Among the many VR titles we’ve previewed this week at GDC, GORN stands out as particularly stupid, silly, gross, and violent--which is to say, it was one of our favorites. It’s a simple and cartoonish game--what you might expect if the Team Fortress 2 devs got together to whip up a basic VR title but got drunk before they finished.
Mean Floating Heads
You’re a gladiator, trapped in a bizarre little outdoor arena. Above you, sitting all around the arena, are disembodied heads. Their purpose is to mock you. The biggest head floats high up on a pedestal, front and center. This head seems to be the main head; a king, perhaps. Via his demeaning words, he quickly guides you through how to play the game. You can make fists (you have two Vive wands) and grab weapons; whack the incoming gladiator in whatever way brings you the greatest joy.
His lines include this one: “Make a fist to show me you know how to fight. Yes...yes…”
The kingly head makes you salute him before the gameplay begins in each round (which cleverly signals the game that you’re ready). A gate slowly drops down, revealing an enemy gladiator. He’s enormous and bald, and reminded me somewhat of a more muscled King Hippo from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out on the original NES. He looks bizarrely unstable on his feet--programmer Ruan Rothmann of Free Lives explained that the gladiator is probably drunk. In any case, he looks like he has a plan as he stomps towards you, but as the actual Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
And so I did that. Blood squirted from the gladiator’s face, and he stumbled back. He swung, I ducked, and I ducked again. Then I punched his lights out, which resulted in more blood and a chorus of guffaws from the floating head peanut gallery above. The giant head demanded that I raise my arms in victory; I obliged, and the motion signaled to the game that I was ready to close out the round.
In Round Two, I got a weapon with which to defend myself: a mace on a stick. I picked up the (virtual) mace and was shocked to discover that the handle was made of (virtual) rubber. It wobbled in my hand; I assumed there was suddenly a bizarre tracking issue, but then I heard Rothmann chuckling. “Is it supposed to be a wet noodle?” I asked. “Yeah,” he laughed.
I wasn’t sure how this was supposed to help me smash the next gladiator to come at me, but I didn’t have much time to ponder it, because quickly he came--identical to the first gladiator, although I would soon discover that there’s only one character that gets reused every time, although sometimes they were dressed in various levels of armor. When I swung the bendy mace and cracked him in the chest (more blood!), I immediately got the hang of it.
Eventually, I figured out that I could bend back the ball of the mace while holding the stick; when I let go of the ball just as another gladiator got close, thwap like a catapult it went into his face. I could hear Rothmann giggling. The heads guffawed again.
And so it continued for many more rounds. You have to fight greater numbers of gladiators who are equipped with varying degrees of armor and weaponry. Fortunately, you also get to level up a bit on the weapons. Throughout the course of the demo’s many rounds, you’ll use the aforementioned mace on a stick as well as a mace on a chain, a sword, a shield, a bow and arrow, a spear (which is even more noodly than the mace-on-a-stick), and a giant warhammer that you have to swing with both hands.
With these weapons, you will chop off heads and appendages, inflict chest wounds, bloody faces until they’re nothing more than a mush of gore, and wallop the enemy so hard that he flies across the sandy arena and into the wall.
And it feels really good.
Gameplay And Mechanics
I’ve never played a VR title so perfect for getting your aggression out. It takes virtually no time to learn the controls, but you can keep fiddling with the weapons to discover new ways to use them. But no matter what, the dudes keep coming, and you keep destroying them.
This is a room scale game, but GORN keeps you focused on the 180 degrees in front of you. Within that limited area, though, you can move around plenty, leaning in for jabs, shuffling to one side to avoid a blow, and so on.
One problem is that sometimes you’ll drop a weapon, and it will end up outside of your reach. You can’t teleport in GORN, so to solve this problem, Rothmann and his small team implemented a clever locomotion technique. You can reach out with the Vive controller, click the trackpad, and pull back towards yourself. When you do so, you’ll move forward.
We’re not sure what the ratio is between the distance your virtual hands versus your physical hands move, but it felt rather close to 1:1. We just saw a similar mechanic in Brass Tactics, a tabletop RTS game, but in that title, a single pull takes you a little too far, and we experienced some slight nausea as a result. In GORN, though, you move such a short distance at a slow enough speed that you shouldn’t come close to getting sick.
Another excellent little detail we noticed is that the weapons had “weight.” That’s awfully difficult to do when the weapons literally have no weight and the controllers have no haptics. However, the Vive controllers gave me just enough heft that I didn’t feel like I was merely flailing my arms about. It gave me a little bit of resistance, which aided the immersion. Rothmann, et al, also did a nearly perfect job of syncing elements to trick your mind into thinking you can feel a strike. When your weapon strikes the ground, there’s a small animation, like a puff of dirt, and a “thud” sound. You would swear you could feel your weapon land for real.
An Appropriate Amount Of Wonk In An Early Build
Rothmann was quick to remind me that I was experiencing an early, incomplete version of GORN. There’s much yet to be built--it appears there will be other arenas, at least--and plenty of bugs to work out. We noticed, for example, that when gladiators got too close, you can’t fight them. Some of our blows didn’t land where they should have, and the gladiators’ legs sometimes looked too wobbly.
Multiple times, we lost tracking on our weapons, and we couldn’t get it back until we died in that round and restarted.
There is a closed beta happening now, so we’re aware that the dev team has already made some new content, including new levels and such. Presumably, the bugs are getting squished as well.
Rothmann told us he didn’t have a firm launch date for GORN, but when it does arrive, it will likely cost between $15-20.