Whenever a new console or fancy accessory, like an expensive PlayStation VR 2 headset, is released, there is a rush for the game company to launch a bunch of titles all at once to prove its value. These games tend to span the range of lazy tie-ins that wouldn’t sell at any other time, tech demos, and a rare amazing gem that will be forever associated with the device. From the initial crop of games released with the PSVR2, Horizon: Call of the Mountain is the one that called out to me the most. But where does it fall on the scale?
What is Horizon: Call of the Mountain?
Horizon: Call of the Mountain is set in the same universe as Horizon: Forbidden West and Horizon: Zero Dawn but, crucially, it is the first game of the series that doesn’t star Aloy. Instead, you play as Ryas, a former Shadow Carja rebel sentenced to a particularly intense form of community service.
At first, I was disappointed to discover the game featured Ryas instead of Aloy. I wanted it to be part of the main canon of the series. I wanted to be Aloy. But in hindsight, I actually love the switch. It wouldn’t make sense to advance Aloy’s story in a game most players won’t have access to (assuming the PSVR2 doesn’t magically start selling in pace with the PS5), and it brings back the pleasant vibe of PSP exclusive games. An extra story in a world you know and love, but in a delightful form factor.
Even after playing, I have no real connection with Ryas. He sure was a perfectly fine self-insert vehicle for the game, and I have no quarrel with him, but I also don’t think we need any more games about him.
Unlike previous Horizon games, this one doesn’t drag out for 40 hours, and you really wouldn’t want it to in VR.
Is Horizon Call of the Mountain good?
The first 5-10 minutes of Horizon: Call off the Mountain feels exactly like the first time you go on the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios in LA.
If you’re not familiar with the ride, it begins as a standard boat tour of a zoo with dinosaurs. The boat starts out drifting peacefully through the enclosures while the recorded tour guide calmly tells you about what’s going on, and then things go off the rails as you discover more and more dangerous dinosaurs have broken containment. The boat then veers around wildly as animatronic dinosaurs jump out at you, and there’s a big drop into water as you try to escape.
The beginning of Horizon: Call of the Mountain is exactly that, complete with calm captors who get attacked by mechanical dinosaurs. After that, you have to run/climb for your life, and the game opens up. But that first 5-10 minutes is something that will stick with me, because while it felt like a cheesy and somewhat outdated theme park ride (which is also one of my favourites that I have ridden roughly a dozen times), it felt exciting and real, but safe, in that way immersive theme park rides do.
That opening is designed to be one of those moments that make you understand the appeal of VR, and it works perfectly for that in the way the original shark demo for PSVR1 seemed to at the time.
This fits, because Horizon: Call of the Mountain feels more like a tech demo than a full game. Personally, I love good tech demos, Wii Sports is one of my favourite games of all time. But I don’t know if that was the primary vibe the makers of Horizon: Call of the Mountain had in mind.
Once you get beyond the initial boat ride, you start getting into the meat of the game, which features the best of what VR has to offer: climbing and archery. Climbing is a little oversimplified, in that the game locked onto hand holds for me and tried really hard not to let me fall to my death, but it still retained some of the magic. And archery with the new Sense controllers is just an intuitive joy.
The only problem with the archery was that there wasn’t enough of it. Sure, there were other puzzles to do and a beautiful world to explore, but I wanted to shoot more arrows. That’s not to say the other parts weren’t pretty good. The world looks incredible. The world of Horizon has always been one I wanted to walk around in, and it certainly lives up to the hype.
But still, arrows.
While we’re talking about the technology that makes the game good, getting to use the eye tracking to select things in the game felt like magic. It made selecting dialogue options and navigating the menu feel more natural. While I didn’t love that it meant having to make extra eye contact with characters, it improved all other experiences so much that I want more things to have eye tracking. I recognise these are famous last words, so to be clear, more eye tracking in games, please.
What is less good about Horizon Call of the Mountain?
I played Horizon: Call of the Mountain while very sick with a virus that played havoc with my sinuses. So, I’m not sure if I would have felt as sick as I did while playing had my inner ear not been in panic mode. But boy howdy, did I feel sick while playing. There were several really good mitigation methods in the accessibility settings, but motion sickness is something every VR game is going to have to contend with forever, and I feel like the game could have offered even more ways to combat that. My wife played a bit after she got over The Illness (which still plagues me) and she also got quite motion sick.
Though, on that note, I highly recommend getting your friends and family who don’t play a lot of games to play Call of the Mountain. While she was playing in the other room, all I could hear was strangled shrieking, “oh no!” and “THIS IS VERY STRESSFUL”. Absolutely worth the price of a PSVR2 and Call of the Mountain.
Though, back to the game, movement isn’t as natural as I’d like. Walking is still a major challenge for VR setups that don’t have the adorable little treadmill. While Horizon Call of the Mountain’s ‘swing your arms to walk’ thing is a good solution, it wasn’t particularly intuitive to turn around or backtrack if you were seated. Eventually, I adjusted to it, but it still wasn’t ideal.
There were also just some little UI and weapon-swapping niggles that felt like growing pains for a still relatively recent technology working out consistent interface choices. There is some room for improvement there, but I don’t have any strong suggestions on how it could have been improved.
Would I recommend Horizon Call Of The Mountain?
Is the game perfect?
No. No, it is not. There wasn’t enough archery for my taste, and it generally had the air of a game that would have been utterly brilliant if there had been 6 more months of development time to plan more activities and make the story better.
But, I don’t really care that it wasn’t perfect. It’s really, really good.
It’s not a game you immediately have to rush out and buy PSVR2 for, but it is a game you absolutely must buy if you get PSVR2. I had a ball with it and want more (but with different characters).