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Horizon Call of the Mountain is een solide vr-game | Review

Doesn’t climb all the way to the top

Written by Harry Hol up

Actually, it is a strange choice by Sony to use the Horizon series to promote PlayStation VR2. The Horizon games are great open-world games with a fantastically designed setting, but more or less also the textbook example of game design, which is not yet coming out well in virtual reality. A large, freely explorable world in VR with dynamic battles against huge beasts… how do you do that in virtual reality?

The opening scene of Horizon Call of the Mountain could also be the beginning of an Elder Scrolls game: you are a prisoner on a transport. You don’t know what’s going on and there’s nothing you can do but follow the instructions of your guards as you slide down a river together in a canoe. Not just any river, of course, but a river in the world of Horizon. The jungle around you is colorful and full of details, while meters-high mechanical monsters are looking for prey. Of course things go wrong after a while and passive waiting is over.

That opening is phenomenal theme park entertainment. As a showpiece of the graphical power of PS VR2, combined with the PS5, this is an overwhelming success. This is one of the most impressive demonstrations of virtual reality. The details, the colors, the force feedback on the VR headset and the ambient sound actually place you in a different world, which is exactly what the technology aims for.

But then the game has yet to begin. Too often we are briefly impressed by a beautiful tech demo only to discover that there is no game under the hood to give depth to all those visual fireworks. There is (fortunately) a solid game under all the spectacle of Call of the Mountain, where you use bow and arrow to defeat enemies and in which you have to climb a lot.

Call of the Mountain lets you explore the game world in two ways. There are parts in which you ‘just’ have to walk. You can do this via the stick, or by swinging your arms as if you are making a walking movement. These modes of locomotion work in themselves, but they are notorious for people susceptible to sim disease. It is therefore not surprising that developers Guerrilla and Firesprite play a large part of the game along rock walls, where you have to climb to find your way.

Horizon Call of the Mountain

That climbing is exactly like in The Climb 1 and 2, two games in which you climb rock walls with your VR controllers. You always grab handles and pull yourself up virtually. But where in The Climb you constantly have to watch your endurance, in Horizon you are free to climb as long and as far as the game world allows. In addition, you gradually get more instruments and aids, such as climbing hooks or the grabcaster (the ‘hookshot’ from the Horizon games), and you sometimes make considerable swings with nothing below you than tens of meters of virtual depth.

The advantage of climbing as locomotion is that you don’t get sick of it. The downside is that it is quite a physical activity that can make longer sessions uncomfortable. Make sure you have a spacious playground and watch out that you don’t punch housemates.

Horizon Call of the Mountain

As in Horizon Zero Dawn and Forbidden West, there is an extensive crafting system. You make all kinds of gauges yourself by providing them with upgrades. The nice thing about it is that you can also do this ‘yourself’ by, for example, attaching blaze (combustible material) to the arrowhead. Since this is virtual reality, you use your hands to do this and this all feels a lot more hands-on than pressing X until you have a new stock.

You need those different weapons and types of arrows for the fights. They take place in special arenas where you use your weapons to fight the well-known mechanical dinosaurs. You don’t have to run through the arena like you would in a traditional open world game. With the stick you can do a dodge, which quickly moves you a few meters. It’s not teleporting, it’s more like a short sprint in a direction of your choice. In addition, you also have to dodge projectiles from the opponents with your head.

The main weapon at your disposal is the bow and arrow, which you aim thanks to the eye tracking of the PS VR2. This allows you to fire precision shots at the weak parts of the monsters.

Horizon Call of the Mountain

Between all those moments of fear of heights and fights to the death, there are also quiet situations where you explore locations. The developers have added all kinds of interactive elements here and there. In the beginning, for example, you will find a pan flute that you can play by holding it near your mouth. You will also meet other characters and solve small puzzles in the environment.

These moments are also meant to tell the story – a story that doesn’t have a lot of depth, by the way. You don’t play as Aloy this time, but as former Shadow Carja rebel Ryas, who must make amends for his past crimes through a series of challenges. It serves the spectacle, but not a continuation or deepening of the ‘real’ Horizon games with Aloy.

Horizon Call of the Mountain

Have Guerrilla and Firesprite succeeded in bringing the open world series to virtual reality? Yes and no. Anyone who thinks that Call of the Mountain is just as huge an open world game as the other Horizon games will be disappointed. This is mainly a side story that aims to demonstrate the power of PS VR2. To achieve this goal, we took a close look at what worked well in previous VR games from other developers. Those who have more VR experience will recognize the elements from other games. The Climb is clearly an inspiration, but we also saw archery before. For example, it was in The Lab, the free tech demo that Valve released for the HTC Vive.

However, all elements are used very well here. It is clear that the developers have a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t work in virtual reality. At the same time, the game is therefore also somewhat conservative. The innovation lies in the graphics and how the recognizable elements are fused into a coherent whole. But it is also very promising. Guerilla Games has shown time and time again that they are very critical of themselves and learn from their previous work. The fact that they come up with this very solid VR game in collaboration with Firesprite on day one, which actually makes no mistakes anywhere, promises something for the future.

Horizon Call of the Mountain is now available for PlayStation 5. A PlayStation VR2 headset is required.

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