Review – Horizon Call of the Mountain
This one’s on me, guys. Sorry. I was that guy that out-thought the system when PS VR2 came out. Why get the Horizon bundle, right? I could get the unit and the charging base for the VR Sense controllers for about the same price, right? After all, Horizon Call of the Mountain is just a tech experience, right? Two months later, and after ten glorious hours, I am glad to say that I was wrong. Well, I was right in a way, but also wrong.
Horizon Call of the Mountain is absolutely a technical showcase for PS VR2, but it is in no way simply defined as that. It is a harrowing tale of redemption, climbing, action, adventure, climbing, family, climbing, a little wall art, forgiveness, and before I forget to mention it, climbing. It is absolutely an experience first and foremost, there is no debating this. You will get just how fantastic PS VR2 can be when specifically developed for, but I honestly can’t think of a better way to make that experience an actual game than Guerilla and Firesprite did.
Right away, the graphics hit you before anything else. Handled beautifully to allow you the freedom to sit back and take everything in, to process the vibrant living world. The sounds fill the world with both a natural and mechanical existence, living all around you with every turn of the river. The wonder of it all, not from your couch, but in the world, looking around trees, ducking to avoid being spotted by a roaming Watcher, gawking and feeling like you are subconsciously dodging as a Tallneck treks directly along your path. You are in Horizon, and the magic of it all is tangible.
After that oasis of calm and wonder is suddenly shattered, you get knocked to your senses that this is also a game. Horizon Call of the Mountain quickly introduces the first of your two main game mechanics. Not fighting. Get out of here with that! You are introduced to climbing. One hand over the other, pulling yourself up ladders, rock faces, ropes, etc. Anything you can get your hands on, you climb, and often. 70% of Horizon Call of the Mountain feels like it has got to be climbing filler; ascending huge mountain peaks, or establishments left by the old ones. Still, it never got old to me. It always remained an attractive part of the game thanks to its second major game mechanic: No! Not fighting!! Enjoying the view.
After every rugged climb, you can’t help but take in every vista. Looking out and taking the time to breathe in the view of what you just conquered. Horizon Call of the Mountain leads you to do this, by placing multiple targets throughout each level. You need to look around bends, through trees, upon cliff sides, to locate and shoot these targets. The developers manipulate you to look at what they created. Guerilla wants you to look at the world often and they give you plenty of reason and opportunities to do so. This world of Call of the Mountain never stops impressing.
Ok, so after you have learned how to climb, you have learned how to shoot, you have learned how to pick up objects, eat food, paint on walls, salvage materials, and that you can discover hidden collectibles throughout the world. When Horizon Call of the Mountain gets all that out of the way, now you learn how to fight. Using the VR Sense controllers, you can reach back to your shoulders to grab your bow, then arrows, notching, aiming, and releasing. Holding down the Circle or Triangle button, you can slow time while choosing between crafted ammo types: basic, fire, shock, precision, and tear. Scanning during a battle will show you the best weapon types to use. Later in the game, you unlock a Blast Sling, which is used much the same way, completing your arsenal.
Most battle arenas are fairly easy to identify before walking in. You will usually see a big open area and spot ammo and food stations. However, once a battle begins, open movement is disabled, and you can only strafe side to side. This is an easy solution that allows you to always face your mechanical enemy. You can move left and right or perform a quick dodge. Arrows cap at twelve per type, but crafting more during combat isn’t an issue. Most opponents have three or four attack types that you need to stay cautious of. Strafing, dodging, and ducking attacks while you circle the field, landing your shots, shooting off armor or going straight for damage.
It is maybe worth confirming that all combat is against machines. If you are hoping for any real type of human combat, there is none. There is human confrontation, yes, but no combat.
The rest of the game play is rounded out by the plethora of tools you craft and will need. And yes, you will need these tools for climbing. Either grabbing them from behind your shoulder when it’s necessary or using your inventory system when it is optional.
