knight scene. Remove an arm with a well-placed strike, or two in fact and watch these meatheads try to attack with their head – more comedy value. Or go for the legs. Take out both and the enemy gladiators will still come at you no matter the blood loss – it’s almost inspiring. Pick up a flail swing it around and watch whatever poor sucker wanders into it fly off with a trail of blood following them.
Plus you can mix and match as you like. Rounds start with a singular weapon, then as you kill opponents take whatever they were carrying, dual wield some maces or go with a sword and shield. It’s all about adapting on the fly as the situation changes.
But (there’s always a but), GORN is a bit of a one-trick pony. Once you’ve ripped the arms of these idiots one hundred times or caved their skulls in endlessly the feeling of repetition does kick in. Developer Free Lives tries to get around this in a number of ways, from specialist boss battles to custom matches which offer a plethora of settings, it does all come down to killing NPC’s over and over again.
The one saving antidote to all of this is the local multiplayer mode. Up to four of your mates can grab gamepads and become the gladiators, free to do what they want. They can all team up against you or cooperate – it tends to be the former for some strange reason.
One annoying little facet of the gameplay which hampers the fluidity of the fights is the movement. There’s no teleportation or smooth locomotion to speak of – the former was likely unsuitable for this style of videogame. Instead, you drag the environment around you much like you would in a tabletop RTS such as Final Assault. It should be comfortable for most players yet you can’t swing two weapons and move at the same time, meaning there’s no way to step in and inflict a double blow. Well, you can if you have space by physically stepping in. Alas, not everyone has that luxury, so in smaller roomscale spaces you need to be careful. It’s very easy to get carried away arms flailing and hit a wall, especially if the player is new to VR. You have been warned.
That being said, GORN is still fun to play. It is stupid, and over the top on almost every level yet it’ll still put a smile of most players faces. Additionally, GORN will help you lose two things, time and calories. You’ll find that one fight will turn into ten, and you’ll be a sweaty mess from all that arm swinging. If you want something deep and thought-provoking go read a book, for everyone else there’s GORN.