When virtual reality was devised in the 70s, I'm sure there were lengthy imaginative conversations about using it to simulate battles and fend off enemies with hand to hand and weaponised combat. Here we stand in 2021 with VR devices in our homes, simulating anything you can imagine from drunken bar fights to throwing quite literally anything around and making a hilarious mess in a virtual environment. Swords of Gargantua plays on the relatively under utilised genre of sword fighting within a similar style to the copious amounts of wave shooters we have been playing for years. This "Wave-Slasher" (a term I will coin) brings you into close quarters battle, sparring with a variety of enemies in an arena on a quest for survival over 101 floors of gritty gladiator-like combat.
The basic plot is that the gods were defeated by false gods of their own making, it now falling to man to defeat these fallacious deities. I'll be brutally honest and admit that I didn't really understand much of what was going on, but you don't really need to in order to enjoy the game. Just take up arms and strive onwards as succinctly as possible and with as much skill and courage as you can muster. I was hooked at the mere thought of some epic boss battles too, and this game's core ethos revved me up without even trying, I just hoped it could be as cool as I imagined it to be.
Starting the game up I had an extremely weird glitch, my hands were on the wrong way round and would not self right themselves no matter how many times I tried to reset my position with the options button. Eventually, they reset and I was no longer a walking mangled abomination and I could continue with the initial set up. The configuration options include your height, motion options to suppress motion sickness and adjust movement for comfort. I set my rotation settings to 50 as the turning circle was just too small by default and far too many taps of a button were required to reorient yourself correctly to take on the next foe. Locking on and targeting each foe is definitely a good strategy, and learning to dodge is useful for getting out of a bind quickly given the rather over zealous distance you seem to travel in one quick evasive burst.
Tutorial levels at the beginning teach you how to handle your weapons, how to use a sword, shield and more, including combinations and enchanting them with power. Picking up your first sword there is a natural propensity to swing it around and jab and this plays perfectly into the very core mechanics of this game. Swords of Gargantua, by its very name, is a sword fighting simulator that actually gets it right. The heft and yaw of the larger weapons feels heavy and more laboured, whereas the smaller lighter foils cut through the air much faster though with less clout. The angle at which you hold your weaponry is critical in how well you will perform, as blocking and parrying relies on observation of an enemies attack, converted into a counter attack first, before you deal an sort of damage against them. Once you parry and open up their body to mutilation, you can chain together combinations by targeted striking of the green lit zones across the anatomy. Swinging and striking with longer more realistic motion also yields higher damage infliction due to the more realistic actions performed, so if you think you can get away with simply poking around or stabbing with lacklustre low-energy actions: think again!
I got stuck on the enchanting tutorial for way longer than I should have simply due to the fact I had the wrong sword in my hand when attempting to enchant it. Ironically the sword I had in hand was identical to the one I was meant to be using, but this wasn't pointed out clearly, which caused me a little aggravation straight off the bat. I feel that there could definitely have been a little more direction given here to avoid me wasting energy on the entirely wrong sword.
Entering the Tesseract Abyss, you start out with empty hands and a couple of plinths beside you. Leaving the relative safety of the initial penned off enclosure you are greeted with a massive on-screen overlay which denotes the beginning of this battle, and you instinctively scramble to grab a weapon and turn to face your foes. Do you grab two swords, a sword and a shield, a dagger? There is a glint, a feint moment of Gladiator-like, Spartacus-esqe primal battle instinct kicking in as you arm yourself, though any real sense of grandeur here is a little underwhelming with these moments due to the flat looking, relatively low resolution graphics and small rather generic arenas you have to play around in. There are no massive sprawling arenas, no interesting geometry to use to attack and defend from, no breakable objects, its all rather plain and perhaps a little too clinical. Swords of Gargantua is undeniably basic looking, and incredibly repetitive with its enemy types and environments, but this just serves to focus your attention down onto the action and getting caught up in some epic fights. There is an incredible feeling of achievement when you realise just how deep the combat can actually be in this title; you have to analyse, adapt, and overcome each og your foes, hoping to gain the upper-hand early on in the battles as more often than not its not a simple one on one affair.
