Cast your mind back to October 2016 when everyone was showing off that shark tank encounter in PlayStation VR Worlds to try and justify why they've suddenly started strapping a piece of plastic to their face. While there wasn't really much to it, the demo did a fantastic job of showcasing the sort of experience you can have in virtual reality.
Horizon Call of the Mountain occupies a similar position, but this time it's a fully-fledged game. Rather than turning it off after 10 minutes and thinking "that was neat!", there's an entire campaign to work through with story ties to Zero Dawn and Forbidden West. It represents Sony's commitment to the VR space with PSVR2: it's all in for a second attempt.
A recent hands on session at PlayStation's London headquarters reveals Horizon Call of the Mountain to be a proper showpiece title. With complete freedom to explore environments and the chance to follow a finely crafted story, it's what you'll want to show your friends when they come over and spot that strange headset sitting next to your PS5.
Our roughly 30-minute demo began at what appears to be the very start of the game; as the Sony and Firesprite Games logos disappear, it opens with the boat ride revealed in the announcement trailer. An on-rails section it may be, but it provides the chance to take in the enhanced visuals allowed by PSVR2. As machines fly overheard and run along by your side, you can dip your hand in the water or swipe aside the vines hanging overhead. The story of a prisoner rescue is set up here after you've been bailed out of jail, but the demo wasn't long enough for us to see the next beat.
Once you do gain control, you're able to move by holding the X and square buttons on the Sense controllers and then moving your arms in a marching motion. To move backwards, you hold the same two inputs but push your arms forward instead. In turn with adjusting the camera with the right analogue stick, you can get a walking pace going.
It feels fairly natural, but what seals the deal is mountain climbing. A lot like Aloy, this new protagonist spends just as much time on the ground as they do clinging onto rocks and crevices. With the L2 and R2 buttons confirming your actions, you can reach for ledges and pull yourself up and over cliffs. Ladders work the same way and so too does opening doors.
Once we got to grips with those actions, the demo introduced the trusty bow and a seemingly endless amount of arrows. To equip and put it away, you'll reach behind your left shoulder, hold the L2 button, and then bring your hand back to a natural position to find the bow in your palm. You do the same over your right shoulder to get an arrow. Some simple target practice helps you get acquainted, but you'll soon be shooting locks to gain access to optional content, highlighted by a sort of area scan you'd normally get from a Focus.
Without any load screens or fades to black, the demo guided us across rocky cliffs and vine-covered tree branches placed across drops into the wilderness below. Feeling a bit like Tarzan, it's easy to navigate these sections thanks to accurate tracking in the PSVR2 Sense controllers. Not once did we have to recalibrate ourselves; nor did we really need to think about inputs beyond tutorials. It feels smooth and natural.
Combat plays out quite a bit differently. Instead of having free movement, you're locked onto a set path that circles around an enemy. Your viewpoint is locked on the machine, but from here you can dodge to either side. This is done by holding the X button on the right-hand Sense controller and then bringing it towards your chest to move left. You then start from your chest and move the pad outwards to dodge right. When you're positioned correctly, you can start firing off arrows and target the same weak points from the main PS4 and PS5 titles. Watchers take extra damage from a blow to the eye and Thunderjaws dislike having their weapons and turrets ripped off. It's all in keeping with Zero Dawn and Forbidden West.
What will be interesting to see is how the game handles encounters with multiple machines. We only ever fought an enemy on its own in the demo, so it was easy to manage the circular track we were placed on as well as our combatant in the middle. Should you face off against more than one machine at once, we imagine all of them are placed in the centre and you dart and dodge around them all. It could get a bit overwhelming if you're having to switch between two or three pathways at once, having to compensate for attacks from multiple angles.
In between climbing and combat sequences, Horizon Call of the Mountain keeps you occupied with cute little activities to take part in. The target practice tutorial actually turns into a form of collectible, with spots to shoot down little baskets dotted along the main path. To the side, you can find a small cave with a paintbrush, allowing you to create your own hieroglyphics. Nothing of significant consequence, but fun discoveries off the beaten path.
It all forms an introductory sequence full of enjoyment, discovery, and a spot of combat. Of course, Horizon Call of the Mountain isn't open world, but the gameplay loop from Aloy's stories has been nicely adapted for a more linear adventure. You'll still be fighting the impressive machines of the Horizon world — the Tallnecks are particularly amazing as they stomp right over your head — and climbing about the beautiful post-apocalyptic universe remains as vital as ever. Only a few short sequences allowed for interaction with other characters, but there was a level of quality to them that suggests they're on par with Forbidden West.
As a result, it's easy to see why Sony has positioned Horizon Call of the Mountain as the premier PSVR2 title, outside of the obvious fact it's developed in-house. With the Horizon IP backing it, the new headset releases with a fantastic experience set around the same time as Zero Dawn and Forbidden West. After those two titles sold so well, Horizon Call of the Mountain is a tantalising reason to continue the story on a new platform. The opening half an hour suggests it'll deliver on everything we know and love about the Horizon series, all with more interactivity and immersion. Right now, it's the reason to grab a PSVR2 pre-order.
PSVR2 releases on 22nd February 2023, and you can sample All PSVR2 Launch Games besides Horizon Call of the Mountain through the link. Will you be buying the game? Let us know in the comments below.