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Golem Review: Hidden In Plain Sight

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Golem often feels at odds with itself. This gorgeous puzzle-filled adventure successfully wraps you in a mystical world, where bright hues and cheerful melodies set the mood. But beneath this inviting exterior lie disjointed challenges that no amount of whimsy can sugarcoat. Even with smart mechanics that are introduced at a sensible pace, Golem's rhythm is regularly disturbed by jarring difficulty spikes and obtuse solutions.

A vague narrative tells of a lost civilization that once upon a time used magical stone creatures to build and maintain its structures. These beings, or golems, are practically extinct, save for one you're tasked to rebuild throughout ten puzzle-filled stages. Starting as a lifeless ball, the golem feels like a nuisance at first, which only serves to make its eventual evolution that much more gratifying.

As your golem is slowly pieced back together, new mechanics are introduced to allow for more complex puzzles. When it gains the ability to walk on its own, for example, you will have to accurately predict its movement while manipulating the environment to clear pathways at the right moments. Later, it evolves into a dog-like creature that you can command to move to specific locations, and will eventually grow strong enough to carry you across treacherous tracts of land that are otherwise impassable.

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Golem's ten stages act as large puzzle rooms, each with the objective of going from one end to the other. This traversal is restricted by your golem's growing moveset, which puts the onus on you to chart an appropriate course. This can be as simple as moving a rock pillar to close a gap, or as complex as activating a series of switches to resuscitate an old, aging turbine that in turn spins up other nearby mechanisms. Regardless of the conceit, the goal remains the same but with shifting responsibilities. Your golem will sometimes, for example, need to be precisely placed to apply pressure to a switch, giving you access to a new area via a now moving railcar. In turn you might need to ensure that your ally has a clear path to the next hurdle. If you've gone one step too far without a clear solution in sight, backtracking and starting from scratch may be your only option.

Herein lies one of Golem's most frustrating aspects. Puzzles ought to require intricate solutions that make you second guess your instincts, and the best of them give you that "aha" moment, when you recognize that the blueprint to success was evident from the start--you just hadn't yet learned how to see a certain number of steps ahead. Golem instead obscures your view of many puzzle elements, forcing you to succeed through trial and error as opposed to relying on foresight and analysis. Golem also regularly fails to make some unique interactive objects standout from the background, which forces you to tediously move your mouse around the screen to determine what is or isn't useful. Basic switches and levers, on the other hand, are clearly marked; an inconsistency that makes it hard to trust that the game is always playing fair.

Moving about a stage isn't a fast or free-flowing affair, but instead a point-and-click style dictation. This systematic process and your character's slow movement speed is mercifully compensated for with the inclusion of a fast-forward button, which you’ll use frequently. And just like the indiscernible key items throughout each stage, walkable pathways are often indistinguishable from off-limits areas. The inconsistency of Golem's visual language leads to tiring efforts of just clicking on possible destinations in the hopes of finding one that's actually accessible.

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Golem confuses size with ingenious puzzle design, which just dilutes the euphoria it aims to generate on completion. Yet it still conjures infrequent moments of bliss that re-establish a sense of wonder. Golem’s vast, mysterious world is ultimately inviting to poke and prod around in, even if its stringent mechanics don’t allow for looking further beyond the stage at hand. There’s an underlying drive to discover what this world is about, what secrets its lost inhabitants might have held, that prevent temptations to just leave it entirely. Golem’s puzzles might feel shallow, but its saving grace is the captivating setting it desperately latches them onto.

It's the fizzle at the end of the fuse that encompasses a disappointing journey into an otherwise visually captivating world. Golem attempts but fails to find harmony in bringing a vague tale together with any sort of emotional resonance. That might have been easier to forgive if the journey itself was exceptional. Instead Golem's inconsistent puzzles and jarring difficulty spikes will infuriate you more than they infatuate.

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