Ever wondered why Aloy has abs so rippled they’d make a Greek statue blush? It turns out surviving the tribal world of Horizon is tough – as PSVR2 launch title Call of the Mountain can attest. This next-gen virtual reality effort from The Persistence developer Firesprite and famed first-party Guerrilla Games is unflinchingly physical, but its unique platforming gameplay and jaw-dropping vistas make it a perfect showpiece for Sony’s impressive new hardware.
Before we dig into the details, it’s imperative to underline exactly what this outing is: it’s a relatively linear platformer with an enormous emphasis on first-person climbing, and not an open world RPG like its console counterparts. While its story and lore is consistent with characters and events referenced in the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon Forbidden West, it’s very much a spin-off that pins its flag to its unique scrambling gameplay.
You play as a character called Ryas, a voiced protagonist with about as much personality as a cardboard box. The plot, if you choose to engage with it, demands knowledge of Horizon’s fiction – and it doesn’t spare any time to catch you up on events if you glossed over any of the main games. Personally, while we appreciated the cameos from characters like Aloy and Blameless Marad, we found it almost impossible to keep up with the politics, all involving the Carjas and the Red Raids.
That’s partly because existing alongside these characters in virtual reality is so dazzling that it’s difficult to pay attention to what they’re actually saying. Make no mistake, this is the mind blowing PSVR2 visual tour-de-force that Sony promised: the Horizon world has always looked extraordinary, owing to the series’ outstanding art direction, but existing within it is truly mesmerising – it cannot be overstated just how good parts of this game look.
The thing that’s most impressive is the release’s sense of scale, but surprisingly it’s not just the Tallnecks and Thunderjaws that provide the shock-and-awe. Indeed, you’ll spend a lot of your time in this game with your nose pinned up against a craggy wall, and the little patches of moss growing against the rock look dense and detailed in a way we hadn’t ever anticipated. Each individual leg of your climbs will conclude with an impressive vista, allowing you to breathe in the views while your heart rate stabilises.
As mentioned above, this is a physical game – regardless of whether you’re playing standing or seated, both of which work well. While you won’t have to deal with your body weight as you clamber up rock faces, you’ll spend a lot of time with your arms up in the air, clutching at hand-holds as you ascend the game world. The improved tracking of the PSVR2 Sense Controllers, paired with a largely forgiving lock-on system, truly will make you feel like an Olympic climber.
The platforming, which reminds us of a kind of first-person Uncharted, is fun on its own – but once you start unlocking different utilities, it’s elevated to a new level. There are obvious inclusions, like a hookshot, but you’ll also get tools like a rope caster – allowing you to create bespoke cable lines between points of interest. While the level design is largely linear and there’s rarely ever any danger of getting lost, it’s still entertaining scrambling your way through the world.
Some sections which would be relatively unremarkable in a flat-screen game are elevated thanks to virtual reality, too. For example, there’s one extended platforming sequence where you’re in a cavernous hollow being stalked by Watchers, the observant dinobots from the main games. These nimble hunks of metal will scan for you, and so you’ll need to scramble to the next point of cover while they’re not looking – a simple sequence, perhaps, but utterly incredible with PSVR2.
There are other similar set-pieces involving some of the larger metallic creatures, like the Thunderjaw. The game really amps up the immersion in these moments, utilising all of the headset’s tricks to create truly memorable encounters. For instance, when one of the creatures roars directly in your face, the haptic feedback in the headset itself pulsates, allowing you to physically feel the air being driven through your hair.
Every moment in the campaign has been tailor made to take advantage of the hardware, and we could overspill our word count just pointing these out. But it’s best to just let you feel the squeeze of the triggers as you clasp ropes, or the subtle shake in the controller as you reach for an arrow over your shoulder. We didn’t encounter too many issues with the unique control scheme, although the pickaxes can be finicky at accurately lodging into the appropriate surfaces at times.
The game also, surprisingly, has some performance issues which result in the odd noticeable chug. While we wouldn’t say it’s a deal-breaker by any stretch – it’s clearly pushing the hardware hard – these little inconsistencies are generally considered a big no-no in virtual reality, where smooth performance is king, and we suppose could lead to the odd upset stomach. The developer’s said a launch day patch should tighten up these little oversights.
Less likely to be updated is the combat, which is probably our least favourite part of the game. In order to make tracking such ginormous beasts manageable, the developer has fixed combat to a kind of ring, where you circle your aggressor. While firing arrows – with the aim of knocking off pieces of armour – feels quite gratifying, the foes are bullet sponges, and we found ourselves digging into the generous array of accessibility options to increase our damage output.
The campaign will take you roughly six to eight hours to beat, but this feels more than adequate in the headset, as it isn’t a game you’ll want to marathon anyway. Replay value is available in the form of collectible targets you need to locate and shoot down, as well as cairns that you need to manually stack in order to reach a desired height. There’s also a demo mode, called Machine Safari, which serves as a fantastic little five minute rollercoaster to show friends and family – and a surprisingly involved obstacle course minigame.
Horizon Call of the Mountain is not without its flaws, but it’s hard to imagine a better showcase of PSVR2’s potential than this. The core climbing gameplay is impressively executed, and it evolves just enough over the course of the campaign to remain fulfilling. We’re not a huge fan of the combat, and the plot is practically impenetrable unless you’re a franchise die-hard, but these niggles don’t necessarily deter from the overall satisfaction you’ll feel as you scale rock-faces several hundred metres into the sky.