February 22, 2023.
The world of Horizon has been ripe for additional entries since the first game, and while Horizon Call of the Mountain offers a unique way to explore the world previously only investigated by Aloy and is mostly a great experience, it doesn’t quite manage to avoid some pitfalls along the way.
Make no mistake, as a technical showcase, Horizon Call of the Mountain does its job. Stunning vistas that you’ve seen as flatter looking versions in Forbidden West and Zero Dawn are fully realised in Call of the Mountain. The vistas, machines, and even returning characters look the part, and have incredible attention to detail. Even having built a Tallneck in Lego form, seeing the underneath of its foot, the cables, wires, and metal moving as it nobly strides above me, was a fantastic experience.
Likewise, plunging into the water, jumping from cliff to rope, and taking on the many machines from the world of Horizon are all fun and intuitive. You simply have to bring your bow from over your shoulder and an arrow from the other, then place it over the bow, pull back; and fire. It’s satisfying, and there’s a good degree of aim-assistance so you aren’t missing all the time as well.
Combat is slightly different to how I’ve seen other VR-shooters handle things. While you have free roam to move about as you want during exploratory sections, combat is based around arena style encounters. You will be locked into a reasonably large area, depending on the foe, and you can strafe with the left stick, or dodge quickly with the right. Despite at first seeming like this slows the encounters down, in fact it becomes a frantic battle to keep out of the way while getting arrows on target, and you’ll likely even work up a sweat in some spots.
As you progress, the arrows you’d craft from the other Horizon games are present. These, like tools you use as well, must be crafted at first, and by that I mean you manually have to create them. One early use of this truly shows off both the fidelity of the visuals, and how good the inside-out tracking is for the controllers, as you have to tie a rope around a climbing tool slowly, to ensure it’s stable for future use. It requires you to properly move your hands in a 3D space, and while it might irritate some people, it’s a show of technological prowess, for sure.
Outside of combat, you’ll spend a lot of time climbing. As Ryas, a former Shadow Carja, you are a climber to rival even Aloy. Similar to how the main games make it obvious where you can reach to and move upwards or sideways, Horizon Call of the Mountain gives visual clues, too. In truth, the only thing that lets this one down is the climbing. It’s hard to articulate, but it just doesn’t feel quite right.
While moving up and round mountains you will likely have to adjust your viewpoint with the right stick. My suspicion here is that the developer intended for you to move your head and body in a fully 3D space, but the truth is that few people have the room required to make this a reality. On top of that, you can move at some pace, swinging hand over hand as you sidle along a rope or wood building, and it just doesn’t look right. Perhaps the market for those who have actually done climbing and Horizon isn’t a big overlap, but I think most people know you can’t really easily free climb with your hands at waist height. It’s clear from conversations with others in the game that Ryas is a master at climbing, but the upper body strength required to almost shimmy on your hands above a beam is just ridiculous, and forcing a slower, more methodical climbing aspect would have enhanced the immersion no end. Instead you’re left criss-crossing hands, and finding yourself at all manner of obtuse angles that make no sense.
The accessibility options for how you can play, by the way, are to be applauded. Whether you want to play standing or sitting, you can adjust so much of Call of the Mountain to suit how used to VR you are. For example, I have played VR a lot so I wanted full freedom to move with the sticks smoothly. You might be new, and that’ll make you get motion sickness pretty quickly. There are movement options to mitigate this, and eye tracking is utilised in smart ways, but even that can be turned off as well.
It’s worth noting that Horizon Call of the Mountain is a decent length as well. There are paths you can choose to go one way or another, and the result of those choices makes for quite a different game. One path I chose left and ended up fighting two flying machines in a difficult fight that required fire arrows to make it easier. Replaying that section and going right ended in a stealth section with multiple Watchers patrolling a mine that I had to climb. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen in VR games often, and it’s commendable how much has gone into making a detailed, realised world.
Exploring the mountain ranges you’ll find so many items to interact with, from musical instruments to targets that you shoot down that are ultimately collectibles. There’s a training range with leaderboards that is tremendous fun, and existing with the characters and locations that feel familiar but different due to the virtual reality is truly a wonder to behold.
Despite being a “full game” for want of a better phrase, Horizon Call of the Mountain is only really let down by some immersion breaking climbing at times. The combat is great, the story interesting (even filling in some blanks and fleshing out the world), and it looks and sounds incredible. While I’d like to have seen a few more uses of the newer tech that only PlayStation VR2 can add, this is a great launch title and one any fan of Horizon will want to play. It’s not perfect, but it’s a powerful showcase of the platform, with a wealth of accessibility options, and is a good indication of what could be to come.
Great feeling combat
Fun to explore
Great accessibility options
Climbing doesn’t quite feel right
Feels like a side story
Horizon Call of the Mountain is a great launch title with impressive tech shown off at every corner, only let down by some of the climbing.