Horizon Call of the Mountain review: Simply amazing!
Horizon Call of the Mountain for Playstation VR 2 is a good reason to buy the VR headset. You're not afraid of heights, are you?
High-quality VR games are few and far between, particularly from the so-called triple-A sector. The most important milestone is undoubtedly Half-Life: Alyx, which is only available for PC VR and therefore inaccessible to millions of gamers. Few comparable games, like perhaps The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners (review), have been released since Valve's hit.
There have also been a few big games announced for Playstation VR, but hardly anything has been truly designed and built for virtual reality. That is about to change with the launch of Playstation VR 2 (info), and it is doing so with a bang.
Horizon Call of the Mountain review in a nutshell
I am celebrating Horizon like no other VR game in recent years. It's a stunning example of what VR can do, and what a popular and familiar game world can look like in VR.
Horizon Call of the Mountain looks incredibly good, is extremely detailed, has great animated NPCs - fans of the series will kneel before Aloy! - and thrilling, sometimes epic battles, despite the movement limitations.
The only possible problem is if you suffer from an incurable fear of heights. Horizon lets you climb and dangle high above magnificent vistas. Keep one hand on the mountain and you'll be fine. Honestly.
That is, until you have to jump over a precipice onto a rock face with a pair of pickaxes in your hand ...
No, seriously, that's great too.
Horizon Call of the Mountain is for you if you want to...
- play one of the best VR games ever,
- experience fantastic graphics, wonderful views and great NPCs,
- master long and exciting climbs,
- fight action-packed battles against giant machines,
- really immerse yourself in the Horizon world and
- get to know Aloy in virtual reality.
Horizon Call of the Mountain is less suitable for you if you...
- have an incurable fear of heights,
- accept only free movement in battles,
- expect pro-gaming-level challenges, and
- prefer to avoid strenuous VR games.
The Story & Characters
Anyone who has played Horizon Call of the Wild and Forbidden West will feel right at home in Call of the Mountain. Take on the role of Ryas, a Shadow Carja released from prison to investigate the increasingly frequent machine attacks.
That requires climbing the highest mountains in the Sun Kingdom and following your brother Urid. The story is solid overall, though it is fairly simple while not always being easy to follow. The game takes between six and ten hours to complete, depending on your pace.
Ryas meets various characters, including Aloy, the heroine of both PS4 and PS5 games. What impressed me from the start was the authenticity and the natural feeling of the NPCs. They are incredibly well animated - the eyes, the mouth, the face, and the movement are as good as I have ever seen them in a VR game. This is how VR games come to life. It's worth playing Horizon Call of the Mountain just for that.
VR movement in Horizon Call of the Mountain
Horizon offers comfort settings to minimize VR motion sickness, such as moving by swinging your arms. Fluid locomotion is also possible.
In the role of Ryas, I don't see my body, just very detailed hands. This is not a limitation as it involves me better than a body that is inevitably not cleanly tracked would.
With these hands, I grab ledges, metal parts, and ropes while climbing. Or I take grappling hooks and other tools and objects from my inventory to cross chasms, pull objects towards me, and open locks.
With a grip over my shoulder, I draw my high-tech bow for target shooting as well as hunting machine guards and larger metal monsters. There is less emphasis on full bow simulation here. Normal aiming is enough, and the eye-tracking is supporting my aim, so I manage to hit a target even at long range. The developers achieve a perfect compromise between the challenge of real-life archery and the fun expected of a console game.
This is especially true of the various movement actions that make me feel like Kratos from God of War or an action hero from the movies. With a pickaxe in each hand and a proper swing of both hands at the same time, I jump in slow motion from the edge of a precipice to the opposite rock face. I slam the pickaxe into the rock and slide down the wall a bit until they finally grip. Phew, that was... great!
There are more exciting, thrilling, and sometimes slightly scary moments (almost no jump scares), but I won't spoil them for you. It's quite an experience.
I have to get used to dizzy heights, though. It's not uncommon for me to be hanging with one hand (never letting go of the grip button!), miles above the ground, with a fantastic view, and having to pull and operate a climbing tool (such as a rope launcher) with the other hand, and then swing along the rope to the next handhold. Even though I'm slowly getting used to it, it feels like pure adrenaline coursing through my veins.
This VR game requires stamina, especially in the arms. After two hours of climbing - and there is a lot of climbing - I can clearly see the ground that I covered. The upside is that it has a certain fitness factor, and you'll find it's good for your arms and shoulders.
A stunningly beautiful world
The game world is nothing short of stunning: Green forests alternate with post-apocalyptic scenes, and snow-capped mountains with colorful valleys. The water rendering is exquisite, and the vistas can be breathtaking.
It's a shame that some of the cloudscapes are static, but otherwise, I found a new "wow" moment every few minutes. Sometimes it feels like Horizon Call of the Mountain is primarily a showcase for grand vistas.
Horizon Call of the Mountain: Epic battles against machines
That's shortsighted, though. Apart from the climbing and the quiet admiration of the views, the fast, action-packed fights are a highlight of the game. They take place almost exclusively in arenas, where I no longer move freely, but in circles or sideways on rails.
This sounds restrictive, but it isn't. On the contrary, it allows you to master the complexity of the combat system. Quick dodges with the analog stick support sideways movement. Switching between arrows, such as fire or shock arrows, provides effects that can damage a Thunderjaw over time, or even knock it out for a short time.
I can then calmly aim at the enemy's missile launchers or other targets and block some of their attacks. Missiles, drones, lasers, or direct physical attacks are constantly flying in my direction, and I'm usually busy dodging them.
Having the action in front of me and moving in circles around the arena takes unnecessary complexity out of the fight. While this makes the game much easier for VR pros, it also makes it more accessible to casual players. The latter is important.
Horizon Call of the Mountain review summary: A roaring start - hopefully more to come
I haven't felt this eager to play a VR game in a long time. When the Sense controllers needed recharging after about two and a half hours, I couldn't wait to get back to swinging from rope to rock face at crazy heights and shooting arrows into oversized machines.
The game strikes a good balance between quiet passages and wild action. It's all so polished that I had to look hard for areas that hadn't been given as much attention, such as some of the lower-resolution textures.
I encountered almost no bugs. Sometimes the game physics played a trick on me when something got stuck or the collision detection was a little too strict. Completing the game took me around nine hours (including all of my sightseeing).
The only thing that still bothers me now is wondering when there will be more VR games like this. Horizon Call of the Mountain shows what is possible in virtual reality, similar to Half-Life: Alyx years ago. Only this time on a powerful console with much higher accessibility and therefore potential user base than PC VR. The ball is in the big game publishers' court.
Look at what Guerilla Games and the Sony studios created. This is how well VR works on Playstation 5. With more VR games like this, more and more gamers will discover VR for themselves. With the Playstation VR 2, VR finally has the hardware to break out of its eternal gaming niche. Horizon Call of the Mountain is the first hit of the new VR platform. Now it all depends on how many quality VR games follow in the coming years.