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Review

Horizon Call Of The Mountain Review

Climbing to the summit

A post-apocalyptic techno-natural world inhabited by hunter-gatherer tribes that live in unison with robotic dinosaurs has to be one of the most intriguing elevator pitches I’ve ever heard. The Horizon series is beloved by many for its inventive premise and engaging combat, with Zero Dawn and Forbidden West garnering huge critical and commercial success. It’s easy to see why a game set in the Horizon universe is the flagship title to launch with the PSVR2, especially since the hardware needs a killer app to justify the price tag on release. My overly positive thoughts on the PSVR2 have been aired, so now it’s time to see whether Horizon Call of the Mountain climbs the peak to do the impressive tech proud, or whether it misses a foothold and tumbles down the hillside.

If you’re like me and have only skimmed the surface of the core Horizon games, this will all sound like a lot, but I promise it’s more manageable than it appears initially. Call of the Mountain has you embodying Ryas, a former Shadow Carja who has been captured by members of the Carja and brought before Blameless Marad to be offered freedom for his past sins against the Sundom in exchange for his aid. Machines have been mysteriously rampaging through settlements, and Ryas’ brother Urid is somehow connected, so it’s up to you to find him and discover the cause of the attacks.

Phew, that is a lot. However, whether you’ve combed through every morsel of Horizon lore or this is your entry point into the series, Call of the Mountain’s story will satisfy. Newcomers will be introduced to the tribe, location, machines and their history through Ryas’ self-narrating and his interactions with others. At the same time, fans of the series will be rewarded with the exploration of lesser seen parts of the world and cameos from fan-favourite characters such as the aforementioned Marad and Aloy, the core series’ protagonist.

Hey, I know you

Ryas has connections to the incidents through his brother, but that’s not the only reason he was chosen to investigate the mechanical mayhem – the Carja also need an expert climber. Climbing is central to everything in Call of the Mountain, with the scaling of massive, imposing structures and landscapes taking up the lion’s share of the game’s eight-hour runtime. While shimmying up a cliff face in Uncharted or parkouring your way to the top of a building in Assassin’s Creed may feel a bit pedestrian these days, using your own two hands to scale obstacles in VR is a whole different experience.

The core climbing mechanic is as simple as putting one hand in front of the other and grasping at handily-coloured ledges by pressing the triggers or bumpers. It’s simple and feels as natural as climbing a tree in your backyard as a kid. That said, making your way up a few branches as a youngin’ has nothing on the trek through derelict buildings, crumbling ruins and dense jungles within Call of the Mountain. While new adversities are peppered in, such as rope swings and rough terrain that requires pickaxes, the climbing isn’t overtly challenging, giving you ample time to look around and soak in the overwhelming beauty of the various landscapes. I spent more time slowly panning around vistas in this game than in any other, which speaks to its incredible visuals and stunning art direction.

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While I wouldn’t say the levels feel lived in, the locations are tangible and fun, encouraging you to interact and play around with everything not nailed down. When your feet are planted on solid ground, you’ll often be tempted to explore and tinker with the various objects scattered throughout the levels. Rudimentary musical instruments can be found at encampments along with torches that can be bit lit at campfires, and there are jugs and plates that can be smashed and gongs that beg to be whacked with nearby giant mallets.

You want me to climb all the way up there? Sundamn!

Virtual reality is inherently immersive, but the way in which Call of the Mountain utilises the PSVR2 and Sense controller’s features elevates that immersion even further. For instance, the haptic feedback in both the controllers and the headset emulates the feeling of water streaming through your fingers and the painful twang or being hit by a metallic tail. Little things like raising an apple to your mouth to eat it in order to recover health, or burning yourself if you touch the dangerous end of a torch make you feel like you’re a part of the world.

The most impressive feature implementation is the use of eye tracking. Navigating menus is done by simply looking at the option you want and pressing X. It’s so simple that it’s genius, and I want all VR titles to follow suit. From a gameplay perspective, NPCs notice when you’re looking at them and will lock eyes with you, which goes a long way to make them feel alive. They’ll also react if you get close, moving away from your touch or simply giving you the stink eye if you try and poke them. These little touches combine wonderfully to create a genuine sense of immersion I’ve never experienced in a video game before.

