With a shield in my left hand and a massive flail in my right hand, I stared down my enemies. They were heavily armored; I was not. I reached above my head, signaling to the master seated above us all that I was ready and he lowered the gates in the middle of the arena. My right hand swirled above my head, readying my flail as my adversaries inched ever closer. Once in range, I swung the flail forward with all of my power, lopping off the head of my first enemy, sending his now lifeless corpse careening into my next enemy off to the side. This fight was off to a great start.
Not every fight in Gorn goes this well. As you can tell, Gorn is a comical yet bloody gladiator fighting game currently in an early prototype stage and I had the pleasure of checking it out first-hand from the creators themselves while at the 2017 Game Developers Conference (GDC).
You can see a gameplay video of an older build of the game right here:
I’m told the version I saw at GDC was a “much more polished and brutally visceral build” of the game, hinting towards not just the visual fidelity, but content as well. For example, the walls weren’t just lined with floating heads — the leader issuing me commands to fight was actually sitting in a chair. The textures were vastly superior — especially the ground as far as I can recall — and the physics seemed to work better.
While playing I got to try out a variety of one-handed and two-handed weapons, from swords and hammers to spears and a bow/arrow. They all presented their own pros, cons, advantages, and challenges, which helped keep the game fresh. It was only a wave-based combat game, but the visceral nature of each encounter made it much more satisfying than many “full” VR games I’ve played. It’s also the most I’ve sweat while in VR in quite some time.
Melee combat is hard to get right in VR because there is no physical object you’re hitting with resistance, but with clever haptics and visual cues games like Gorn do a more than serviceable job of convincing you that you’re in an actual fight for your life.
My favorite weapons were the large two-handed ones I got to try near the end of the wave-based experience. They did a tremendous amount of damage and required even more careful use since you can’t swing them around too wildly. Sending an enemy flying across the arena as a ragdoll never got old.
The larger your play space the better the experience will be as well, since nimbly moving around the environment is a more effective method of evasion. The alternative movement method used to cross larger areas in the game wasn’t very intuitive and was extremely awkward. Hopefully the developers can work out a better solution to explore environments by the time the game is ready for release.
You can download and play a free pre-alpha early prototype of the game off of the developer’s itch.io website right now, but it’s unclear if this is the updated version I saw at GDC, or if it’s the older (albeit still fun) version that was already distributed months ago. This teaser is hosted by Ruan Rothmann of Free Lives, the same studio responsible for the exquisite sidescroller, Broforce.
Gorn is expected to hit Early Access “no earlier than April” according to a statement on the company’s website.