Due to the nature of the PSVR hardware I quite often found myself overcome by enemies flanking me that I simply couldn't rotate around to face quick enough. The 360 degree aspect of the game is immensely more captivating than it would have been with mere one on one battles, however, becoming surrounded is amazingly annoying if you cannot engage due to the control scheme and hardware constraining you. If the PSVR had upgraded controllers with analogue sticks this may have eased off needing to constantly flick your head around to evade or hit the turn button repeatedly to face your foes, and sure you can lock on, but the fluidity is stifled somewhat, and I really felt that the wired hardware in use was perhaps a little antiquated and in need of a refresh to really get the most out of this type of experience. The move controllers buttons for lateral movement, back and forth and turning just isn't inducive of intuitive gameplay.
If you consider each floor to be one battle, and each battle to be composed of multiple enemies then you can expect a rather harsh regimen of twisting and thrashing on your wrists. I found that after roughly an hour or so of play I was noticing fatigue in my dominant wrist, and as a result I kept wanting to have a little rest in between each floor. Initially I attributed this to my utter noob-ness within this games forum, however it also struck me that the PlayStation 5's loading times were next to non existent when played from the internal drive, and so there was no respite in between rounds that you may have been able to rest through on the PS4. Though I quite easily managed to rack up 20 to 30+ floors each sitting, every time I played I felt like I needed just a few seconds to regain some composure before each bout commenced, and at one point I found myself hanging about in the penned off starting areas just to shake off any neck and wrist aches or pains before reading to engage in the next round.
At the end of each battle you have the option to refill any depleted meters, spin the judgement wheel, or unlock new weaponry. Depending on how well you play you also unlock blessings up improve movement speed and health stats, for example, which you can combine and utilise at will to increase your chances of surviving to the top of the tower. The judgement wheel gives buffs of nerfs, blessings or curses, on every spin, but be warned curses stay with you until you die so consider it a game of chance that may well hamper any progress you thought you might make. You can also choose which way to travel after a level, either up one floor, up a couple of floors or skipping 10 or so floors to progress to floor 101 faster. This idea is fantastic for the seasoned player as it allows you to build up your skill-set and experiences and skip faster back to a point at which your skills become tested again rather than just being forced to grind the entirety of the game to get back to the level you once died on.
The pre-game lobby houses your upgrades "bench" where you can double down on your weapons combining similar ones together to multiply their strength and durability. Mid battle you have to sheath your weapon to let it repair and rebuild as it only has a finite level of durability, and getting hammered by massive blows, even when perfectly parried, will dull even the strongest of swords eventually. Building these upgrades early on meant that I had more stable load out to re-enter the fray, and handily, these upgrades stay permanently bringing a sense of achievement to forging tougher variants to make your next run even more fruitful straight out the gate. You can opt for smaller swifter weapons with faster attack rates and more stabby-stabby properties to chip away at targeted weak-points on enemies, or you could wield two-handed behemoth-like weapons such as axes and morning stars that deal huge impact damage and knock down enemies with ease. With approximately 30 weapons across 14 weapon categories and the ability to dual wield, I really thought that this game had a decent selection to uncover as they can be found in obvious places around the arenas, but I discovered that rarer more obscure weapons are found by entering the online timed events. These events often yield new weapons not found anywhere else in the game, so effectively these are well earned, free DLC weapons that can really change it up from time to time.
Swords of Gargantua is a phenomenal title that packs a lot of technique and finesse into just £19.99's worth of digital currency, however it is held back by the platform on which it is played. PSVR is in desperate need of a refresh in order to make games like this really shine on home console hardware. Other platforms had Swords of Gargantua a good six months before it came to PlayStation, with a beta for it several months before that, and it was allowed to use the latest variety of PC/VR input devices, the majority of which have analogue sticks. If you can find a happy set up to get the most out of SOG, then you will find hours of pleasure in this title, but if you're pernickety about your control schemes you may find this one hard to get into on this platform. You can finish the game in well under an hour once your skills are honed and your weapons are powerfully forged, but I can't help but feel this is more of a tech demo than a fully fleshed out title. Perhaps if the developers get to refresh this title with next gen hardware in mind we may see some incredibly all-encompassing VR game-play with more freedom and free-form game-play ingenuity than ever before.