You’ll occasionally be met with light puzzles that require a combination of climbing and mind power. Switching cogs around to power a lift or loading a ballista to blast open a gate may not sound riveting, but physically carrying out the tasks gives you a sense of accomplishment that would be absent if replicated in a regular game.

While climbing is at the centre of everything, this is a Horizon game, so machine encounters are expected. Like Aloy, Ryas’ primary weapon of choice is a trusty bow, which is as satisfying to use in VR as expected. Collecting an arrow from over your shoulder, notching it, drawing it back and releasing it feels natural and intuitive. You can also craft various arrow types, such as shock and fire arrows, by collecting components before physically fusing them. It’s another tactile task that helps add to the immersion.

BANG! Gotcha

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Using your weapon is excellent, but the actual combat encounters can be a mixed bag. With a handful of exceptions aside, most fights take place in an arena-like area that limits your movements to strafing from left to right. Enemy attacks are faithful to the mainline series, with the Thunderjaw utilising tail swipes, a disk launcher and laser sweeps to try and do you in, but dodging them can be challenging, thanks to a sidestep mechanic that’s a little unreliable. While moving around freely during a fight could be disorienting and messy, most encounters felt too much like an on-rails light gun game with an astronomical budget.

Thankfully, taking down a machine is still treated like a puzzle, with various components able to be shot off if targeted or hit with certain elemental arrows. Focusing on these weak points has translated perfectly to the VR, though it can be awkward to get the right angle on bigger machines thanks to the limited movement.

While combat does have a few shortcomings, they’re largely overshadowed, literally. The sheer scale of the machines and the world they inhabit is unbelievable. Everyone has likely watched the game’s opening scene in the trailers, but floating down a river as a Tallneck strides past genuinely took my breath away. Walking past these placid, gargantuan monsters in Zero Dawn and Forbidden West is one thing, but seeing one with your own eyes is mesmerising, especially when the fidelity allows you to see all its intricate moving parts.

The gorgeous vistas get a frim thumbs up from me

Speaking of which, if you want to get up close and personal with the mechanical beasties without the fear of death, Call of the Mountain offers a more relaxed experience called the Machine Safari. Unlocked shortly after starting the main campaign, the safari has you calmly enjoying a short sail that takes you past the many animatronic creations the series is known for. This bite-sized boat ride reminded me of Ocean Descent from the original VR’s PlayStation VR Worlds in that it’s a great way to introduce your friends and family to the platform. Undoubtedly, it would also be a dream come true for diehard Horizon fans to get that close to the now iconic machines.

Final Thoughts

Even as someone who bounced off the Horizon games, Call of the Mountain is special. The world’s splendour had me in awe more times than I could count, and the scale of the machines never ceased to amaze. The climbing mechanic, while simple, elicited many gasps and groans as I conquered terrifying heights without ever leaving my living room. While faithful to the mainline series in many respects, the combat encounters don’t quite manage to garner as much excitement as I would hope, somewhat weighing down an otherwise incredible VR spectacle.

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Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Horizon Call Of The Mountain Review
Answer The Call
Feeling every bit like a AAA game set in the Horizon universe, Call of the Mountain is an immersive and visually impressive experience that falters somewhat in the combat department.
The Good
Crisp, gorgeous visuals
A simple yet solid narrative
A suite of incredibly immersive features
Insane sense of scale
A great onboarding experience in Machine Safari
The Bad
Combat feels like an arcade light gun game
Dodging is dodgy
The occasional desync
8
Get Around It
  • Firesprite
  • Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • PS5
  • February 22, 2023

Horizon Call Of The Mountain Review
Answer The Call
Feeling every bit like a AAA game set in the Horizon universe, Call of the Mountain is an immersive and visually impressive experience that falters somewhat in the combat department.
The Good
Crisp, gorgeous visuals
A simple yet solid narrative
A suite of incredibly immersive features
Insane sense of scale
A great onboarding experience in Machine Safari
The Bad
Combat feels like an arcade light gun game
Dodging is dodgy
The occasional desync
8
Get Around It
Written By Adam Ryan

Adam's undying love for all things PlayStation can only be rivalled by his obsession with vacuuming. Whether it's a Dyson or a DualShock in hand you can guarantee he has a passion for it. PSN: TheVacuumVandal XBL: VacuumVandal Steam: TheVacuumVandal

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