The pickaxe is easily your most used equipment. Pulling it out of your equipment to take down obstacles or jumping from a cliff and pulling them from behind you to spike into a cliff face and climbing up, it is always fun getting these guys out. A Ropecaster allows you to pull down barriers, but also slide great distances. A grapple hook allows you to swing across wide crossings, or to climb up to areas with no visible grip spots.
Crafting these items is simplistic, but pretty satisfying. Hitting your crafting table with your blueprint, you follow the four-step process: Connect part-A to par-B, attaching with string, connect part-B to part-C, more string, finished.
Like I stated earlier, Horizon Call of the Mountain is a visual marvel. There are just few other words fit for describing it. Lush settings, massive landscapes, insanely detailed enemies, make your time in the world a jaw-dropping one. It is easily the most beautiful game currently available for the platform. That said, there is a constant haze feeling that I find with all PS VR2 games I have played. I don’t know if this is due to foveated rendering, where the unit processes your direct line of sight in 4k, but it is less crisp everywhere else. Horizon Call of the Mountain is no different.
Character models are fantastic and will be all too familiar to anyone who has played Horizon Zero Dawn, with a few returning characters making appearances in Horizon Call of the Mountain. Except for yourself, voice acting is as exceptional as we are used to from these earlier titles. That isn’t to say that your character’s VO is bad, but it is lacking when compared to the supporting cast.
PS VR2 comes equipped with earbuds that give the world of Horizon enough life, but it really demands something more, so if you have a Pulse Headset, make sure to use it. The ambient sounds all around, as you hike past rivers and up mountains is truly something, as is the crash of a metal beast crashing through a wall to get to you. You even come across musical instruments you can bang on, drum, or blow into. Horizon Call of the Mountain is a showcase, and sound is not an outlier here.
The tech feels unreal, even coming over from PS VR. Dipping my hands in the water and feeling its current, or banging my hand on the side of the boat, felt uncanny. I felt it when I brushed my head against undergrowth or as I slid downhill. I could even pick up paint for wall art, or musical instruments to blow into. Characters even react as you reach out too closely to them. My favorite wasn’t even a gameplay mechanic, but being able to see your DualSenses clearly, even while in-game on a pause menu. Not requiring me to switch to PS VR2’s pass-through technology was just extremely useful many times.
Unfortunately, my experience was not without its technical issues. In addition to the blurry visuals, causing me to constantly readjust my headgear to help rectify, there were multiple instances of issues handling both the bow and arrows. None of these stopped me from enjoying my time, but it would happen more than a couple times. Occasionally, my bow would switch from one hand to another. Or if I reached back, it wouldn’t register when I would grab or notch an arrow. During longer boss level battles, this would absolutely happen at least once.
Occasionally certain tools would be finicky. You may struggle to remove them from your back, or even placing them back. You may also find moments when tools just wouldn’t work right, and you simply have to retry. Returning items behind my back became so frustrating, I simply tossed them rather than sheath them.
After finishing Horizon Call of the Mountain, you can continue playing by visiting your war table and choosing levels and campfires to fast travel to, allowing you to wrap up any loose trophies. There are also other gameplay options, some giving you definite Horizon nods, like practice ranges or even a safari.
Horizon Call of the Mountain is absolutely a must-own, whether you are a carryover fan from Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon Forbidden West or not. It is a good Horizon title that introduces you to characters and a story you hope to see more of, mixed inside a fantastic experience that showcases PS VR2 like no other title on the market. Just jump in knowing this is experience first and a game second, albeit a very close second, and not PlayStation’s answer to Half-Life: Alyx.
Beautiful showcase of just how fantastic new gen virtual reality can look, but also a reminder that it just close to being nearly as sharp as on a flat screen.
Classic Horizon feels to first-person roaming, world, combat, and traversal. By traversal, I mean climbing.
Fantastic voice over work, battles, and world environments, but with Aloy-like inner monologues without Ashly’s talent.
Fun Factor: 9.0
Great game in an 8-10 hour PSVR2 experience that constantly has you climbing to that next peak (literally). Simplified combat is engaging and often enough.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Horizon Call of the Mountain is available now on PS VR2.
Reviewed on PS VR2.
A copy of Horizon Call of the Mountain was provided by the publisher.