Horizon Call Of The Mountain Review - New Heights

  • First Released Feb 22, 2023
  • PS5

The first foray into virtual reality for Guerrilla's beloved franchise is a big success, even if it doesn't do anything new.

Horizon Call of the Mountain and PlayStation VR 2 are inextricably linked. The Guerrilla- and Firesprite-developed title is a successful virtual reality game thanks to the tech housed in the PSVR 2, and the PSVR 2's capabilities are best showcased by the game. Admittedly, the barrier to entry for experiencing it all is very high: You'll need to own a PS5, purchase the $550 headset, and then get the $60 game on top. But those who do will be treated to a game that's an impressive technical showpiece and an enjoyable Horizon game in its own right.

Call of the Mountain takes place in the same vibrant setting that you're used to exploring as Aloy. However, for this game, the protagonist is Ryas, a member of the Shadow Carja who has been imprisoned for questionable actions. Ryas is busted out of prison and sent on a perilous journey to figure out why the machine animals of Horizon's worlds are acting out.

This is a familiar narrative beat for a Horizon game, and a lot of the story is carried by Ryas. Ryas' brother went missing while also trying to solve this particular mystery, so he has a personal stake in going out of his way to help those around him in order to figure out what's going on, even if the people he's working withtreat him like an outsider. My interest in Call of the Mountain was primarily in seeing how it utilized the new hardware, so it caught me by surprise when I found myself invested in Ryas as a character. The game does a great job of slowly unpacking his story and showing that there may have been more to his history than it initially seems.

He also serves as a good tour guide. As you clamber around towering structures, be they derelict buildings or rusting metallic behemoths of old, and explore different parts of the world, he'll occasionally offer context and history to provide further color to the landscape around you. He's not the scholarly type, so much of what he talks about comes from the perspective of someone who has heard tales of battles or knows aspects of other cultures. It's a nice balance that means you're constantly being told things while also letting Ryas act as a stand-in for you. He also questions some of his own preconceptions about things he has always been told or believed, and--as a member of the maligned Shadow Carja--watching his small steps of growth across the journey is interesting, even if it isn't profound.

Ryas might not be a learned man, but he's certainly a capable one, as becomes evident when you're tasked with scaling structures and battling enemies. Ryas is a Climber and, as the title of his profession suggests, he's all about climbing. This is achieved through the Sense controllers, which--as mentioned in our PSVR 2 review--are very capable input devices that, in addition to all the buttons, triggers, and analog sticks you'd want to be able to properly engage with a game, include finger-tracking. Call of the Mountain maps your real hands to the virtual ones and then empowers you to grip onto climbable edges (highlighted in white) by holding down the triggers and physically moving your real arms to shift your virtual character around.

Virtual reality climbing games are a dime a dozen--it's a very familiar mechanic--and there's nothing here that really pushes the mechanic forward. That said, it's executed very well. The Sense controllers make the act of clambering feel tactile and satisfying, and the PlayStation 5 and the PSVR 2 headset render the world around you with a fidelity compelling enough to instill a sense of tension and peril as you move around.

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As I scaled cliffs, shimmied across dangling ropes, and leaped across large gaps, I was cognizant of where I looked because, at times, I got vertigo when looking down. On the odd occasion where my virtual hands didn't properly grasp a handhold or ledge, I always had a sense of terror wash over me, even if it was very brief since the game is quite forgiving about correcting or using your other hand to panic recover. That sense of danger was particularly potent in situations that required me to take a running jump off an edge, or use a tool to swing across a chasm--my tip: Don't look down.

Generally, that feeling of being connected to the world through the Sense controller and PSVR 2 headset held true in other interactions. My chosen movement method in Call of the Mountain involved moving my arms up and down to simulate walking, which sounds stupid and looks stupid, but felt like a good middle ground between instantly teleporting and directly controlling the character. The latter of those is available as an option, but I found it to be nauseating, literally. There are a variety of other options available that allow you to tweak how your character moves and turns, so you may be able to find the sweet spot for you.

Combat changes the setup to be more on rails, with the player being able to move along a predefined path on the battlefield. Usually, it's just a big circle around the arena, and you're either dodging the attacks of nimble Watchers while trying to fire arrows into their eye, or desperately trying to get out of the way of a rampaging Thunderjaw. Horizon's encounter design, which is built on attacking weak points to strip metallic beasts of their armor and the mechanisms that allow them to do deadly attacks, works very well in Call of the Mountain. Most engagements are a dance of dodging fireballs, gunfire, tail swipes, and claw strikes, using your senses to identify the most vulnerable spots, and letting loose a flurry of arrows to bring them down. Again, bow and arrow mechanics in a VR game are hardly new or innovative, but it's executed very well. There's a layer of strategy in selecting the best type of arrow for the enemy you're facing, and then having the wherewithal to quickly reach over your shoulder and pull it out while trying to avoid damage.

The real star of the show, however, is the visuals, and by extension, the immersive quality of playing Horizon Call of the Mountain. Again, this is a collaborative effort between the game and the hardware it's running on--both the PS5 and the PSVR 2. Call of the Mountain is one of the best-looking VR games I've ever seen, and being in its world is a genuine thrill--whether I was up close looking at the details on tools I was crafting to aid me on my journey, or marveling at a distant vista of verdant trees, rushing waterfalls, and collapsed architecture reclaimed by nature. At every turn and climb, there's something impressive to see, whether that's the world or the creatures that inhabit it. And it's even more impressive when the bigger set-pieces come into play, so it's easy to get caught up in just seeing the sights. As a result, Call of the Mountain ticks the box for that other kind of VR game that exists in abundance: the virtual tourist experience. Again, it's nothing new, but Call of the Mountain does it very well, transporting players to a world they're familiar with, but allowing them to experience it with an unprecedented level of intimacy.

The ongoing refrain of "familiar done well" is the defining quality of Call of the Mountain. There's nothing revolutionary in the game that moves VR gaming forward and it doesn't do anything unexpected, so it ends up being exactly what it looks like: a well-made Horizon game in VR that has good climbing and shooting, as well as pretty environments to look at. As a showcase of what can be done with the PSVR 2, it more than handily serves its purpose.

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The Good

  • Enjoyable climbing and combat gameplay
  • Plenty of stunning vistas to enjoy
  • Ryas works as an interesting character and a player stand-in

The Bad

  • Gameplay is standard VR fare and there's nothing unique in there

About the Author

Tamoor thinks he's a pretty good shot with a bow and arrow, but only a virtual one. PSVR2 hardware and Horizon Call of the Mountain was provided by PlayStation.