Become a Warrior King of Sand and Steel in the Colosseum of Gorn

The skies are clear and the sun is bright, beating down on the small arena and providing little shade for the brutality to come.  The emperor sits at the head of the colosseum, overseeing the champion at one side of the small arena and the goons on the other, a series of iron spikes separating the two so nobody can give in to their bloodlust before the match officially starts.  A raised-hand salute sets the Emperor laughing in anticipation, the spikes sink into the floor and the match begins.  It always stars the same, and and always finishes with blood soaking into the sand with bodies piled high.  It’s the brutal survival of the victor as he fights from the match’s beginning to its eventual end that makes each confrontation unique, lighting up the crowd with glee as each new vicious kill is another step on the road to crowning the champion of the colosseum.  It would be all kinds of dramatic if it wasn’t for the warriors being giant meatheads just waiting to have a morningstar applied vigorously to their big goony faces.

Gorn is a game of gladiatorial combat designed specifically for VR and motion controls.  Put on the headset and you’re transported to the waiting room of the colosseum, ready to do battle or take stock of your trophies.  Pull down the big, obvious door handle and you’re transported to the arena floor, where an array of unlocked weapons waits for you to pick two before saluting the Emperor and starting a fight where you kill for not just mere survival, or even something as trivial as glory, but for the joy of bashing a goon’s head clear off his body.  Hammers, morningstars either on a stick or chain, different types of swords, bow and arrow, throwing knives, and many other types of death-dealing hardware are waiting to be unlocked by an ambitious, creative gladiator, but if all else fails you can just pick up the body of a fallen warrior and start bashing.  Anything you can pick up is a weapon, and that includes throwing the severed heads of defeated opponents at advancing enemies to slow them down.

Playing with the many ways to kill the gladiators is the heart of Gorn, with the enemy AI being just enough to keep you paying attention but not a real threat otherwise.  The arena gets dangerous when there are multiple goons closing in from every direction, many of which are inconveniently armored plus the occasional one with a ranged weapon being an actual problem, but individually they’re slightly aggressive meat-sacks to bash around.  While offense is a major focus, however, it’s movement, positioning, and parrying that will keep you alive.  Movement initially feels weird and sluggish, but Gorn is more about holding your ground rather than lightning-fast feints so it all makes sense after a few plays.  Hold a button and swing your arm to move, let go to stand still, and don’t worry too much about being unable to run.  Once you’ve found a good spot to fight the best thing to do is stand there, using movement to back away from an enemy swing before stepping forward again to strike, and the combined momentum of the thrust and forward step is frequently enough to take out a gladiator in a single swing.

If you’re happy where you are, though, parrying works nicely to open a hole in the enemy’s defense.  The heads of all weapons are physical things in the game world and won’t pass through each other (although the shafts are rubbery) so you can use a little timing and prediction of the enemy swing to catch his weapon on yours, slowing down time briefly and opening him up to a world of pain.  For the warriors wearing little more than a loincloth this means near-instant death, but once you start fighting someone in full armor you’ll need a few good hits on their crusty shell before getting to the tender, squishy meat inside.

Once you’ve mastered the handful of basics it’s then down to keeping an eye on who’s advancing and using the generous armory to your best advantage.  Weapons are earned by completing certain tasks, such as breaking a number of pieces of armor, killing a certain amount of enemies with a specific weapon, or killing enemies in a certain manner.  Stabbing out an enemy’s heart or making head shots with the bow and arrow isn’t easy, but once you get the skills to pull it off it’s a lot of fun.  Gorn‘s weapons feel great to use, and each one has its own technique.

The axe, for example, is best used on non-helmeted enemies.  The game tracks the swing properly, aware of the angle of the blade and which part of the weapon hits what spot on the enemy, so you can take a gladiator’s head off with a single strike if you turn the blade sideways and swing through the neck from the right distance.  Morningstars are better for bludgeoning, which is great for both cracking open armor and smushing skulls.  Two-handed weapons like the spear, large hammer, and giant morningstar are wonderfully overpowered, able to send a group flying or dispatch tough enemies with a single well-aimed hit.  The meathead gladiators may only be able to win when attacking in decent numbers but with the right tools and a lot of flailing you can cut through the crowd and emerge victorious.

Gorn is, it can’t be stressed enough, a very physical game.  The launch trailer is only overstating things a bit, as the crack in the glass cover of the overhead light in my gaming room can attest.  You’ll need to be very careful of your play area, because it’s easy to swing your hands outside of it and punch a shelf, desk, and sometimes even the ceiling.  Playing Gorn in the summer is also not the best plan unless you don’t mind squeezing the sweat out of the headset padding.  It even took me a while the day after one of my earlier play sessions to realize that the reason my arms were sore was due to an hour of swinging, hacking, and general flailing about.  Get yourself some weighted controllers and Gorn could actually count as exercise.

Gorn is a fantastic use of VR, putting you in the sandals of a cartoonishly violent gladiator fighting in the arena for the thrill of battle.  Like Free Lives’ last major game, Broforce, it’s obviously Early Access but more than polished enough that with a few tweaks (like a new arena or two) and some end-game content it could easily be called Done.  The weapons are varied and fun to use, bugs are minimal and the goons are all sorts of entertaining to beat on.  Using the giant morningstar to launch a meathead into the crowd, taking the top of a gladiator’s head off with a swing of a double-sided sword, using the toothpick-sword to poke an enemy’s heart out or just bashing the living hell out of everything with a hammer is fantastically physical.  Gorn is big, dumb, violent and brutal, but once you get beyond that there’s a surprising amount of technique in using its weapons effectively and surviving the crowd of attackers.  It’s not an easy life, fighting for the entertainment of the crowd, but with the right weapons and a complete lack of mercy you can rise to the top of the meathead pile and stand atop a pile of bodies as the colosseum’s ultimate victor.