When it comes to the launch of new hardware, it always helps to have that one killer app that everyone will be looking forward to. As Sony gears up for the arrival of the PlayStation VR2, that killer-game honour goes to Guerrilla Games and Firesprite’s Horizon Call of the Mountain, a standalone adventure set in a beloved PlayStation-exclusive universe that delivers on most fronts as an AAA virtual reality title.
While the Horizon series has always been about open-world action adventure in the two mainline games of Zero Dawn and Forbidden West, Horizon Call of the Mountain is a great attempt at distilling all the winning elements of the franchise into something unique. Players donning the headset will find themselves immersed in the distant future, where machines roam wild and a world reclaimed by nature is a visual marvel.
As master climber Ryas, a disgraced member of the Shadow Carja, it will be up to players to embark on a tale of redemption by uncovering the truth about recent machine attacks on the Sundom. Naturally, there are plenty of twists and turns involved, with the narrative providing an intriguing proposition whether you are new to everything or a returning fan that will get so much more out of every little reference and familiar faces.
It is totally understandable to expect Horizon Call of the Mountain to be just like any of the dozens of action-adventure games out there, but the obvious difference lies in the power and features of the PlayStation VR2, which sets the stage for a more involved experience in every sense.
The gameplay of Horizon Call of the Mountain can be broken down into two main components, exploration and combat. The former is where most players will spend their time, getting up close and personal with a living, breathing world full of dangerous machines, tribal politics, and wrapped up in a diverse landscape that demonstrates the ability of VR to put scale into perspective.
Depending on your preference, movement in the game can be triggered by swinging the arms with the Sense controllers or the more traditional stick control. With the headset on, wherever you look would be where Ryas will be looking, with the added option of rotating the perspective using the right stick.
As you explore various environments, including a healthy variety of biomes and structures, stare in awe at the magnificent vistas and towering structures in the distance. Or check out the items of interest that can be found across the 10-hour or so adventure up close and see the details. There is quite nothing like it, not even for the mainline games, that can replace being there in person, thanks to the PS VR2.
And when it comes to scaling heights like a master climber, the Sense controllers’ accurate tracking comes into play, allowing intuitive movement to make climbs up cliffs, jumps across gaps, and pick up objects just for the fun of it. Even as a video game, those with a fear of heights might want to test the water first when it comes to Horizon Call of the Mountain.
This also applies to situations when it calls for combat against some of the machines that stand in your way, and yes, that includes the gigantic and intimidating Thunderjaw. During these fights, movement becomes limited to strafing and dodging along a set line, helping players to keep their eye on the prize. Equipping the bow or the Blast Sling is as easy as reaching behind your back with either hand, and drawing arrows or pulling back bombs is exactly what you would expect if everything played out in real life. If you thought fighting these mechanical beasts was hard from a third-person perspective, try being in the thick of it as Ryas.
That’s not all; with progress made, more tools become available for players to do even greater things. Elemental arrows and crafting join the party, and will introduce new tools such as a rope dart or pickaxes that can open up new areas to explore. Certain levels also have multiple paths that can be explored, increasing the replayability and offering more to surprise players, such as a stealth section through a mine full of Watchers or a highwire fight against Glinthawks.
Aside from its main offering, players can also jump into the Machine Safari and take a seat back, enjoying the sights and sounds curated by the developers. As for those seeking to show off top skills in archery and navigation, there is also a gauntlet awaiting. Between exploration, combat, finding collectibles, and just being awed by the majesty of this world, Horizon Call of the Mountain has much to offer in a way that is only possible thanks to the PlayStation VR2.
Sharp 4K visuals with high dynamic range (HDR) create a beautiful world just itching to be experienced, while the headset ratchets up the immersion with subtle, responsive feedback at key moments. Armed with the Sense controllers, both the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback continue the stellar work of the DualSense in making everything feel more organic and, for a lack of a better word, real.
Of course, there are still some issues to work out both on the software as well as the hardware side of things, as is always the case for gaming with VR.
As much as we are enamoured with the way Horizon Call of the Mountain draws players literally into its world, those seeking more to do might be disappointed with the main pillars of gameplay. Even with new tools at your disposal, you are still going to be doing a lot of climbing, whereas combat against increasingly tougher foes could have been more interesting instead of the same old arena design and limitation to just the bow and the Blast Sling.
Having optional Legendary Climbs does help spice things up a little, thanks to the added challenge, as do finding collectibles, shooting down beacons, and stacking stone cairns, but unless you enjoy the nature of the routine, perhaps it’s best to experience Horizon Call of the Mountain in short bursts.
Everything is also contingent on setting up the PlayStation VR2 right, which is made easier thanks to its guided process. Making sure both eye and gaze tracking are in order can make navigating menus and firing accurate arrows easier, while the plethora of accessibility and comfort options provided by the developers will help with finding the sweet spot. That said, it will still take some getting used to, even for VR veterans, and anytime you take off the headset to rest, it is advisable to reconfigure the lens calibration to get the best-looking experience.
As far as we are concerned, Horizon Call of the Mountain represents a genuine and largely successful effort to kick things off with a bang when it comes to the PlayStation VR2. While the platform will require plenty of support to remain viable, in this game, Sony has an AAA blockbuster that makes great use of technology to close the gap between video games and reality.
While the gameplay may fall into a routine that can grow stale, there is no denying that what Guerrilla Games and Firesprite have achieved is an adventure that will astonish and impress once players put on the PS VR2 headset and wrap their hands around the Sense controllers. It may still be early days, but Horizon Call of the Mountain is an undeniably great start for this new generation of VR gaming.
Horizon Call of the Mountain is available on the PSN Store for $79.90.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A great demonstration of just what the PlayStation VR2 brings to the table, Horizon Call of the Mountain is a must-play for fans and an excellent introduction for those new to VR gaming.
Gameplay - 8.5/10
Story - 8.5/10
Presentation - 9.5/10
Value - 9/10