Horizon Call of the Mountain

Review: Horizon Call of the Mountain

Out of all the launch titles coming to PlayStation VR2, the one I’ve been eager to get some hands-on time with is Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Call of the Mountain. Developed with help from Firesprite, the flagship title is likely the first game you’ll want to have on your console because even after completing the brief campaign, I want more of Horizon in VR.

My biggest worry before diving in was whether Horizon Call of the Mountain would be a glorified tech demo for the PSVR2. It would be just enough to show what the tech is capable of and offer a taste of the potential this new hardware brings to your home setup. Then I dove in and I was delighted that not only is this a proper and full campaign, but it’s also an impressive introduction to VR in general.

If this is what the future of VR is shaping up to be for the next several years, then I’m a believer. I haven’t had much to play up until receiving Horizon Call of the Mountain on VR. I had all but put my PSVR unit away because the release lineup was dry and really, with new hardware on the horizon, I was keen on clearing space for the new lineup.

Horizon Call of the Mountain shows there many stories to tell in this fantastical world

If you’ve been following the development of the Horizon spin-off, you’ll have seen several trailers featuring protagonist Ryas, a newcomer and former Shadow Carja member. In both Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon Forbidden West, the Shadow Carja are a rebel group who followed the unstable Sun-King Jiran into war. As it goes, the tribe isn’t necessarily friendly and is not well-liked by the people of this world.

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Ryas is a former believer of Jiran, who has now found himself a prisoner for his role in the kidnapping of Prince Itamen. To make amends for his previous transgressions, Ryas now leads a different life, devoid of the influence of the Shadow Carja. Formerly sentenced to death, the current Sun-King Avad and Marad recruit Ryas to help him earn his freedom. To do that, you’ll head out into the unknown and use your abilities to stop an emerging threat.

One of the most memorable things that stood out to me was the sense of scale Horizon Call of the Mountain introduces from its earliest moments. It’s hard not to feel the opening moments are ripped right out of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim but it quickly diverges into something wholly unique. Take for example the first hour, a segment where you learn the basics like climbing and shooting as you work your way back to the nearest encampment.

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What I didn’t expect was to spend another 45 minutes to an hour interacting with the environment, moving, looking up and into the distance, and interacting with the physics engine. I spent a few minutes picking up random pottery and looking into it, throwing it, and then smashing it on the floor. I found a torch and lit it up at the campfire before seeing what burned around me or if it hurt Ryas. I instinctively began to engage with the environment around me because it rewards me for doing so. I even stuck my hand in the water to feel the controller gently vibrate as if the waves were passing through my fingers.

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However, this is only the tip of the iceberg of what Ryas is capable of. You are a former warrior so you do have some skill with a bow. As you’re attacked by a roaming pack of Watchers, your capturers are tied up dealing with the machines around you. In one of the most incredible moments of the entire game, the first time you encounter a Tallneck as it crosses in front of you is a grin-inducing moment and one of the most memorable things I’ve witnessed wearing the PSVR2 headset.

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Back to the bow and arrow, while it feels rather primitive, it’s nothing terribly exciting as if you’ve ever played in the VR space, it’s a standard mechanic. Thankfully, it handles far better than some other titles and is responsive as you pull an arrow from the quiver on your back, draws the bow, and fire at enemies.

The mainline Horizon titles have seen combat evolve but the premise usually sees Aloy learn about the machines she’s facing before strategically using the right tools to finish the machines off. In Horizon Call of the Mountain, the idea is transposed to VR with modest success. Using the Sense controllers, you can hold them up and move either left or right of the machine, you’re able to circle your enemy to find the right spot to land a punishing blow to them. This whole process takes some time to nail down but I can feel like Aloy when things clicked for me.

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You can move around by holding the X and square buttons on the Sense controllers and then moving your arms as if you’re walking with the same motion while moving your arms backward. You can also adjust where you’re looking by tapping on the right analog stick. Alternatively, if you prefer controls similar to using a controller, you can enable them in the settings to make it feel like you’re using the DualSense.

To climb is as simple as reaching up towards the ladder or ledge you want to move to, then holding L2 and R2 before hoisting yourself up. You can also look around by tapping the right analog stick which also centres your view. After a few minutes, the motions for climbing become natural and I even found myself traversing like a pro without so much as a hiccup.

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Another thing that really sticks out is how vibrant the world is. I haven’t touched VR since early 2022 and it’s hard not to gawk at the visuals. The PS VR2 is no slouch by any means and it has two impressive 2000×2040 OLED displays capable of 4K HDR, it’s easy to see how much detail the entire play areas exude when you look at them. From the dense forestation, lush green vines and plants, to the reflections on the water — all of these things come together to create an immersive world.

Verdict

Horizon Call of the Mountain makes you feel like you’re part of a fantastical world where some of the most intimidating predators have it out for you. Showcasing a story or redemption, Ryas’ story isn’t anything particularly new but it fits into the overarching mythology of the Horizon series neatly. Even if Aloy isn’t the star here, Call of the Mountain proves there are a lot of stories worth telling in a world where man and machine are at odds

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PSVR2