There’s a lot of climbing you’ll do as Ryas, a former Shadow Carja on the run from something, and in VR, that equates to realistic hand-tracking and plenty of rock-climbing mimicking the moves of someone like Gabe Walker. Sly Stallone in Cliffhanger
for those not weirdly obsessed with that film.
Climbing and VR go hand-in-hand (or is that hand-over-hand), and in Sony’s major first-party launch title for the recently released PlayStation VR2
- the ratio of climbing to non-climbing activities in Horizon Call of the Mountain
feels a little out of whack.
This is a shame because a more focused and varied experience could have propelled the game to greatness. Thanks to the brilliant visuals and underlying hardware, even though your arms will tire of using pickaxes and rope thingies to climb up some truly imposing cliffsides and mountains, Horizon Call of the Mountain never loses its sense of scale, wonder, and sheer beauty.
Looking down when you reach a summit or take a breather between climbing excursions to take in the sights is awe-inspiring. Horizon’s rocky mountains, jungles, waterfalls, and icy peaks look stunning in VR. That said, non-VR Horizon star Aloy is shorter than expected when your paths cross. Still, it’s a testament to the impressive visuals and immersion of PS VR2 that when you meet Aloy early on, you can’t help but freeze a little like a fan meeting a celebrity for the first time. VR has that effect.
Even though your arms will tire of using pickaxes and rope thingies to climb up some truly imposing cliffsides and mountains, Horizon Call of the Mountain never loses its sense of scale, wonder, and sheer beauty.
It’s not all climbing and answering the titular call of the, err, mountain - the game successfully and intelligently translates quite a bit of the Horizon Zero Dawn
formula into VR. After a spectacle-driven introduction going down a river and witnessing many a familiar robo-dino doing their thing (but never like this, the Tall Neck is just so, well, tall in VR), you’re quickly given a bow that you can use to shoot at hidden targets while exploring. And at enemies and bosses and groups of robo-baddies in well-designed combat arenas.
Combat in Horizon has always been fast and tactical, and in Horizon Call of the Mountain, that’s still the case - except redesigned for VR. In the game’s combat and boss arenas, you can circle strafe with the left analogue stick or make quick left and right dodge/dash moves with the right analogue stick. It’s simple, but it helps keep the pace similar to what fans of the Horizon series are used to, not to mention keep that heart-rate pumping. The Thunderjaw fight, which happens at around the halfway point, is an all-timer.
Hold the bow horizontally with your palm facing up, and you can switch between different arrow types. As for shooting, it’s intuitive, and pulling off a well-aimed headshot in VR is exhilarating. Even if there’s some aim-assist action going on. As the PS VR2’s headset features inside-out tracking with cameras for precise controller positioning - it can glitch out a bit when grabbing arrows out of view. This is due to the nature of the tech and not the game's fault.
Horizon Call of the Mountain is lengthy, with a campaign that lasts around 8 to 10 hours with additional Challenge content and expanded story and lore to discover. It retains the crafting elements of the Aloy-outings, while throwing in some fun for the sake of fun VR elements like restoring health via eating virtual apples, arranging rocks as markers, and even picking up a brush for some colorful cave painting.
Combat in Horizon has always been fast and tactical, and in Horizon Call of the Mountain, that’s still the case - except redesigned for VR.
Multiple control methods exist, but full locomotion control works great thanks to the PS VR2’s increased resolution, field-of-view, and refresh rate. You’re more likely to feel a little queasy from the actual views and up-high vistas in the game versus what you might experience using a VR headset like the original PS VR. As a launch title, the visuals and mechanics in Horizon Call of the Mountain serve as a wonderful jumping-off point for future PS VR2 games.
And speaking of jumping off, leaping over chasms and gaps is handled via gesture controls where you hold the grip buttons and pull your arms towards you in a single motion. It’s fun.
Although the focus on climbing over stealth, puzzle solving, and action might be the game’s ultimate issue - Horizon Call of the Mountain is still much more than an impressive tech demo. It saves that for a cool Machine Safari mode where you simply sit there as you ride a boat down a river of Horizon’s Greatest Mechanical Hits Vol. 1.
It sits alongside other titles in the franchise while falling short and topping previous games, depending on the situation. There’s just nothing quite like that feeling of being in the world that VR delivers, and even though there’s a lot of repetition across the multiple climbing sections, it still trumps doing the same thing as Aloy. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s all so real (virtually speaking) that makes these traditional videogame things feel more repetitive in VR. Looking back at Horizon Forbidden West
footage - that game was chock full of climbing too.